Use These Five Simple Suggestions to Help Build Strong Writers

As a teacher, I love seeing understanding click into place for one of my students. It is even a bit sweeter when I know the student has been struggling. It’s confirmation that my instruction is on the right path, a little pat on the shoulder from the Learning gods, so to speak. Over the last few years, I have delved into writing instruction and what I can do to help my students become strong writers. I love writing, and I want them to love writing too, and if they can’t love it, then I want them to at least be successful with it. I have found the perfect combination in the prewriting process to give students the confidence and support to tackle an extended writing piece and come out on top. 

Students writing in the classroom using the five simple suggestions to help build strong writers.
Make sure to spend time in the prewriting stage of the writing process to ensure strong writers.

Powerful Writing Strategies for all Students

She is a happy student because she is a strong writer due to her teacher's powerful writing strategies in the classroom.
Powerful writing strategies start with the prewriting stage of the writing process.

It is all in the prewriting stage. 

 Be aware of the magic of the prewriting step in the writing process. This is where we hook our kiddos and get them excited to write. Before my kids even start a rough draft, we will spend time getting ready to write. And I do not mean the multiple worksheets that seem to burn my kids out before they get started, but giving them opportunities to develop their schema around the topic they will write about. The more effort we put into the prep work, our writers will be more confident.

Provide auditory and visual support.

I use youtube to give the kids auditory and visual stimuli on whatever topic we write about. This helps activate kids’ schema around the subject and supports students who may have yet to have any background knowledge about the topic. Then we work together as a whole class to build a bank of words and phrases for students to use in their writing.  

Use creative storylines and conferences.

Use creative story prompts. A traditional story with a silly or unexpected twist keeps the students entertained and steadily writing. After the students have roughed out their story ideas, they have several opportunities to confer with other class members and me throughout the rest of the writing process. When you can add different options for writing conferences, students pick what works best for them, and they are not just sitting there stuck “because I don’t know what to write.”

Make sure the kids know what to do next.

Moment of self-reflection, teacher friend. Do your students know what to do next when they are writing? Are the steps and the process clearly written out somewhere for them to reference? Do they know the expectations? Are you sure? Have you explicitly taught those processes and expectations? It was a slap in the face when I realized that what I thought was the next step was unclear to my students. Now, I provide a writing process checklist with any extended writing piece, so there is clarity and students know exactly how to move from one step to the next because we have practiced that exact thing. 

Experience for Auditory and Visual Learners

Students happily watching video to increase schema before writing.
Use videos and sounds to help increase schema around the topic children are to write about.

I love YouTube. Seriously. This place has everything. Bless the people that make videos and then upload them. I have found everything I needed to help in my classroom. I use YouTube videos (maybe five minutes of a longer film) to help my kids with their schema for their writing. This is the first part of our writing lesson. Now, you don’t have to use YouTube. There are other places to find the same thing. This is just the easiest for me.  

This is what I do: I hand out an outline drawing of a setting that accompanies the story. For example, when I do spooky houses in the fall, I hand out an old house and yard illustration. Or when we do rainforest adventures in the spring, I hand out a drawing of a rainforest jungle. The students watch the clip I’ve selected. While watching, they can add anything to the picture they want to because we will use it later when we create our vocabulary word bank. We watch for a few minutes, and I pause the video, and we discuss what we are observing. I encourage them to point out what they might be hearing and seeing and then infer what that might feel like. Students also point out what things they have seen or thought to add to their drawings so that other students can add to their own pictures if desired. This is very collaborative. Then we continue to watch for a few more minutes.

Shared experiences allow students to reference points that all of the students can talk about.

This time the video allows students the same reference point they can bring up later in discussions. And provides support for students with limited experiences to better understand the setting for their writing. This adds a different perspective than only sharing a photo.

Front-Loading Vocabulary to Create a Word Bank

Students raising their hands to add words to the word bank they are creating for writing assignment.
Work together to front-load vocabulary and create a word bank for students before a writing assignment.       

Front-loading vocabulary traditionally means teaching words and meanings before introducing the topic. I am still determining if this is traditional front-loading, but I love this process. It stems from an old idea I remember hearing during an ELL training years ago. After students have watched the video, we create a word list together. I write on the board while students add to their writers’ notebooks.  

First, write a list of nouns down the middle of the page that students noticed in the video. Then add a verb next to each noun that the thing could do. After you create the verb list, add adjectives (only one or two per noun) that can be used to describe the noun. This process can also be used for adverbs depending on the skill of your writers.

Make sense?

Here’s an example:

We are working on a rainforest adventure story because it ties in with our studies of habitats, food chains, etc.

  1.    I hand out an outline drawing of a rainforest drawing.
  2.   We watch a short video on YouTube about the rainforest. Students add   drawings of animals, sounds, waterfalls, etc. Anything they notice that they may need to help their descriptive writing later.
  3. Now we work together as a class to create a word list. You can start one for the students and let them add it, or start with a blank sheet of paper. First, list nouns.






          Next, go back and add a verb that each noun could be doing:

          snake coiling

          waterfall roaring

          river winding

          bird squawking

          monkey climbing

          (side note: The kids love to call out words, so I will list several verbs next to the noun. Students are expected to write at least one, and many write several. It is fun when a child comes up with an excellent vocabulary word because then you hear a chorus of “oh good word, good word!” as everyone adds to their list.)

           Then, add an adjective or two to the front of each noun. (I often remind the students that just adding adjectives in your writing does not do good descriptive writing.)

          thick, yellow snake coiling

          loud, fast waterfall roaring

          silent, brown river winding

          bright red bird squawking                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

          small brown monkey climbing

Continue making a list as long as you want, or the kids are engaged. You can also expand this to add phrases that come to mind when looking at the video or pictures of the story setting. Now the students have a list of words they can use for their writing, and because of sharing thoughts from the whole class, they have a pretty good idea of what story they might write. They then plan out their story and can start on their rough drafts.

Use Creative Writing Prompts

The more creative the story prompts are, the more engaged students are in writing. My students love a story with a surprise twist or unexpected happening in the middle of a traditional storyline. For example, around November, we wrote a story about visiting Grandma’s house for a meal. Pretty average, right? But once we arrive at Grandma’s, there is a note letting us know that Grandma has been taken by aliens because they had heard of her delicious recipe for, let’s say, brownies.  

So now, the kids get to write and describe visiting a family member’s house AND include an alien encounter. Some kids write how they rescue Grandma, a few end up with alien friends coming to dinner, and a couple students even end up with some dynamo Grandma’s kicking some major alien butt. Regardless of the storyline, the kids loved to write and share their stories.

Ensure Students Know the Stages of the Writing Process

Students are more confident in their writing when they know the entire process and what is expected of them in each stage. As teachers, we need to ensure that we have explicitly taught our students each stage of the writing process. You could take it to step by step with the first writing assignment and guide them through each step. You could have described and practiced each part of the writing process, so the students know what is expected. I add a writing checklist for each extended piece to remind them what needs to be done next and allow them to check off each task as it is complete.  

Before your next writing assignment, confer with the students. Ask them:

Do they know the steps to guide them through the writing process?

Has the class read examples of the type of writing they are supposed to complete and can list what makes good writing for this genre?

Do the students know the expectations for the writing assignment?

Is there a ‘roadmap,’ checklist, or display that leads them through the process?

The answers might surprise you. If your students need help explaining what they must do, consider backing up and reteaching the writing process before giving the next extended writing assignment. You’ll all be much happier.  

Use Writing Conferences with Students During the Writing Process

Writing conference with students during an extended writing piece to support the writers.
Sprinkle in writing conferences with students during the writing process to support your writers.

Another way I keep the students engaged and writing is to allow them to discuss their writing every step of the way. Some children need extra support, and some children don’t need it. I discovered a few years ago that when I add in writing conferences throughout the writing process, kids who need help are not sitting there drowning in their silence because they are too afraid to ask. Students that need to verbalize before they write have that opportunity, too.

Add different types of writing conferences into your writing process.

There are multiple ways to have different writing conferences throughout the writing process. Of course, we have already shared thoughts and ideas while creating our word banks. We can also sit together as a whole class in a writing circle. These circles are treated like other circle times, and the same rules apply. Students that want quick feedback about an idea, want to share a snippet of their writing or are stuck and need input from the class as a whole share during these times.  

Peer writing conferences are also included in the writing process. Once a child plans his story, he will meet with a classmate to discuss his plans and gather feedback. Children often see where holes are in their stories as they discuss them with someone else. Additionally, after writing a rough draft and then editing it, students meet with another peer to have their story read as part of the revising stage.

Teacher conferences are always an option, too. As students write, I am moving about the room, answering questions, taking anecdotal records, and helping where needed.  

Don’t forget the importance of your strong classroom community.  A stronger community means a more helpful one, too.

This all works because, as a class from day one, we have spent time creating a supportive environment where the students know they can go to each other for help, suggestions, and their teacher. We have practiced each part and reviewed how to ask for help, time yourself and stay on task, and chunk your work, so it is manageable and manageable. But watching the kids move around the room, helping others, and cheering on their accomplishments makes it worth it.

Happy writing, teacher friends. I hope this helps you in your classroom as you and your students continue to bloom, thrive, and grow. Keep sharing your magic with the world. The world needs you.



Interested in seeing an extended writing resource?

Check these out:

Winter Creative Writing and Vocabulary

Valentine’s Day Creative Writing and Vocabulary

Are you work on creating a stronger, more encouraging classroom?

Need ideas?

Try these:

Student Celebrations for an Encouraging Classroom

Classroom Decor for an Encouraging Classroom


Or read this blog post:

Three Quick Ways to Help Build an Encouraging Classroom