<<This entry is inspired by the FCAT Writes, which is the state writing test in Florida that is given towards the end of February. I usually do a writing workshop a few weeks before the test, so I’m hoping that this will help any Florida teachers as well as anyone else who is looking for help on teaching writing.>>
I don’t know about you, but I hate planning out what I’m going to write before I write it. I find I am a much more fluent, witty writer when I just go off the cuff. Unsurprisingly, my students generally feel the same way. Well, I’m not sure they think they’re “witty,” but certainly, they hate planning their essays. Unfortunately, we all (myself included) write better when we organize what we’re going to write before we write it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a long, drawn out, detailed outline, but even just brainstorming and jotting down a few ideas can go a long way. If you’re a writer, then I’m just preaching to the choir, as they say.
One thing I found very difficult as I tried to teach my students to be better writers was debunking the “one size fits all” graphic organizer myth. My students always seemed to feel that there was just one right way to plan an essay. Some lived and died by the hamburger method, some by the 4-square method, others by the web. Regardless of what they chose, they clung to it like it was a best friend, unwilling to convert to some new graphic organizer. I tried to tell them over and over that I didn’t care what their plan looked like, as long as they did, in fact, plan. I would use the graphic that I, myself, was comfortable with, and students would freak out because it wasn’t “their” graphic. No matter how many times I assured them I would be more than fine with whatever graphic they chose, many of them still panicked and had mini-meltdowns.
It was also difficult because a plan is hard to grade. Most teachers don’t grade the planning part of the writing process, so students fail to see the value in it because it isn’t valued with a letter grade. I made sure to assign a grade to the planning part; it was pass/fail. Once my students understood that I valued their plan enough to grade it, they started doing it, and as a result, their writing improved.
The only thing that can really improve a student’s writing is practice, and that is true for any part of the writing process. The things I found successful are included in my “How to Plan an Essay” product at my teacher store.