How do you get your students to step it up a notch when it comes to writing assignments? Here are three Advanced Placement-approved techniques for improving the quality of student writing for every high school student.
Improving Student Writing Technique #1: Sentence Combining
It may sound too simple, but teaching students how to combine sentences is one of the most effective techniques for improving students’ prose style. And it’s relatively simple. Even if you don’t have a textbook to use for sentence combining activities, teachers already have plenty of sentences to practice with at their disposal: students’ previous writing assignments.
Use sentences from student papers to provide guided practice in class. Teachers don’t have to name the students to pull a few sentences from several papers and place them on the overhead. With continued practice, students will begin to combine sentences as they revise their own writing.
Don’t be afraid to pull out old student papers. Teachers may be surprised to see a few tweaks here or there will help a student’s paper jump up an entire letter-grade.
Resources for Sentence Combining
William Strong’s “Sentence Combining” is one of the best resources for sentence combining activities.
Find out the basics of sentence combining, and check out the listed links for further resources.
An example of a Sentence Combining Quiz may give teachers a few ideas for activities to use in the classroom.
Improving Student Writing Technique #2: Revising
Isn’t the best way to learn something to teach? Have students revise their own work and/or complete guided peer-revision activities. Provide a checklist for students to use as they revise writing. Questions that focus students on grammar, as well as style, foster understanding for why students chose specific words or phrases, and if they made the best possible choice. Make sure to include positive reinforcement as well as areas for improvement.
Check out examples of different revision checklists below to find one you may use or to create your own.
Resources for Student Revision
See an example of a Student Revision Checklist, or an example of a Persuasive Essay Revision Checklist for a few ideas.
Use rubrics from standardized writing exams. If need be, teachers may change some of the language to facilitate better understanding for students. ACT Scoring Guidelines are a great place to start. For Advanced Placement students, check out the AP English Language & Composition Scoring Guidelines for 2010.
The College Board Website also contains previous years’ scoring guidelines and writing prompts used on the Advanced Placement exams.
Improving Student Writing Technique #3: Self-Evaluation
When it comes to critiquing, students will learn more from evaluating their own writing than from anyone else’s evaluation, including the teacher’s. Provide students with the rubric, on which a piece of writing will be graded, and have them “grade” their own papers.
As part of the project, ask students to include a one page, typed assessment of the activity. Include goal-setting for writing improvement. Help students by providing sentence stems if necessary. For example: “One thing I do well in my writing is…” and “One thing I need to improve on in my writing is…”
While these examples are very general, when creating your own sentence stems, try using more detailed sentence stems pertaining to lesson-specifics for your content.
By teaching students to evaluate their own writing, teachers provide students with exceptional educational tools. First, students have the power to identify how they learn, which is monumental for continuing to improve writing skills (as well as other skills) after leaving your classroom. Students also learn problem-solving and decision-making skills by identifying strengths and weaknesses as well as learning how assess what to keep and what to cut from their writing.
Resources for Students’ Self-Evaluation
Use rubrics from ACT and/or AP resources, which are linked in the “Resources for Student Revision” section above.
The article, “Student Self-Evaluation: What Research Says and What Practice Shows,” provides data on the benefits of students’ evaluating their own writing, and how it encourages metacognition.
For teaching writing, students need immediate feedback and time to review feedback. It’s part of the writing process.
While continuing to write is excellent practice for improving writing, without returning to a piece of writing and reviewing areas of strength and weakness for each individual student’s writing, there’s little chance for improvement. Basically, students will continue to make the same mistakes. Sometimes the only way to go forward and attain success is to spend a little time looking back.
While there may not seem enough time in the year to get all those papers completed, don’t be afraid to cut one or two out. When it comes to improving student writing, there’s little doubt that quality, versus quantity, is what really matters.
More Writing Ideas in Education on the Yahoo! Contributor Network:
Teachers, Let’s Shoot the Breeze: Eliminating Clichés in Student Writing
Differentiated Instruction Project: Soundtracks for Literature
Teacher Tools: ‘The Screenplay Workbook’ for Teaching Reading and Writing