Improving the quality of students’ writing should never be the responsibility of just the English department.
However, whereas English teachers may rejoice at the mere mention of a whole-school focus on writing, in reality, others – especially those less secure in writing instruction – are likely to feel a bit flummoxed.
However, there are some simple and effective ways to start building a framework to help promote improved writing, regardless of the subject you teach.
How to improve students’ writing
1. Demystify key terms
Explicitly teach students the key vocabulary they need to confidently discuss and explore constructing paragraphs.
Explain that a topic sentence should be the very first sentence and that it should clearly establish the main idea of the paragraph. Ensure that students securely grasp the purpose of the final sentence, the transitional sentence, too.
2. Single paragraph outlines
Allow time for students to specify the content of each paragraph. For example, students can jot down the four key details, including central arguments and supporting evidence, that they plan to include in each paragraph.
This, along with briefly mapping out topic and transitional sentences, will help students to produce a more precise and coherent piece of writing.
3. Single-sentence modelling
Use a wide range of single sentence models early on, rather than showing students an entire response.
Single sentence models can be good and bad, live modelled or pre-prepared, just as long as students are afforded opportunities to scrutinise and discuss them.
Students will really benefit from teachers breaking the writing process down into manageable chunks. Plus, at this stage, teachers can introduce sentence models for students to grammatically imitate, as this will further promote flair and sentence variety in students’ writing.
4. Incorporate appositives. Apposi-WHAT?
An appositive, put simply, is a noun or noun phrase that is placed directly beside a noun; it usually renames the noun or helps to explain it more fully.
- “In An Inspector Calls, Priestley’s morality play, Shelia Birling is used as a tool to…”
- “Margaret Thatcher, dubbed ‘The Iron Lady’ on account of her uncompromising approach to politics, is often…”
Here, the appositives have been underlined. When used accurately, appositives help to add significant details and depth to sentences, and they certainly help to foster a more analytical style.
5. Practice makes permanent
It may seem illogical, but students do not need to spend time writing essay after essay after essay for their essay-writing skills to actually improve. In fact, deliberate practice – practice that is more purposeful and systematic – is much more likely to improve pupils’ performance.
So, commit time to students revisiting and building upon crafting effective single sentences and incorporating appositives.
Repeated exposure and repeated practice of this sort will assist with students’ long-term retention and transferability of writing skills across the curriculum.
Suzanne Jabarian is an English teacher and lead practitioner at Olchfa School in Swansea. She tweets @SuzieJabarian