Effective writing is a necessity, not only for academic success, but also for active participation in our society. Yet, many students are still leaving high school lacking proficiency in this skill.
Graham and Perin (2007) investigated the current research to determine the best strategies for improving high school students’ writing skills.
- Teach students strategies for planning, revising and editing writing.
One example is SRSD (Self-regulated strategy development). This strategy has six key steps
- Develop background knowledge including explicitly teaching the specific conventions associated with different types of writing.
- Describe and discuss the purpose and benefits of the strategy.
- Model the strategy.
- Memorise the steps in the strategy.
- Support students’ attempts by providing the necessary level of scaffolding until mastery of the strategy is achieved.
- Independent use of the strategy with little or no support
- Explicitly and systematically teach students how to summarise texts.
- Provide students opportunities to collaborate in the writing process.This involves peers writing in teams, most commonly a higher achieving student working with a lower achieving student. The students collaborate to plan, draft, revise and edit the written assignment. The teacher’s role is to monitor, prompt, praise and address concerns.
- Provide students with specific, reachable goals for writing assignments.For example, students may be instructed to take a particular stance and write a persuasive speech designed to convince a specific audience to agree with the opinion presented. As a part of the assignment instructions, the teacher may explicitly set sub-goals such as the number of reasons to include, the types of supporting examples, and the inclusion of a particular number of persuasive techniques.
- Use computers and other word processors to support the writing process.Using computers can be particular helpful for low achieving students. Typed text results in a neat and legible script and this text can be easily moved, added to or words deleted, while still remaining legible. The use of spell checkers can also eliminate issues associated with poor spelling resulting in the selection of less sophisticated vocabulary.
- Teach students to construct more complex and sophisticated sentences by participating in sentence combining activities.For example, students do the following types of activities:
- Combine smaller related sentences into a compound sentence using conjunctions (but, and, because, the, etc.)
- Embed adjectives or adverbs from one sentence into another sentence, eliminating the need for two separate sentence
- Embed adverbial or adjectival clauses from one sentence into another sentence
- Embed multiple elements (adjectives, adverbs, adverbial clauses and adjectival clauses) into the one sentence.
- Engage students in pre-writing activities to assist in the generation and organisation of ideas.Pre-writing activities might include:
- Research information for a paper.
- Developing a visual representation of their ideas.
- Group discussion and planning.
- Participation in an activity or viewing a process or event.
- Provide concrete data for students to analyse to help them develop ideas and content.For example, the students could examine one or more objects using all their senses, listen to sounds, examine pictures, act out dialogues or scenarios or participate in physical activities taking note of bodily sensations. Students’ responses are elicited verbally and students are encouraged to become increasingly more precise in their descriptions. These descriptions are then recorded in writing. The written description is analysed with the focus on audience reaction.
- Use a process writing approach, interweaving instructional activities designed to provide extended writing opportunities for authentic audiences with personalised instruction and cycles of writing.
- Provide models of good writing for students to read, analyse and emulate. For example, students could be provided with an excellent example of a persuasive essay on a particular topic. The teacher discusses the key elements that make this sample excellent writing. Students then write a persuasive essay on a different topic, using the sample essay as a guide.
- Encourage students to use writing as a tool for learning content.
Many high school students are not taught and do not know how to study. Rewriting content material from other subject areas such as Science or Society and Environment has the two-fold benefit of providing students with writing practice while helping cement their knowledge of the concepts being learned.
It is important to keep in mind that no single approach to writing instruction will meet the needs of all students and there may be other effective strategies that have not been researched and consequently haven’t been included in this list by Graham and Perin.
Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). A Report to Carnegie Corporation of New York: Writing Next Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools. Alliance for Excellent Education: New York.