What you have heard in professional development is true: every teacher is a writing teacher. But that doesn’t mean every class should become an English class. It just means that every teacher can take a few simple steps to encourage students to become better writers. How? By reinforcing the message that writing is communicating, and we all need to communicate clearly. Here are ten skills that every teacher can reinforce during their daily activities. No extra preparation needed.
(You can find a free, printer-friendly version of this list of writing skills on Teachers Pay Teachers.)
Ten writing skills that every teacher can reinforce during regular classroom activities
1. Follow directions exactly and answer questions completely.
Students may try to do the easy parts of an assignment and skip the challenging parts. Try not to let them get away with it.
2. Put ideas in an order that makes sense.
There are many different ways to arrange information: Time order, space order, order of importance, compare-and-contrast, cause-and-effect, or starting with the main idea and leading into the details. When possible, remind students to organize their ideas in a way that fits the information involved.
3. Choose the right details and put them in the right places.
Not all details are created equal. Students should pick the details necessary to prove or explain their points, not splash random details onto the paper to make their writing seem longer.
4. Explain the details that need to be explained.
If a student is introducing a new person, place, or concept, they should assume that the reader doesn’t know who or what they are talking about yet. Don’t just say, “Jordan said hard work is important.” Tell your reader if you are talking about Michael Jordan or your best friend, Jordan, or your chemistry teacher, Mr. Jordan.
5. Use punctuation. Please!
Feel free to leave the lessons on semi-colons to the English teachers, but any teacher past the early elementary grades has the right to hand back a student’s paper and say, “Put some periods in here before I grade this.”
6. Capitalize. BUT DON’T CAPITALIZE EVERYTHING OR IT SEEMS LIKE YOU ARE YELLING.
Most students do know basic rules of capitalization. They just get lazy about it.
7. Write in school-appropriate language.
This means more than just no cursing. It means no slang, no txt msg abbreviations, no substituting numbers 4 letters, no writing “cuz” instead of “because,” no LOL, OMG, BTW, LMAO, TTYL. WTF?
8. Don’t leave extra lines between paragraphs. Indent.
9. Be neat and take pride in your work.
You wouldn’t accept a McDonald’s hamburger with part of the wrapper ripped off, a footprint on it, or paper that looked like it was taken out of the garbage. Neither would your students. Neither should you.
10. Read what you just wrote to see if it says what you want to say.
This is the most basic principle of proofreading. Writing is like talking, except you don’t get a chance to explain yourself. None of us want to be misunderstood when we’re talking. Students should be in the habit of rereading what they’ve written at least once before they hand it off to a teacher–or anyone else, for that matter.