How do you teach writing in a scalable manner to third- and fourth-graders?

This is a bleg, so please leave your sagacious answers in the comments.  Kelly Smith, of Prenda, writes me:

To summarize, I want kids to love writing, to see themselves as writers, and to improve their skill. I’d love to know about anyone who has done that systematically.

Are you able to help?  Rest assured that your answers will be put to good use.


What kind of writing? Handwriting? (Penmanship.) or???

I asked partly tongue in cheek, because our children’s Elementary school recently stopped teaching cursive writing.

I believe that good writing can be taught but it takes time. It is a matter of many things meshing. Here are some of them: Students need time and persistence, so they can craft their sentences and paragraphs AND re-read and re-work these (editing and revision);

they need good models to imitate (in decades gone by, the likes of Henry or William James and Joseph Conrad were read and imitated. For my generation it was George Orwell;

they need a reasonably large and diverse vocabulary, which reading can inculcate;

and they need a sensitivity to sounds, cadence, clarity and graceful style. Here again reading good stylists will be central.
Ver gorilas&noticias por cable
es bueno para escribir diálogos

Esto funciona muy bien.
el audio debe estar en la posición de apagado

It is criminally negligent for schools to teach cursive before age 10, as mine did, to the utter ruin of my handwriting.

Henry James may be the dullest writer in the long history of the English language.

in brazil we prefer the writer Sean Penn

They'll teach it in Spanish.

If writing were taught better in America...

Would Jussie Smollett have been able to come up with a better narrative about his fake MAGA-hat-wearing Chicago hate crime?

Inquiring minds...

If Jussie Smollett had given the issue 15 minutes worth of thought and not been an idiot, they he could have come up with a much better narrative.

Thankfully this wasn't the case, because if the story had been even slightly more believable, the Left would still be in full on denial.

You can't.

Most people will never love reading, never mind writing, which is considerably more difficult. Best you can manage is to drill them on grammar and teach them to communicate effectively. The five paragraph essay is dull, but it enforces a discipline of thought that will be more useful to your students than any amount of written-at-the-last-minute creative writing.

Drilling people on grammar and focusing on rigidly structured dull essays are great ways to maximize the number of people that hate writing.

Not everyone is going to enjoy writing, but activities like writing stories, poetry, and unstructured journaling are much more likely to develop an interest in some kids.

As a kid, I remember enjoying those things, and hating essay assignments, at that age and slightly older (I am an adult who likes writing).

Is it possible the things you hate were the things that were also good for you? Like medicine versus candy.

Writing is a skill before it is an art.

A kid who likes to write as long as he's not expected to use proper grammar or convey information in any sort of organized way doesn't actually like writing. He's more than ready for Facebook, but he hardly needs a classroom to encourage his social media habit.

I'd actually argue that the problem is not too much drilling, but too little and too late. Students reach high school still struggling with basic conjugation and punctuation, which means that teachers still spend much of their time correcting those mistakes and reteaching the fundamentals. If the students reached ninth grade knowing their grammar and basic essay forms cold, then they would be free to concentrate on the creative aspect of writing and might actually enjoy it. Doing it the other way is a bit too much like trying to teach figure skating to students who don't know how to lace up their skates.

Every normal person is functional in their native language as far as the circumstances of their own life is concerned. How far this functionality goes is another matter. The overwhelming majority can't and won't write effectively any more than a similar majority won't have the talent to play a musical instrument, hit a baseball or design fashions. Those that do have writing talent will develop it in spite of circumstances.

design a story template and have them fill in the template as if they're filling in the template of an essay. most kids like telling stories a lot more than they like writing essays.

The only method that works is practice. Anything else will produce mostly superficial results.

And in my experience, the way you get kids to practice something most reliably is to help ensure they enjoy that something. There's a reason many kids not otherwise known for their perseverance manage to practice sports or video games so much.

So teach them to read, but go our of your way to help them find books they enjoy reading and they'll do it all the time and you won't be able to stop them if you tried.

Teach them to write, but write something they'll enjoy, like a journal or short stories in a genre they're interested in. Later, once they write regularly you can explain why various other types of writing are important and encourage their expansion in to learning about them as well, which will be easier because they'll already have the basics down.

I taught composition and poetry for about ten years and had great luck adapting the craft-based writing approach of poetry workshops to composition classes. I think this would work well for kids too.

There are big problems with how writing is usually taught. Many students are more focused on whether they're "good" or "bad" at it than what they're trying to say. Much of what they're asked to write about doesn't seem relevant to them. The principal mode of expression is academic. The rules of grammar seem yet another imposition by a world that has already shown it doesn't understand them.

A craft-based approach involves lots of writing exercises, in-class critique, and a focus on the effects of the writing rather than on how well it conforms to academic convention. It's also scalable as it depends more on the diverse linguistic abilities and tastes of a class rather than on the expert opinion of a teacher. And it's way, way, way more fun.

Great comment. The focus on form rather than communication is something I never really noticed, but looking back, it was true of a lot of instruction in my experience.

I'd love to learn more about your experience doing craft-based workshops. How can I find out more?

I haven't published anything about it but I'd be glad to chat. Drop me a line at donald.l.dunbar at gmail and we can schedule a phonecall.

AI is so good at writing these days that kids should just learn from the AI. Nothing scales more than software.

My daughter is currently in grade 4 in Canada. Somehow, a small group of kids in her class decided that they were going to start a ‘business’ writing short books expecting that people would want to buy them. Thanks to Google docs, they collaborate on many of the stories and edit each other. A few, my daughter included, were not very good initially, with poor spelling, grammar and robotic sounding storytelling. What’s interesting is that that just by going through the process, the kids have quickly shown incredible improvements in spelling, grammar and the stories are becoming very interesting and well composed. Ultimately, it’s demonstrated to me the similarities between machine learning and human learning (I actually work in both healthcare and with a company that uses true ML and AI).

Presumably it's easier to help enthusiastic kids improve, though, than to get uninterested kids to start.

I've tested out grammarly; do you have a favorite tool or API?

I've taught G3-12 in various capacities, and I'd say that G3/4 is very, very difficult to get much out of in terms of writing even with bright, motivated students. They don't have the attention span for much meaningful writing yet. They really have the capability take off and write cohesive, multi-paragraph pieces around G5 (or G6 if they're young for their grade).

Focus on building a frequent reading habit for the best transferable skillset to productive skills later on.

I suspect that at that age, the best you can do to teach them to love writing is to teach them to love reading. I have yet to meet someone who enjoys writing that does not also enjoy reading.

The foundation for a love of reading is to have good books and short stories read aloud to children when they are young. This teaches vocabulary, cadence, thought and sentence structure. I’m not sure this is scalable, because a parent or other person who knows the child will know what words might need a pause for explanation. Also the child will interrupt with questions, which has how learning takes place. Good writing is obviously an exression of good language skills generally, which is taught through immediate verbal interaction.

I'm 37 and still improving my technical/scientific writing with the support of a mentor. No hurry, leave the kids alone.

I don't know if you can do this in a scalable manner that is easy to replicate without your involvement as a teacher. The historic way to teach good writing has been repeated writing exercises with somewhat personalised feedback from teachers.

So online tutoring from writing instructors based in third world countries (with thirld world wages)?

I wonder if this has any relevance? It provides lessons on writing and scaffolding and offers rubrics as well.

Loving writing, seeing oneself as a writer, and actually having good writing skills are three different things. I'm not sure which of the three things Smith prioritizes.

To improve kids writing skills, I would suggest the following:
(1) Develop objective measures of writing skill.
(2) Identify schools and teachers that produce the most skilled writers.
(3) Replicate those schools' and teachers' teaching methods.

Now, some may correctly point out that this method is not foolproof. The schools and teachers in step (2) may simply have the best students, not necessarily the best teaching methods. However, how does one even know that one's current teaching methods aren't already the best possible? One can't just note, for example, that only a small percentage of one's students learn to write well. Maybe, most students just aren't capable of learning to write well. It's only the existence of someone else's better results that allows us to know that our own methods may not already be optimal.

When you learn to draw, you practice tracing over drawings to get the muscle-movement feel of doing it.

If you want to learn to write, you practice using phrases and composing sentences like the great writers like Henry James, Lew Wallace, Mervyn Peake, Nietzsche, etc.

Just like, if you want to become a comedian, you practice making jokes like the comics you admire until you can make jokes of your own.

Or if you want to learn to debate, you practice making arguments the same way the great orators do. For instance, if you want to learn to defend the first amendment, you read Mill, and then use his logic with modern controversial ideas and mediums of communication.

This makes me wish there was a database somewhere filled with excellent sentences and paragraphs.

There is. It's called the library. I've taught writing for 20 years this is the only method that works. Copy others.

I learned how to write by writing down what I was going to say in a presentation. It would have to be on a foundation of reading and reading out lout. Do a short speech to the other kids. Your bike ride, whatever. 2 minute presentation. Write it down, then read it.

Communication is reading, writing and speaking and listening.

GMU used to have an entire framework devoted to this three decades ago, along the lines of reading to write or something similar.

Fads come and go, of course. Maybe the students simply need a 3D printed pen to pique their interest in this more modern age.

Clear writing is a function of clear thinking. I practice writing all day by thinking, thinking in sentences, simple declarative sentences (subject, verb, object). This is a variation on the more comprehensive advice of Haidt of Communication. I compare writing to running (or any physical activity): the more one does it, the easier it is. Better? Maybe, but easier for sure. Kids today. What chance do they have to be good writers as adults when most of their communication is on social media or in texts, where sentences are seldom seen, and increasingly where words are seldom seen. Social media is not only destroying the body politic, it's destroying brains - and the ability to think. If one cannot communicate in clear sentences, it's proof one cannot think. My lasting memory of being taught to write is diagramming a sentence. I still tremble in fear at the thought. Humans learn by copying others. That's the great insight of Rene Girard. And it applies to writing. The best advice I was given was to read books, short stories, essays by writers who used simple declarative sentences. One might assume all great writers do. But they don't. In fact, simple declarative sentences are hard to find. Why? For the same reason realism in art is hard to find. Buy a collection of short stories by famous writers of the past. There are many single volume collections. Compare the sentence structures of the different writers. It's striking how different they are. Now, one may marvel at the complex sentence structure of a James, but does one really want to copy that structure. I think not. One may disdain the simple sentence structure of Hemingway, but does one really want to copy that structure. Absolutely. Hemingway was first and foremost a journalist, and his style of writing, the journalistic style, is reflected in all of his work. Read Hemingway. Over and over. And others with similar writing styles. If one does, one will find oneself thinking in sentences, simple declarative sentences that communicate clearly and effectively.

Rayward - I am sorry but your belief in the clarity of your writing is not founded in reality. You write very long paragraphs that don't ever seem to come to a valid point which I inevitably skip over. I am not saying this as troll or to be hurtful, just sharing this as feedback. By the way I am sure I am not blameless either, very often I am in a rush when I write comments and after I have posted them and re-read I am ashamed of the grammar or structure.

A good tip I find for communicating in writing is to summarise your point at the beginning and then add more detail in subsequent paragraphs as you go on. This is what newspapers do and it can be highly effective.

One of these days he will discover the paragraph.

@ChrisA - Rayward is a lawyer (as I was, but I flunked out). As such, there's one school of thought that says a lawyer saying the same thing three different ways is like a bridge designer who 'over-engineers' a bridge by three times the minimum necessary strength in order to have a 'factor of safety' so the bridge will be sure to stand. I once saw this in an old British barrister's book. It's very true. The function of legal writing is not to be poetic but to use the right buzzwords and legal phrases and so-called operative words, to make your point crystal clear, to say the same thing three times. Kind of like this post. As such, Rayward is a good "legal" writer but his prose on this blog is often rambling. The same cannot be said for me, since I'm a much worse lawyer than he is (that is, I'm a better writer). I hope this makes it clear. If not, I can repeat myself.

Of course, social media makes it impossible to communicate beyond a few words, or a grunt, or emojis. And to criticize. That is the world to which we are destined. Try harder. Read. Explore. Open your mind. Think in sentences.

Institute for Excellence In Writing

Andrew Pudewa is a former Suzuki Method teacher who brings its core principles to teaching writing.

Very systemitized and he's good at charming kids.

I think it was Annie Dillard in The Writers Life who said it was forced time in a closed space, with a set goal of x number of words per day. The old adage of 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.

OTOH what she wrote afterward was never as good as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

read a short piece of something good
think about it but not too much
write about it but not too much?

Have them write down one another's stories.
(One person dictates a short story, the other person writes.)

Writer: a librarian seeking employment as a translator.

By the by: how many teachers with the Prenda School are thoroughly acquainted with the rhetorical education offered by Quintilian?

If "thorough acquaintance" raises expectations a bit high, how many teachers with the Prenda School have even heard of Quintilian?

(I claim no mastery of Quintilian, since Latin was dropped from public school curricula scant years before I reached secondary grades, and I attended no Roman Catholic schools and never took the first course in Latin. Nevertheless, even a cursory look into The Orator's Education would yield a number of helpful suggestions, among them foreign language instruction commencing as early as possible [Quintilian even urged Roman parents to permit their children to learn to speak Greek prior to learning to speak Latin] and devoting much study to grammar rules and vocabulary that have to be MEMORIZED.)

(--so, how developed is mnemonics instruction at Prenda School?)

She should talk to Lucy Calkins. I don’t think there is a writing program that has scaled more than her Reading and Wriring project.

Reading and *Writing* Project

Most third- and fourth-graders are happy to talk. Ask them to write something. Have them read it to you. Ask a couple of questions about what they have written. Repeat daily.

You will begin to see their strengths as writers. Praise their strengths. You will begin to see the gaps in their writing. Ask questions that gently point to eliminating those gaps.

Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, or formatting on the page.

Yes! But it's not scalable - tech men will never make billions from an algorithm this way!

I have no idea what works in practice, but i would guess you start with storytelling, then worry about mechanics

I used to acquire and develop college books on how to write for HBJ, which was at the time the most successful publisher of such books. In college anyway, and I suspect in the schools as well, most of the people teaching writing were not very good writers themselves. At the college level, most of them were graduate students more interested in literature. It's hard to teach something you don't know.

My own opinion is that reading is probably the most important preparation. You cannot tell good from bad if you have limited experience reading both. The revolution that occurred in the eighties, the move away from teaching from polished models of various kinds of good writing--for example: argument and description--seemed an improvement. This "process" approach broke the writing process into distinct stages, like discovering ideas to support a position and revision and proofreading. Writing isn't so daunting if you try to do final polishing AFTER you have laid out your ideas, illustrated them and created a logical overall structure in separate stages.

I think I have 3/4ths of what you need.

I've spend the last 7 or so years, developing and using a method to coaching executives to be better writers and more effective communicators. (I do it for people at Amazon, among other companies) It's not grammar-based. You can get a taste of it (ebook and five videos) here:

I've just created an assessment that makes the whole thing more effective. I haven't done it with kids yet, but that's been on my list from the beginning. (I have a 1st grader, so I was going to give it 2-3 more years before I dug in)

I think most all of the problems with the way writing is taught fit into three categories. 1- The feedback loop is horrible. Both slow and inconsistent. 2- Grammar is a great tool to study languages, but not a great tool for actually writing. 3- The subject is misnamed. The first draft of anything anybody writes is horrible, so the most useful topic of instruction is rewriting.

The way you make all of this scalable is you have kids teach each other in a kind of ladder. The feedback and coaching mechanism is to have a person write, ask them some questions about what they were trying to convey, then show them/come up with ways it could have been written more efficiently. This certainly works for creative writing. (e.g. Here's how that scene you wrote could work faster and have more emotion) but it is excellent for persuasive and technical writing. Everything I have is in service of making the goal clearer (what is good writing?) and the feedback more specific.

I'm making some videos to explain the assessment and more method, but the easiest thing to do is for us to just have a chat. I'm sincerely happy to help. Contact form:

I'm a former journalist and one of the things I found appealling at that age was a phony "Danger: Mutant death rays inside" warning on a book.

That taught me that with a few words, I could create an image way beyond my ability to draw.

If I was giving that assignment, I'd ask the young students to describe on paper a movie scene they would love to see. If that's too tough, they could alternatively describe their favorite TV or movie scene.

A follow up could be to reword what they wrote to use fewer words but preserve the story.

Just noticed the Prenda School - second round of funding coming soon?

I think it is dubious that "good writing" can be taught as an area of study (besides grammar and the like) because good writing is clear thinking and that is probably not a skill that can be taught. It is further dubious that your typical grade school teacher has these skills either so the quest is farcical.

My high school creative writing class was one of the best writing classes I ever had. We covered every type of creative writing, starting with a list of metaphors and similes.
More importantly, we had to do three drafts of everything we wrote, even if the final draft was identical to the first draft. Good writing is rewriting. I would copy this class if I were teaching writing to kids.
Another idea is writing newspaper stories based on fairy tales. e.g. "Little Red Riding Hood."
Also, grammar is essential. I have seen so much writing ruined by a misplaced comma. You cannot skip the boring stuff.
Finally, reading helps, but so does listening. Have the children listen to audio works, ranging from old-time radio shows to modern podcasts like "The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel."

And now for what not to do. There is a movement among writing teachers to make writing more interesting by taking steps such as "banning boring words." In my opinion, much of this is done to the benefit of the instructor, who has to read dozens of poorly written papers all at once. While teaching children to think about word choice is critical (I personally try to avoid the word "things"), clarity should trump creativity for most writing.
Words have specific meanings. I once saw an example on a classroom poster that said "Instead of beautiful, use words like pretty or handsome." Those words aren't interchangeable. "She wasn't a pretty girl, but she grew into a handsome woman."
As Jonathan Franzen said, “Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.” As Elmore Leonard said, "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue."

I should add that a crucial aspect of the creative writing course I described, in addition to the rewriting, is that we had to write with specific rules. For example, the fable had to feature animals. This made you think about what you were writing. Formal poetic constructions, such as haikus and sonnets, are very useful.

You can't develop good writing good skills without proper art classes.
As for writing as a cognitive skill:
1st grade -> pencil and crayon: OK
2nd grade -> ballpoint-pen and watercolor paint: Unfortunately the development of the majority of American students stops here.
3rd grade -> fountain-pen and ink: Helps the students develop more precise lines.
4th grade and up -> Calligraphic pencils, advanced patterns, oil paint, cutting, sculpting, drawing ranging from technical to comics. Whatever the kids like, just keep them entertained with more techniques.

As for writing as an expression, I don't think you can skip fine literature. That's what makes writing what it is. Unfortunately it's very challenging to make kids love reading without handing them over 400-page books (that's not a very appealing alternative when you could play Fortnite), but you could try to explain the kids everyday matters with the language of past writers. For example talk about the Super Bowl using phrases only from Mark Twain books. Install Rudyard Kipling as dad's satnav voice. Or hire Justin Bieber to sing 16th century English poems.

I will second Hollis Robbins (@anecdotal): “All writing should be taught by making students copy sentences by Dickens. (Followed up by Austen and Lincoln.) Or the whole Columbian Orator, if you're Douglass.”

start by reassuring the children they are correct
despite what congresswoman" lookitmeigottarocket" asserts
in a legal hearing
sentences that begin with words
like how, why, when where etc. are in point of fact questions
she is mostly playing for the cameras like joe mcCarthy!

sorry, actually
supposed to be
u.s. congresswomyn "lookitmeigotta rocket launcher"

Why do we write?
I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change. I write to honor beauty. I write to discover. Who am I? What do I believe in? I write to the questions that shatter my sleep. I write to remember—you know when you memorize something, and you kind of feel accomplished? That’s all writing is. I write to the music that opens my heart. I write as an act of faith in God. Words. White. Write. Right. Birds. Flight. The best feeling in reading and writing is when you feel like you are flying.

First would be to read Paul Graham's 2004 'The Age of the Essay'. An essay where he gives historical context discusses his essay writing form.

When I discovered

Freshman Rhetoric, John Rothwell Slater, Ph.D. Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature in the University of Rochester, (1913)

I really wished I this had been the type of instruction I had received. None of this junior literary theorist/critic that most writing instruction has become. Slater even highlights the damage done by trying to teach composition by writing about literature as a beginner

"Nothing can be more hypocritical than for young
people who are still in the rudiments of literature to be forced
into pronouncing objective judgments as to the worth of
literature. Students instinctively feel this, and resent all
attempts to get them to pretend a knowledge which they do
not possess. On the other hand, they are beginning to be
dissatisfied with judging books and other works of art on the
ground of mere impulsive like or dislike. It is time, then, for
something less ambitious than criticism, and more thoughtful
than caprice. "

Freshman Rhetoric was a text for teaching "school skills" to entering college students. Before composition got rolled into the English Department in the "age of research" rather than instruction. However, the incremental method is adaptable as it basically strives to maintain relevance of topics to the students as it builds skills.

The Internet Archive first edition has a very good chapter on note taking which was removed in the edition available via Amazon. The latter does expand, quite well, on how to develop good sentences and paragraphs however.

I would add, that 'Freshman Rhetoric' led me to discover

How to Study and Teaching How to Study (1909) by F. M. McMurry, Professor of Elementary Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

The two books kind of work together as developing the prioritizing skills needed to take good notes and organize for good writing are also factors in learning how to study. Oddly, the one thing schools seem loath to give actual instruction in is how to study. Instead of a formalized approach, students are told to study without being shown what effective studying is.

These passages are as applicable today as they were when McMurry published them in 1909:

"No doubt every one can recall peculiar methods study that he or some one else has at some time followed. During my attendance at high school, I often studied aloud at home along with several other temporary or permanent members of the family. I remember becoming exasperated at times by one of my girl companions. She not only read her history aloud, but as she read she stopped to repeat each sentence five times with great vigor. Although the din interfered with my own work, I could not help but admire her endurance; for the physical labor of mastering a lesson was certainly equal to of a good farm hand, for the same period of time.

"This way of studying history seemed ridiculous. But the method pursued by myself and several others in beginning algebra at about the time was not greatly superior. Our text-book contained several long sets of problems which were the terror of the class and scarcely one of which we able to solve alone. We had several friends, however, who could solve them and by calling upon them help, we obtained the "statement" for each one. All these statements I memorized, and in that way I was able to "pass off" the subject

"A few years later, when a school principal, I had a fifteen-year-old boy in my school who was intolerably lazy. His ambition was temporarily aroused, however, when he bought a new book and began the study of history. He happened to be the first one called upon in the first recitation and he started off finely. But soon he stopped, in the middle of a sentence and sat down. When I asked him what was the matter, he simply replied that that was as far as he had got. Then, on glancing at the book, I saw that he had been reproducing the text verbatim and the last word that he had uttered was the last word on the first page.

"These few examples suggest the extremes to which young people may go in their methods of study. The first instance might illustrate the muscular method of learning history; the second the memoriter method of reasoning in mathematics. I have never been able to imagine how the boy, in the third case, went about his task; hence, I can suggest no name for his method.

"While these methods of study are ridiculous. I am not at all sure that they are in a high degree exceptional. The most extensive investigation of examples of this subject has been made by Dr Lida B. Earhart, and the facts that she has collected reveal a woeful ignorance of the whole subject of study. "

"It is, perhaps, unnecessary to collect proofs that young people do not learn how to study, because teachers admit the fact very generally. Indeed, it is one of the common subjects of complaint among teachers in the elementary school, in the high school, and in the college. All along the line teachers condole with one another over this evil, college professors placing blame on the instructors in the high school, and the latter passing it down to teachers in the elementary school. Parents who supervise their children's studies, or who otherwise know about their habits of work, observe the same fact with sorrow. It is at least refreshing to find one matter, in the much-disputed field of education, on which teachers and parents are well agreed."

Teach them screenwriting. It will connect them to something they probably already love too much (videos, tv, movies, etc). They will learn structure, visual writing, dialog, pov, drama, etc. It will feel fun and relevant to many of them, unlike a task.

Check out 826 and Freedom Writers - both organizations that systematically teach children to write and love writing.

Quantity, quantity, quantity. Have them write constantly and relentlessly without grading the writing. Especially at that age. They need to crank it out without fear of being judged. As soon as it is graded the game is lost. The focus turns to what the grade is and the love of writing is lost. Let them write about anything they want if it differs from you lesson. If they want to write about unicorns and fantasy stories, let them. If they want to write about fighting in an imaginary war against imaginary enemies, let them. If they want to crank out insipid rap lyrics, let the.

I taught 4-8th graders for ten years. The kids weren't good writers, technically, for sure. But the real issue was that they hated putting pencil to paper. The joy of expressing their thoughts on paper had been pounded out of them. They saw writing as a chore to please a teacher.

The biggest problem with my writing education was a lack of real, critical, and prompt feedback. After years of being asked to write essays it wasn’t until 11th grade that a teacher actually bothered to read and critique our writing line by line. It was really only then that writing “clicked” for me.

Good feedback is probably the bottleck for efficiently teaching writing. I’m not sure if there is a way around this. One thing that was helpful was watching the teacher critique one (anonymous) student’s essay out loud in front of the class. Not only did this save the teacher time, but it was also easier to take the criticism to heart when it wasn’t your own essay being eviscerated.

seconded @Heedless.

You can't.

Every few years this inane educational demands appear : we must teach children programming or music or sports or reading.
This is foolish. We must accepts that 1) children (and adults) are all different 2) there should be no mandatory skills that all children taught 3) Society who need all individual to be capable of some random mandatory skills is bad society.
Education should be way to separate people interest : some for college, some for highschool diploma, some for work apprenticeship.

What about basic numeracy and literacy?

Have them write about something they care about. Everything else is secondary.

Use a technique called "imitation". Its very smple but very hard.

Find a paragraph or so of excellent writing appropriate for grade level. Then have the students "imitate" by replacing the existing content with their own content, but leaving the exact grammar in tact. Its backwards from normal assignments, where students must find the structure to express their existing idea. In imitations, students have to fit any idea into the existing structure.

Well, not speaking as one who can write well (or at least mostly doesn't achieve that) I recently was searching for a similar type of aid.

I think three things might be good:
1) Short sentences
2) Short paragraphs (3 -4 sentences)
3) Look for confusion or lack of clarity and revise.

Check out The Writing Revolution, book & website. It’s systematic, and it works.

My daughter had a wonderful teacher in third grade.
All students had a journal.
They would go home, take a look at the sky and write something about the sky every days a week. Creativity and diversity mattered.
It was difficult the first week or so but it eventually became natural.
Every Friday students will share with the class their journal entries.
My daughter won a regional writing contest that year.

I think that the typical write-about-what-you-love type advice is misguided. Writing, like any skill, is improved with exercises. However, a lot of kids don't have a deep well of emotion and experience to draw from. As a result, those exercises should NOT aim to draw out deep thoughts or emotions from kids. The exercises should provide a ladder to achievable writing. For example, two sentences, three sentences, 4, 5, or 6 sentences about a mundane topic. For example, write a 3 sentence narrative about this [shows a picture of a dog] dog. I can remember, and I see it in my kids, being paralyzed becuase 1) I couldn't write a story with the vocabulary and structure of the stories that I read and 2) I couldn't name and explain my feelings. I had difficulty starting because I knew that I couldn't finish a story the way I thought that I should. Emotion-free exercises with a finite scope would have helped me exercise the writing muscle and express creativity within safe borders.

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