Teaching Insights: How to Model Effective Writing
Do you remember learning to drive? You probably didn’t learn by reading a how-to manual or listening to your parents lecture about driving. Most likely, you watched your parents operate a car while giving you step-by-step instructions. You probably learned through demonstrations and practice.
It’s the same way in education, and that’s where the strategy of modeling comes in.
Modeling is when a teacher demonstrates a skill or concept, allowing students to learn by observing. It’s also one of the most powerful ways to teach writing.
Why? Because many students learn best by example, and modeling writing also encourages students to share their work and to be receptive to feedback.
Read on for suggested activities and tips that will help you make the most out of modeling.
Don't Be Shy: Write In Front of Your Students
When you assign writing or teach a new component of the writing process, write your own sample paragraph or sentences on the projector.
As you write, verbalize your thought process to show students how to translate ideas into effective writing. It’s especially helpful if you can talk through any difficulties you encounter. This normalizes struggles and shows students how to overcome writer’s block and other issues.
If you’re worried that students will simply copy your writing sample, choose a topic that’s similar to what your students are writing (but not exactly the same).
However, even when students write something very similar to what you’ve written, they’re still learning how to write well. Perhaps next time, they’ll branch out and generate some new ideas of their own.
Write With Students
You can also write with your students when you assign a writing task. Often, seeing that you’re willing to do the same task you’ve assigned can motivate students.
It also increases your credibility as a writing instructor. After all, if you’re going to teach effective writing, you should also be able to write effectively.
For the same reason, it’s a great idea to write even outside of class. If you haven’t done much writing since college, it can be difficult to teach your students to be excellent writers. Continue honing your craft by writing with your students—both inside and outside of class.
Show Students Your Writing
You probably know from experience that most students dread sharing their writing with the class. Put them at ease by sharing your own writing first.
For instance, if you write alongside your students, as suggested above, volunteer to read your work aloud when everyone is finished. You can also share what you write in your spare time or share older papers from your high school or college days.
This way, you provide students with helpful examples of quality writing, and you encourage them to be more open about sharing their own work.
Ask Students to Critique Your Writing
Many students aren’t particularly receptive to feedback on their writing. Instead of viewing your critiques as an opportunity to grow as writers, many students simply view feedback as criticism.
Sharing your writing can help students get over this fear as well. If you share high school or college papers with your students, also share some of the feedback you received and how you responded to it. If possible, show students a first draft with feedback, followed by a significantly improved final draft.
Even better, you can allow students to critique your writing. When you read a piece of writing aloud, ask for feedback from your students. You may wish to draw their attention to certain aspects of the piece.
For example, you might ask:
- This sentence sounds a little awkward…any ideas how I can reword it?
- I just can’t come up with a good title. Any suggestions?
- What additional evidence could I add to this paragraph?
- What’s a good transition I could use here?
This exercise helps students start thinking like writers, and allowing them to critique your writing makes them more receptive to your critiques of their work. Emphasize that you’re not a perfect writer either and that you want to continue growing. Feedback isn’t criticism; it’s advice that can lead to improvement.
Model effective writing by writing in front of your students and alongside them. Think aloud about the writing process, discussing your struggles and how you overcome them.
Share your work with students, even allowing them to provide feedback and constructive criticism.
Your students will start to view feedback more positively and will develop a willingness to workshop their writing and learn from others. As a result, their writing skills and their confidence will grow.
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