Teaching Students to Write Well

Teaching Students to Write Well

To build a foundation for college and career readiness, students need to learn to use writing as a way of offering and supporting opinions, demonstrating understanding of the subjects they are studying, and conveying real and imagined experiences and events. They learn to appreciate that a key purpose of writing is to communicate clearly to an external, sometimes unfamiliar audience, and they begin to adapt the form and content of their writing to accomplish a particular task and purpose. They develop the capacity to build knowledge on a subject through research projects and to respond analytically to literary and informational sources. To meet these goals, students must devote significant time and effort to writing, producing numerous pieces over short and extended time frames throughout the year.

Common Core State Standards

One of the biggest changes put forth by the Common Core State Standards is an elevated focus on writing and overall literacy.  More than ever before, students are now expected to:

  • Write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning and relevant evidence.
  • Write arguments and opinion pieces from the earliest grades.
  • Conduct focused and in-depth research for written analyses and presentations.

Specifically, the standards state that students must build their writing abilities in three areas: argument/opinion writing, informative/explanatory writing, and narrative writing. Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit organization founded by three lead writers of the Common Core State Standards, offers a variety of resources for teachers to get familiar with the Common Core State Standards and understand how to put them into action.

As you have your students work on more rigorous and in-depth writing assignments, here are a few key points to keep in mind about different types of writing, as derived from writing samples provided on Student Achievement Partners’ website, www.achievethecore.org:

Argument/opinion writing – Students are provided (and read) texts and a writing prompt that asks them to form an opinion or claim about a focusing question.

  • For students in the early elementary grades, opinion writing should offer a brief introduction, state the opinion, provide one or a few reasons for the opinion expressed, and provide a simple concluding statement.
  • As students progress through elementary school, their opinion essays should become more robust and should have an introduction, clear statement of an opinion, evidence from the text to support that opinion and explain the student’s thinking, several paragraphs and a conclusion.
  • Middle school students’ opinion writing should introduce a claim, acknowledge competing claims and rebut them with credible evidence and reasoning, organize reasoning and evidence logically, support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence, and provide a concluding section that supports the initial argument presented.
  • In early high school, students’ argument/opinion writing must introduce a precise claim with context and distinguish that claim from alternate claims, establish a formal style and objective tone, develop the claim with supporting evidence and reasoning, develop counterclaims fairly, and provide a concluding statement.

Informative/explanatory writing – Students are given a set of texts (or a video and a text, if younger) and a writing prompt that requests them to convey complex ideas and information.

  • For students early in elementary school, informative/explanatory writing should introduce a topic, supply facts about it and end with a reflective concluding sentence.
  • As students approach the later elementary school years, informative/explanatory writing should introduce a topic, provide a general observation and focus, use precise language to explain the topic, develop the topic with details, facts and examples, link ideas using words and phrases, and structure the essay to make it easy to follow.
  • In middle school, informative/explanatory writing must introduce the topic, name the work about which the student is writing (and the synopsis of the story), offer relevant facts and details, give examples from the text, clarify the relationship among the ideas presented, give examples, establish a formal style and use precise language.
  • In high school, students must give context to set the stage for an essay, use precise language to delve into the complexity of the topic, transition smoothly to clarify relationships among ideas and concepts, organize complex ideas and information to make connections, develop the topic with facts and details, establish a formal style and objective tone, and analyze ideas and information to make connections. 

Narrative writing – Students write from a writing prompt and stimulating idea to develop narrative about experiences or events.

  • In early elementary school, students must use temporal words or phrases (once, every week) to signal event order, recount sequenced events and include some details.
  • Later in elementary school, students write narratives by first orienting the reader and introducing a narrator, using a variety of transitional words to maintain sequence, use narrative techniques to develop events and show characters’ response, use concrete details to convey experiences and provide a conclusion.
  • In middle school, students engage and orient the reader by establishing context for narrative and introducing main characters, use dialogue to develop characters and events, use transitional clauses, use dialogue to develop character, use precise words and phrases and descriptive details, use description and reflection to build toward an outcome, and provide a conclusion. 


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