Writing Strategies

This writing portfolio contains strategies for teaching all levels of students.

Writer’s Notebook

In his book, Teaching Adolescent Writers, Kelly Gallagher explains, “If a painter needs an easel to play with painting, and a player needs a gym to play with the basketball, then it reasons that writers–especially developing writers–need a place to play with writing” (Gallagher, 2006, p.39).

A writer’s notebook can be used by students every day. It is not graded, but is a place for students to collect and develop ideas, or seeds for writing projects.

They should have fun decorating their notebooks with pictures of friends, family, or things they like to do. This helps the student make home/school connections and makes the task meaningful. It also helps students of diverse backgrounds and abilities make connections with family members who might be uncomfortable reading or writing in English.

I like MargD’s PowerPoint presentation of what a writer’s notebook is. http://margdteachingposters.weebly.com/writers-notebooks.html

When I learned about the writer’s notebook, it was with Teachers College at Columbia University years ago, and I am happy to see versions of that excellent writing program have spread throughout the United States. http://readingandwritingproject.org/resources/units-of-study-implementation/units-of-study-for-teaching-writing-video-orientations-grades-k-8

With reading and writing, there should be a sequence of connected units across the year.  The program should be cumulative, not piecemeal.  The writer’s notebook is part of that philosophy. Students use their notebooks all year.

Explicit Instruction: Modeling your own writer’s notebook for kids to see is important. We know that as teachers, we have to share our thinking, and how we make sense of text. We remember to teach explicitly and model our thinking (Harvey & Goudvis, 2007).  My own writer’s notebook-


Look at ways to come up with seeds for your writer’s notebook here: http://cafe1123.blogspot.com/p/writing-in-cafe-1123.html

I don’t really organize my notebook into sections, but if you want to do that find examples here:http://applesofyoureye.blogspot.com/2012/08/writers-notebook-organization_24.html

It might also be helpful to use an index, but then you need to insert page numbers, or have students purchase journals with page numbers already in them.



Harvey, S., Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies That Work. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Gallagher, K. (2006). Teaching Adolescent Writers. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.


Publishing Possibilities

In their chapter on editing in What Really Matters in Writing, Cunningham and Cunningham give the reader ideas for creating editor checklists with students (p.66, 2010).

Some of these ideas include asking:

1-Do all the sentences make sense?

2-Do all the sentences have punctuation?

3-Do all the sentences begin with capitals?

These are simple points students can following when editing their writing. Cunningham explains that you can add points on the checklist gradually, modeling each with an example of your own writing.

Using mini-conferences during the editing process helps teachers hone in on exactly what students need help with in their writing. Teachers can look for “teachable moments.” One student may need help with sequence of events while another may need help with adding details.


I love the STAR idea by Richard Cornwell from the South Basin Writing Project at California State University Long Beach. Students use this focused list when revising.

Substitute overused, weak, or boring words

Take things out that you’ve repeated or that don’t support the subject

Add details, figurative language, or elaborate on ideas

Rearrange things that don’t belong, the sequence

When students are checking their writing, they can use this list to improve their work. Also, when the teacher edits,  he can just write a letter of the acronym on the student’s paper letting her know what to focus on improving in that section. Just writing the letter saves time and energy for the teacher, and gives the student the freedom to revise as she sees fit, but focusing in on adding more details, for example.

Using trusted sources like the Purdue Online Writing Lab https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/purdue_owl.html

is good for a quick reference guide.

You can have students be peer editors for another level of revising. Students can put on their “editor’s glasses” and get to work. I’ve found a site that describes the peer editor as a “writing buddy.” You can use an anchor chart with sentence starters https://www.buzzfeed.com/weareteachers/25-awesome-anchor-charts-for-teaching-writing-h0xt

Remind students to be good critics. Here’s an example of another anchor chart https://educationtothecore.com/2013/04/anchor-charts/

Have a publishing  party! 

When student work is polished and ready to be shared with the world, you can organize a publishing party where parents and friends can come and hear the students read their work. This is a powerful home/school connection that students won’t forget.

Susan Antonelli is an educator with tips for a great publishing party here http://wonderteacher.com/8-tips-for-a-great-publishing-party/



Think-writes are writing we do for ourselves that involve just a single draft. The writing is not graded. Think-writes can be lists, reminders, and quick notes. This writing helps us stay organized and remember things. We can add them to our writer’s notebook. It helps us form new ideas. We can use think-writes with our students to get them to think more deeply about an idea or topic. They engage all students regardless of writing levels.


To activate prior knowledge: If you are introducing a unit on presidents, you can have students write everything they know about presidents on a piece of scrap paper within two minutes. Students can also use KWL charts. https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Speak-Think-Understand-KWL-Chart-241002 After they are finished, volunteers can share their thoughts. Call on students and offer praise. Activate discussions. You can even have students turn and discuss with a partner.


To make predictions: Give students three minutes to write down what they think an article in a magazine will be about using the pictures, graphics, labels, and captions they skim over. When the time is up, have students put away the writing and share what they remember. Ask questions and clarify.


To summarize: Have students use index cards and “thinking pens” (fancy colored ink pens) to write the important information they learned in a unit you are finishing. Give them five to eight minutes to complete. You can use a sentence starter like:

The most important things I learned about Peru are that

You can also have students write important facts on sticky notes. They can write facts about a piece of informational text they are reading.

Informational text links:





Cummingham, P., Cunningham, J. (2010). What Really Matters in Writing. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.