Updated: May 29
We set students writing activities, telling them to:
· Choose language features to suit their purpose and audience
· Develop their ideas
· Structure their work clearly.
But what do any of those things mean, which do they do first and how does one aspect connect with another? Cue phasing out and doing 'just enough'.
In the great rush that is teaching, we often mention aspects of the writing process in isolation. We rarely show students how each of those aspects flow on from each other as part of a ‘factory line’ process. Have you ever drawn a graphic organiser on your whiteboard to explain how a writer gets a strong feeling, which then prompts the formulation of an idea that they just have to tell somebody about (audience) in order to affect them in a certain way (purpose). Have you then gone on to explain to students that the writer is a control-freak puppeteer, looking for ways to manipulate their audience, so they choose, ever so carefully, just the right superpowers (language and structural devices) to do this?
This lack of discussion of how individual aspects are part of a whole – the process – means students don't appreciate the writing process, so they don't buy into it, and therefore don't 'do it properly'. With class discussions come colloquialisms, analogies, and metaphors as we explain and answer questions - vital for student understanding. For example, students know what the word ‘purpose’ means, but do they appreciate the devotion of the writer that’s driving it? The passion! The anger. The joy. The 'bursting-to-tell-someone', to make the audience know, feel, act! I also like to discuss stylistic features (language and structural devices) as superpowers - I'll discuss that below!
Understanding the writing PROCESS helps students understand what they’re being asked to do and why and to help them formulate comprehensive writing intentions before they hit the keyboard. This 'forces' students to make deliberate choices in conventions of style and empowers them to play the evil puppeteer and manipulate their audience.
Here are 4 strategies to give your students a thorough understanding of the writing process - guaranteed to enhance their writing further down the line:
ONE: Summarise the writing process in graphic form (or get them to do it). Include in that process:
Beginning with idea, audience, purpose. Place the writer (student) at the centre of this.
Add the genre – what ‘vehicle’ will the writer choose to suit the audience and purpose best?
Move into styling with language and structural devices (more on this below).
Ramp things up with editing.
Put a fine-toothed comb through it to get rid of ‘silly’ errors (which we ALL make) – aka proofreading.
Join my team to grab a freebie for your students to build their own graphic organisers to help them understand this process. Anchor charts for your classroom wall are brilliant as you refer to the writing process throughout the year.
TWO: Use colloquial explanations to clarify each step. For example:
Instead of using the word “idea” in isolation, explain it as something the reader feels passionate about. Something that drives them nuts or has them ecstatic.
Instead of just “purpose”, explain this is about the effect the writer wants to have on the audience. It includes what they’re dying to get their reader to understand, feel or do and why. Imagine the writer, between gritted teeth, saying, “You WILL understand this because..., you WILL feel this because..., you WILL change your behaviour because...!” Passion forms the idea, but it also drives that initiative to share it.
Instead of mentioning writing "style", use the analogy of styling an outfit to suit the purpose (occasion/party) and audience (family/guests).
Instead of talking about "language" and "structure"... more on this below!
THREE: Personify Language and Structure as Masters of the Universe that hold many superpowers. These superpowers (eg: metaphor, connotations, 1st person narration, minor sentences) can be borrowed! Students must choose their superpowers deliberately and wisely (this is why writing a statement of intent is a good idea before they begin writing but push this again during the editing process). Which ones will enable them to best control – manipulate – their audience? (Cue evil laugh.) Students will need banks of language and structural features to delve into here. You can’t expect them to choose superpowers from thin air.
See below for a video about this!
FOUR: Check off, on posters or your whiteboard, the steps in the process that students should reach by certain times. Perhaps give them a list of checkpoints with steps in the process listed on the left and dates beside each on the right. Students can check these off themselves as they complete each step. Not only does it reinforce the process (and therefore enhance writing), it helps students with time management. Happy days!
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