Three Tips for Writing Teachers

Teach­ers often feel frus­trat­ed when the revi­sions stu­dents make to their writ­ing aren’t improve­ments. And so they ask me how to help the chil­dren make their man­u­scripts better.

I wish I had an easy answer for these teach­ers and for their stu­dents, but here’s the truth: Revi­sion is messy. It’s fraught with detours. Even expe­ri­enced writ­ers strug­gle with the process, and some­times our efforts are com­plete and utter fail­ures. That’s why writ­ing is hard.

No Monkeys, No ChocolateAs I describe in this Revi­sion Time­line, cre­at­ing the pic­ture book No Mon­keys, No Choco­late was a 10-year jour­ney. When I share this time­line with stu­dents, they always ask the same ques­tion: “Does it always take so long to write a book?”

No, it doesn’t. But for most of the pic­ture books I’ve writ­ten, the jour­ney from inspi­ra­tion to pub­li­ca­tion is far longer than most peo­ple expect. Here are some stats:

For each of these man­u­scripts, I wrote draft after draft after draft. And I open­ly admit that some of those drafts were worse than the ones that came before them.

When it comes to writ­ing, not every attempt is an improve­ment. Not every idea pans out, but that’s okay because each fail­ure teach­es us some­thing. It’s just part of the process. Like I said, writ­ing is hard.

But writ­ing is also impor­tant. For more and more peo­ple, being able to clear­ly express infor­ma­tion and ideas on paper is a crit­i­cal job skill. And that’s why I think the best thing a writ­ing teacher can do is:

Be a Coach

Coach!A good coach knows how to help play­ers improve by giv­ing them the right advice at the right moment. Writ­ing teach­ers can do this by build­ing a class­room col­lec­tion of men­tor texts and hand­ing them titles that will address spe­cif­ic writ­ing ele­ments that they’re strug­gling with. For non­fic­tion, the col­lec­tion should include books with:

  • var­i­ous for­mats and text structures
  • dif­fer­ent writ­ing styles (nar­ra­tive and expository)
  • dif­fer­ent voic­es (lyri­cal, live­ly, and a range of options in between)
  • strong verbs
  • rich use of lan­guage devices (allit­er­a­tion, ono­matopoeia, sim­i­les and metaphors, etc.)

Coach­es also teach strate­gies by going over past games play by play. Writ­ing teach­ers can use old stu­dent work to show­case how those writ­ers chose a clever for­mat or used voice well or includ­ed strong verbs.

Be a Role Model

Role ModelWhen I do writ­ing work­shops in schools, stu­dents pro­duce the best writ­ing when their teacher par­tic­i­pates. She pays atten­tion to what I’m say­ing. She takes notes. She asks ques­tions. And most impor­tant­ly, she writes right along­side her students.

As the teacher writes, she ver­bal­izes the things that are chal­leng­ing her. She asks her stu­dents for advice. She encour­ages them to con­sult with one anoth­er. She shows them that writ­ing is a strug­gle for every­one and, yet, it’s some­thing that is wor­thy of her time — and theirs.

Be a Cheerleader

Cheer!When stu­dents feel frus­trat­ed or defeat­ed, writ­ing teach­ers can spur kids on. They can encour­age young writ­ers to keep try­ing by shar­ing exam­ples of their own set­backs and suc­cess­es. They can also share the tri­als and tribu­la­tions that pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers dis­cuss on their blogs or social media. More and more children’s book cre­ators are dis­cussing their process and describ­ing the chal­lenges they encoun­tered along the way.

Fol­low­ing these three tips won’t pro­vide a quick fix to stu­dents’ revi­sion strug­gles, but it will give chil­dren hope and assure them they aren’t alone. Revi­sion isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the effort.

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David LaRochelle
6 years ago

Excel­lent tips, Melissa!

4 years ago

Thank you very much for this arti­cle. Now I active learn this theme because recent­ly I began work­ing with stu­dents. I real­ly agree with you that writ­ing teach­ers must moti­vate young writers.