Sunday, January 13, 2013

Increasing the Volume of Writing

I vividly remember sitting in a parent meeting with one of our reading specialists, discussing a student who struggled with reading. "How much time does she spend reading?" our specialist asked. The parent avoided the question and our specialist pointed out that when people improve on musical instruments, it's because they practice. Basketball players get better at dribbling by spending time dribbling. Yesterday, in the driver's education class that I attended with my daughter (yes, this is a scary concept for me), the instructor stated that teens should spend over 100 hours practicing their driving before getting their license.

Along with purpose and audience, an important component of the Writing Workshop at any grade is volume. By volume, I mean write a lot. And after they write a lot, write more. Just as learners need practice to improve reading, dribbling and driving, writers need practice to improve writing. I am not going to say that just writing alone will improve writing. Students also need coaching and exposure to strong mentor pieces. That way, they can see and hear strong writing and it is more likely that specific techniques will begin to show up in their own writing.

So how can we increase the volume of writing that students produce?
  • Always remember to teach the writer and not the writing. When we accept that the writing does not need to be perfect, we remove the pressure from students and they are more apt to write more.
  • You might try encouraging less time planning. Sometimes, students spend more time on planning than on writing. Then, by the time they write, they are already sick of their piece. Planning should be inspirational and exciting to students so that they are chomping at the bit to begin their writing.
  • Encourage different ways to plan that differentiate and celebrate learning styles. Verbalizing, sketching, and acting out are ways that work for some students, helping them to visualize their story to completion.
  • When students write, you can see how they plan and help them organize and revise that piece or the next piece. Students should work through the writing process several times in a unit.
  • Challenge students to try out new strategies in the piece that they are currently working on or in pieces that they have previously written. That way, they get more practice and yes, they write more.
  • For younger students, accept that sometimes they can't read their writing. A great question to come back to for these students is: "What did you want to say on this page." The more that they feel like they are competent story-tellers, the more competent they will become at story-telling.
  • For reluctant writers, let them talk about strategies that they could use in past, present, or future pieces. Talking about what they could do may propel them to try those strategies in future writing.
  • Use specific pieces to grow specific strategies. Not all skills are going to show up in every piece. Think of every piece as a coaching opportunity.
  • Encourage older students to try out strategies in their notebooks. They should be revising as part of the writing process and not just as an-end-of-the-piece step.
  • Accept that not every piece has to be completed. Some pieces are for experimenting and trying new strategies.
  • Take time to celebrate the milestones that involve application of new skills and techniques and not just the finished "perfect" product.
  • Teach students how they can generate and spin stories from stories. I can't tell you how many drafts I have read (and written) that have multiple stories within them. One story leads to another leads to another.
  • Make sure that your students know what they can do when they need to have a conference--they can revisit drafts, begin new pieces, or study mentor texts for inspiration. Those 35-45 minutes of workshop time are precious writing minutes.
  • Find parts of their writing to LOVE. Nothing generates excitement about writing as much as appreciation OF writing. Find ways to say "I love this part!" and mean it.
  • Did I say LOVE their writing? Right. LOVE their writing!
Please share other ideas that you have! 

Happy writing,


  1. My school adopted a writing workshop model six years ago (all teachers K-5). My fifth graders now LOVE writing. When I tell them they can read, many will ask me if they can write. Good stuff.

    If you have the chance, read Ralph Fletcher's _A Writer's Notebook_. My students hold their notebooks dear because they choose the content.

  2. I love your suggestion to encourage less planning time. I'll try some conversational planning with our next writing assignment rather than a lengthy graphic organizer.

  3. You’ve got an excellent blog. It’s hard to find high quality writing like yours today. I truly appreciate people like you!