Sunday, February 15, 2015

Quick Ideas and Strategies to Prepare Students for Writing Assessments

As we get closer and closer to the administration of the SBAC in our district, many teachers are asking about how to get their students ready for this assessment. I have been collecting ideas and resources for our teachers, as well as helping them realize that all of their instruction, all of our curriculum will help students be ready for this assessment. You don't study for it. You don't "prep" for it. You have good, engaging, purposeful instruction and learning happening in classrooms throughout the year.

That being said, I have some ideas, charts and handouts for teachers and students to help them navigate the writing portions of the SBAC. (I'm sorry, PARCC takers, I have not spent time analyzing the PARCC sample assessments so I don't know how helpful these will be...)

1. Make sure your students understand that we can categorize writing genres into three types of writing. I wrote about this in another post , but have developed another chart about this, as well.  This chart that I am sharing is one that I developed in a flipped lesson. (I'm not confident enough to link the video, but I would share it with anyone who wants to send me their email for it...)  I could picture developing this chart with or in front of students. They need to know that they already know this information.

I think that it's important to also emphasize to students that these types of writing should not be pure. Stories contain opinions and information. Information contains opinions and stories. Opinions contain stories and information. However, it's helpful for all of us to learn the characteristics of writing types by categorizing them.

2. I have many teachers ask me about the vocabulary they should be using. The more that we can use different terms with students, the better, not only for the SBAC, but also for life. A thesis and a claim can usually be used synonymously. If you google what the difference is, you might be inspired to write a blog post about just that. (I might do that later this afternoon...) A feature article is almost always informative in nature.

This chart is a useful one to help students realize how much of what they will be asked to do on the SBAC, they are already doing. It's also helpful for teachers to see how much they are already teaching.

3. Teach the basic prompts for the three types of writing. The directions for the SBAC are complex and overwhelming. The directions, in and of themselves, are an exercise in close reading. Writing Pathways (Heinemann Press) contains basic prompts for each type of writing with quick descriptors of them. Give students exposure to basic prompts of the three types of writing so that they can flex quickly among them.  They will feel better if they know right away how to tackle planning for any of the genres.

4. Give students as many opportunities to compose on the keyboard as possible. Typing stories they have already written is a very different skill. Yes, that might help them with their keyboarding speed, but they need to be able to think and write from their brains to their fingertips.

I know that this won't be everyone's favorite post to read, and it hasn't been my favorite post to write. That being said, we can give students a few strategies so that when they see these assessments, they feel prepared and confident.

Take care,


  1. Melanie,
    Great advice. Smart test prep is NOT about practicing the prompts but instead "priming" students for success by using the vocabulary and making sure that they have had multiple opportunities to read and write in the three basic genres!

  2. I really hate that we have to do this, but your post is so helpful. It's important as you say, "They need to know that they already know this information." We give them so much and yet when faced with "the test," students doubt their knowledge and have a hard time just getting started. If we make the chart with them instead of for them, we can show their knowledge so they have confidence to move forward.