How to help your students improve their writing skills

How to help your students improve their writing skills

Writing well is an essential skill for your secondary students. Teaching your students how to express themselves clearly in writing will help them throughout their academic career, no matter what subjects they choose to focus on. So, working on academic writing is time well spent,...

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Writing well is an essential skill for your secondary students. Teaching your students how to express themselves clearly in writing will help them throughout their academic career, no matter what subjects they choose to focus on. So, working on academic writing is time well spent, especially at the start of the school year. That way, you’ll hopefully receive fewer badly written essays in the next term!

How can you help your students hone their writing skills? Let’s look at five practical tips that you can implement in your classroom:

1. Provide models of good writing

Show your students examples of good writing from different types of texts, such as newspaper articles, academic essays, and magazine advertisements. Discussing these texts together will help your students to understand the structure, flow, and conventions of those specific types of texts. Here are some example discussion questions:

  • What is the main point of the text? What is the most important thing the writer is trying to say?
  • How is the text set up? Does the essay have a clear beginning, middle, and end? Does it make sense when you read it?
  • Is the writing clear, or are there parts that are hard to understand? Does it use technical terms that might confuse you?
  • Does the writer do a good job of explaining the things they use to support their ideas?
  • Does the writer talk about the other side of the argument?

By analysing more extensive pieces of writing, your students will learn how different texts convey tone, formality and emotion. They will also pick up writing techniques, such as similes, persuasive language, and metaphors. They can save these methods in their ‘linguistic toolbox’ and gradually develop a powerful collection of techniques that will help them express their ideas more effectively and accurately in their writing.

On the other hand, by showing your students examples of bad writing, they will see the effects that poor structures and uses of language can have on the reader so they can avoid using them in their own writing.

2. Show them how to plan and structure their work

The best pieces of writing almost always follow a plan. So, it’s important to teach your students that the planning stage is just as important as the writing stage.

You can provide your students with a step-by-step guide to help them plan their writing. Here is a general guide that they can follow:

  1. Make a list of all the information and points you want to include.
  2. Put any similar points in groups and arrange those groups in a logical order.
  3. Put the points within the groups in a logical order.
  4. Check that the points and groups flow well and consider how to connect them together.
  5. Make sure the plan follows the task’s requirements.

To help your students understand the importance of writing structures, cut up an example text and rearrange the order of the paragraphs and sentences. Present the text to your students and see how they react. Ask them to discuss the structure and rearrange the text in a way that they believe is more logical.

3. Explore ChatGPT with your students

ChatGPT can help improve your students’ writing skills in many ways.

To start with, you and your students can use ChatGPT to generate a variety of writing prompts, for descriptive writing, expository writing, persuasive writing, and so on. This will give your students the opportunity to delve into exploring various styles and types of writing, while also encouraging them to experiment with implementing new features and techniques they come across during their analysis sessions. ChatGPT can also provide example texts to those prompts for your students to analyse.

Your students can also use it to get feedback and suggestions on ways to improve their writing. For instance, your students can paste their texts into ChatGPT and ask it to rewrite or paraphrase them using more precise vocabulary, in a different style, or with certain literary devices.

ChatGPT is also incredibly quick at generating examples and explaining concepts in a very simplistic and understandable way. So, if your students want to see more examples of the passive voice, they can prompt ChatGPT to generate a list for them in a matter of seconds.

Lastly, as an interesting and insightful activity to use in your analysis sessions, consider using ChatGPT to demonstrate stylistic adaptation. You can copy a text into ChatGPT and prompt it to rewrite the text in the style of a specific author, such as Shakespeare or Jane Austen, to help students understand their unique literary techniques and writing styles. You can also prompt ChatGPT to rewrite a text in a style of another genre or for different audiences, showing students how the same text can be adapted.

Read more about AI and education.

4. Teach them to revise, edit and proofread

It’s important that your students know the difference between revising, editing, and proofreading, and apply all three steps before submitting a piece of written work:

Revising

Revising is the first stage of the process. It involves checking the flow and organisation of the text, which may require rearranging paragraphs and chapters to ensure the ideas are logically presented. It is also important to check that the writing achieves its intended purpose and that the information is accurate.

Editing

Editing focuses more closely on the quality and clarity of the writing. It involves checking the style, tone, word choices, grammar, and sentence structures of the text.

Proofreading

The final stage, this is when you correct any minor grammar, punctuation, spelling, and formatting mistakes. The purpose here is to ensure that the writing is free from any inconsistencies and typographical errors so it is ready for publication.

Once your students understand the differences between these three, they can start to train themselves to have a more critical eye when reading their work.

5. Provide your students with a checklist

At first, it’s a good idea to put your students in pairs or groups so they can check their work together and bring things to each others’ attention that they may have otherwise missed while checking their own work.

As your students begin to develop more independence, consider providing them with a useful checklist to refer to while they review their work. This checklist may include more general elements, for example:

  • Is your spelling correct?
  • Is your punctuation correct?
  • Have you used the correct verb tenses?
  • Are your paragraphs coherent?
  • Is the language style consistent (e.g. UK English, US English)?
  • Are the lines double-spaced?

Alternatively, the list can be made more specific to your context, such as with university students, and include reminders to use credible sources, include an appendix and contents page, and so forth.

Further reading

Writing and literacy can be tricky to navigate in a multilingual classroom. But being able to write well is a skill that students will definitely need in their post-school academic path. Read more about how to equip them with the other skills they’ll need for university. And, for younger learners, learn how to help them boost their writing skills.

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