Teaching Good Writing: The Five-Step Writing Process

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One of the keys to teaching writing at any grade level is making sure that your students know (and use) the five-step writing process. 

Writing has become an increasingly important part of the curriculum in public schools at almost every grade level. It isn’t about penmanship or instruction in cursive techniques. Composition is now an essential part of the reading language arts standards in almost every US state. Writing skills are being tested on a keyboard as early as third grade in many states.

People often want to romanticism the writing process and shroud it in some sort of mystique. They talk as though they are channeling spirits when they write quality material without an essay writer help and say that they “just don’t feel it” or that nothing is “coming to them” when they’re not producing good work. While writing is at least as much art as it is a skill, disciplined use of the five-step writing process can take the mystery out of it and help ensure acceptable results.

Pre-writing: Where Good Ideas Come From

Pre-writing is the first step in the five-step writing process. Especially in the early grades, the key to getting well-organized compositions from your students is teaching them good pre-writing skills. Pre-writing is the planning stage of the writing process. 

It should result in some sort of a product – an outline, a timeline (if the student is writing a narrative composition), or perhaps a graphic organizer that conveys the relationship between ideas in an essay. Ideally, students should be able to talk about their pre-writing product and explain it to a teacher.

Pre-writing can be a social experience. Particularly when everyone in the class is responding to the same writing prompt, there is no reason for students not to work in pairs or small brainstorming groups. Depending on the writing prompt, teachers can allow groups of students to develop a shared product. Peer tutoring is also an effective strategy to use in helping your students develop pre-writing skills.

In the early stages of writing instruction, students must create a product as part of the pre-writing work. The teacher should assess that product (and give feedback on it) before students are allowed to write a draft. It is up to the teacher to convince students that pre-writing is a non-negotiable part of writing.

Drafting: Putting Thoughts to Pixels

Drafting is the second step of the five-step writing process. It is the point in time when students turn their ideas into sentences and paragraphs.

Some major hurdles exist when it comes to getting students to develop an acceptable draft. The most immediate concern in the instructional process is that students have to be convinced to stick with their pre-writing product. If their outline says they’re going to have four paragraphs, their draft has to have four paragraphs. If their outline says that the third paragraph is going to be about their pet cat, then the third paragraph of their draft has to be about their pet cat. Students have to understand that the decisions they make during pre-writing shape their drafts.

Especially in the elementary grade, another major hurdle in the drafting process is getting students to produce text on a computer screen at a sufficient pace. The role of keyboard skills will vary from state to state. If your students are going to have their writing skills assessed on a keyboard, you need to have them practice their writing on a keyboard as early as possible and as much as possible.

For reasons that seem puzzling, some state writing assessments require students to create a paper-and-pencil draft and then enter a final version of their composition on a keyboard. The bottom line is that you need to teach your students writing skills, but you also need to prepare them for how your state administers the writing assessment. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can teach essay writing skills with pencil and paper and that your students will then pass the state writing assessment on a keyboard because, well, you taught them how to write.

A final hurdle in the drafting process has more to do with teachers than with students. Teachers are often too concerned with grammar and spelling in drafting. Resist the urge to focus on mechanics. Drafting is about putting ideas on paper, or thoughts to pixels on a computer screen. Mechanics get dealt with later in the five-step writing process.

Revising and Editing

Students often have difficulty with the distinction between revising and editing. Revising is the third step in the writing process. Editing is the fourth step.

When students revise their work, they focus on whether their composition conveys their ideas effectively. This is the time to decide that paragraphs two and three need to switch places, This is when students realize that their description of their favorite beach lacks sufficient adjectives and needs much more detail, or that their discussion of how great Grandma’s cooking is lacks examples. Revising is the process of fixing the ideas and organization in an essay.

Editing is the more mundane task of proofreading a composition. This is where students ask themselves if all their sentences are complete. They look for spelling errors, make sure their subjects and verbs agree, find and fix comma splices, etc.

Students tend to resist making changes to a draft. One blogger refers tongue-in-cheek to this problem as Pontius Pilate syndrome, after the quote in John 19:22: “What I have written, I have written.” To succeed at writing, students have to be convinced that a draft is not a completed work.

Publishing

The fifth step in the five-step writing process is publishing. It’s a fancy word, but in context, it means that students turn their work in – or perhaps hit the “submit” button.

Teaching the five-step writing process is an essential component of teaching good writing.

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