First Writing Assignments with a New Class

Making the most of those first writing assignments with a new class.

The back to school rush will end. Routines, established. New shoes, broken in. Fresh notebooks, scribbled on. First writing assignments, assigned.

Students will write a paragraph, a paper, a reflection of some sort. Diving into teaching writing can be a slow process, or with older students, it can begin those first days of class.

Students likely won’t product papers at the start of the year with polished elements, meeting the standards for that particular class. (Of course). Older students will have an idea of your expectations, of the work a paper requires. Still, it is important to establish expectations so students understand your goals with them.

For the sake of this blog post, we’ll imagine a regular class. A class that doesn’t immediately produce near-perfection, and a class that has an overall idea of how to create a paper. I think the majority of classes fall into this segment. Some enjoy writing, some don’t; some want to be better writers; some don’t.

Make the most of those first writing assignments with a new class. One teacher's method for early writing lesson plans.

How do you determine which writing element to address first? This is my process for those first writing assignments.

1. Prewriting.

Students think you’re giving them extra work with prewriting, so stress that you’re not – you’re saving them time.

Overwhelmed students give up on their papers, or become increasingly frustrated, less willing to work. Prewriting provides a concrete reference point. It gets all the ideas out in the open. It gives students a direction. It provides you with an opportunity to restructure a paper and provide feedback before students devote tons of time.

Concerning prewriting, a key aspect I acknowledge is the amount of strong ideas from students. This is true! Teens have interesting perspectives; getting those ideas on paper in a sensible fashion becomes the obstacle.

Any format – web, outline, list – works, and I allow students to choose which format works best for them. (This is a bonus for teaching older students!) If you’re assigning points for prewriting, clarify that effort is the goal. Prewriting needn’t be neat or perfect.

I ask students to list what each body paragraph’s focus will be. Then I read over those ideas with the students. We decide if ideas are too similar, out of focus with the topic, or are illogical.

2. Put out fires.

What are the most egregious errors? In some high school classes, I’ve had to review confusing words along with possessives. That’s rare, but most often I cover sentence problems – fragments, run-ons, and comma splices at the start of the year.

The assignments to help students identify and correct these errors vary. I’ve never used the same exact material in the exact order from year to year. Each class has unique needs and learning styles. Some classes will never need to cover misplaced modifiers; others will need grammar scrambles and power points to understand the problem.

Address those reoccurring problems that multiple students face. This not only will provide direction for grammar and language instruction, but will also show students they are capable of improving their writing in small ways.

3. Strengthening the core.

The core of papers, the nuts and bolts, the thesis, introduction, conclusion, and such need strengthened. Older students know these terms. As they mature and their writing develops, those elements should mature too. A thesis written in fifth grade should differ from one written in tenth grade.

Introductions and conclusions should relate and wrap a paper together. Write with students, and model the struggles you face. Provide varying ways to develop these elements.

4. Encouraging. 

Writing is difficult. Some students will never care for writing. Encouragement can begin immediately with a new class.

I assign writing assignments right away. I actually assign one the first or second day of class so that I can gauge where students are. Students get full credit for this paper as long as they produce a paper – normally a paragraph. I also keep this paper so that as class progresses, I can return it to students on a particularly rough day. You know – the days when multiple students confide that they can’t do it, that they are terrible writers, that grammar is the devil’s spawn.

Show them that they are good writers, that they have grown, and that their writing assignments have improved. The process will come together for you and them.

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