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Writing in Content Areas - A Toolkit of Classroom Strategies


Introduction

Why assign content-area writing? The main reason is that writing is generative: it leads students to new thinking and new ideas in your content area.

Writing gives your students opportunities to:
  • communicate information
  • ask questions
  • clarify and deepen thinking
  • construct meaning
  • learn new concepts and information
  • demonstrate understanding of content

It’s not enough for students to learn about writing just in general. They need to learn how to write history, write science, write about math, social studies and every other subject in the curriculum. They need to learn how to use writing to help them effectively absorb the content in your classroom. (Content-Area Writing, Every Teacher’s Guide by Daniels, Zemelman and Steineke, p. 3)
Content-area teachers often worry about grading all of the grammar errors in an assigned writing. Leave the fine-tuning of the mechanics to the English teachers. Try working on just one grammar issue, such as complete sentences, while students focus on the content.

With any writing assignment that you give your students, one of the best ways to assure that they will produce results is to model what it is that you’re asking them to do. If you are a science teacher, and you want your students to write a lab report, write one in front of them. You are most likely the best writer in the room, no matter what you think of yourself as a writer.

For all of the following strategies it is important to remember:

The key to effectively using writing activities in every subject lies in matching the right activity to the learning situation. As you select writing strategies, ask yourself, “How well suited is this task for the objective the students are learning?” “Does this strategy fit my students' abilities and needs?” “Will this strategy fit with my assessments?”
There are many opportunities to integrate your content with English Language Arts. Talk to your favorite English teacher about working together on a project. In the handout packet there's an example of a great project, Fieldnotes on a Hummingbird, that integrates writing, science, art and technology. These kinds of projects take students way beyond the bounds of ordinary lessons.

How to use this course

To get credit (SB-CEUs) for 5 hours of on-line learning through this course, you will need to choose at least three strategies and try them with your students. After you use each strategy, write a short description of how it worked with your students, in the discussion tab for that strategy. If you have student work that you'd like to share with others, please email the instructor and we'll upload it onto the wiki.

To join this course, please contact the instructor asking for the course packet. We'll email you some handouts that go with each strategy. When you've completed your work with the three strategies, email the instructor again to receive confirmation of your accomplishments for your school records. Instructor: Theron Blakeslee, Ingham ISD, 517-244-1201. For questions on the strategies or other adolescent literacy issues, also contact Amy Kilbridge, Ingham ISD Secondary Literacy Consultant, 517-244-1273.

A PDF version of the Writing Toolkit can be downloaded and printed for quick reference.