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Teaching Writing to High School Students

Imagine for a moment that you announce to your sophomore English class that it’s time to take out their notebooks and a pencil for some writing exercises. And instead of the sound of barely-muffled groans, mutinous whispers and dramatic sighs, you hear only the sounds of turning pages and quiet anticipation as they await your direction for their next learning assignment.

If you are like most teachers, and your students are like most high schoolers, that vision may sound like a Utopian dream. We all know that it can be tough to motivate teenagers to delve into their vocabularies and dedicate themselves to syntax and sentence structure.

But there are good reasons for you to learn how to teach your students to be effective writers. They may not yet appreciate the fact that clear communication is essential in all jobs. Maybe they don’t understand yet that collegiate writing assignments will hit them like a bug on a windshield if they don’t prepare themselves now. But you know these things, and it is your responsibility to train your students right now for what is to come.

You can do that by setting them up for incremental success. That doesn’t mean creating simple assignments below their level of intelligence. On the contrary, it means looking at a writing curriculum analytically so that you can break it down into small, measurable steps. Instead of teaching everything all at once, focus on one step at a time.

For instance, if your goal for the day is to improve word choice, you should acknowledge new and correct use of vocabulary rather than marking up a paper with every minute mistake. A paper bleeding with red corrections is discouraging to students, who begin to view writing as an impossible task. Therefore, you should encourage their successes so that they can carry their newfound skills into the next assignment.

Becoming a good writer doesn’t happen overnight, but if you take the time to build a foundation, your students will become proficient in the essential writing skills they will need to succeed in college and beyond.