George Lucas Educational Foundation
Formative Assessment

Planning Writing Lessons for the Early Elementary Grades

Teachers can provide thoughtful instruction that supports the sustained development of young students’ literacy skills.

April 5, 2024
Wavebreakmedia / iStock

Often, attempting to plan effective and purposeful writing instruction raises many questions: What does lesson planning look like? How will I manage so many students who may be in different stages of their writing? How often should they be editing and revising? The list doesn’t stop there.

By utilizing on-demand writing for assessment and long-range writing for scaffolded practice of applying various writing techniques, teachers can approach their instruction with intentional and tailored lessons that meet the needs of the learners in the classroom, as well as help students develop self-regulated behaviors when crafting a piece of text.

On-Demand Writing

Just like any area of instruction, assessment is critical for knowing what the students’ strengths and areas of growth are, and on-demand writing is how teachers can gather that evidence. An on-demand piece of writing simply means that the teacher provides a specific prompt for the student to write to for the purpose of anecdotal data. For example, let’s say a second-grade teacher prepares for a narrative writing cycle. In the first couple of days before the cycle begins, they’ll ask students to write a narrative about something fun they’ve experienced (with their family or a friend). 

After the prompt is given, students get one or two days to write and are provided with all necessary tools to carry out the process of developing a piece of writing without additional modeling or instruction. Effective tools might include graphic organizers, writing paper, tools for editing, and a writing checklist. However, the teacher will not model how to use the tools. The teacher is informally assessing if the students know how to use these resources to develop a story.

After students complete their piece, the teacher collects them for analysis. It is critically important to determine realistic expectations for what writing should look like throughout various points of the year, so creating a common rubric as a grade level is a great way to stay on the same page for analyzing the assessment. 

Writing growth, similar to reading, happens along a continuum of skills. At the beginning of the year, a second grader can’t be expected to write like an end-of-the-year second grader because they haven’t been taught the grade-level skills necessary to do so yet. On-demand benchmark assessments along the way will gradually raise the expectation of what that student should be able to do. Websites such as Reading Rockets and Achieve the Core provide useful anchor examples of real student writing in various genres that provide annotated explanations of students’ overall writing ability and possible next steps for instruction.

As students engage in daily lessons about crafting a narrative within the instructional cycle of a long-range writing piece, another on-demand prompt may be given at the halfway point of the cycle to track growth and drive future instruction. This could be the same prompt as before or a prompt given in response to a story or passage the student has read.  

It’s important to remember that it’s easy to fall into the trap of using writing prompts daily for students to produce writing simply because it’s easy to manage. If we use this approach exclusively, we rob our students of the opportunity to dive deeply into producing self-chosen, elaborate pieces full of voice and author’s craft.

Long-Range Writing

Long-range pieces give students the autonomy to choose their own writing topic while the teacher assists in walking them through the process. This type of instruction instills the executive-functioning behaviors needed when students are asked to write a piece on demand. When considering how to implement this type of writing instruction, it can be overwhelming. Breaking down long-range instruction using the following components allows for a more manageable approach.

Keep your lesson mini: A mini lesson is 15 to 20 minutes long and organized in a gradual release format, and it allows the teacher to model a specific, focused lesson. For example, narrative writing could be broken into the following mini lessons for a beginning-of-the-year cycle for second grade: introduce and describe a setting, introduce and describe the character, edit on the go (this means to stop and edit before we add more writing), describe the first event in the narrative, introduce a problem, etc. Essentially, each lesson will invite students to add to their story one chunk at a time.

Model, provide independent practice: The teacher begins by modeling one learning target using a well-crafted organizer. An effective organizer teaches students that each genre has a specific structure. As learners begin to recognize the pattern in text structure, they can replicate it when assessed in on-demand pieces. For example, the teacher can start by using a text that clearly introduces and describes the setting, and then read that page out loud and ask students what they notice about how the author introduced the setting.  

Next, students are invited to help the teacher write a setting to a story together by offering verbal suggestions. The teacher records the students’ ideas and writes an example introduction in the organizer. Then students think about an idea for an introduction of a setting on their own and are prompted to talk to a partner about their story. The students verbally rehearse what they plan to write, as this provides them an opportunity to organize their thoughts and prepares them to get started as soon as they are released to write independently, using the same organizer that the teacher used to model the mini lesson.  

The benefit of this approach is that it gives the teacher time to provide specific feedback over the same crafting element. Having every student write their complete thoughts directly in the organizer in a chunked manner allows for a better visual of where to correct capitalization and punctuation. Essentially, each lesson should invite students to write one or two complete sentences that can be quickly edited before adding the next part of the story.  

Share and reflect: Close each lesson by bringing students back together so that they have an opportunity to share what they’ve produced. This time celebrates students’ creativity, as well as giving them an opportunity to reflect on how they can improve their writing.   

Both on-demand writing and long-range writing are vital in developing confident writers across various genres. It’s important to approach them with a cyclical scope and sequence that allows students to learn the craft, structure, and development of narrative, informative, and opinion styles of writing. By scaffolding and supporting students’ growth in each genre of writing, learners will begin to automatically apply these techniques more independently as the year progresses because of the solid foundation that has been built. 

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Filed Under

  • Formative Assessment
  • Literacy
  • English Language Arts
  • K-2 Primary

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