Focus on Five: Tips for Teaching Writing

I know this post is suppose to be about writing, but I wanted to say how much I am enjoying The Autism Helper’s Behavior Change Master Class! It is only available for a limited time, it’s free, and it is jam-packed with information! It’s not too late to sign up, so click here to enroll!  

In the first video, Sasha talks about a growth mindset verses a fixed mindset and I could see that is how I previously thought of writing instruction. Writing instruction is difficult in any classroom, let alone a cluster program. There are so many different needs and levels, it can be a challenge to reach all learners. I realized I had a very fixed mindset when it came to writing instruction and as I thought about what writing means for different students, I was better able to adapt writing to meet my students needs. Here are five tips for writing instruction that I use in my classroom…

1. Give Students Choices

Giving students choice gives students extra motivation for writing. I give my students choices of topics for our monthly writing assignments. If choices are difficult for your students, you can start small by giving them a choice of writing materials or seating when they are writing. If students are emerging writers, I will give them a choice of words to write or trace on their paper. I have a student this year who has difficulty with choice so often I give him the choice to choose for himself or allow me to choose. Giving students choices in their writing, no matter what level, gives them a sense of ownership and buy-in. Depending on your students’ levels, you can also give them options for support. For example, I ask one of my students if he wants me to write the words above or below the line to copy. I know giving choices can be scary for us Type A teachers, but ultimately you are the teacher and you control the choices. Choices don’t have to be endless or the same for each student. Give choices to things that are not crucial for developing the individual’s writing skills. For example, letting a student choose the color they write in is more appropriate for an emerging writer than choosing the level of support they need. 

2. Differentiate 

I know, I know…this is something that we do for every subject, but when I was in my fixed mindset about writing, it was difficult to think of different ways students could produce writing. Emerging writers can work on drawings, or copying shapes and pictures. For them, this is their writing; their pictures tell a story. Some students work on writing individual words. I have some students in my class tell me what they want to write, I write it down and they copy their story or writing assignment. I have a student who uses his AAC to compose sentences and I scribe the sentences for him.  For other students, I have them tell me a sentence and I make a line for every word they tell me. The students will then write the words that they told me on each line. 

3. Give Structure

When I am teaching students to compose writing, I am helping them to map out their sentences. For students who are past copying words and ready to level up, I will have them tell me a sentence and I will make lines for each word they told me. Then, students will write one word on each line, remembering what they told me (I usually do this on a small white board as their rough draft because it is easier to correct mistakes and writing on the whiteboards is kind of a novelty). I also teach students sentence dictation when they are not composing their own writing so they get used to sentence structure, matching the number of words they say with what they write and learn how to spell some high-frequency words.  

4. Use Writing Journals 

I always hesitated to use writing journals because it seemed too open-ended for students with Autism. As the population of my classroom changed to students having different low-incidence disabilities, I decided to try to have writing journals for free writing and drawing illustrations that go along with their writing. This has been really successful and motivating for the students in my classroom this year. I am still teaching students how to use these writing journals so they can write independently, based on their individual levels. Some students are composing stories, while some are practicing letters and lines. 

5. Present Writing in Different Ways

I have students display their monthly writing project each month on the bulletin board. I let them choose what color paper they want as a “matte” for their work and I let them choose where on the board to hang it up. Also, students will help staple their work to the bulletin board. I am always presently surprised that students will still point out their work and smile as we pass our bulletin board. They really get a sense of ownership and pride by displaying their work and being involved in decisions about how they want to display their work. Another way student can present their work is by reading their writing to the class. Depending on your group of students, this can be done in a variety of ways. I am having my students present during communication station because writing is a form of communication and it is one of the few times of the day that students are sitting at their desks as a whole class. If you have emerging writers, they can show their work (e.g. drawings, handwriting practice). You can have non-verbal students use their AAC to read their writing or have them choose someone to read for them.  

I hope this gave you some ideas for teaching writing in your classroom.  For more tips, check out Rubrics & Visuals: The Key to Successful Paragraph Writing, Incorporating Wh- Questions in Your Writing Instruction and Making Emerging Writing Fun. As always, share your ideas for writing instruction below!  

Holly Bueb
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