Teaching Writing in More Equitable and Engaging Ways

By Cathy Gassenheimer
Executive Vice President
Alabama Best Practices Center

“Writing!” That’s often the answer I receive from elementary teachers when I ask what subject they find to be most challenging. Some claim they aren’t good writers and therefore don’t feel they have the tools to effectively teach their students how to write.

Other teachers express frustration at the lack of enthusiasm among their students when it comes to writing. And, still others say they lack the instructional materials and/or professional learning that could strengthen their writing skills.

The article highlighted below, written by an assistant principal and former teacher who struggled with teaching writing effectively, surfaces another issue: Teaching writing as a stand-alone process.

Once teachers in her school began to connect writing to what students were reading, the lightbulb popped on for many young writers. Another important by-product of this process is that it helped level the playing field between students with book-rich households and others living in difficult, resource-poor circumstances.

The article also includes ready-to-use suggestions for connecting writing instruction to the core curriculum. I highly recommend it to elementary teachers, instructional coaches, and all my writing friends!

A More Equitable (and Engaging) Way
to Teach Writing in Elementary School

When teachers tie writing instruction to what students are reading, learners begin with a more level playing field.

By Tanisha Washington
Edutopia (January 2022)

“I don’t know what to write about.” This was the sentence I most dreaded and, unfortunately, heard too often in the classroom.

For some time, like many elementary school teachers, I taught writing in a way that invariably led to that response from my students, which made me think there had to be a better approach.

At the time, I used a common instructional approach that emphasized sentence structure, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling—but didn’t spark joy in writing, connect it to what we were reading, or build knowledge on important topics. Skills were taught as stand-alone topics, devoid of meaningful content.

During a typical writing block, I’d give students a prompt like “Write about a small moment in your life or something that took place over the weekend.”

I taught in a diverse school in Washington, D.C., and for some of my students, the question was easy. They might write about a museum visit, a day at the beach, or an outing with their dog. But for other students, often those from low-income families, the question failed to elicit comparable answers. Instead, it simply highlighted inequities among my students and led to gaps in their performance.

I eventually became an assistant principal, but the problem stuck with me and continued to trouble my teaching colleagues. We knew there had to be a better way. . . .

Continue reading Tanisha Washington’s article at Edutopia.


Here are several resources that support writing instruction suggested by John Norton, our long-time ABPC communications consultant and the founder and co-editor of MiddleWeb, a website dedicated to publishing teacher writing about professional practice and a good source for reviews about PD-oriented books.


“Writing in the Deep End” (Corwin Connects) – “As teachers, how do we develop strong, confident writers who won’t sink, but swim?” Author and literacy professor Rebecca Harper offers four answers to her question, beginning with “Model, model, model the writing process.”

”10 Actions That Put Student Writers First” (MiddleWeb) – How do we put our young writers first? We seek to develop a mindset and actions that provide opportunity, dignity, and encouragement, says writing and reading expert Regie Routman, author of Literacy Essentials. Then we carefully tailor feedback that celebrates strengths and boosts each and every writer’s confidence. Tips include: Co-creating writing criteria with students. Writing more short pieces. Saving editing for last.

“A Few Tips for Small-Group Writing Instruction” (Two Writing Teachers blog) – Small group instruction is one of the most powerful ways to differentiate instruction while offering opportunities for collaboration and connections between students, writes author and district-level writing coach Melanie Meehan. “Here are some tips to increase the leverage and impact of your writing instruction.”

“Why Teachers Need to Write with Students” (Stacey Shubitz)


All You Need to Select and Use Mentor Texts (Heinemann, 2021) – Teacher educator Sarah Pennington gives high marks to A Teacher’s Guide to Mentor Texts: Grades 6-12, a book about helping students examine the writing of favorite YA authors as they work to develop and sharpen their own writing skills. “The authors’ combination of a structured lesson approach, a range of suggested mentor texts, and an overall message that makes texts relevant to your specific students resonates for teachers at multiple levels of experience,” she says.

Take Writing Workshop to a Higher Level (Stenhouse, 2021) – “Did you ever wish there was a recipe book of authentic and interesting writing assignments for our students, with scaffolds and templates and sample writing?” wonders reviewer Helene Alalouf, a literacy teacher and coach. “There is!” She describes Above and Beyond the Writing Workshop (Grades 1-6) by Shelley Harwayne as a “treasury” teachers will enjoy exploring as the author “guides us in establishing a community of writers and finding audiences beyond the classroom.”

How to Add Daily Writing to Your Content Area (Routledge, 2018).

From Striving to Thriving Writers: Strategies That Jump-Start Writing, Grades K-8 (Scholastic, 2018).

Ways to Become a More Authentic Writing Teacher (Stenhouse, 2017).