How I Teach Writing: A Veteran Teacher's 5 Steps for Better Outcomes

Veteran teacher Olivia shares a proven 5-step process for building a better writing instruction practice and helping your students become engaged, confident, and enthusiastic writers.

How to Teach Writing

Teaching writing often seems like one of the most daunting tasks, especially in an elementary classroom where the standards-aligned world of reading levels and math skills consumes the majority of our time. Over the years, I have found the following progression of steps to be my most valuable and effective use of time in writing instruction.

The best part is that all it takes is a minimum of one 30-minute block per week to follow steps 1-3, and any other time you may have can be used for steps 4 and 5. Try this approach in your classroom and watch your students grow into the writers you know they can be!


Step 1: Mentor Texts

There is no limit to the value of mentor texts in any subject of instruction. Students are engaged, the method of delivery is familiar, and you are exposing students to quality writing and literature. I begin every writing lesson with a mentor text - chosen based on the writing style, the subject, the illustrations, brainstorming purposes, or any other component of writing I am trying to teach.

Identify the methods and components you want to teach and then find a book that supports learning through quality examples. Keep in mind, just reading the book is not enough. Read the book ahead of time and put sticky notes at places where you want to talk and have a class discussion - do not assume your students will automatically know what you are intending to teach.


Step 2: Modeled Writing

After reading your mentor text, give yourself time to demonstrate to students what a quality piece of writing looks like. With each of my mentor texts I am typically trying to help students identify the multitude of ideas they can choose from to write about - this is one of the biggest complaints I get at the beginning of the year, as they have not yet been taught or shown how to put their ideas on paper.

As an example, one of the first books I read to students at the beginning of the year is Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. I chose this particular book because it features a topic that puts all students on common ground in terms of background knowledge: School. I then show students how I can use the book to give me ideas for writing, and write at least 2-3 sentences on chart paper as an example. Do not forget the power of demonstrating how illustrations support your writing! I always take time to draw my picture and ask students for help on ways I can make my illustration even better to provide more detail.


Step 3: Class Brainstorm

Once I finish modeling, we then come together as a class to brainstorm ideas on chart paper that relate to the topic or subject of the book. This is a very important step, no matter how miniscule it may seem, because it helps students begin to think and make a text-to-self connection and add ideas to the brainstorm.

The brainstorming process itself helps students begin to think of their ideas as writing topics - students are preparing themselves to write independently, and you are providing a resource to be posted in the classroom to support all of your learners no matter their current level. Once the page is full, find a spot in your room where you can consistently display your brainstorming pages and make sure students can still access previous pages easily.



Step 4: Independent Writing Time

Now that you have filled students with a multitude of ideas and given them access to proper supports to help them get the ideas to paper, give them time to write independently. While it may seem like just another block of time in your day to try to fit in, consider the following options as an alternative to a whole class writing time:


  • Include independent writing time as one of your reading stations;
  • Provide independent writing time as an “early finishers” option - this is less work for you and it uses their time in a meaningful way;
  • Use independent writing time as morning work - students can do it independently and at their own level while you complete your morning responsibilities, all before the late bell!

The important thing to remember is that independent writing time does not have to come directly after the mini-lesson, it can be done whenever it is convenient in your room. This is why putting the brainstorm and modeling examples on display is so important!

Additionally, consider allowing students to free write at all times. Just because your mini-lesson covered school does not mean your students have to write about school. There is immense upside in giving students the power of choice in their work.


Step 5: Share Time/Conferencing

This may be one of the hardest parts to get to - time is precious in the classroom, as we all know, and we’re usually spread pretty thin by just the usual daily activities and instruction. Still, it is extremely important to try to find at least one or two opportunities every two weeks for students to share their work and/or meet with you. In my class, we typically set aside time every Friday for students to share their work with the whole class.

This structured class time usually looks something like:

Students bring their writing folders to a circle and sit facing each other. If a student wants to share, he or she can raise their hand and the teacher will choose one person. The other students then set their folders down with hands in their laps and give their attention to the student who is speaking. That student will read his or her work and share any accompanying picture (if there is one). The other students raise their hands to give either a compliment or a suggestion for their work (we require a minimum of 1 of each). Once 3 comments have been made, the student is given a round of applause for sharing and the teacher picks a new student.

Conferencing with individual students can also be difficult, as reading groups tend to take precedence. I typically try to meet with one student per day whether it is during reading stations, a brain break, or math stations.

Additionally, if a student is ready to meet to potentially publish their story, I will have my parent volunteers meet with him or her to talk through spelling errors, how to add detail, etc. Some parents are even willing to type the story and email or share it on Google Docs with you - sometimes you just have to ask!

While these steps might seem overwhelming, they begin to work like a well oiled machine once your practices are in place. Even if you can only spare a few minutes each day, something is always better than nothing! Keep in mind that every classroom is different - modify these suggestions as necessary to do what works best for you and your students!

What are your strategies for teaching writing effectively? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

TeacherVision Advisory Board Member Olivia Bechtel is a first grade teacher in Westerville, Ohio who loves implementing engaging, innovative lessons to inspire her students. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her husband, son, and two dogs.

About the author

Olivia Bechtel


About Olivia

Since 2016 Olivia Bechtel (B.Arch., M.Ed.) has been a 1st grade teacher at a school near Columbus, Ohio, where she has also worked as an Intervention Specialist. Olivia’s… Read more

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