There are too many things we need to teach in English. An outsider might look at the three strands – reading, writing, and speaking – as doable. Only three, right? But we all know that there are many, many layers to each of these strands, and it takes time for students to hone the skills they need for success in each one.
If you’re like me, you constantly have one eye on the clock and the other on the calendar, hoping that you can actually manage to do all the things before the semester ends.
That’s why I like to create activities and assessments that cover more than one outcome at a time, especially reading and writing. It’s also so much more natural to combine the two, don’t you think?
But what does combining reading & writing look like in the classroom?
To explain what I mean by this, let’s look at some actual common core outcomes. The first two deal with reading:
Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
And now, check out these standards for writing in the same grades:
Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
Even though the wording is a little different, each standard is basically asking students to focus on the same concepts, so why not ask them to do it all at once, rather than during separate lessons?
Based on these outcomes, it only makes sense to have students do narrative writing when they are reading narratives. Then, when they are reading nonfiction and need to Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose, they will apply what they learn while reading to their own persuasive writing.
To do this, you can build in short, skill-building activities that cross from one strand to another into any lesson that you deliver.
For example, when you are doing short stories, it is the perfect time to scaffold what students need to write their own personal narrative or short story. You can examine the ways that authors draw readers into their stories and get students to practice their own engaging openings. You can also look at the multiple ways that writers develop character and then get students to practice their own character development.
Then, when you want students to write an expository or persuasive essay that is well organized and developed, that flows from beginning to end with carefully chosen transitions, you can have them read nonfiction pieces that demonstrate those skills.
I don’t think we should approach reading and writing as separate entities because they make so much more sense together. But remember what I said about not having enough time? How does anything I’ve just written deal with that issue?
The importance of short assignments:
The key to teaching reading and writing together is that you don’t have to take in major assessments to grade with everything you do.
Read that again 👆🏻.
If you look at your lesson delivery as a series of scaffolded steps that build the skills your students need, then your students can practice these skills via short in-class assignments without tying you to your desk with all the grading you need to do.
So what does this actually look like? For each section I teach, I decide on the skills we will focus on and then plan lessons where the students can hit multiple outcomes at the same time. Early in the year, for example, we’d look at how authors use language to create meaning. Students would note examples of this in what they were reading (this could be a novel, a short story, a poem, etc).
Then, students would do some writing. This could be like the example I mentioned above, where they try their own opening to a chapter in their lives, or it could be a writing prompt that’s more analytical where they reflect on the writer’s word choice. However, they would be instructed to be deliberate about their word choice – I want them to play with language too.
So, once again, we combine reading and writing rather than separate it. Students look at how writers use language to create meaning, then they use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture in their own writing. ✔️ ✔️ Two outcomes with one lesson.
These short assignments are in their notebooks, and I don’t read them all. Every week or two I take in the notebooks, and I tell the students to mark one that they want me to read (see this blog post for more on that).
We continue doing these short, skill-building assignments until students are ready to write their personal narrative.
I follow the same process of combining reading and writing with persuasion, exposition, and analysis. We read and analyze mentor texts and students do short assignments where they practice the skills of informing, persuading, or analyzing getting feedback from me via more short, easy-to-grade assignments. (Click here to read about one of my favorite short assignments).
Students also get regular feedback from their peers so that by the time I want them to write an essay, they have gotten lots of advice on how to improve their writing – and they’ve practiced the skills they need to be strong, analytical readers too!
But what if you need to grade it separately?
We had to record our grades based on the three strands of our ELA curriculum, so they were separated into reading/viewing, writing/representing, and speaking/listening. So, I would create split rubrics when I did an assignment that covered both reading and writing, especially with analysis. That meant that I had to record two grades/assignment, but it took a lot less time than grading two different assignments!
If you’d like to do more combining of reading and writing, and you’d like some units that will allow you to teach multiple outcomes at the same time, I’ve got a bunch of ready-to-go mini-lessons, assignments and rubrics all ready for you:
This bundle of resources for narrative writing will help you scaffold the skills students need to write effective personal narratives. You will get mentor texts as well as engaging lessons and activities that will take students through a process-based approach to becoming better writers.
These mini-lessons give your students multiple opportunities to close read, view, write, speak, listen, and collaborate as students learn about the various ways writers use point of view to tell their stories.
This reading and writing bundle gives you several mini-lessons and activities that explore these commonly used figurative devices. You will get your students engaged while blending opportunities to read, write, and collaborate.
Are your students struggling with fragments and run-ons? What if you could connect lessons on that with reading and writing activities as well? This bundle of engaging lessons will help you do meaningful grammar lessons that make sense to your students.
Make teaching comma lessons fun with these engaging mini-lessons & activities. This resource includes 5 mini-lessons that teach ten different comma rules in a way that connects the rule to students’ reading and writing.
This low prep unit will allow you to explore the genre with multiple engaging lessons and activities. Students will learn about the characteristics of dystopian fiction and get to try their hand at writing some as well.
This bundle of engaging reading and writing activities has mini-lessons that give students background information on epistolary fiction – a genre that uses letters, journals, or diary entries to tell stories. Students will explore mentor texts that have used this technique and then try it out for themselves in their own writing. The bundle highlights modern versions of epistolary fiction, as well as authors who have extended this technique to include other forms of communication to tell stories and illustrate character.
This bundle includes lessons that invite your students to explore and discuss current issues through nonfiction, informational texts. Each resource provides you with several options that will engage your students as they read, view, think, discuss and write.
This writing unit will help you teach informational and explanatory writing to your middle and high school students as they examine mentor texts and practice the skills they need to inform and explain. (This product can be used with Google Drive for distance learning)
This resource represents the process I have been using successfully for years, whenever I begin an essay writing unit. I want my students to know that good writing happens in the brain, not just on the paper. We use a workshop approach and go through a process that asks them to reflect on their writing and to actively work toward improving it.
Let me know if you have questions or requests!