If you want students to produce quality good copies, taking them through the writing process step-by-step is key. And the more time you spend before they even start their first drafts the better because prewriting is an important part of the writing process.
For all of my teaching career I as a keen student too. I was constantly watching and trying to figure out the best ways to help students learn. Early on, I realized that they need time to work on the writing process in class; hoping they would just figure it out and do it at home was not going to work.
I also discovered that the more time I devoted to prewriting the better the end result.
Prewriting strategies should focus on the thinking process
I’m sure you’ve had many students who just can’t get started. and they sit there, paralyzed and unable to get anything down on paper. They might say that they don’t know what to write about.
Most often, this means that they aren’t really sure what to do. And just giving them a mentor text to read won’t always do the trick. Yes, they see what success looks like in the text, but they can’t always “see” the steps the writer took to get there.
So, I built in multiple opportunities for students to build their skills, then ones to help them map out a plan – a writing GPS – before they wrote. I tried to show them what the thinking process looked like by taking them through activities that first got them engaged and then guided them through the steps that effective writers follow even before they put pen to paper.
If you’d like to try the activities, check the summaries below and then click the links to get more detail.
Priming the Pump for Persuasive Writing
Before we begin any unit or assignment, I like to prime the pump with an activity that gets students interested in what comes next. So before we began the process of writing persuasive essays, I printed off a pile of cards that instructed students to persuade a partner of something.
This activity keeps it light, students have fun, and they are more interested in the idea of persuasion than they would be if I just launched into my usual introduction to the persuasive essay.
More importantly, the low risk and fun activity gets students started with the skill of needing to focus an idea and develop separate points to support it.
Persuasive skill-building activity
I got pretty tired of poorly developed arguments in my student writing, so I came up with a skill-building activity that required them to do some thinking and discussing. When we provide opportunities for students to participate in active learning activities that push them to engage their brains – before we ever assign an essay – students will produce better work than they do with the passive learning that lecture and handouts provide.
These activities use engaging, relevant topics and students do an initial reflection, view some videos, read some mentor texts, and have an informal debate where they use some of the ideas and evidence they gleaned from the reading and viewing. Once again, they are participating in a process that helps them hone the skills they will need with they write their own opinion pieces.
It’s not prewriting as we think of it traditionally, but it goes a long way in giving students the confidence to to their own writing.
Prewriting Before Argumentative Writing
If you want your students engaged in learning, adding in a little competition goes a long way. And if you want them to learn how to write an argumentative essay, this challenge can get them primed and ready to go. Using fun, light topics, students work through the process they need to follow when refuting the other side of an argument, all in an attempt to write the best paragraph and be crowned victor.
By the time they’ve worked through the challenge, students will understand what they need to do to present their own points while refuting the other side’s.
Outlining is another important part of the prewriting process
Early in my career, I gave students outlines and told them to complete them before they began their essays. I mean, that’s what I always did, and it worked for me.
But I knew how to make an outline work for me because somewhere along the line, someone showed me, or my desire to do well pushed me to figure it out myself.
So, I thought that giving my students a piece of paper with OUTLINE on the top of a whole lot of empty lines would help them too. But it didn’t. Their essays were still unfocused and disorganized and underdeveloped.
I decided to spend more time on this stage of the process and the first few times I did, I felt a little guilty, like I was wasting precious time in a semester that never had enough of it. However, I soon discovered that spending more time on the prewriting stage resulted in better writing on not only that assignment, but on other ones throughout the semester.
That’s because writing is a thinking process as much as it is a writing one.
One of the best activities I’ve ever done to emphasize the writing process is the one I do to show them the power of the outline. It takes a good portion of a class, but the focus and organization of my students’ essays have gone up exponentially. If you’d like to try this exercise with your students, click here.
I hope you’ve found some inspiration to help your students realize that prewriting is an important part of the writing process.