Arkansas State Personnel Development Grant

1401 W. Capital Ave.
Suite #450
Little Rock, AR 72201
Phone: (501) 319-7333
Fax: (501) 379-8387

Additional Writing-to-learn Activities #5

9-12 Teacher Strategies to Increase Writing Skills



Writing to Learn

  • Plan activities to fit logically with content.

  • Include activities regularly.

  • Establish a clear purpose for each activity and a plan for how the writing will be used.

  • Model assignments students are asked to write (one effective strategy is for the teacher to write the model). Modeling may need to be repeated several times in order to capitalize on the benefits of this powerful strategy.

  • Invite students to experiment and try out ideas without correction or criticism.

  • Do not grade activities for grammar, usage, or mechanics.

  • Provide individualized positive feedback (e.g., make suggestions, raise questions, respond to students’ questions).

  • Award points for completion and extra points for exemplary work.



Writing Instruction


Essential Element Writing


Framework Refer to box below






W.5.9.8, W.5.10.8, W.5.11.8, W.5.12.8, W.5.9.9, W.5.10.9., W.5.11.9, W.5.12.9

Journals, learning logs, writer’s notebooks, exit and admit slips, inquiry logs, mathematics logs

SREB Literacy Across the Curriculum




Although neglected by both literacy and content area teachers, writing-to-learn is an important tool for several reasons. When writing-to-learn activities are used appropriately, students engage more fully; they develop critical thinking skills and they become more aware of their own learning processes. To be effective, learning must be active, and writing encourages students to become active learners. Writing-to-learn leads to deeper understanding and more permanent retention of information. It offers students a means to clarify their thinking, and it provides teachers a means for quick, informal assessments that can inform instruction.


Note: In order to meet the needs of diverse learners less complex materials can be employed to accommodate the needs of Tiers II through V students. (See ‘Strategies for Teaching Writing Skills to Tier III, IV, & V Students’). It should not be assumed that students who struggle with writing cannot use adapted materials with the graphic organizers and other ideas presented here.


Writing-to-learn activities are immense in variety and can be used effectively at the beginning, middle, and/or end of a lesson or unit of study. Because they are often short and can be quickly assessed, teachers are able to provide immediate personal and positive feedback. These activities also encourage frequent use, and writing frequently is more beneficial to learning than traditional long writing assignments given infrequently. When writing-to-learn activities are assessed without consideration of grammatical or mechanical concerns, students develop greater fluency and are more willing to take risks and experiment with new ideas. The purpose of this kind of writing is for students to capture ideas and to connect personally with what they read and study.







  • Short pieces of engaging text, informational or narrative. Tiers II through V students may need a tape recorded version of the text.  Note: In several of the activities which follow, sample pieces of text have been included. Writing-to-learn activities should be designed for use with the whole class or with small groups. These activities may be implemented at the beginning, middle, and/or end of instruction; some require as little as two or three minutes; others may take more time, depending on how much of the writing process is included. Writing-to-learn activities may usually be assessed as rough drafts, but several may become the basis of more extensive alternative assessment. Teachers can easily determine when to introduce revising, editing, and publishing. All of the following activities can be found in Tools for Teaching Content Literacy by Janet Allen or in Smart Step/Next Step Strategies for the Content Areas produced by the Arkansas Department of Education.


Direct Instruction

The teacher will explain and give examples of how writing helps students to clarify their thinking and remember what they have learned (grocery lists, e-mails, text messages, memos, class notes, etc.). S/he will emphasize that writing helps learners become more active and allows them to take more responsibility for their own learning. The teacher will explain how writing-to-learn allows the student to discover, organize and retrieve information more effectively and will illustrate a variety of tools that can be used for writing-to-learn (journals, learning logs, graphic organizers, etc.)



Many of the writing-to-learn activities that follow include samples of text, graphic organizers, and possible responses that can be used to model the strategy. Regardless of whether the activity is very short or more involved, the teacher should work through the activity so that students understand what quality responses should look like. Thinking should be made visible on chart paper, at the board or on the overhead projector. In some cases, the teacher should model the strategy several times with different pieces of short text.

Guided Practice

All of the writing-to-learn activities that follow allow students to practice what they have seen the teacher model. These activities encourage frequent writing, with the student rather than the teacher as the audience. Most can be done collaboratively or independently; all require teacher feedback so that students perceive the benefit and continue to engage fully. These guided practices afford the teacher the opportunity to assess understanding quickly without the necessity of evaluating grammar and mechanics.



Several of these activities lend themselves to more fully developed writing assignments that afford the opportunity for creative expression. As students become more secure with these strategies, they may then be able to design their own assignments. For example, when students initially use the RAFT activity, the teacher must supply the role, the audience, the format and the theme choices. As they become more confident, students may be able to originate their own options. Also, many of the strategies invite more extensive development through the writing process; what started as a quick response to learning may become a fully developed writing assignment that includes all aspects of the process.




Writing-to-Learn Activities Rationale

(from “Smart Step/Next Step Strategies for the Content Areas”)


These writing-to-learn activities may be appropriately used before, during, or after class. They offer a variety of benefits by:


  • Promoting engagement.

  • Enhancing understanding of concepts being studied.

  • Promoting thinking.

  • Encouraging writing daily.

  • Providing insight into students’ thinking processes.

  • Offering the opportunity for quick assessment and for personal, positive feedback.

Guided Practice

Choose appropriate times before, during, and/or after learning to include writing-to-learn activities.

  1. Plan to use the work produced in these activities in a meaningful way so that students perceive their benefit and value.

  2. Evaluate work as rough drafts and encourage students to take risks in their responses.

  3. Provide personal and positive feedback to all or to selected papers.

  4. Consider awarding points for satisfactory completion and rewarding exemplary work with extra credit.

Develop a systematic plan for offering feedback.



Additional Writing-to-learn Activities #5


Response journals are student responses to reading by viewing a video or film, experiencing a lesson, observing an experiment, taking a field trip or listening to a guest speaker. Because students have these experiences in all classes, this strategy is useful across the curriculum. One advantage to using response journals is that all students have the opportunity to record their thoughts prior to small- or whole-group discussion.


Learning logs contain regular student entries, which can include: reflections on homework, responses to reading, responses to specific teacher prompts, reflections on the process of learning, notes on content studied, research notes or observations.


Writer’s notebooks contain observations, memories, favorite quotes, personal experiences, responses to literature, family stories or descriptions of scenes. These musings often become “seeds” for more polished pieces. Writer’s notebooks should be a part of all school writing programs. While most often used in language arts classes, students may include notes or entries from other classes.


Inquiry logs are notes about explorations, experiments and interviews during an inquiry process. Students record notes on learning, responses to learning, reflections on the inquiry, and questions raised in their minds. These are particularly helpful to students in science class or during a research project in any class as they gather information and capture ideas.


Mathematics logs are notes about specific mathematical concepts or problems. Students can write about a problem they have solved and then reflect on strategies used. Log entries give teachers an opportunity to “read the minds” of their students as they deal with mathematical concepts and calculations.


Double-entry journals are entries with a vertical line down the center of the page. On the left students record what they saw, read, heard or observed in any class. On the right they record opinions, reflections, connections, concerns, questions, and reactions in response to what they have written on the left. These can also be used for homework assignments. Students can record questions about an assignment in the left column and answers on the right.


Study guides are developed by students and include both materials read and notes from classroom lectures. Such guides should be organized logically and delineate clearly major ideas and supporting details. Notes will also reflect whether the information was contained in multiple sources, such as an article read in class and a teacher lecture.


Yesterday’s News: Students spend five minutes at the beginning of class writing a note to a student (real or fictional) who missed the previous class. In their note, they may accomplish a variety of tasks: 1) a summary of the important points covered in the previous class, 2) an explanation of one idea that was most significant and why, 3) a personal connection they made with some aspect of the content studied in the previous lesson, etc.


One-liners: At the beginning of class, students write, in one sentence, the importance or relevance of something they learned in the previous lesson.


Crystal Ball: At a critical juncture in the lesson, students write a prediction of what they think will happen next.


Fast Food for Thought: After hearing instruction relating to a particular concept, students write a question, which they still have, about the topic. Then they work in pairs either to answer the question or to suggest resources in which they could use to find the answer.


The Last Word: Students use the last few minutes of class to write you a letter about something they do not understand or about something with which they need more help.


Exit Slips: Before they leave class, students write brief responses to the day’s instructions, for example, two things they learned that day or two questions they still have about the day’s lesson or one of each.


Admit Slips: As they enter class, students hand in brief responses; they may reflect on learning from the previous class or on the homework assignment, or they may write in response to an assigned prompt.


$2 Limit: At the end of a lesson or a unit, students reflect on what they learned, using this strategy to express main ideas in their own words. They may “spend” $2 worth of words to convey the ideas, each word costing 5 cents (“a,” “an,” and “the” are free). To save time with tedious word counting, you may supply a grid, one word per box except for the free articles. Students should restrict “spending” to the $2 limit as closely as possible without going over.














































Assign a completion grade or go a step further and spend more time on a particular activity to be graded using a teacher made rubric.




Tiers II & III Additions/Accommodations/Modifications

  • According to which activity, students can be paired with a student peer with stronger writing skills or with a paraprofessional. Also, students can write in short phrases or single words for their answer and not be counted off for spelling.



Tiers IV & V Modifications
  • Allow student to work with a student peer or paraprofessional and either dictate or use a tape recorder to record responses to a particular activity. Students may use any electronic means; such as, a computer, AlphaSmart, etc., to revise, edit, and publish as needed.


Copyright © 2006 Arkansas Department of Education. All rights reserved. School districts may reproduce these materials for in-school student use only. No resale. Materials may not be reproduced, distributed or sold for commercial use or profit. ADE employees are not authorized to waive these restrictions.

No Events To Display...
Privacy Statement | Site Map | Staff Login | Web site design and hosting by Web International
© Copyright 2010 Arkansas State Personnel Development Grant • All Rights Reserved
can i buy viagra online in uk