Planning a writing unit can feel overwhelming. Many teachers feel stressed out by curricula put in front of them by their schools and districts with little to no training. It is difficult to sift through all the words to get to the good stuff. So let’s simplify things a bit shall we! Below you’ll find lots of tips for how to go about planning successful writing units step by step…
1. Find Key Terms
When planning your writing unit, every writing program usually comes with some sort of rubric or checklist. Read through it and highlight the key words. These are the terms you will use so much during your writing unit that your students will begin to use them when they need help from you on particular skills during conferences. Click here to learn about a new type of simplified rubric!
Here is a possible list of key terms for each writing unit you may teach:
Narrative Writing Unit
- Seed Idea
- Small Moment
- Character Development
- Zoom In/Elaboration
- Heart of the Story
- Figurative Language
Information Writing Unit
- Table of Contents
- Text Features
- Key Words
- Linking Words
- Key Words
Persuasive Writing Unit
- Main Idea
- Supporting Details
- Rhetorical Question
- Figurative Language
2. Plan Mini Lessons
Once you’ve decided on the key terms you will use, you can decide which of these terms will be the focus of each of your mini lessons within your writing unit. I like to put the term in my plan book for each day of the unit. That way I have a general idea of what I will teach and when.
The details of each mini lesson will depend on your students’ skill levels, the mentor texts (books/student writing samples) you will use throughout the unit, and the management of your class. Many teachers forget that not only should you teach mini lessons about writing skills, but you also need to teach mini lessons on management. I usually plan for one management lesson per week during a unit. Some management mini lesson topics could be:
- How to come to the meeting area
- How to leave the meeting area
- What to do when you need help
- What to do if you think you are done
- How to use the charts in the room
- How to speak to a partner
3. Experience the Writing
The next step is the hardest…Do the writing you expect your students to do. Period. Afterwards, reflect…Where did you struggle? Which terms were hard for you to master while writing your piece? Without a doubt, this can be one of the most helpful experiences for a teacher of writing! You don’t have to complete a masterpiece or anything. Just try a few of the things you are going to expect your students to do in their writing. Brainstorm and make some lists. Write a rough draft! The best part of this is once you are done you can use your writing samples year after year with students. You can talk first hand about the struggles and experiences you have as a writer too!
Another extremely important part of planning a unit is the pre-assessment. When you assess your students do not give them a writing topic/prompt. This is a pre-assessment and you want to see what students can master on their own with no help from you. Here is an example of a pre-assessment:
“Today you will write a narrative from one moment in your life. Take some time to plan out what you will write for your narrative. Show me what you know about this type of writing. Don’t forget to revise and edit your piece as well. Don’t worry if you struggle during this, I am not grading it! This is only for the purpose of planning our next unit and deciding which skills the class has mastered and which you still need support with.”
Once you’ve given the pre-assessment you MUST read/skim them. While reading your students’ writing you can put stars next to the key terms you feel students struggled with. The key terms that have the most stars will be the mini lessons you will need to repeat multiple times throughout the unit.
5. Find Mentor Texts
Mentor texts are books and writing samples within the same genre of writing you are teaching. Teachers analyze these mentor texts throughout the unit with students during mini lessons. Students can also choose to read them during writing work time as well. Finding mentor texts can be challenging at times. Check out the resources below…
10 Places to Find Mentor Texts
Reading & Writing Project Mentor Texts
Thoughtful Learning Mentor Texts
Using writing produced in your own class as mentor texts can also be incredibly empowering for students.
Hopefully this post will get you started developing your own units of study in no time!