Writers range from copying sentences to doing the whole process alone.

Give your students a writing process and repeat it until no one needs your help – at least not much.

Improve Writing with Student Critiques


It can look like a hodgepodge of ideas, but with direction writing improves.

All together - beauty.


NOTE: Find a way to put written work up front so all can read along. (In the olden days, I made a transparency and used the overhead. 🙂 )

To begin, I wrote my own piece and put it up– no editing, some proofing.  I casually asked the class to read it.

Then I read it to them and laughed at some of my mistakes. (This was to encourage them not to turn mistakes into ‘I can’t write.’)


I then stated that this piece needed some work, and I was going to critique it.

(NOTE: A critique is different from criticism. The purpose of a critique is to discern what is good and why; and what could be improved and why. Criticism, however, does not tend to focus on improvement and can leave a person feeling helpless.)


First, I posted a list of sentence stems that pointed toward compliments. After reading them aloud, I used them to talk about my piece.


“The topic was worth reading because…”

“The title fit the piece because….”

“The beginning was clear/good because….”

“This (phrase, sentence, word) was good because…”

“The ending was clear/good because…”


Next, these sentence stems were posted, read aloud and applied to my writing.


“The topic needed to be…. (clearer, more interesting, more focused) …because…

“The title didn’t fit the piece because…”  “I think that this title is better…”

“The beginning would be better if…. because…”

“If you add this (word, phrase, sentence) it will be better/more interesting because…)

“The ending would be better if…. because….”

At this point, I rewrote my piece with everyone watching and my talking my way through the update. (Students did not do this when they had their turns.)

After the next class writing activity, I asked if anyone wanted to critique their own paper. As a guideline, only three compliments and one improvement was allowed. (This was to encourage their willingness to share.)

As their comfort level increased, they were allowed to critique each other’s writing pieces. But only if! the student who wrote the piece, asked for class input.


VIGNETTE. Elise’s work was short and plain. As she listened to the other students’ critiques, I noticed that her writing was improving.  One day, she excitedly raised her hand and volunteered her paper.  She said, “I want to hear what is good about my paper, and get some help to make it better.”

Elise, you made my day!


1 Week = 1 Writing Assignment

At the beginning of the school year, students need time to process their thoughts so they can write them down.                   As the year progresses, they’ll have time during the week to find quotes or research information to enrich their work.

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MONDAY   Introduce the topic. Discuss it. Read aloud from books with that information. Show a video! Show images from the Internet! Fill their thoughts with ideas!  As you share, have them identify vocabulary words.  Post this list.

TUESDAY  Ask the students to give phrases that enrich the vocabulary. Record their phrases on the board.   (‘Tree’ might become ‘a forest of oak trees’)      Have the students suggest sentences. Write them down.

WEDNESDAY   Opening and closing sentences. Have the students look over the vocabulary and writing ideas and identify a main idea. Create opening sentences with them using that idea. Have them copy one or create their own opening sentence. LEAVE A SPACE/LINE FOR A TITLE! (For a younger group, have one opening sentence and everyone copies it.)

Discuss the role of a closing sentence. (It helps the reader know that you are done writing.)  It usually relates to the opening sentence.  Have the class suggest some examples. Write them on the board. They do not write/copy one yet!

THURSDAY   Talk about the topics they might use. They pick their favorite sentences – or write their own – and copy them after their opening sentence. Have the students choose and write a closing sentence – or write their own.

FRIDAY    Identify titles.  Because they have chosen their own sentences, their titles may be different. Have them read their sentences and then have class help the reader to decide a title. List different suggestions on the board.  Now, have them write the title. Some children can make a final copy.  Others may ‘fix or finish‘.  Anyone who is done early, can draw an illustration or read the related materials you made available. (Let them share new ideas that they find out.) (NOTE There were times when a student was allowed to make a final copy at home and illustrate it. Be sure you have a copy before it goes out the door. 🙂  )

NOTE   Because so much of their work is being copied each day, encourage the students who are done quickly to add their own sentences.  Have them share their results with a partner who is doing the same thing. Partners are someone of their own ability level.

As weeks go by, the writing pattern becomes clearer.  Encourage using their own vocabulary and sentences. With the repetition of the same pattern and enrichment from sharing their sentences and the related materials, you will produce a classroom of grand writers.



A Writing Process for Beginners

For the young child or beginner, make writing an easily repeated process. Each day, one component is the focus. Illustrating adds depth of understanding.

Day 1   Introduce the theme with a short film, a slide show, reading from a book, or a discussion question such as, What do we know about dinosaurs? Keep the theme highly interesting, simple and focused. Next, ask for words they think they will need. Make a list. Post it where the children can see it.

Use a title that is the theme. For example, ‘Dinosaurs’.

Day 2   Organize for the Ideas
Draw a row of boxes on the board. (Three to six. You know them best and more can be added.)
Above the first box write the topic – ‘Dinosaurs’.  Inside the box, write ‘Fact.’
Ask for ideas that are general such as when they lived.
‘Lived long ago.’
‘Not here now.’
‘Only bones now’

The second box is for Looks. Students use the word list from the first day to describe the dinosaurs. List the words they suggest under the box.
‘huge’    ‘gray’    ‘green’    ‘ferocious!’     ‘scary’

The other boxes might have these words written in them.
‘Food’     ‘Home’     ‘Size’     ‘Name’
Under each box word, have the students choose the words that describe the detail. Allow words not on the list.

For the last box, use a closing idea. Put the word ‘Ending’ in the box. Ideas to put in the box.
‘I like them.’
‘Where did they go?’

Day 3   Once the boxes are done – With each box having its own topic, and the details listed underneath, the students are ready to think of sentences!  The word list becomes simple sentences.

Example for ‘Looks’ they had: huge  gray  green  ferocious
The sentences might be:  A dinosaur looks huge.   It can be gray or green.   It is very ferocious!

Encourage writers to add their own details. (For spelling ideas, use blog Improve That Spelling!)

Put the sentences on the board.

Day 4   Students write the title, and copy the sentences they like.   Some students may only have one or two sentences copied.  As they become familiar with this process and become successful, they will speed up.

Day 5    Finish writing and create a picture. Or, provide a variety of pictures for them to color.


This focus on a writing process gives your students a pattern for successful writing. And, you have a great set of papers to grade!  [See blog Grade Writing Fast!)

Awesome summer cabbage.

An awesome summer cabbage.  A great descriptive writing activity.