6 Secrets Every Writing Teacher Should Know

I was a brand new writing teacher behaving like a runaway bride. Yup, I remember calling my mother between classes, sobbing that I’d made a huge mistake.

I was actually in love with math, not ELA.

“But you were a writing major! You love writing!” my mom said, like a woman who knows she’s at risk of losing a big reception hall deposit.

The sad reality is that I had no idea how to teach writing.

writing teacher tips

I knew how to write but not how to be a writing teacher.

Do you have the same dilemma when teaching writing?

Let’s fix that, friends. I want you to have the confidence I was missing during my first few years of teaching. So I’m going to share six secrets that every writing teacher should know.

Secret #1: Grading Everything is Actually Hurting Students

Students should be writing a LOT more than you are grading. Just like any other skill, students will become proficient writers when they have lots of opportunities to practice.

Here’s how writing teachers can reduce grading and provide students with practice at the same time:

*Assign 3-4 short constructed response writing tasks, over a period of a week or two.

*Review a common rubric or a list of expectations.

*Have students analyze and evaluate their own writing using the rubric.

*Allow students to choose which one they want to submit for a score.

Everyone benefits, and this is why.

Students benefit because they’re forced to reread and critically evaluate their own writing. By forming an awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, their next attempt with a similar writing task is bound to be of higher quality.

Secondly, putting students in charge of their submission empowers them.  They will form a better understanding of their own responsibility in the teacher-student partnership.

Writing teachers benefit because our students are learning, we have less to grade, and what we do grade is likely to be a higher quality product!

What did Oprah always say? You get a car! And you get a car! Everybody gets a car!

Secret #2: Use Mini-Lessons to Teach in Small Bites

Focus on one writing goal a day. Teach a quick mini-lesson on one specific writing skill. Then have students focus on that skill and nothing else.

It might work like this.

Let’s say your mini-lesson is a five-minute demonstration on revising for concrete nouns. Give students five minutes to highlight as many nouns as they can. Then encourage them to switch five or ten of them for concrete nouns.

The simplicity will unfreeze some of your reluctant writers. Writing becomes a lot less daunting when kids only have one job to do.

And the narrow focus will benefit your advanced writers because it will give them a chance to dig deep for the most expressive way to communicate and refine their ideas.

Secret #3: Use Writing Frames and Sentence


Writing frames are a writing teacher’s best friend. Truly. The kind of friend you’d get a tattoo with.

And writing frames are a young author’s best friend too. Because sometimes kids need to be told exactly what to write.

Think about it. Let’s say you’re told you must write a letter of recommendation for a student, something you’ve never done before.  You have a choice. You can write it on your own with no guidance, or you could use a template and just fill in that student’s unique qualities. Which would you choose?

Most of us would choose the template! But here’s the amazing thing.

The second time we have to write one, we might just glance at the template for a quick reminder. And the third time we write one, we might not need the template at all! We’ll know exactly what to do!

So don’t let anyone tell you that you’re taking away creativity or any garbage like that. Frameworks are necessary (for many kids) until they are ready for more. Good writing teachers know when writing frames are needed.

Secret #4: Writing Conferences Should be Brief

A writing conference should be like a fast-food drive-through, not like a seven-course meal.  Everyone knows that by the third course, you’re just too full to enjoy yourself. And kids glaze over when a writing teacher makes more than one or two suggestions about their paper.

Make conferences brief by trying one of these suggestions:

*Ask kids to jot one question down on a post-it, or ask them to find one specific aspect of their paper they have a question about.

 *Or read their paper solely to see if they addressed the mini-lesson skill.

Now for the hard part. Restrain yourself by giving kids no more than one or two suggestions. I like to give a “Glow” and a “Grow.” The glow is a compliment and the grow is a suggestion for improvement. Anything more and they’ll be too full for dessert. 😉

Secret #5: Use Mentor Texts Written by Students

Most writing teachers use mentor texts to teach various skills, such as writing with figurative language or creating characters. But if students are writing an essay, we must show them at least one essay written using the exact format we expect students to use.

The best way to do this is to save exemplars from year to year-

– with the author’s permission of course. If you don’t have a paper from a previous year, write one that you can use as a mentor text.

Students will write a much better 5 paragraph argumentative essay if they can see an actual 5 paragraph argumentative essay.

In my argument writing unit, I include mentor text exemplars for students to label. So the teacher can teach the parts of the essay and then students see the specifics in action. As a result of having a mentor text that is an exact representation of the teachers’s expectations, there are no surprises. Students know exactly what they have to do to get that high score on the rubric.

Secret #6: Be Kind to Yourself

You will mess up. A lot.

So will your students. When your students make a mistake, what do you do? Are you mean about it? Do you call them names and swear at them? Of course you don’t!

Please. Show yourself the exact same grace you show your students. You deserve it.

I hope these suggestions help you become a better writing teacher! Please feel free to ask questions. And also feel free to share some of your own suggestions!