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Strategies for Teaching Writing

Hello colleagues, I'm looking for effective strategies for teaching academic writing. For example, how do you support students to write argument paragraphs and essays? Are you teaching students to cite sources?

Do you involve students in a peer review process? If so, what have been the pros and cons of peer review in your experience? What tips can you offer?

In addition, do you have writing rubrics you can share? Can you recommend online resources for teaching writing-- especially that feature model paragraphs and essays for students to study?

Thanks for any ideas and resources you can share!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP


Leigh S's picture

Hi there, Susan.  I am just getting back into the water with LINCS Discussion through a State-mandated PD course in assessment.  I saw your question in the discussion.  I took Testing & Assessment years ago in grad school but find I really need the refresher of the course I'm now in, and in part, to address just what you're asking about:  what rubrics to use and what methods to employ in teaching academic writing.  I have for many years been teaching only low-level ELLs, so it has only been since Fall 2016 that I've had the opportunity to work more with academic writing in upper-level groups.

We have explored academic writing through the Ventures 5 textbook and workbook, which are very good.  I have also been preparing them for the TOEFL iBT Test and find that the Educational Testing Service prints out "Writing Rubrics" for that which would be helpful to any teacher.  I have my students "read, read, read" different things --- news or features articles, novels and memoirs (we're in April now, so I'm having them read April Morning by Howard Fast --- things that show them also more about American culture or history, especially if they are not citizens).  They have had to respond to these through essay tests and chapter summaries.  I plan to have them more involved in rubric creation for shorter assessments. 

To synthesize information, I recently assigned them to choose a woman in history/contemporary culture and read something of hers (if a writer) or choose from two independent sources to report on her in an oral presentation with a supporting academic poster (much like we had to use in grad school during the early part of this decade).  They had to contain the information judiciously for the poster.  While I did not make them adhere to APA citation format, I do plan to teach this for the future.

We are using the TOEFL iBT guide of Kaplan to go over a little bit each day, and what I do is break it up so that each student is responsible for teaching a portion of it the following class. 

We do lots and lots of group editing.  I have them work in pairs or small groups now on writing assignment review.  Then they go home and "fix" that assignment before submitting the final version to me.

I hope these ideas are helpful.  Thank yo for writing.

Leigh Smith, ELL Instructor

Vermont Adult Learning - Franklin/Grand Isle Counties

Leecy's picture
One hundred

Susan, you ask good questions and Leigh's response is very helpful. As we wait for more comments, which I hope will pour in, I wonder if we might discuss writing rubrics in greater depth.

I am a huge proponent of rubrics as assessment tools for any and all performance. When it comes to assessing writing performance, I am struck by how many rubric sites provide awful criteria for writing, especially at lower levels. What I tell teachers is to use those sites to download the rubric frame and then modify items to make sense to students. After all, rubrics are for students, not for teachers. Criteria should be written for students and at their level. So what criteria could we set for assessing student writing performance, let's say, at the GED or ABE levels? I'll start.


GED Essay Top Criteria: My essay establishes a clear topic along with one concept of that topic that will be discussed. That topic and aspect are expressed in my first paragraph or thesis statement. Each "body" paragraph in my essay focuses on a specific aspect of the main concept of the topic. That aspect is covered in detail in each paragraph. I conclude my essay with one or two sentences that "wrap up" the discussion in a final summary statement, a question, or a final opinion related to the discussion. All paragraphs support my thesis statement. (Or something like that....)

ABE, Top Criteria: I introduce one topic and the part of that topic that I want to discuss in my first sentence. Everything I write connects to that first sentence. The details I discuss are grouped together to support different ideas that I have about that first sentence. My last sentence refers to my first and helps the reader recognize why I wrote the passage. (Or something like that....)

Other criteria groupings would include things like Quality of Support, Correct Grammar, Vocabulary Selection, Sentence Types, References, and so forth. What criteria might we use around those or other categories among the two levels of students? Leecy

Di Baycich's picture
One hundred

Achieve The Core has model essays for academic and narrative writing.

SLL's picture

The HiSET Writing exam gives testers two persuasive articles and asks them to formulate an essay arguing their own opinion on the topic. I like to use for practice because there are some pro/con articles already on the site, and they can easily be scaled up or down in reading difficulty. (Sometimes the same articles are in both English and Spanish also, which is especially helpful since I teach both in the same class!) Another good source is, but I find the huge amount of content is often overwhelming for my ELLs - we really have to limit to one or two points per issue.

Regarding rubrics...I hadn't given much thought to them. (One is provided for HiSET essays, which is what we use for those students.) I really like Leecy's comment about writing them in student-friendly ways as a tool to assist student writers. I'd love to see examples anyone has!

Shine bright,


Susan Finn Miller's picture
One hundred

Thanks to everyone for their helpful comments and suggestions. I agree that rubrics are hugely useful in helping students to understand what is expected. Using student-friendly language in a rubric, as Leecy notes, is essential. I love the idea of having students help to create the rubrics. And of course providing models is also important. In addition, I think it's useful to provide models that vary in quality and then ask the students to evaluate them using agreed upon rubric criteria. I appreciate the sources for locating model essays. If anyone has more suggestions for locating model essays, I would welcome them.

All ideas are welcome! Keep them coming!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP

Leecy's picture
One hundred

Susan and other rubricons and rubriconas here, I think that the most famous model for teaching instructors  to use rubrics is the Chocolate Chip Cookie Rubric. If you just Google that term, you'll find dozens of models for it, along with lots of fun images for sharing. Of course, as with all rubrics, students might not agree with the criteria. However, if they are learning how to bake cookies, they will know exactly what that particular  teacher expects them to do to earn an "A." Having students help create rubric criteria can be used, as suggested, as a wonderful learning tool. 

If anyone wants more practice creating rubrics, feel free to post a writing or other assignment that requires students to perform at different levels. We'll jump in and suggest criteria!

As for writing samples to be assessed,  I hope we can continue the list and keep it going. Leecy