Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Student writing about baking
Thoughtful Learning

Managing a writing classroom can be like trying to make the perfect pot of chili for a table of 20. You know going into it that no single recipe will align with the taste preferences of every diner. However, through experience and experimentation, you discover certain essential ingredients will create a savory base, which your diners can supplement with a choice of accompaniments that suit their tastes—a dash of hot sauce here, a glob of sour cream there.

Similarly, certain essential ingredients go into creating a successful writing classroom. When mixed, the ingredients that follow provide an effective starting point for developing students’ skills and identities as writers. Know that these ingredients are just a start to a successful writing class; they produce the best results when you make adjustments to meet the changing needs of your students.

Free

As teachers, we have many roles: instructors, counselors, air-traffic controllers, role-models, chief cooks, and bottle washers. . . . We shouldn't also have to be deep-pocket donors, buying all of our classroom supplies. That's why we love the word free, especially when it relates to writing resources. And free is best when it means not just "free of charge" but also "free to use, modify, and share." Really and truly free. So, as you set up your writing classroom for the year, make sure to use these free resources from Thoughtful Learning.

Writing Topics

Writing Topics

You assign students to write an explanatory essay, and immediately five hands go up: "But I don't know what to write about!"

Thankfully, you can find hundreds of writing topics sorted by grade and major mode—narrative, explanatory, persuasive, response to literature, creative, and research. When you go to k12.thoughtfullearning.com, just click on "Writing Topics" in the top menu bar.

Student Models

Student Models

Okay, so everybody in class has found a writing topic, but you still get a lot of questions: "What do you mean by explanatory essay?"

In answer, you can show students free online models written by other students and sorted by grade and mode. Each is a strong model of its type at its level, showing students how they can write effectively. You can use these examples to inspire student writers or to demonstrate a specific trait of writing (ideas, organization, voice) or a specific literary device (metaphor, flashback, sensory details).

Light bulbs
© Thoughtful Learning

It’s finally, mercifully, here—sweet summertime!

You deserve a break. We all do! So take some time to kick up your feet, read a good book, catch up on a favorite TV show, and maybe even sip an icy beverage by the beach.

Once you feel recharged, consider reserving a slice of your summer break for gathering new ideas and inspiration for your writing classroom. You can dive into all kinds of great resources, so we’d like to recommend a few books that have inspired new ideas for our latest K-12 writing resources.

Besides being chock full of ideas for invigorating your ELA curriculum, these books are fun to read. 

Young adult writing in notebook and typing on laptop
Thoughtful Learning

No matter what subject you teach, writing can empower learning. And yet, fitting time-intensive writing assignments into your crowded curriculum may not seem feasible. Here's some good news. Research suggests you don’t need to design lengthy writing projects for your students to benefit from writing as a learning tool. Instead, short bursts of low-stakes writing hold the most learning potential.

Boy writing while holding a mirror
© Thoughtful Learning

“The narrative is the first story, the primal story, from which all others come. It is your story.” These thoughts by writer John Rouse speak clearly to the importance of narrative writing. I share them because I, too, feel that narrative writing is a valuable or, dare I say, the most important element in an effective writing program.

Gathering New Words

Words are power. Until you have a word for something, you can't think effectively about it. That's why every discipline has its own specialized vocabulary and why people who study the discipline must learn the vocabulary in order to be conversant.

So, vocabulary-building is as crucial in high school, college, and career as it was when students were first learning to read and write. It helps native speakers and English language learners, alike. You can use any (or all) of these creative word activities to help your students expand their vocabularies and their minds.

Check Writing Assumptions

When we teach writing, our pedagogy includes many built-in assumptions. For example, if we adopt a workshop approach, we make assumptions about choice, collaboration, drafting, conferencing, standards-correlations, student accountability, and so on. Checking those assumptions can help us improve our writing instruction.

A few simple questions can reveal the assumptions in a writing assignment:

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