Four Ways to Help Students Become Better Writers

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It’s no secret that writing standards have changed and that more sophisticated writing skills are expected of students today, both in and out of the classroom. To accommodate these standards, more detailed instructions are now often used in the classroom; complex prompts demand more rigorous critical reading and writing from students.

In today’s increasingly complex and changing world, such skills are needed more than ever. Even outside of school, students need to be able to communicate and argue their points clearly and effectively. Here, HMH author Dr. Bill McBride suggests four ways to help students analyze complex prompts and become better writers.

1. Choose an analysis tool  

An analysis tool provides a step-by-step process for thinking through assignments; there are numerous tools available that can help students work through writing tasks. One tool that has proven successful for different styles of writing is R.A.F.T.

  • Role: First, Students read a prompt to discover their Role, both as a reader and a writer.
  • Audience: Students then reread the prompt to discover to whom they are writing, i.e. who is their Audience?
  • Format: Next, students reread the prompt again to discover the Format in which they are to respond. Are they writing an editorial, a call to action, or a review?  
  • Topic: Finally, students reread the prompt one more time to make sure they understand the Topic.  What specifically are they writing about?

R.A.F.T. requires students to think through the task at hand and focus selectively on different components. This allows for a more thorough understanding of what students are being asked to write, so their argument is clear and appropriate for the assignment or task.

2. Demonstrate applying R.A.F.T. to a prompt  

Choose a grade-appropriate prompt, which you may create yourself or find on the Internet. In the classroom, “think aloud” your thoughts as you apply the tool to the instructions. Be sure to reread the prompt four times to illustrate that deep reading means multiple re-readings.

You may also ask students to consider applying the four components of R.A.F.T. to everyday tasks such as writing letters to their grandparents or to the president; how does their role, audience, format and topic change based on who they are writing for or to?

3. Let students work through R.A.F.T. collaboratively

Put students in pairs and give them a list of about five sample prompts. Read the prompts aloud to the class. Students’ listening comprehension can often be a year higher (or more) than reading comprehension and oral instruction can help them analyze the prompts more effectively. Then, ask pairs to choose one of the prompts they want to analyze first. Giving students choices creates ownership and draws them into the activity quickly.

4. Have students model R.A.F.T. for each other 

Ask students to “think-aloud” how they figured out the R.A.F.T. of the prompt they chose.  Students teaching students is a much more effective mode of instruction than lecture.

R.A.F.T. provides students with a structured yet simple way to analyze various types of writing prompts; it also allows provides a tool for students to perform deeper close readings and analyses of complex texts.  As they read, students can apply the tool to their text and discover essential information. Looking at the writer’s role and audience helps students understand word choice. Analyzing the writer’s format helps them understand text structure; recognizing the author’s topic helps them understand theme. R.A.F.T seamlessly facilitates the reading-writing connection and helps prepare students for any writing they may be asked to produce, both in and out of school.  

For more practice using R.A.F.T. with secondary students, see Bill McBride’s book Inside the Text.

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