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Literacy

5 Effective Tips for Teaching High School Writing

7 Min Read
High school writing hero

Writing is an acquired skill that takes many years of practice and feedback to master. High school writing instruction poses a unique challenge for teachers who must ensure their soon-to-be graduated students, whether they opt for college or career, can communicate their ideas in writing. Here, I share five tips for teachers to use in the high school classroom as their students continue to master the writing process.

How to Teach Writing to High School Students

At the end of students' high school careers, they should have mastered the art of writing in various formats, including persuasive, narrative, informative, research, short constructed responses, and analysis of literature and nonfiction. The array of formats may make teaching writing to high school students seem overwhelming. Luckily, research has given us a clear approach to accelerating writing gains—practice, feedback, and revision—principles that are integrated into the design of HMH's program Writable for Grades 3–12.

At the high school level, this trifecta may take place independently, with peers, in groups, or with the guidance of a teacher. Researchers suggest that carefully planned instruction include opportunities for writing practice, peer review, and revision based on feedback. Additionally, feedback from the teacher is paramount throughout the entire writing process. Support in the form of writing examples, models, and specific, measurable feedback is needed to improve student writing.

High School Writing Research Chart

Writing Strategies for High School Students

Boost writing skills for high school students with these tried-and-true strategies that ensure students get the practice, feedback, and revision experience they need for success. Teaching multilingual students? Use these strategies to support them in the writing process.

Strategy 1: The Tour Guide

This strategy, aptly called The Tour Guide, is a tour of an exemplary essay. If students are expected to write a proficient essay, they must be guided through the components of one.

How is the essay structured? Are there multiple paragraphs? Are there citations woven throughout? What does it look like? How does the content reflect the prompt? How does the grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure contribute to the overall read of the essay? These are all questions that are asked, and subsequently answered, as the teacher takes the class on a guided tour of an essay.

Take this strategy up a notch by allowing students to annotate an essay on their own computer using extensions like Kami or apps like Google Docs. As the teacher reviews each component on the tour, students can annotate the essay using the tools for highlighting or commenting. HMH's program Writable has built-in annotation tools, plus teachers can save time using the program's AI-generated editable feedback in English or Spanish (see example below), draft scoring, and originality check.

High School Writing Feedback Inline

Strategy 2: Read Like a Writer

When students are tasked with writing essays such as a literary analysis or argument, a key indicator of success is seamlessly incorporating cited text from multiple sources. This synthesis of research, culminated in a student essay, is critical for high school writing and beyond. Oftentimes, the first part of this process is overlooked: gathering the text evidence that will be utilized in the essay. So let's not skip this important step. Students should read multiple sources in preparation. Read like a writer, a common phrase amongst teachers, is a strategy that will set students up for success when it comes time to write the essay.

Give each student a graphic organizer along with a writing prompt. Next, leave space for the student to fill in the title of the text they are reading, the author, and the cited evidence as it pertains to the prompt. As students read multiple texts, they will have an organized outline of the information they are to include in the essay. Doing this proactive step benefits students when it comes time to synthesize across multiple texts and produce an essay. Instead of having to retrace their steps, students can refer to their graphic organizer and begin to write. This has been one of the most successful strategies in my experience to get students on task and engaged because they have a starting point.  

Strategy 3: Puzzle Pieces

How many times have you heard a student say, "I don’t know how to start?" I’ve heard it countless times and my response is always, "Do you know how to finish?" Students can feel overwhelmed when starting an essay and, in my experience, starting has always been the hardest part for them. But I've also found that students often have some parts of their essay pieced together in their head.

The Puzzle Pieces strategy encourages students to begin writing at any part of the essay. For example, maybe a student can perfectly describe a character they’ve envisioned and are ready to get that character down on paper! Why should the student wait for the character to be introduced in the story they’re writing? The same applies to a literary analysis essay. If students have a firm grasp on certain parts of the text they are analyzing, they should begin to write their ideas down.

Letting students write their essay in pieces, and then put it together like a puzzle, is beneficial for students who need the task broken down in smaller chunks. As students start to build momentum with their essay, their confidence and motivation also increases. After they have pieced their essay puzzle together, they will need to revise and add transitions to make the essay flow from one paragraph to the next. This is a great time to provide some feedback using student review or teacher review.

Strategy 4: Revise Out Loud

Once students are in the revision stage of the writing process, a great strategy is to have students record themselves reading their essays aloud using their phone or laptop. When students record themselves, they are not only practicing their fluency, but getting a good first read of what their essay would sound like to an audience. Oftentimes, this is a skipped step in the revision process, but an important one for students to do.

When students are done recording themselves, they can play it back and listen for grammatical errors, sentences that may need more description for clarity, or editing of punctuation. Students really love this new twist on revising. Give this strategy a try in your classroom and see students embrace the power of revision!  

Strategy 5: Red Light, Yellow Light, Green Light

It is no secret that writing conferences with a teacher are beneficial to a successful writing piece. Students need plenty of practice and specific feedback to write an exemplary essay. While it is always a goal to conference with all students multiple times throughout the writing process, it may be difficult to do so in a formal conference. Therefore, this strategy is differentiated for students at their various writing levels.

Using an interactive whiteboard like Google Jamboard, or sticky notes on an anchor chart, create three headings—“Red, Yellow, Green.” Each student should write their name or student ID number (if you use a number system in your classroom) and move their sticky note under the heading that they feel best represents the conference they need for that class period. If students place their sticky note under the red heading, this indicates they would like a writing conference with their teacher. If a student places their sticky note under the yellow heading, this means they are proceeding with caution, but would like to conference with either a teacher or peer. And you guessed it—if students place their sticky note under the green heading, they are ready to work independently for the class period.

This strategy allows teachers to be mindful of what students need as they write. And it allows students to self-assess their needs, direct their learning, and voice what works best for them—whether it be a conference with a teacher or peer, or to work by themselves. Give this strategy a try and watch students become self-directed writers!

Share Your Best Writing Strategies

What are your go-to writing strategies for high school students? We'd love to hear how you help them master the writing process. Share ideas with us on Facebook, Instagram, or via email at shaped@hmhco.com.

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Try Writable for Grades 3–12 to support your ELA curriculum, district benchmarks, and state standards with more than 1,000 customizable writing assignments and rubrics, plus AI-generated feedback and originality check that will save teachers time while boosting student skills.

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