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Transferring skills from unit to unit: Solving Predictable Problems Blog Series

When one of my daughters was switching from playing soccer to playing field hockey, weNovember 2017 Twitter Chat had several conversations about the similar skills each sport required. It didn’t take us long to figure out that her understanding of passing, moving to space, and cutting off pathways would be helpful as she transitioned, not to mention her physical fitness, speed and foot speed. When she realized how much she already knew about hitting a ball with a stick from her experience with playing golf, she made the decision and switched sports. Change is less overwhelming when you have skills you can transfer.

I have realized that students benefit from explicit instruction when we are transitioning to new units. My assumption as I write this post is that you teach genres of writing in multi-week blocks of time. For example, you may start the year with a personal narrative unit, move into a realistic fiction unit, and from there into an information or opinion unit. The order does not matter as much as the concept of teaching in genre-based units. Students don’t always make the transfer as intuitively as we might think. So how to help them?

  1. First off make sure to tell them. Make sure that students are all there when you tell them. Many times, the students who need to hear about the transition the most are at an intervention during that lesson and miss the memo that one unit is ending and another is beginning. They are the students who seem confused a lot of the time–they are the students who are confused a lot of the time–and they are also frequently the ones who miss instruction a lot of the time because of the extra help or special services they are receiving.

Speaking of special services, make sure that the adults who work in your room also know the genre is changing. Cycling in and out of classes is hard and can be confusing–I used to do it. Special services providers juggle a lot whether they are teachers, paraprofessionals, or tutors, and sometimes they might not register what you think is obvious.

2. When you are switching genres, this is a good time to clear out charts and learning tools that students don’t need any more. If you are moving on to an information unit, they don’t need a narrative process chart. However, if you explain why you leave some charts and not others, students have an easier time holding on to what will help them. For example, a conventions chart should stay, and a chart about workshop structures might stay. Clear spaces give room for for new learning and new charts that explicitly show the lines of transfer, charts like the ones I’m sharing later in this post.

3. When students know the genre is changing, you can teach them how specific steps of one type of writing are similar to the steps they’ve already learned in another genre of writing. One of the charts I’m including shows how you can bridge the transfer of how we plan for various genres. Another one is a template for an inquiry lesson you can do with students, co-creating it with them. Learning something new is always easier when we are accessing what we already know!


4. Create charts that state the parallels between various genres of writing. I especially like categorizing those parallels into the concepts of structure, development, and conventions. Students love to see that conventions don’t change; they have to just keep applying what they’ve already learned. And it’s important for students to realize that regardless of the genre, all written pieces need a beginning, a middle, and an end.

One chart I’m sharing is one I’ve used as an inquiry lesson with a middle elementary class as they transition from information to opinion. I purposely included narrative on the chart so that they would remember its existence.

Another series of charts I keep in my notebook that I use for PD and also in classes is the following:


These charts are important for teachers as well as students to see and think about! These charts emphasize the transfer of knowledge that can happen. I love the phrase, “If we already know ______, then we can learn _________.”

5. Even though this post is more about how to help students transfer what they know over the course of one year, I don’t want to leave out the idea of getting them to remember and transfer what they’ve learned in previous years. As you switch genres, it’s a great time to ask students about their experiences with that genre. Talk to their teachers from prior years. “Last year as third-graders, I know you wrote about ways to change the world in your opinion writing unit. What do you remember about this type of writing” is a powerful statement to say to fourth-graders, even before you pre-assess them. Sometimes we all need a reminder in order to say, oh yes, I remember that.

Instructional minutes are precious in classrooms. We all have so much to teach. Any pathway we can find to tap into prior learning is an important path to take.


  • This giveaway is for a copy of The Unstoppable Writing Teacher: Real Strategies for the Real Classroom (Link to: Thanks to Heinemann Publishers (Link to: for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter this giveaway.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of The Unstoppable Writing Teacher, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, November 5th at 7:00 p.m. EDT. Melanie Meehan will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, November 6th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship the book to you.  (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Melanie will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – UNSTOPPABLE WRITING TEACHER BOOK. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.







Melanie Meehan View All

I am the Writing and Social Studies Coordinator in Simsbury, CT, and I love what I do. I get to write and inspire others to write! Additionally, I am the mom to four fabulous daughters and the wife of a great husband.

19 thoughts on “Transferring skills from unit to unit: Solving Predictable Problems Blog Series Leave a comment

  1. What a great post. In our busy days explicit instruction in transference of skills between genres is often over looked but can be so powerful. Thank you!


  2. I can’t wait to share these charts and ideas with my students. Instead of starting over for a new unit of study, the students can see how they are building onto the things they just learned.


  3. I love the reminder that making connections and transferring skills is not obvious to young writers. Showing and teaching clearly make such a difference. Thanks for this post Melanie. I love your charts!


  4. Wonderful charts and great reminders for teachers as we move work with students focused one one genre. And as we move from one genre to another. Thank you.


  5. This piece on transferring skills is important. You’re right! Instructional minutes are precious. When we can get kids to see the connections between the types of writing they’re doing, we help them realize they already have a lot of skills and know a lot about what it takes to create great writing.

    Thank you for all of the photos. As always, I have chart envy!


  6. As a teacher who works with students who have challenges in written expression (K-5), this idea really resonanted with me. Thank you!


  7. Thank you for the reminder. It makes so much sense and making it explicit to our students is so important. I love the ideas for the charts and will continue to remind myself to make those connections for students during mini-lessons and when conferring.


  8. This post underscores the importance of showing our students what they already can do, which in turn functions as not only a visual of their acquired skills, but as a motivator to learn new skills. I love the charts!


  9. Great post for teachers to have as they move into the next unit or plan to talk to parents at conferences. Love your “If we already know. . . Then we can learn . . .” charts. Having access to the previous grade level charts and having students put their names by steps that really worked for them or that they want to polish up in order to lead peer seminars is also another action to really work on transfer!!! 🙂

    Thanks for these tips!


  10. Thank you for the reminder! We learn so much in each unit that really can be transferred to the next writing unit. I love the charts!


  11. This post is confirmation! As teachers it is important to show students the amount of knowledge that they being to writing. When we are able to make these connections, and highlight their strengths, we show them that with each new writing opportunity, that they are not starting again, but growing deeper and stronger in the area of writing.


  12. Absolutely love this article! I love the idea of these visuals tonhelp students/writers to make connections between the different formats of writing.


  13. Thank you for this post Melanie. I agree that is it is so important to help students make connections between what they know and what they are learning, but I have never thought to be as explicit with that between genre as your post just showed me how to do. Thank you!!!


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