checklists · goals · independence · Teachers College · writing workshop

Writing Checklists: Tools for Independence and Goal-Setting

I am a list person. I have lists by my computer, by my bed, in the kitchen, in my car console– And I love crossing things off my lists. One of the reasons I like lists is they tell me what to do, but my lists serve different purposes; sometimes they help me remember what I need to do, but sometimes they become a statement of my goals. When I’m really using my lists well, they become goal-setting tools for the day.

The Units of Study for Teaching Writing, created by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and published by Heinemann, first introduced me to genre-specific writing checklists that folow a progression and align with the Common Core. Right away, I loved them. Maybe it’s the list-loving part of me, but since first introducing them to students, these checklists have proven to be a way to provide independence for excelling writing students and clarity for striving writers.

Throughout this post, I am referencing the student-facing checklists that are published in Writing Pathways  by Lucy Calkins, and the pictures I’ve shared are of those checklists. While I love the checklists in the original Units of Study, the pictures and the separate sections (structure, development, and conventions) add to the usability factor. There are ways to find some of them on the internet, but I highly recommend purchasing this resource if you haven’t already; it contains a complete set of the checklists from kindergarten through eighth grade, as well as other invaluable resources for teaching writing. Inarguably, there are other writing checklists that serve the same purpose, and any of my ideas would work with other checklists that you find or have created.

Ways to use the checklists:

  1. Present grade level checklists to students, and share the analogy of going to the grocery store with them. Emily Butler Smith, a Staff Developer from the Reading and Writing Project,  gave a demonstration lesson to a third-grade class several years ago describing her trek through a grocery store, and I have used this analogy many other times since watching her–I tell students that I create a grocery list based on what I need, and then I check the list before, during, and after my shopping. Students understand my need to double back in Stop and Shop because I’ve forgotten something. When I make the connection to writing and the writing checklists, heads nod, and they grasp the rationale of reviewing the checklists multiple times throughout the creation of their writing pieces.


2. Although a bit labor intensive, I’ve seen teachers cut up a grade-level checklist and give each student a set of the descriptors on a keyring. The most effective way I’ve seen this done was making the components of the checklist—structure, development, and conventions—in different colors.  IMG_2137 In every writing workshop, students set a “writing goal” or “writing intention” and they  place their keyring in front of them. Since writing is a progression, each student’s keyring can include descriptors from previous or upcoming grades in order to differentiate.

Although initially time-consuming to create, these keyrings have lasted year after year since they are laminated. Students are excited to get their “new keyrings” when they begin a new unit of study.

3. Create a “Checklist Station” within your writing center. In some of the classrooms I’ve worked in, we make two-sided checklists. On one side, we have one grade level’s expectations for the genre, and on the other side, we have prior or subsequent grades. We coach students to “Take what they need.” If they feel like they want the positive feeling of checking off what they’ve done, then take the lower grade, and if they are setting some lofty goals, then we suggest going for the higher grade.

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We have introduced first the structural section of the checklists, and then the section with the development components. It’s been helpful for students to think about their writing in terms of structure, development, and conventions.

We can’t logistically meet every students’ learning need every day, but the checklists have the potential of offering students a roadmap for independence at every stage of the writing process. If you haven’t yet incorporated them into your writing workshop, I highly recommend it!



11 thoughts on “Writing Checklists: Tools for Independence and Goal-Setting

  1. I also use the checklists at the beginning of the unit to help us learn more about the new genre. We take a look at the examples and assess them using the rubrics. The students enjoy getting to be the teacher and critique another student’s work. Plus, they get to really get into the kind of writing they are about to do.

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  2. This is such a practical post for introducing and setting students up for success for using the checklists. Love the key ring idea, which can be used over and over again, since it gives students some say over their learning for the day. However, what I think is exceptional, is the idea that you can go a grade-level above or below to find the checklist that meets the needs of every student.

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  3. Melanie,
    I, too, dearly love checklists. With the writing checklists, I also encourage students and teachers to make tally marks during the unit during a reflective share. Which areas were you working on today, and how many different times did you try that specific idea? That ways students who are exploring leads and who may have gone to three different pieces to “try out” new options, really get to give themselves credit for multiple practices. It’s not about reaching a certain preset number, but it is about using/trying the work enough to really improve and understand how it can go.

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  4. Love this!!! I use the checklists all the time … are they broken up into structure, development, and conventions so you can just have those parts or do you cut them up??


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