Dreaming Big for This Year’s Writing Workshop Blog Series · strategy lessons · toolkits · writing workshop

This is the Year I’m Going to Create and Use Strategic Writing

“It’s a practice,” is a common refrain from the instructor in my yoga class. That being said, if my mat is anywhere close to a certain yoga rockstar, I admit it–I find myself glancing over to check out her poses. She gets into positions that I’m sure would cripple me. I would fall on my nose if I tried some of her balance poses. If I watch her too much or too long, I’m tempted to quit yoga. On the other hand, if I pay attention to other participants who are closer to my own practice–maybe a little ahead–I find myself trying harder. Yep, I can lift my leg a little higher. Okay, I can stand on my hands if my knees are bent just a little bit more.

In a few days, Beth will share an amazing post about ways to incorporate mentor texts into our writing instruction, but sometimes when students struggle with writing and we show them examples of great–even published—writing, that product can feel as far out of reach as my toes in a yoga class–especially when my hamstrings are tight. Rather than seeing close to perfect writing, it’s less overwhelming for them to see examples that are closer to their current functioning level. That’s where strategic writing samples come into play.

Strategic Writing Samples: pieces of teacher-created writing that are intentionally created to illustrate a teaching point or provide opportunities for students to try out specific skills.

We can create strategic writing samples for any genre and for any skill within the genre. We just have to sit down and write more like the students whom we are teaching. Kelsey has written a post about creating toolkits for workshop units that will be published this week, and strategic texts are another great addition to a unit-based toolkit!

It helps me to think about a series of steps when I am creating a strategic writing piece:

Step 1: Identify the specific skill that I want to address in the students’ writing. There are predictable problems that occur within genres so I try to create strategic texts to address the issues that come up repeatedly.

Step 2: Write a piece that mirrors the predictable problem. I can use that piece to show students not perfect writing, but instead how to get out of a troublesome spot.

Step 3: Provide options for revision of the demonstrated problem.

The options I have created that I am sharing in this post offer repertoire, choice, and elements of play. All three of these are powerful in terms of student engagement and raising the level of thinking.

Narrative Writing

Predictable problem: Over and over again, I see students learn about similes and word choices and then overuse them.

The first thing I did was I wrote a beginning that is sort of like the ones I see. I tried to make the issues fairly obvious with the overdone simile “quick as a cheetah” and “scampering kids.” For my own edification, I made a sticky note of the issues in the piece, as well as some of the choices for resolving them.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 8.28.00 AM

Then, I wrote three other pages of options, tagging each one with the technique I used to make it a stronger piece of writing.


I can use these options in many different ways–with whole-group lessons, small groups, individuals… I can also leave the sticky note on the example or take it off. If I take it off, I can first ask students to name the technique or I can ask them to try out creating a text that illustrates the technique. I could present all three possible revisions and challenge students to rank them in the order of strength, an activity that inspires some high-level thinking, for sure! The more flexible the tool, the more options we have, and the more learning opportunities we’ll find.

Information Writing

Predictable problem: A common tendency of information writers is to create lists of information. For example, Janey, a fourth-grader, wrote about her town’s mall. She created a section about stores, and her writing went something like this:

There are lots of stores. There is Abercrombie, the Gap, Macy’s, Sweet Tooth, Foot Locker, the Sunglass Hut, Sephora, and more.

When I looked over her shoulder, she was in the process of googling the mall’s directory so she could continue the list. I actually see a lot of this sort of writing, so I created a strategic text about pizza, and then a list of steps that can help for breaking that sort of a list into multiple sentences.

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 8.32.21 AM

There are lots of types of pizzas. There is plain cheese, pepperoni, mushroom, sausage, Hawaiian, meatball, and many more.

I can use this piece to teach students like Janey some strategies for breaking up lists. For example, we can break the list into more than one sentence and say more about the item.

There are lots of types of pizzas. Plain cheese is probably the most popular, while pepperoni is probably a close second. Mushroom is my brother’s favorite, but I don’t like it at all.

Janey, like many other students who I’ve shown this chart since she inspired me to make it, was able to use this sequence of steps within her own writing.

Opinion Writing

Predictable problem: One of the common issues I see young opinion writers struggle with has to do with the differences between re-tells and opinions. Our second-grade opinion writing unit has students writing about books and characters. So often, students write a lot, but it is mostly telling what the story is about and not what they students think about it.

Another way to create strategic writing pieces and incorporate an element of play as well as choice is to create “lift-a-flap” pages. The page I’m sharing addresses the issue I’ve described with some playful options.

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Students can decide on choice 1, 2, or 3, and then see not only the techniques which I’ve written on the back of the cards, but also the example of how it would look.



The flaps in my chartbook offer the students a feeling of play, as well as choice and multiple solutions. An additional benefit of the flaps has to do with creating brave writers. Bravery is important to writers, and if I can establish for them that there’s not a single right answer, then they are more apt to take risks and more able to learn and grow.

Final thoughts about yoga

Realistically, I know I won’t ever be the one to place my forehead on the ground when I’m sitting with my legs straight and to the sides. I am comfortable enough with my own strengths and limitations that I can admire people who can without feeling badly about my own tighter tendons. That being said, I recognize I try harder when there’s a glimmer of possibility as opposed to an absolute no way. Strategic texts are a tool that help to create those glimmers of possibilities in writers’ minds where the thought process may have been an absolute no way.

August 2018 Blog Series and Twitter Chat

Leave a comment on the bottom of this blog post for a chance to win a copy of this book. (Be sure to read the giveaway information before you leave a comment. Thanks!)

Giveaway Information:

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom (Link to https://www.heinemann.com/products/e09250.aspx). Thanks to Heinemann (Link to: https://www.heinemann.com) for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a copy of this book.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of Kids 1st from Day 1: A Teacher’s Guide to Today’s Classroom,  please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, August 12th at 6:00 p.m. EDT. I 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, August 13th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I 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, I will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – KIDS 1ST. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

29 thoughts on “This is the Year I’m Going to Create and Use Strategic Writing

  1. What a great post! I love the choice “lift a flap” options and how they reinforce the idea that authors make deliberate choices and that there’s always more than one option available. You’ve given me some great ideas for revamping my demo notebook–The one I intended to work on throughout the summer. Oh, well…thanks for kickstarting that project with this post!


  2. Yes! I really like the ideas that you shared. I am guilty of trying to find the “perfect” examples to show the children. Many become frustrated trying to duplicate these. Your strategies give me the guidance I need so that I can develop my own. My students can watch me grow alongside them as a writer as my mentor texts improve through practice. Thank you. I intend to implement this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So glad I discovered this blog! Great discussions, ideas, inspiration, and reminders, especially as I embark on a new year of writing workshop with my third graders. I especially liked the choice post its to show whether you’ve done an opinion or a retell as I find this to be a common problem in both reading and writing workshop.
    Thanks! I will be continuing to follow…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree that “perfect” pieces don’t always offer hope for those students who feel that their writing is so far from “perfect” that they could give up before trying. The examples with the alternate possibilities is great option. Thanks.

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  5. Melanie, I love your anecdote about yoga! I hear you! If you’ve ever followed Cat Meffan on YouTube, you HAVE to accept limitations to fully enjoy her practice – she’s a pretzel! Being a 4th grade teacher, I related to all of the student examples you explicitly shared and appreciate the need to provide writing samples more closely aligned with our Ss abilities. I love the idea of play for writing and think the lift the flaps tool is a great way to add play even in 4th! One of my summer goals is to organize and start to fill a demonstration notebook for the coming year. I participated in Jen Serravallo’s Summer Writing Camp and have lots of material from there. I will be adding your ideas in as well! Thanks so much for your thoughtful, thorough, and relatable post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yesterday, I shared your blog with all of the English teachers in my department. I connected to it so much because it validated my teaching and thinking. My hope was to get others to read your blog.
    Today’s blog focus needs to be shared with them too. Every example reminded me of what my students do. I want my students to see that I struggle and what I do to get through it. This becomes “real” for my student and it shows them there isn’t just one way to do it.
    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This was such a helpful and useful post, with so many great examples. Loved your analogy to yoga and comparing yourself to others in ways that can be either helpful or damaging.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yesterday, I shared your blog with all of the English teachers in my department. I connected to it so much because it validated my teaching and thinking. My hope was to get others to go there too.
    Today’s blog focus needs to be shared with them too. Every example reminded me of what my students do. I know these will help thos


  9. This is such a great idea for mini-lessons. The charts with your sticky notes to identify strengths and weaknesses in the writing are very helpful and provide scaffolded learning opportunities for the students when you are not available to conference with them but they are stuck in their writing. Thank you for sharing this idea.


  10. I love the way you broke your thoughts down in the examples. I would love to have a book about these writing strategies! There are so many things to consider and so many different ways to teach it. I appreciate your simple break down. P.S. Thanks for the give-a-way too! Heineman has wonderful professional books and I am always excited to read and learn from another.


  11. Thank you for sharing this post! It helps me to see that professional published work doesn’t need to be only mentor texts that we use. It reminds me of what I have heard described as “the voice of hesitancy,” that initial voice of not being sure when we first draft, so that the teacher’s writing isn’t always seen as the perfect model.


  12. Thanks for this post. I teach first grade and I can see from your examples how I might be able to modify this idea to fit my students’ needs. I like the idea of scaffolding the information to meet our writers where they are.


  13. Melanie,
    These examples are so important for teachers to understand, write and use. I often worry about an over-reliance on 100 mentor texts . . . all published, exquisitely crafted picture books. They are so far out of the reach of students which was your “yoga class” point. THANKS!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So much to love about this post, starting with your comment about giving kids’ texts that they can actually reach for. I especially love that you give kids choices about how they could revise, “you could do this, or you could do this, or you could…” Definitely going to try this, and share it with the teachers at my school. Thank you!

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  15. Melanie, I love all the specific examples you give. I’m not very good at making these ahead of time, but your examples help me see that I can produce some mentor texts of my own that can help my writers without intimidating them. I get the yoga analogy. Every yoga class I take a peek around me. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others, but it does help when I’m not quite in the pose correctly.

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