middle school · partnerships · writing process

Building Stronger Writing Partners

Bright high school lights shone down, illuminating both players and field. With the black and white ball at my feet, I looked up to survey my options. Suddenly, my friend, playing for the opposing high school team, approached me. Carefully, I studied his defensive stance – if he comes toward me with feet to close together, I thought, then I’ll push the ball to his left and run around him to his right to retrieve it. If, however, his feet are too wide apart, then I will simply push the ball between his feet, “freezing him” for just a moment, while I bolt around him to pick up the ball behind him. Which will it be? I thought to myself confidently.

As schools begin to restart, I have been thinking a lot about ways to begin building community within our new COVID reality. Specifically, I have been thinking about ways we as teachers might harness the structure of writing partnerships as a means by which to help create meaningful, supportive connections between writers. But as I have written about before (here and here), kids are not naturally good at being writing partners. They tend to require some explicit teaching support and tools to help them become truly effective.

The Writing Process

An idea for supporting more effective writing partnerships, one that I have been discussing lately with teacher, author, and Two Writing Teachers colleague Melanie Meehan, is emphasizing the importance of the writing process. As she wrote about in yesterday’s post, all writers work a little bit differently across the writing process. Some writers are able to generate ideas quickly and easily, while others frequently draw a blank. Some are able to think big when it comes to revision, while others are challenged to move beyond just tinkering. Every writer works a little bit differently. They do so either within the different phases of the overall process (generating, planning revising, etc.), and/or across the process (in other words, the way we work from start to finish).

But what if were to, after spending some time helping kids become more aware of their own writing processes, then help kids’ begin to use their knowledge and understanding of the writing process to become better partners?

Melanie and I decided to try this thinking out a few weeks ago. In the short videos below, watch as we work together (unrehearsed) to lean on our knowledge of where the other one is within the writing process to provide support to one another:

In this video, Lanny is in the generating phase of writing. With that knowledge, Melanie spends some time researching, then offers some helpful support.
In this video, Melanie is in the revision phase of her writing. Watch as Lanny, again, spends some time researching, then makes some suggestions to support Melanie in revising her piece.

If – Then

In sports, there exist many if-then scenarios. Take the soccer example I describe in the introduction: If he does this, then I do that. In other words, if this, then that. Baseball or softball are similar – if a runner is on this base, then the throw goes there. But if multiple runners are on base, then throw goes there. Again, if this, then that. Understanding these scenarios and knowing (having been taught) how to react within each of them helps to create more potential success for the players. A few years ago, the writers and thinkers at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in New York created a beautifully helpful resource that draws upon this way of thinking entitled the If-Then Curriculum book (available as part of the Writing Units of Study). What if we were to take this idea to partnerships? Below is a resource I have created to help writing partners support one another, whether in person or in remote connections. This tool might be something you may wish to introduce in phase three of a curriculum of partnerships during which partners learn ways to provide feedback to one another (see this post for a three-part phase-in schedule for writing partners).

Click here to open the Google file of this image. Please feel free to make a copy and revise in ways that will work best for your students.

It turns out that in the soccer game that night, my friend had his feet a little too wide apart, which allowed me to, what we call in soccer, “nutmeg” him. This is a move I had been taught by one of my great coaches. Later, my friend and I had a great laugh about this. But this small moment has always reminded me that that when equipped with tools and knowledge, we can help to make our own success. I know this school year is going to be extraordinarily challenging, but I am hopeful that we might create some strengths through partnerships this year.

5 thoughts on “Building Stronger Writing Partners

  1. Thank you. This is gold. Paired with the clarity and reality of yesterday’s post, it both frees our young writers and supports them in this freedom. I find our students have more background in this than we may realize, as they “coach” one another through their online video games. I am excited to see this work in their hands as they continually bond as a community of writers. Thank you for sharing this.

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  2. This is a brilliant post!! Thanks for sharing the chart and the video modeling, all tucked into a sports story metaphor. Love the 2nd to the last line best – When equipped with tools and knowledge, we can create our own success. I’m writing this down and hanging on my classroom/spare-bedroom wall! Thanks for inspiring me so I can inspiring my VA students.

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    1. Thank you so much, Sally! I know teachers have so much to think about right now, so I’m glad to hear you found this post helpful. Hope all is well with you. Thank you for your comment 🙂


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