Meet Writers Where They Are Blog Series · opinion writing · progressions

Generating Ideas for Opinion Writing: Meet Writers Where They Are

Meet Writers Where They Are: A Blog Series by the Co-Authors of Two Writing Teachers - #TWTBlog

A Great Coach

This past summer, my daughter, Sophia, practiced diving. Coach Jodi was kind enough to open her backyard pool up to us for private swim lessons. Sophia would stand at the pool’s ledge, toes curled around the ledge, and arms pointed together into the pool. Next, Coach Jodi would say, “Go!” 

The outcome wasn’t quite the straight edge dive and little splash a diver is supposed to make. Rather, we saw a curled body drop in like a rock or worse, belly flops. Nevertheless, Coach Jodi would compliment her on what she did right and provided her with one practical feedback to improve her dive the next three or five times. 

Like Coach Jodi met swimmers where they are, we — as teachers — can meet the young writers in our classrooms with where they are at in generating ideas. 

Learning Progressions

I would be remiss not to mention the power of learning progressions before discussing how to meet writers where they are. I was first introduced to this term by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project several years ago. You can access them in their Writing Pathways book that comes along with their Writing Units of Study. Learning progressions are a continuum for genre writing that builds on top of each other. Checklists and rubrics are a variation of the learning progression. Also, the authors have included a writing process progression for grades K-5. 

Why are they useful

I’m working with a 4th grade class on opinion writing. In preparing for meeting writers where they are, I turned to the writing process progression. Like the learning progressions, the writing process progression is a continuum that includes; generating ideas, drafting, revision, and editing. 

When students generate ideas, it is helpful to know two levels below, at grade-level, and one grade level above expectations. According to Writing Pathways, students in 4th grade at this time of year will come to a writing workshop with the following:

  • Has plans for their writing.
  • Recalls strategies, jots ideas, and sift through them.
  • Uses charts and tools as the silent teacher.
  • Chooses the idea of deliberately knowing that it will allow them to write well.

These four points can be used as a barometer to gauge where writers are when generating ideas. If students are not doing at least two or more of these points, I can refer to one or two grade levels below. 

Tools that help Generate Ideas

In Kate Roberts’ and Maggie Beattie Roberts’ book, DIY Literacy, they introduce the term microprogressions. A microprogression is taking one skill of the learning progression and shows how that skill develops over time. It is an excellent tool to use to break-down a skill on a rubric into smaller succinct steps. This video with Kate and Maggie is an excellent resource for your reference. 

 A microprogression on the writing process provides a visual representation of where we can find students’ current strengths. We can use a tool to provide the correct level of a scaffold to move them one progression level above. In the past, I have given students topics to choose from when generating ideas. What I discovered is that this level of scaffolding did not help students transfer. Instead, students would look to me for more guidance. 

Move Writers with Targeted Feedback

It can be helpful to know the predictable problems that arise during the generation of ideas for opinion writing. Here a few that I have experienced when teaching 4th-grade opinion:

  • Ideas sound like a story
  • Ideas feel forced
  • Ideas are shallow

When it comes to feedback, I lean on Doug Reeves’ acronym, FAST. In this video, he explains that feedback needs to be fair, accurate, specific, and timely to move learners. 

Fair feedback is consistent. Doug illustrates the example of a ball on a field. Officials need to determine if it is in the goal, over the line, or offsides. While it is not perfect, most of the officials will come to the same conclusion. 

Accuracy means to measure what it is we are assessing. The microprogression above can be a tool we can use to keep tight to see where the students are when it comes to generating ideas.

Specific means we do not give students a general comment such as “great job!” Rather, detailed feedback is focused and equips the learner with one strategy that will dramatically raise their performance. Doug mentions watching a great sports coach give specific feedback to her athletes, and you will see results within minutes.

Timely means the feedback is immediate and not waiting until the later stages of the writing process. 


These times are uncertain. I’m not sure when it will be safe for our students to return to meet our writers where they are in person. However, one thing sure is that knowing developmental levels and effective feedback is a way to move our writers forward with their writing. 

Giveaway Information

  • This giveaway is for a copy of ONE of the following books (winner’s choice): A Teacher’s Guide to Writing Workshop Essentials: Time, Choice, Response by Katherine Bomer and Corinne Arens, Every Kid a Writer: Strategies That Get Every Kid Writing by Kelly Boswell, or Joy Write: Cultivating High-Impact, Low-Stakes Writing by Ralph Fletcher. Thanks to Heinemann for donating one of these to the winner of this giveaway. (You must have a U.S.A. mailing address — Sorry, no FPOs — to win a print copy of the book of your choosing. If you have an international mailing address, then you will receive an electronic copy.)
  • For a chance to win this copy of one of these books, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, November 8th at 6:00 p.m. EST. Marina Rodriguez will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. Their name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, November 9th.
  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Marina 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 email address will not be published online if you leave it in the email field only.)
  • If you are the winner of the book, Marina will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – MEET WRITERS. Please respond to her email 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.

9 thoughts on “Generating Ideas for Opinion Writing: Meet Writers Where They Are

  1. Thank you for putting all this wonderful info in one place! The reminder to consider two grades back, grade level, and one grade forward is truly helpful!


  2. I’m trying to revamp some univ. level courses so that some units of study are more heavily scaffolded. I think microprogressions may be the thing I’m missing. You’ve named it for me; now I have to do the work! Thank you.


  3. “Effective feedback is a way to move our writers forward with their writing” …that is so important to remember whether in person or remote! Thanks!


  4. This blog post could not have been more timely. Your point about transfer sticks with me. As teachers, sometimes we are overtaken with the urge to rescue (tell) rather than allowing the “productive struggle” with tools to move the writer, not the writing.


  5. I’ve used micro progressions before. Why have I never thought to use them with students around idea generation and the other steps in the writing process? Your sharing was brilliant! Thank you for opening my eyes to more possibilities!


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