content-area writing · Maximizing Writing Time Blog Series

Content Comes to Life: Maximizing Writing Time

Picture it- St. William the Abbot School, Seaford, NY, circa 1990. 

Young Kathleen is a sixth grade student with a teacher who designed the most interesting and fun learning opportunities. One of her favorite projects that year was working with a group to create a newspaper based on all we learned about Ancient Rome. Kathleen wrote horoscopes and a recipe section for this collaborative newspaper. The group applied what they learned about Ancient Rome, using writing in a creative and fun way. 

Through the years, there were many textbook questions she answered, and many worksheets filled out in her time as a student but of course none of those activities were fun or memorable. The newspaper was something Kathleen still remembers clearly as a positive learning experience.

Fast forward 30 years (and back to the first person tense)

As a third grade teacher, I know my students love learning content but they don’t always love the way it’s delivered. WIth so much instructional focus and planning on literacy and math, content is sometimes pushed to the side. More often than I care to admit, I am teaching it in a way that isn’t memorable or fun (like my Ancient Rome newspaper assignment.)

If I think about what made that newspaper assignment so memorable, it was the opportunity to create something new that was built upon what I learned about content. I worked with classmates and the collaboration of ideas also added to the experience. More than just sitting and listening to the teacher, I was applying what I learned but in a way that allowed for creativity and personalization. 

Writing Across Content Areas 

I know I am preaching to the choir, here at TWT, when I say that writing well is a critically important skill for students. During writing workshop, students have opportunities to write across genres and for different purposes. They write for audiences and publish and celebrate. We, their teachers, cheer them on and honor their progress. 

But writing should not only happen during writing workshop. Other content areas offer many opportunities for students to use their writing skills as they explore what they are learning, also allowing for creativity and internalizing what’s been learned by applying that knowledge. Teachers can maximize writing time by weaving writing into content lessons and students will benefit from the opportunity to show creativity! 

Because there are so many possibilities, I organized this post around the different options for writing in the content areas, considering how informational, persuasive and narrative writing relate to maximizing writing time in the content areas. Writing this post has reminded me of all the fun and engaging ways I can maximize writing time when I teach my students content. While there are surely many more ideas, these are the ones I plan to try with my students. 

I believe informational writing is the one that most seamlessly connects to content integration. Before any unit of study in science or social studies, students can write what they think they know about the topic in a KWL chart. They can brainstorm their questions about the topic and then later return to write what they learned. 

Students can also write a letter about what they’ve learned and share it with another student in the class, who then writes back. Students have a written conversation about their new learning. 

T-charts are an effective way to process new learning through writing. The left side can be “Facts I Learned” and the right side can be “My Thinking” where they share their thoughts on the facts they record. Students can ask questions or express emotion about what they’ve read or watched. 

Photographs that depict historical scenes, a scientific phenomenon or a geographic scene can be the inspiration for students to create an Instagram-type caption, complete with hashtags of their choice! 

Students can create infographics, posters, “all about” books, travel brochures, newspaper articles, blog posts, and more for the content they are learning. Like my 6th grade Ancient Rome newspaper, teachers might consider having students work in groups to create writing together.

As students learn more information, they can begin to form opinions based on their new knowledge. For example, in a science unit on extreme weather, students may learn how global warming has influenced weather patterns.  They might turn to persuasive writing to encourage family and friends to do more to stop global warming. 

Melanie Meehan introduced me to the C3 Framework for Social Studies Standards.The framework has four dimensions: 1- Ask questions, 2-Find out information, 3- Evaluate sources and 4- Take action/ share information. This fourth dimension connects well to  persuasive writing. An example could be asking a student to pretend they lived during the Revolutionary War. Should they support the fight for independence or stay loyal to the British?  Persuasive speeches or letters can be written, using historical facts to support the argument. 

A student can even take on the persona of a historical figure and write a letter or speech about why he/she did what they did. Collaboration could lead to a mock interview where one student asks questions of the historical figure, who another student is pretending to be. 

“I am” poems are a fun way for students to explore content with a narrative twist. Students can write “I am” poems for historical figures or scientific concepts. My class is learning about extreme weather soon, so I created a model “I am” poem for what a blizzard might say.

Students can also write historical fiction stories from the point of view of activists, political figures, explorers, scientists, animals, planets, etc. They can weave facts into their stories to make them come to life!

Final Thoughts 

Learning content should be joyful and lead to inquiry and creativity. Writing is a powerful way for students to explore what they’ve been learning. The more students write, the stronger they will be as writers. Writing across content areas is a way to maximize writing time while developing a richer understanding of new concepts. Writing this post reminded me of ways I can make the content come to life for my students, creating memorable experiences, like my Ancient Rome newspaper project.  How do you incorporate writing into the content areas? Share your ideas in the comments!

Resources for Content Integration with Writing

Inquiry Illuminated (2019) by Anne Goudvis, Stephanie Harvey and Brad Buhrow

The Curious Classroom (2017) by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels 

Poems Are Teachers (2018) by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater

Spark! Quick Writes to Kindle Hearts and Minds in Elementary Classrooms by Paula Bourque
Melissa Stewart. Nonfiction Writing Resources

TWT Posts about Content

Infusing Information Writing Throughout the Day

Weaving Writing Into Other Areas With Intention and Meaning

Using Writing for Research in the Content Area: It’s Not Just For ELA

Cross-Content Connections: Reflections and Shifts As We Move Forward

Developing Writing Information Muscles: Writing About Science

Make Space For Writing (Lots of It) in Social Studies

Giveaway Info: 

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Above and Beyond the Writing Workshop. Many thanks to Stenhouse Publishers for donating a copy for one reader.
  • For a chance to win this copy of Above and Beyond the Writing Workshop, please leave a comment about this post by Friday, January  28th at 11:59 a.m. EST. Stacey Shubitz will use a random number generator to pick the winner, whose name she will announce in a post recapping this blog series on January 30th. Eligible to be shipped to the USA and Canada.
    • Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Stacey can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.
  • If you are the winner of the book, Stacey will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – MAXIMIZING WRITING TIME. Please respond to Stacey’s 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.

4 thoughts on “Content Comes to Life: Maximizing Writing Time

  1. Content area writing is definitely where learners make connections to real world experiences. They become more engaged and excited about the process when they have the opportunity to build those connections. We need to ensure that we provide these daily opportunities for our students.

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  2. I think that writing about content is easier when doing informative or persuasive text but a little trickier with narrative writing. I love your idea about the I am poems to write about a historical figure. What a great way to incorporate narrative writing in a way that explains content. Thanks so much for sharing your ideas! I would love to win the book!

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  3. Writing to Learn is a necessary component of student writing experiences. Students can keep a Daybook or journal of learning throughout a unit of study. When a new concept is introduced or a unit is wrapping up a guiding question can spark students to reflect on what they already know or what they have learned. Writing to show learning is definitely a powerful tool not just to solidify learning but to develop writing.

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