Top 10: Teaching writing in the Common Core era

Three elementary children sitting at desks writing in notebooks

Teaching writing can be formulaic, but this era requires us to step beyond the confines of formula and really dig deep into craft, synthesis and production. Here is a Top Ten for how to get students writing for their futures, in a way that is sure to leave you both inspired and ready for tomorrow’s teaching.

  1. Writing short is going to matter as much as writing long. Every student is going to have to say what he or she needs to say in 140 characters. And simultaneously they will also need the stamina to write a longer research paper. Brevity and stamina simultaneously matter. We must help our students rock the house fast, but also dig deep and build their writing muscles for the tasks that require more time.
  2. Writing won’t be contained to a five-paragraph essay. Writing will be fluid and go between many portals, genres, and platforms. For this reason, we must teach our students to be extraordinarily versatile, genre bending, shape forming, idea mastering writers who can write digitally and traditionally fluidly and easily.
  3. Writing arguments will require excellent reasoning. Our students must be able to provide thoughtful and deliberate evidence for the positions they are taking.  These reasons can come from the texts they read but also the lives they lead and the lives of those who inspire them and motivate them to deeper thinking. They must know how to seek their inspirations, and value their sources.
  4. Writing will need to matter to others, and to you. Narrative that means something to you personally but at the same time also has a bigger idea universal to all is in. Navel gazing personal narrative is out.
  5. Writing craft is about surprise. Surprise matters. Invite your students to write something you do not expect them to say, things that surprise you and perhaps surprise themselves. They want to know how to be noticed. And they should be.
  6. Writing cannot be formulaic. The college and career ready student cannot write in formulaic ways. Anything formulaic will be done by a machine or a piece of software. Instead, from the start, our students must be creative synthesizers of ideas and information. The synthesis is the craft. The presentation is the craft. In order to master this creativity, our students must be given a wide range of audience for whom to write. They cannot write just for us anymore.
  7. Writing is a world changer. This is the most interesting, amazing opportunity to positively change the teaching of writing ever. Seize these days and make the most of them. Write with your students. Expose them to extraordinary writers whose writing will floor them. There is more great writing in the world that is more accessible to our students than ever before. From all over the world. It is the best time ever to teach writing, and the best time ever to learn how to write well.
  8. Writing will change your life. Listen to your students’ arguments they make for their ideas, opinions and perspectives on books, life, history, science, music, art and their own life stories. Then ask yourself; what has this writing done to change me? Their words are gifts, and this era is all about words as gifts, the gifts we give each other.
  9. Writing will need to stand out. The world is overrun with texts and opinions. We must teach our students to write in a way that makes their opinions stand out from the crowd, in their own voices and with their own fire, passion, and purpose.
  10. Writing reflects the treasure of life. Every life is a treasure and the trick with teaching writing is to put what is your particular treasure into the world. No one’s life is boring, but anyone’s story can be told in a boring way that does not make the reader care. The fact that you ate an ice cream with your grandma is interesting to you and moves you, but the real essence is how you convey bigger ideas of intergenerational relationships and kindness so that your writing moves others too. Detail and word choice all matter but far more important is the clarity of the overall metaphor. No more small moments for the sake of small moments. We are going large here.


About Pam Allyn
Pam Allyn

Pam Allyn

Pam Allyn is a world-renowned literacy expert, author, and motivational speaker. She is the founding director of LitWorld, a global literacy initiative serving children across the United States and in more than 60 countries, and LitLife, a cutting-edge consulting group working with schools to enrich best practice teaching methods and building curriculum for reading and writing. She has written many books including an English/Language Arts Core Ready series that offers teachers ideas to make the most of their time in the classroom.

Pam received the 2013 Scholastic Literacy Champion Award, and is Scholastic’s Open a World of Possible Ambassador. She is a spokesperson for BIC Kids, championing BIC’s 2014 “Fight For Your Write” campaign. Pam was selected as a mentor for the 2013 Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative Fellowship to help young Egyptian women develop leadership skills. She was chosen as an inaugural W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fellow in April 2014, becoming a part of a national cohort of 20 fellows focusing on racial healing and equity. She is on the Advisory Boards of the Amherst College Center for Community Engagement, James Patterson’s ReadKiddoRead, the Pearson Foundation’s We Give Books, and the Millennium Cities Initiative Social Sector.