Writing Masters: Planning is the Key to Successful Writing with Laura Robb

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With classroom-tested tips from our Curricular Resources authors on how to improve your teaching of writing at any grade level, each Writing Masters installment will share author insights and practical suggestions on teaching writing in the classroom that you can use the very next day. This week in the Writing Master series, Laura Robb argues the key to successful writing is planning, even though many students see it, like revision, as extra work.

Planning Is the Key to Successful Writing

Laura Robb

Writers plan. Most middle school students resist planning because they view it as extra work. A typical student’s response to planning is, “I don’t need to plan; it’s all in my head!” When I ask a student to tell me what’s in her head, I soon discover that the plot and problem for a narrative is unclear or the text evidence for an essay is sparse.

However, when students experience the benefits of planning writing, they will hopefully make planning a regular part of their writing, recognizing that the plan allows them to through a piece of writing from start to finish, giving them a place to start from and depart from. Because as they write, the plan can and most likely will change. Nevertheless, plans invite writers to think deeply about a piece of writing before drafting. In SMART WRITING: Practical Units for Middle School Writers, I include Katherine Paterson’s writing plan for Bridge to Terabithia and Jean Van Leeuwen’s plan for Trouble on Cabin Creek. It’s helpful for students to see that professional writers plan, that planning processes differ, and that aspects of plans change.

To encourage all students, including doubters, to try planning their writing, I suggest that the students pilot this part of the writing process to see how well it works. After students use their plans to complete first drafts, we debrief their reactions to the idea of writing plans. During my years of teaching grades four through eight, I have found that the majority of students understand the value of planning once they complete the process.

To plan, have students write on something clean and simple, like notebook paper, and use your rubric or writing criteria (see SMART WRITING) to create the skeleton of a plan. I avoid graphic organizers because circles, rectangles, and square don’t offer enough room for students to include specific details.

Teaching Tip: Students Plan at School & Teachers Provide Immediate Feedback

  • Set aside thirty to forty minutes over two to three consecutive days for students to plan. Writing a plan for a fully developed short story will most likely require more time than planning an analytical paragraph or essay.
  • Ask students to raise a hand when they feel their plan is complete.
  • Read the plan and initial it if it contains specific details. Then, these students can start drafting, work on free choice writing, or complete independent reading.
  • Jot, on a sticky note, suggestions for improving a plan for a narrative that lacks direction in the plot or for an essay that lacks text evidence. Give the student the sticky note as a reminder, and ask him to show you the revisions and/or additions.
  • Support writers who need scaffolding to complete plans by working with groups of three to four students who have similar issues.

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Laura Robb is the author of several classic books on literacy, including Teaching Reading in Middle School, Teaching Nonfiction Writing: A Practical Guide, and the Smart Writing series. She brings more than four decades of teaching experience to her authorship and her professional development workshops, which she conducts throughout the country.

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Next week Ralph Fletcher shares with us the benefits of keeping a writer’s notebook.

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