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Thoughtful Learning


We deliver innovative K-12 teaching strategies to your inbox each month. You’ll find a wealth of practical resources on writing, thinking, and learning—brought to you by the creators of the Write Source handbooks. Happy reading!

4 Steps to a Rigorous Writing Program

Student and Teacher

Why do the new standards place so much emphasis on multi-paragraph writing? Because multi-paragraph writing helps students develop fluency in building arguments, explaining ideas, and telling stories—thinking skills they need for college and career.

Yet we often struggle to get more than a paragraph at a time out of our students. A recent study found that fewer than 1 in 10 writing assignments in urban middle schools produce multi-paragraph responses, and just 16 percent include evidence drawn from sources. The middle school assessments for the Common Core require this rigor, but how can we create a writing program that fosters this kind of writing and thinking?

Step 1: Make Time for Writing

The first barrier to rigor in writing instruction is time. Multi-paragraph writing requires time. Students can't write at length and think deeply if they write for only five minutes at a time. Just as we have traditionally carved . . .

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Explore Teacher's Guides!

Explore Teacher's Guides

The free online teacher's guides to our writing handbooks now include special features to assist you throughout the school year. For each program, you'll find a scope and sequence and yearlong timetable, getting-started activities, templates and handouts, and much more.

View teacher's guides for:

How Reflective Writing Expands Thinking

Breaking Chain

We ask students to develop arguments, problem-solution essays, and literary analyses because we believe they promote higher levels of thinking. However, by making these assignments, we may be restricting their thinking.

Isn’t building an argument, in essence, an exercise in following a formula—making a claim, backing it up, countering the opposition, and so on? Of course, there is thinking going on during the writing, but not the kind that is truly mind-expanding. Instead, the writer focuses on making sure that all of the parts of the argument are stated effectively and arranged in the best way. The same is true with a problem-solution essay. What’s so intellectually stimulating about stating a problem, providing background information, discussing possible solutions, and highlighting the best one? As Thomas Newkirk says in Critical Thinking and Writing: Reclaiming the Essay, “When essays become formulaic, they hinder rather than foster critical thinking.”

Of course, students need to learn how to build academic essays. But really, how many problem-solution essays do students have to write before . . .

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Create a Writing Wish List

Create a Writing Wish List

With the new school year beginning, you no doubt are creating wish lists for your classroom. Consider including some of the following writing goals:

I want my students to . . .

  • Feel good about writing because it gives them an opportunity to explore and shape their own thinking.
  • Write about topics that truly interest them.
  • Establish a regular writing routine to develop their writing fluency.
  • Know that improvement is a certainty if they make a sincere effort.
  • Understand the value of pushing their thinking to . . .

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Additional Resources

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