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Teaching a Holistic Approach to Writing

PEW survey data

Here’s a scenario many educators are all too familiar with: a new writing assignment is met with blank stares, or worse, outright revolt.

We know that writing is key to literacy and is linked to great student success, so what’s the problem with this scenario? Instead of approaching writing as a chore, we should introduce students to a more holistic approach to writing. After all, writing isn’t just one thing. It’s a tool we use to communicate in many different scenarios. It speaks to many different audiences and serves many purposes. Taking this broader view can help convince students that, in fact, writing offers them quite a lot.

How can educators help promote this view in the classroom? Try beginning with a different kind of writing assignment. Instead of tasking students with additional writing, ask students to pay attention to the writing they already do in their daily lives. Perhaps they text their friends, tweet, or help make a grocery list. Ask students to think about these occasions. When do you write? What tools do you use? What purpose does the writing serve and whom does it address? This exercise will help students be more mindful of the written word and will help dispel the notion that writing is just something a teacher makes you do in school.


Once students realize the many different forms writing takes in their lives, try to create situations in the classroom to investigate different purposes for writing. Point out the goals and measurements for success of each. For example, writing about a personal experience seeks to convey an emotion and might prioritize candid self-reflection. A written argument, on the other hand, seeks to prove a point and will need convincing evidence. Experiment with different scenarios and different writing tools (including digital ones) to help students gain familiarity with the unique attributes of each. A greater understanding of the changing audience and purpose of their writing will remind students what successful writing will look like.

Lastly, encourage students to be themselves in their writing. Of course, the more personal and relevant a task is to students, the more they will take from it. As the National Council of Teachers of English explains, “power relationships are built into the writing situation,” and students can use this powerful tool to help share their worldview, connect with other people, or present themselves positively. (

To help encourage this self-expression in writing, be open to the student’s own cultural identity or way of speaking. There is a place for formality as well, but

“The teaching of excellence in writing means adding language to what already exists, not subtracting.”

Writing isn’t just an arbitrary school assignment. It isn’t a word limit, page count, or formula to be repeated. Writing is a powerful tool that students can take with them into every area of their lives, and the more instructors can make writing work for students, the more prepared they will be.

What writing techniques or strategies do you use in your classroom? Please share your ideas in the comments section below!


“Good Writing Skills Essential for Student Success.” Questia. Accessed 8 Nov. 2016.

“NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing.” NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English). 27 Feb. 2016. Accessed 8 Nov. 2016.

“New Report Finds That Writing Can Be Powerful Driver for Improving Reading Skills.” NWP (National Writing Project). 14 Apr. 2010. Accessed 8 Nov. 2016.

Pew Research Center. “The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools.” Washington, D.C. 16 July 2016. Accessed 8 Nov. 2016.

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