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Content Area Writing Tips
Tip #1: Your assignment should match your course goals/objectives.
Don’t “do” writing just to say you’ve done it.
Make sure it’s going to help you with your bigger objectives in the course.
Tip #2: You don’t need to be an expert yourself.
No one expects you to be a grammarian. (In fact, plenty of English
teachers are stumped by our language at times.) If you need an expert, see tip #6, but really, just concentrate on what you need
from the paper. Give kids guidelines for the format, but don’t make it your primary focus.
Tip #3: The writing doesn’t have to be BIG.
Assign extremely brief tasks that focus on a single aspect of course content
These assignments can be short enough to be typed on a 3x5 card, making them feasible even in
large classes. These too can be graded quickly, or not at all. Groups of students can select the best
micro-theme from those produced by their group and explain why it's the best. The best examples
from the class can be displayed on an overhead. The intellectual exercise of deciding which is best
and why can itself lead to valuable concept learning.
Journals are also great and quick for checking understanding, getting kids to reflect, or giving them a chance to tell you how
they are doing.
Tip#4: Tell kids what you’re expecting out of the assignment.
It doesn’t need to be
all the time
select the traits that reinforce your content and your assignment (and that you feel comfortable with).
Tip #5: Allow students to revise longer pieces.
This step is where the Traits™ can help with specific feedback, so try to fit
in at least one time for a review of the paper. Real quality comes from revision; the best way to achieve that quality is through
specific feedback and questions about the content, fluency, organization, word choice, and voice,
not the mechanics
the mechanics and conventions as the last stage in the cleanup effort.
Tip #6: Pair up with an English/Language Arts teacher.
You each concentrate on your areas of expertise to help
Students produce work that meets both sets of course objectives. The key here is to avoid the superficial; link the big ideas and
concepts in your curriculum with something important in the lives of your students (Routman, 1994).
Tip #7: Writing can help students to process information
; it can help you to spot where misconceptions lurk. Asking
students to write a 30-second journal entry at the end of class about the material covered that day can give you a quick read on
how things went and get a jumping-off point for the next day’s class.
Tip #8: Carefully frame your assignments.
Start with a question as the basis of the assignment. Writeguide.com
recommends this method because questions are the basis of research. Use RAFTS (Role, Audience, Format,
Theme, Strong Verb) to frame assignments.
Tip #9: Make kids think.
If you ask for writing that is just regurgitation, you’re going to have a pretty blah time grading all
these assignments (and you’ll probably get some plagiarized work). Ask kids to make connections through their writing and
you’ll get more original writing and a little joy in reading the results. Think of tasks higher on Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Compiled by Kim Bannigan, CESA 5
• Explanatory essays in which students describe a complex science concept (photosynthesis) in
• Field trip notes in which students record their observation of, and reactions to flora and fauna.
• Laboratory logs in which students report their observations, hypotheses, methods, findings,
interpretations, and mistakes—particularly mistakes—as these are a normal part of the scientific
• Science journals or diaries in which students describe their participation in science activities, such
as fairs and competitions, and reflect on their actions and experiences.
• Environmental action letters in which students –under the teacher’s guidance—write to
politicians, newspaper editors, and companies to promote positive environmental actions.
• Newspaper accounts in which student write stories on science and technology topics for their
school or town newspapers.
• The scientific method is like the writing process
(From Montgomery County Public Schools, 1988)
• Rewrite a scientific journal article for a new audience. (inspired by Barry Lane)
• Journal entries
• Write math problems
• Describe your problem-solving approach
• Share results of a problem-solving activity
• Explain a graph or statistic.
• Journal entries
• Create a rule book for a sport or game
• Create brochures promoting aspects of good health
• Plan and create a video on a health-related subject or healthy lifestyle choices
• Create a new game complete with rules. Present the game and try to persuade the class to play it. Try out a few and see if
• Write a letter to a historical figure or as a historical figure
• Rewrite historical documents or speeches in modern language; compose rebuttals
• Examine and dissect photos or pictures of historical events--whose voice is represented? Whose is not?
(Try the Image Detective!)
• Compare and contrast historical events, eras, figures, etc.
• Create a timeline--good for organization
• Create a book of quotes that depict or define a historical period; justify the selections
• Examine, create, or dissect propaganda
• Respond to a photograph or painting of historical significance; write as one of the participants. If you want more
information, try this Library of Congress lesson plan:
• Create ecphrastic poetry:
• Examine works of art for evidence of the traits. What is the voice of the painter? The organizational technique used?
• Create a portfolio of personal and favorite works--why is each piece representative or important enough to be included?
• Critique a work of art. Here are ArtsEdge lesson plans:
• Journal entries
• Review pieces of music
• Create new lyrics for existing pieces of music
• Dissect song lyrics
• Create a musical timeline
• Examine moods created by music by matching it with magazine pictures. See the full lesson plan at
• Create a musical map of the United States. You can find information about musicians along the Mississippi River at
• Create voices for musical notations. How would a bass clef sound?
• Create a scoring rubric for a good song. Which traits are important?
• Create a fractured fairy tale with music
ArtsEdge. “Into the Woods, Jr.” Publication date unknown. Accessed 9-16-02. <
Brent, Doug. “Integrating Writing Across the Content Areas.” May 1995. Accessed 9-9-02.
Irons, Calvin and Rosemary. “Information Represented Graphically.” 2000. Accessed 9-0-16-02.
Montgomery County Public Schools. “Science Program in Montgomery County Public Schools” 2001. Accessed 9-03-02.
National Geographic Society. “Fast Food Around the World.” 2001. Accessed 9-16-02.
Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. “Ecphrastic Poetry.” 2001. Accessed 9-13-02.
Payne, Joyce. “How to Write a Successful Critique.” 2001. Accessed 9-16-02. <
PBS, Filmmakers Collaborative, & Smithsonian Institution. “Mississippi: River of Song Project.” 1998. Accessed 9-13-02. <
Routman, Regie. Invitations. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann/Reed Elsevier, Inc. 1994.
Smith, Brett. “Music and Mood.” Publication date unknown. Accessed 9-16-02.
Compiled by Kim Bannigan, CESA 5
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