top of page

Effective Writing Instruction: Changing the Mindset Around Planning

students planning their writing in the writing process

Before I began to write today, I knew what my topic would be. I have already recorded a podcast episode about planning in student writing, so that is what I had planned for this article to be about as well.

I know, however, that when I write an article, even when it is the same topic as a podcast episode, it is not already planned out, because I usually end up discussing the topic in a bit of new way. Although I have discussed the topic during the recording of the episode and thought about it since, I was not quite sure how this post would go.

And yet, I did not get out a piece of paper or open up a blank Google document to begin more of a plan, I just began to type.

When I do record my planning in some way, typically only portions of that plan make it into my draft. You see, I would consider myself more of a "plan while drafting" sort of writer. However, some may say that my planning, or rehearsal, for writing has already occurred.

"Rehearsal refers to the preparation for composing and can take the form of daydreaming, sketching, doodling, making lists of words, outlining, reading, conversing, or even writing lines as a foil to further rehearsal." --Donald Graves

In the above quote from Writing: Teachers and Children at Work, Donald H. Graves shares that the planning portion of writing not only varies greatly for each person, but sometimes begins to morph into drafting. I'm happy to know that I am not alone in my ways!

For me, much of my thinking happens as I write. For others, the practices of sketching, listing or conversing with others is how they begin to form their thoughts for their writing.

What does rehearsal part of writing look like for you? How much does that preparation change for the varied types of writing you may be completing?

Student Planning for Writing in the Classroom

Consider for a moment the ways you have seen the preparation portion of the writing process implemented in classrooms. In my experience, it is done in very similar ways each time.

I most often find that students are all provided and asked to use the same planner or method of planning. Although there may be time given for students to think or perhaps speak with a partner, most of the planning time is for recording words on paper. In most cases, the planner being utilized is the only one they have been shown for this writing piece, so there are no alternative options. Every writer is then planning in the same exact way. 

Each student is required to fill in all parts of the planner-which is most often a kind of graphic organizer-regardless of their ability (unless of course the student is receiving modifications). Students who may only include one or two facts in an informational piece on their own, may be asked or guided to include three or four on their planner. It is also quite common that students are guided by the teacher to revise their planner prior to drafting in order for it to be more closely linked to the expected final product. In essence, the planner is being revised or corrected, which seems to me to go against the intended purpose.

Why We Should Change Planning for Our Writers

Take a moment to ponder what we've heard from Donald Graves as well as methods you may have used for rehearsing your own writing. When you compare these ideas to what we typically see happening in our classrooms, what comes to mind?

What I see is a vast difference between what is common-place and appropriate for planning writing and what we ask our young writers to do. This is not only true for planning, but for just about all portions of the writing process. The classroom procedures and even expectations for writing are often quite removed from authentic writing practices.

Providing one choice of a planner or method of planning for each and every student goes against the idea that we all plan in unique ways. This takes whatever thoughts or ideas our writers have and conforms them to the way the planner is asking them to write. And what way is it asking them to write? The same exact way as their classmates.

When the teacher is "correcting" or guiding a student to revise their planner, they are no longer allowing the writer to use this practice for the purpose of "preparation" but for the purpose of perfect drafting.

If we want to provide effective writing instruction, we must provide the opportunity to learn as many ways to rehearse their writing as possible and to find the ways that work for them. Our goal is not to have each student compose the same piece in the same way, nor is it to just have them complete a piece and move on.

Our goal is to help our students grow into independent, unique writers who will leave our classroom with effective strategies for writing that will stay with them.

"As adults, we do not all plan in the same way as others, so why should our students?"

Here are a few tips for implementing authentic, effective planning in your classroom.

  1. Direct your focus on your writers, not their writing.

  2. Teach students a variety of methods for rehearsal through modeling and guided practice.

Choose a few methods of planning to teach for each writing unit or project. Then, model applying that method through stating your thinking out loud and recording planning on paper in front of your students. Afterwards, have students try the method with you and/or a partner.

3. Allow Choice

Once students have been shown a variety of methods for rehearsal, allow students to choose one method to implement, and support as needed. (PS. It's ok if it doesn't work out every time. Remember, we are teaching writers!)

4. Remember-rehearsal is preparation, not the end game!

It is quite common for the items included on a writing plan to be missing in a draft or final piece. Be sure the method of planning is used authentically, and allow students keep their plan "as is".

If you are curious to hear a portion of my "rehearsal" for this article,

listen to Episode 48 of Getting Students to Write!


Melissa Morrison of Teaching to Transform; Writing Consultant

7 views0 comments


bottom of page