How To Teach Writing—for the Non-English Teacher

Not an English teacher? Read on to learn three helpful ways you can incorporate writing into your curriculum.

By Matthew Spinogatti


A.A. Milne said, “If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.” This is the literary version of Einstein’s definition of insanity; “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” In reality, society is changing, learning styles are changing, and yes, education is changing. While many educators look at these changes as a dedication to a new set of practices, in some ways they are a re-dedication to a more traditional form of education, but using modern resources. One of the biggest dilemmas that come with this change is the stress that non-English teacher feel because of the emphasis on writing in all subject matters.

The Common Core Anchor Standard for writing states, “Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.” This Anchor Standard is to be applied to all subject matter and all grade levels. Regardless of the topic or the text, students need to be able to formulate sound arguments based on the text and express those arguments in a written medium. Whether your pupils are one-to-one using laptops, working in a computer lab, or writing with pencil and paper, they need to be able to articulate and express an argument based on “relevant and sufficient evidence.”

I Don’t Know How, and I Don’t Want To

The concept of writing can get very tricky for teachers who have traditionally worked within the realm of the sciences or mathematics. To sum up the argument as concisely as possible, many instructors are not taught how to teach reading and writing. Beyond that, no teacher, regardless of subject area, wants to read and grade all of that writing. Here are some ways to incorporate writing into daily or weekly activities that may benefit your classroom.

1. Daily Warm-Ups

By introducing daily warm-ups, usually performed at the very beginning of class, several things are being accomplished. First, it can be an opportunity to check for understanding of previous lessons, have the class summarize the main idea or theory, or just give learners a chance to express their opinion on a topic before proceeding with the next activity.

Additionally, this can be a quiet five minutes set aside at the beginning of each period for learners to reflect, calm down, and prepare for the day's lesson. Also for the teacher, you can use this time to check homework, check in with individual students, or prepare the daily activity.

2. Weekly Summary

At some point during the week, have learners complete a write-up in which they summarize and analyze the main idea being discussed in class. This should be a solid piece of writing in which they provide support for the main idea or concept and use textual examples in their analysis. Not only do they get practice writing in every subject area, but they will have a useful tool with which to study for quizzes or tests, and it will be in their own voice for maximum comprehension.

Pupils should use these summaries in class or small-group discussion to check for understanding and quiz each other.

3. Selective Grading

Regardless of subject matter, no teacher has a desire to spend hours grading papers and providing feedback. This should not infringe on the amount of writing performed in the classroom. The solution to this conundrum is called selective grading. Meaning, if there are numerous writing samples or exercises to be collected, allow the scholars to put a packet together with their favorite piece of writing on top to be graded by you, the instructor. This way all of the work is still being collected and checked for completion and students have a say in what is being assigned a grade.

What are some ways that you incorporate writing in the classroom? Share your practices and ideas with Lesson Planet.

Related Resources:

The Significance of Text Based QuestionsGet in the Mood to Write