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Writing Strategies for the Real World

Wednesday, October 8, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

Everyone knows that the standards we are using in the 21st century call for more real-world experiences for our students. In English/Language Arts, that means reading more non-fiction and informational texts and writing projects other than stories, poems, and 5-paragraph essays.

So what kinds of writing will be expected of students when they leave school, and how do we recreate that experience in the classroom now? Here are some examples of strategies that can bridge the gap.

Summarize

A common task in the working world is for someone to take a large piece of information, like a speech or informational article, and boil it down to an executive summary (so the boss doesn’t have to read it all). Summarizing is also a key reading strategy used often in next-gen assessments.

The classroom task is simple: give them a piece of reading where their attention spans are stretched, then have them write a much shorter summary of the piece. You’re looking for the ability to isolate the major points and then discuss them in a way that makes sense. If a student is having trouble, having them do bullet point summaries is fine.

Analyze

Similar to the summary strategy, professionals are asked to react to something they read or observe, but with the slant of “what does this mean for us?” For example, you work for a construction company and the city just approved new building codes. What does that mean for us? The task is mostly the same, but you need to provide a scenario from which the students can create an analysis product. Newspapers are a great source of reading material for this task.

Opinion

Multiple times per day, a professional needs to be able to formulate an opinion, provide their reasoning, and write about their opinion persuasively (usually over email). For almost 100 years, the chosen method of practicing these skills in school came in the form of the 5-paragraph essay.

I’ve written professionally in many different fields, including education. I’ve never been expected to write a 5-paragraph essay for work.

However, I have had opinion projects in every other size from one paragraph to pages in the double digits. And that’s what you should expect your students to be able to do in their persuasive writing—vary their lengths. The Common Core calls it “range of writing”. It’s challenging to fit everything you would like to say into a condensed space. It’s also challenging to stretch a simple idea into a longer work without droning on. They need practice in both, and everything else in between.