High-Leverage Strategies for Teaching Writing with Steve Peha

Archived Series

Great Writing Series

This was a 5-part series,

and the archives are below.

Steve Peha

High-Leverage Strategies For All Kinds of Writing Each year, it seems that we expect more and better writing from our students. Implied in these expectations is the promise that we’ll get better at teaching writing. As the bar is raised for kids, so is it raised for us. In general, however, we’re left to fend for ourselves when it comes to finding the improved teaching strategies we need to help kids improve their skills.

This series provides simple and effective solutions to this challenge. In each session, we’ll focus on a high-needs area in writing, something we all deal with every year, at every grade level, and in every subject, no matter what kind of writing we want our kids to do. You’ll get specific high-leverage strategies that have been refined over years of successful use in tens of thousands of classrooms—along with accompanying downloadable materials. Teaching writing is hard. Make it easier and more satisfying with tools that produce significant gains with surprisingly little effort. That’s what high-leverage strategies are all about: you work less, your kids learn more.

Conventional Wisdom: Helping Young Writers Master Mechanics The rules of writing are hard to learn and even harder to teach. By now, we all know what doesn’t work (worksheets, grammar books, DOL, etc.). But what does? Over the last 20 years, I’ve been finding little clues to this mystery in classrooms where I’ve taught all over the U.S. and Canada. I’ve now put all the pieces together to solve the puzzle. Ironically, the reason we’ve had so much trouble teaching the conventions of writing is that writing is the wrong place fto start. The conventions of writing arose historically as a set of tools to serve the needs of readers. So the place to start is in reading. The next thing to understand is that almost everything we need to teach depends on kids knowing the answer to one thing: “What’s a sentence?”Here, too, the traditional responses like “Every sentence has a verb” or “Every sentence has a subject and a predicate” don’t help because this approach isn’t consistent with how human beings process sentences in the brain. Finally, our traditional emphasis on correction has sent the wrong message to kids: the point of learning conventions is not to correct errors but to keep from making them in the first place. All of this has led me to develop a broad repertoire of lessons I love to share because they really do solve the problem of helping young writers master mechanics. Download the slides here.

Write Nonfiction Now: Tools for Expository, Persuasive, and Argumentative Writing (April 13)

It seems that kids really struggle with nonfiction writing. And no wonder, we raise them from birth on fiction. But there’s another reason why nonfiction is daunting, and it’s much more of a challenge than just changing kids’ preferences. Most kids learn very early in school the logical structure of narrative writing; human brains are actually wired for stories. But in non-narrative writing—expository, persuasive, and argumentative modes—the structure has to come from the logic of kids’ independent thinking. It’s the independent thinking that makes the writing hard. What we need is a way to help kids think logically through writing. This is not about teaching logic. That’s hard, too. It’s about kids learning logic by having to construct their own logical arguments using the scaffolding provided in four strategies that account for all major academic forms of writing. Download the handouts.

Teaching Grammar and Punctuation: There Has to Be a Better Way (January 13)

There’s a reason why so many kids struggle to learn mechanics and why so many of us struggle to teach them: We’ve been doing things backwards. Most of our efforts in this area have been focused on teaching rules and making corrections. But this is the opposite of what we want. We don’t want kids to go through life quoting rule books and correcting errors. We want them to internalize the conventions of writing and produce mistake-free prose so that it doesn’t need to be corrected. When we consider the true goal of our work in this area, straightforward solutions emerge that accomplish two things: (1) Kids learning to like the discipline of writing correctly; and (2) Teachers putting forth less effort to see success in this traditionally challenging area while simultaneously achieving higher levels of success and satisfaction.

It’s All in the Details: Getting the Good Writing You Want (February 10)

This one is personal. All through school, I consistently received the same comment on my writing: “Good idea. Needs more support.” Obviously, if I had had any idea how to provide the details my teachers were looking for I would have done it, if for no reason other than to keep from getting that same frustrating comment. So when I started teaching writing 20 years ago you can imagine what I focused on: giving kids reliable strategies they could use independently to deal with common types of details and the common writing situations in which they would likely need them. Details are a central part of the craft of good writing. But craftspeople need good tools to do good work. That’s what we have here: a collection of detail strategies that, in most cases, kids can use with just a little instruction and occasional reminders from you.

Revising Revision: What If Kids Actually Wanted to Do It? (March 9)

Let’s be honest: revising writing is hard. It’s hard even for professional writers. No wonder kids don’t want to do it. But let’s also be honest about how important it is. Many respected writers and writing teachers have argued that revision is the only time writers really learn to write because they are focused on specific tasks that make their writing better. Somehow we have to make revision easier and more attractive to kids without losing it’s immense learning value. That’s what this session is about. You’ll get the key to the motivation issue and specific strategies to make revision more successful for your kids and much easier on you.

About Steve Peha

Steve Peha has been a professional writer for 30 years and a teacher of writing for 20. He has worked with thousands of teachers in hundreds of school across the US and Canada. He is the founder of Teaching That Makes Sense, an education consultancy that specializes in literacy, leadership, and school culture. On his website, he also maintains a popular personal collection of free teaching resources. Over the last decade, teachers from more than 120 countries have downloaded over 200 million pages of his instructional materials. He is the author of several books including the forthcoming Be a Better Writer, a guide to the craft of writing for tweens and teens. He is also working on an accompanying book for teachers called, “How Writers Get Better”, which documents optimal ways of delivering high-leverage writing instruction. Steve is happy to answer your questions by e-mail. Write to him at stevepeha@ttms.org.