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A Teacher's Guide to Writing Across the Curriculum

written by: skline • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 1/5/2012

We’ve heard it a million times—reading and writing are the foundations for success in all subjects. We successfully get the reading worked in, but how in the world do we work in the writing? In this article, we will explore some of the successful ways to implement writing into all content areas.

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    In my experience as an educator and tamer of sixth graders at a low-income school in Texas, I have often wondered why students didn’t have to write more. It seemed to me that they wrote constantly in my class, very occasionally in reading, and rarely any other place. I have always thought writing should be done in all classes, which leads to the premise for this article. Here, I am going to explore some of the options for writing across the curriculum, in all content areas, and tell you why you can’t lose by incorporating writing into your lessons.

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    Journal Entries

    My students keep a journal in which they write thoughts on assigned topics or prompts. They write around half a page in the 10 minute time frame I give them. I grade their journals for participation and length periodically throughout the year. A similar procedure could be done for all classes.

    For instance, when reading about the Civil War in social studies, ask the students to take ten minutes and write their thoughts on slavery or the causes behind the secession of some of the Confederate states. They can write a short dialogue in favor of or against slavery from the perspective of General Robert Lee or Ulysses S. Grant.

    For science, if you are teaching about classifying animals in the animal kingdom, stop and have your students write a short story from the perspective of an animal explaining why he/she should be in a certain category. Or, if you are teaching about a forensic case on who shot John F. Kennedy, have your students write a short excerpt from the perspective of Lee Harvey Oswald, explaining why he did/did not shoot the president.

    For math, if you are teaching about reducing fractions, have your students write a paragraph or letter to a student explaining the procedure and steps to follow. Journaling is not just for English Language Arts; it can be useful for all subjects. It reinforces the content being taught and allows room for creativity on the part of the students.

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    Writing Letters

    I mentioned that writing is not just for the English Language Arts class, right? Good. We’ve established that. Having your students write letters is another great way to write across the curriculum, so to speak. When teaching about the foundation of North America by the European sailors in your social studies class, have your students produce a one-page letter from the perspective of one of the sailors, explaining what they found, how and where they found it, and what happened as a result of finding it. They can assume the role of Christopher Columbus, or Ferdinand Magellan, or any other sailor being studied at the time of the assignment.

    In your science class, when you are teaching about genetics, have your students write a letter to a fellow student or to a doctor that explains whether they would want to choose the appearance of their baby or just see what they get. Choosing the physical features is actually becoming more and more likely these days.

    If you are covering multiplication in math, have them write a letter to you that shows they understand the process of multiplying numbers. They can go into detail about that process and even provide examples. Using letters is a great way to reinforce or review the topic being taught. It’s fun and comical at times, so your students will enjoy it.

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    Reader Response

    When reading your textbook or articles on the topic being taught, have your students stop and write down their thoughts over what they just read. Doing so will show you first that they understand what they read and second that they have an opinion about it. Encouraging students to respond to what they read is of definite benefit, because it further reinforces the topic and provides useful evaluation tools to see if your students indeed understood the text enough to have an opinion about it. This is a great activity for social studies and science because you can have them complete this sort of activity over current events and real-world issues that are applicable to times today. It also works for reading, in that your students can place themselves in the shoes of a character in a novel being taught and explain how they would feel in that position.

    For math, it gets a little more complicated, although not impossible. When teaching a new mathematical procedure, stop and ask your students to write down their thoughts about that procedure and when/where/how they would use it. Do they find it useful, in other words? Rather than just having the students answer the questions at the end of a chapter, have them tell you their own personal thoughts and beliefs in relation to what they have just read/learned. Doing so will ensure life-long learning takes place, since it will be tied into personal experiences and the real-world.

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    Concluding Thoughts

    We looked at three approaches to writing across the curriculum, all of which can be used in the different content areas and will yield high results. Try these lessons with the next unit you teach and see what happens. Because, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the retention of information being taught, the creativity of your students, and the personal connections they make.