Teaching elementary students writing
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Grade by grade elementary mathematics expectations are clear cut. Grade by grade writing expectations are more subjective.

Looking at the “English–Language Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools” one can see why it can be a challenge to figure out exactly what you want your students to accomplish this year.

Notice the writing content standard “Writing Strategies 1.0” is word for word the same in Grade 1 as in Grade 4. In grade 5 there is a subtle switch to using the word “essays

Grade 1 Writing Strategies 1.0
Students write clear and coherent sentences and paragraphs that develop a central idea. Their writing shows they consider the audience and purpose. Students progress through the stages of the writing process (e.g., prewriting, drafting, revising, editing successive versions).

Grade 4 Writing Strategies 1.0
Students write clear, coherent sentences and paragraphs that develop a central idea. Their writing shows they consider the audience and purpose. Students progress through the stages of the writing process (e.g., prewriting, drafting, revising, editing successive versions).

Grade 5 Writing Strategies 1.0
Students write clear, coherent, and focused essays. The writing exhibits the students’ awareness of the audience and purpose. Essays contain formal introductions, supporting evidence, and conclusions. Students progress through the stages of the writing process as needed.

Elementary School Writing Standards Grady by Grade

When you read most state writing standards it’s often hard to tell exactly what the differences are from one year to the next. True, that when you compare 1st grade to 5th grade you can easily see the differences, but from one year to the next… you have to read carefully.

Each year a few words are changed, a few concepts are made more complex, and a few concepts are added.

The reason the changes are so subtle is that our brains don’t handle “brand new information” very well. The majority of a school year is review, along with integrating the new information with the old. (The above example illustrates this point.)

Summary of Elementary School Writing Expectations Grade by Grade

These summaries should provide a good overview of how students progress in their writing year by year.

GRADE 1 WRITING EXPECTATIONS
Students write main ideas with supporting details. Students may not have the skills needed to write a closing sentence for their paragraphs. Students experiment with prewriting organizers but there is not a great connection between their prewriting and their writing. Students are able to focus their writing to a prompt and their stories do have a beginning middle, and end. Students use correct simple sentence structure and from time to time you may see new and interesting words in their word choice. Many of their sentences will have the same basic structure. Day by day spelling and punctuation improves. Students need help with editing. They are not very successful at self-editing.

GRADE 2 WRITING EXPECTATIONS
Students have added a concluding sentence to the main idea and supporting details creating proper paragraph structure with a beginning, middle, and ending. Students understand prewriting and are able to connect their prewriting to their writing. Their narratives (stories) have a clear beginning, middle, and ending. There is some variety to their sentences, not all sentences start the same. Students are developing skill in applying verbs and adjectives. Spelling and punctuation are of growing importance. Students are using many of the verb tenses correctly. They are capitalizing most proper nouns correctly and using a variety of punctuation. Students can do basic editing. They understand the concept of “trying to make it better.” They also understand the stages of the writing process. Students know how to use a dictionary, but it’s going to take them a while to check all those words they are not sure about.

GRADE 3 WRITING EXPECTATIONS
Students’ paragraphs contain more effective details. Details are more specific and provide reasons and facts. Students are getting better at “proving their main idea.” Students use declarative, imperative, interrogative, and exclamatory sentences correctly. A lot of their writing is based on personal experience or creative stories. They are not adept at researching. Their narratives (stories) contain some skill in applying story elements including character and conflict/resolution. However, the stories are simple and may not address all the story elements. Students use varied sentence structure and interesting vocabulary. This means a unique voice is starting to develop. Spelling and grammar are now “mistakes” because they have heard the rules before. (Consciously incompetent) Students are skilled at the writing process. They understand that it takes using a dictionary and a thesaurus to make their writing its best. Students also learn cursive this year.

GRADE 4 WRITING EXPECTATIONS
Students paragraphs are now becoming purpose specific. Inform, persuade etc. Students are writing multi-paragraph compositions. These are not called essays as there is no requirement for a proper introduction, conclusion, or thesis statement. Students are learning to gather data through research and organize their research before writing. Their narratives (stories) incorporate all the story elements. Students are not writing just for themselves anymore. They write for their audience. Friendly letters sound friendly and reports sound like reports. Students continue to grow in their writing and they now get most of the verb tenses correct. Students use quotation marks… in fact they may use them too often. Students are skilled at using resources to edit their work. Students not only correct spelling but get rid of ideas that don’t work. Students polish up paragraphs and structure.

GRADE 5 WRITING EXPECTATIONS
All of their prior knowledge is now being put to use in complete essays. Both the term essay and thesis statement are part of their vocabulary and their writing is expected to have effective introductions and conclusions. Last year students learned how to gather information and now it is expected to have an “academic” appearance to it. Students will use transitions that effectively link paragraphs together in a clear line of thought. Their narratives (stories) contain an attention getting narrative hook, conflict along with those pesky complications, yet all is resolved in the end. Fifth graders use complex sentences and write with a purpose. Can you convince someone at the North Pole to buy snow? Well… let’s give it a try! Students are skilled at using a lot of the punctuation that their own parents may have forgotten. When students edit, along with grammar and punctuation, they are interested in editing the quality of ideas and the flow of ideas.

What the Standards Get Right

The fifth grade writing requirement is right on target. 5th graders are expected to write about as well as their parents. Obviously, not as well as all parents, but note the TV show, “Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader?” There is a reason that 5th grade was chosen.

The standards also seem to say, “Don’t let children write grammar the wrong way. We don’t want them to practice bad habits. The standards add a little complexity in grammar and mechanics each year, and it is expected to be done correctly.”

What the Standards Get Wrong

The standards are lacking in how they address proper multi-paragraph writing. 1st graders are expected to write stories with a beginning, middle, and ending, yet the word multi-paragraph is not used until 4th grade.

If students can fill a good part of a page, you have to teach them proper paragraph form with a simple introduction, and a simple conclusion. From what I have seen, year after year of practicing the wrong way makes it more difficult to break the habits in the upper grades.

Many teachers teach “simple introductions, simple conclusions and proper paragraph form” long before the state standards explicitly require it. Why? Because the children are ready for it.

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Please take a look at the homepage and see if the “Pattern Based Writing: Quick and Easy Essay” program is right for you and your students.

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