Encouraging Students to Think Critically About Writing

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

When teaching students to write, you will want them to have a critical understanding of the writing process. This lesson gives you some ideas for teaching students to think and work like writers.

Why Critical Thinking?

Lately, Ms. Lane, a seventh-grade language arts teacher, has started to notice that her students' writing seems kind of shallow. Though many of her students are independent writers with a good grasp of mechanics, their writing seems to lack for depth and is not necessarily interesting or meaningful to read. After doing some research, Ms. Lane decides she needs to focus on teaching her students to think critically about writing. In this case, critical thinking does not refer to criticizing but rather to thinking deeply and getting beyond the surface. Critical thinking in the context of writing means thinking about what you really want to say as a writer and how you might best get your ideas apart. It also means engaging with a variety of viewpoints and avoiding general statements. Ms. Lane thinks through ways to encourage her students to think critically about their own writing.

Using Mentor Texts

Ms. Lane discovers that one of the best things she can do to deepen her students' writing is to make room in her class for the use of mentor texts. These texts are examples of work in the same genre or style that students are working with that really exemplify excellent and meaningful writing. Ms. Lane uses mentor texts from published authors that will engage her students, and she also uses her own work and that of previous students who have given permission. To use mentor texts with her students, Ms. Lane first explains to them that it is important to read a lot in a genre before writing in it. She dedicates several class periods at the beginning of a new writing unit to letting students read mentor texts independently or in partnerships. Then, she brings students together for reflection on what features of these texts made them compelling. Ms. Lane creates a chart of these features and leaves it up in her classroom throughout the writing unit, to encourage students to critically engage with mentor texts as they complete their own work.

Understanding the Process

Ms. Lane also realizes that to think critically about writing, her students will need a solid grasp of the writing process or the steps a writer goes through to produce a work. Ms. Lane teaches her students that the writing process includes the following stages:

  • Brainstorming

Before starting a new piece, a writer should think of a variety of ideas and consider carefully which one will be the most engaging.

  • Planning

Writers do better work when they create outlines or graphic organizers to guide their writing.

  • Drafting

According to plans, writers create an original and completed draft of their piece.

  • Revising

Writers dedicate time to looking back over their work for substantive improvements that make sure they get their message across.

  • Editing

Writers check their work again with an eye toward spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

  • Publishing

Finally, writers create a polished final draft of their work that is ready to share.

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