Tag Archives: Content Areas

Writing to Learn

In her book Writing Across the Curriculum in Middle School and High Schools (1995), Rhoda Maxwell states, “Writing is not used in content areas so that students will improve their writing skills, but because students understand content better when writing becomes part of their learning activities.”

We write to learn, to deepen our understanding, emphasize skills and strategies, to deepen thinking, look for clarity of ideas, it even acts as a toolbox for our thinking.

The Common Core State Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects address the importance of both content and form to develop students’ writing skills. One of the best ways to encourage students to become critical thinkers and strategic learners is to incorporate writing into the content areas. The CCLS place a strong focus on argument writing and informative/explanatory writing. The CCLS call for students to become well-rounded individuals who write different types of texts for different purposes and audiences.

Writing doesn’t just happen in English class, nor should English teachers be the sole teachers of reading and writing. Here are three places content area teachers like science and humanities can help teach writing skills:

The Thesis Statement/Claim – The thesis is the map of an essay. It not only states the argument but also gives an indication of the organization of the essay. All subjects must standardize the need to see one thesis statement in a student’s argument regardless of content.

Evidence – Evidence is the quote, the computation, the data, the statistics, and the findings. Evidence backs up the argument made in the thesis statement.

Commentary – Commentary is individual thought. It is not just about translating the data but also bringing a new layer to the information.

The real goal is to help all students master the knowledge, procedures, and skills of the academic disciplines that run the secondary school curriculum, and which serve as the gatekeeper to success in college, work, and other facets of adult life. Teachers working to improve adolescent literacy instruction must integrate the teaching of reading and writing more fully into academic content areas.

When teachers take steps to incorporate more writing into the content areas, students begin to deepen their understanding of the steps they are taking to solve problems and to learn. They expand their capacity to answer the “why,” to understand the big ideas, and to see the real-world relevance of what they are learning. Through various literacy-based content activities that are purposeful and meaningful, students develop the skills required to successfully master content and increase problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Here are 10 ideas to think and apply in any content area and classroom:

Create Reader’s Theater on Mitosis

Debate whether genetically modified foods are safe to eat

Write a research paper and find information Boyle’s Law: The inversely proportional relationship between pressue and volume on a confined gas

Have students write and produce a music video on factoring

Create a screencast the influence of global warming on glaciers

Write a newspaper article on whether your school should invest in Solar Panels on the Rooftop

Start a classroom blog for students to reflect on classroom inquiries

Design a RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, Topic) choice project for students

Write a persuasive letter to your state senator on the first amendment and whether or not to revise the constitution

Have students script and record a podcast on a science topic they want to know more about

The bottom line: Teachers should create assignments for real audiences and with real purpose that require students to read, write, and  think critically.


Writing to Learn

Short, exploratory, unedited, & informal writing opportunities

Public Writing

Planned, audience driven, drafted and edited





Charts and Graphic Organizers



Exit/Admit Slips


Research Papers



Projects (RAFT, Brochure, Webquests, Newspapers)


In lieu of essays:

Make a cartoon strip

Design a questionnaire

Write a play

Create a teacher’s guide

Create a scrapbook

Write a television show script, poem, commercial, song, monologue

Write a letter

Write a press release

Design a slide show, Prezi, or Screencast

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A Little Drama

Drama: (n) the performance of an imaginary or real life situation that involves a plot, theme, characters, some sort of conflict, and usually some sort of resolution.

What is Drama?

Acting         Stage-Work         Theater          Taking-Risks         Storytelling

Pantomime    Cooperation    Pretend      Tragedy       Comedy

Imagination     Characterization    Exaggeration       Expression         Creativity

Improvisation      Movement      Concentration       Dialogue

The word “acting” is taken from a Latin term meaning “to do.” Thus, an actor’s primary job is to do something, to show, to use the body with its versatile actions to convey a thought, a mood, or a message.

Drama and acting fit well in a any classroom setting.  Drama taps into Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences and supports kinesthetic learners.  Here are eleven activities to try with your students and add a little drama in your content area.

Tableauxs – Students create a frozen picture to convey a person, place, or things.  Other students try to guess what the tableaux is.  In Art class students can create tableauxs to recreate a painting or photograph.

30 Second Challenge – Volunteers are give a topic and they must speak nonstop, without repeating themselves, for 30 seconds. In Social Studies class students can talk about historical figures or topics students are studying. This can also be adapted into a writing activity.

Tableauxs Brought to Life – Students act out a tableaux.  Students become the characters in the frozen picture.  In Social Studies, a teacher can post a picture on the SMARTBoard and ask volunteers to stand similarly to the people in the picture.  Students then act out a scene based on the photograph.  This allows students to step into the shoes of other people and make inferences about this time period.

Story Theater – The teacher can read aloud a scene from a text.  Students come to the front of the class and act out the scene.  In English class this is a great way to visually summarize or introduce a specific scene in a text.  For example, the teacher reads aloud a summative speech from Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet and students then act out the various points in the story Friar Lawrence addressed in his monologue.

Walking – Students walk around as the teacher calls out different emotions. As students head each new emotion, they try to convey it in their walk.  The teacher can also call out characters in a text.  Students picture themselves as the character, walk some more, and then, in character, stop and talk with a nearby classmate.

Envisioning – Students close their eyes and, with prompting from the teacher envision an object or action.  This is a great activity to do in a science class room because it allows students to visualize an object or process and then share their interpretations the large class.

Role Play – Students are handed out a slip of paper that either reads, “for,” “against,” or “undecided.”  On the other side of the slip of paper a specific role is described: “captain,” “solider,” or “wife.” (Think Social Studies during Revolutionary or Civil War.) These specific roles indicate who students are and where they stand on a controversial topic.  The teacher facilities the town meeting. This role play allows for students to think about an issue from perspectives different from their own.

Story Circle – The teacher puts a variety of artifacts in the center of the classroom related to a specific text or unit of study.  Students sit around the artifacts and share what each artifact reminds them of in relation to the text or unit of study.  Bringing artifacts into the classroom gives another visual context.  Students can use the artifacts to act out a scene or situation relevant to the text or unit of study.

Talk Show – Students break up into groups. Each group is assigned a character from the text or unit of study to discuss.  Each group then picks someone to be that character on a talk show role play in which the students question the characters. Students must answer questions as their assigned character in relation to the text.

Picture Plays – Each pair gets a different painting (Norman Rockwell, Chagall) and writes two copies of a six line dialogue based on the painting. Each group practices their dialogue to act out. The second copy is then given to a different group to act out without seeing the original painting. For the performance each group performs their own picture, then performs the dialogue for the picture they haven’t seen.  Writing dialogue forces students to look closely for visual clues in the painting to bring it to life. The two performances of the same dialogue show how different people can interpret the same words. Seeing how people translated the paintings into words gives insight into what people saw in the paintings.

Monologues – Students write an interior monologue to act out or read. The student takes on a character from the text or a historical figure and writes a monologue about a turning point or conflict.  In science class students can even use personification and write a monologue from the perspective of one of the elements on the Periodic Table.  The monologues can be serious or funny.

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