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
Planned, audience driven, drafted and edited
Charts and Graphic Organizers
Projects (RAFT, Brochure, Webquests, Newspapers)
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