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Student Writing: Not an Event but a Process

By Patrick Lashmar August 19, 2014

When educators approach writing as a dynamic, creative process, rather than as a static event, students will mature as skilled, confident writers.

Use the Process Writing Approach and Watch Your Students Bloom as Writers

How often have you watched your students feel defeated and inadequate as, with pencil in hand, they stare at great length at the blank page before them? How frustrated have your felt to witness your students’ unwillingness or inability to improve a first draft by not adequately revising, editing, and proofreading?

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Effective Writing Teachers Agree. Using the Process Writing Approach Can Inspire Your Students to, Not Only Fill Up That Page, But Also Improve It to Create a Published Work They Can Be Proud Of.

Since the early 1970s, research has emphasized that writing is a process. Students move through definite stages as they progress in their written work toward a final and complete product. The teacher’s role in this process is to help the student move through the stages. As the teacher works with students, the writing takes shape. In this approach, it is not sufficient to give a writing assignment and have it submitted for evaluation. Rather, the student needs the guidance of the teacher through the stages so that the emphasis is on the development and refinement of writing skills.

The diagram is a representation of the stages of the writing process. At first glance, it looks like a straightforward series of steps to follow. In reality, writing is a very complex task and the stages don’t always follow in the order presented on the diagram. Sometimes a writer will skip a stage or move back to an earlier stage and so on.

The stages in the writing process are: Planning for Writing, Drafting, Revising, Editing, Proofreading, Publishing, and Reflecting.


Planning for Writing

The better students become at prewriting, the better their first drafts will be. One should never underestimate the importance of this stage. It deserves your time and attention. At the prewriting stage, writers begin to think about their topic. They gather ideas by reading, talking, listening, viewing and so on. Students should come to realize that ideas for writing come from everywhere. At the prewriting stage, students will need to think about their purpose, audience, and form. At times, they will decide on their own purpose, audience, and form. At other times, the teacher will make these decisions for them. Word lists, story starters, pictures, plans, story webs or outlines will be used to help plan and organize the writing.


During this stage, students write their first draft. They should refer to all the information gathered and organized during the planning stage and keep their audience, purpose, and form in mind. During this stage, the purpose is to get the ideas down as quickly as possible. Students should not be too concerned about punctuation or spelling at this stage. They should not spend too much time trying to find more descriptive words or better sentence structure. All these will be looked at very carefully later. It is best to write the first draft on every second line in order to leave room for revision.

Revising, Editing, Proofreading

What students do after the writing of the first draft has a great deal to do with how effective the final product will be. The first thing to do with the initial draft is revise. When students revise, they want to look again at the words and ideas they have written. They will want to rethink them, add to them, rearrange them, or change them in some other ways. The use of reference books such as a thesaurus can be of great assistance at this stage.


Students can also improve their drafts by editing it themselves, with a partner, or with a small group.


Finally, students can improve their work by having it proofread. When they revised and edited earlier, they were more concerned with ideas, words, organization, and so on. When the work is proofread, it is reviewed for such things as spelling and punctuation. Dictionaries can be of great assistance at this stage.

Publishing, Sharing, and Reflecting

Most of the time, writers write in the hope that others will read what has been written. The writing should be shared with the intended audience and may be shared with others. There are many ways to share and publish student writing. It is hoped that students will have a wide variety of opportunities to share, publish, and reflect on their work as they progress over the years. Final drafts may be selected for the writing portfolio. These can be examined from time to time by students, teachers, and parents to evaluate growth in writing and to determine next steps.

Practical Tools for Teaching Process Writing: Integrated Process Writing Units

Use process writing units that are integrated with technology, reading, media literacy and language to jump-start process writing workshops in your classroom.

The characteristics of an integrated process writing unit include:

  1. selecting the form or genre of the writing. Student need to write in a variety of forms: graphical, informational, and literary.

  2. the reading of a model selection by individual students, in pairs, by the teacher, or as a guided reading lesson exposes students to the characteristics of the chosen form of writing.

  3. reading response activities are provided as starting points for students to comprehend, respond to, and extend the reading selection.

  4. students select a topic, keeping in mind purpose and audience.

  5. graphic organizers or other practical tools are provided to help students generate, gather, and organize their ideas.

  6. if a device is available, students work with the teacher or family members on a wide variety of engaging technology links and internet activities that support and enhance the prewriting stage.

  7. next, students write their first draft. This can be completed on paper, or on a device.

  8. organizers, charts, checklists, and other tools are used to assist students as they revise, edit, and proofread individually, with a partner, or as a whole class.

  9. language links provide students with the specific grammar and punctuation skills they need to help them improve their draft.

  10. only after these steps can the work be published and shared with an audience.

  11. finally, students complete activities that cause them to reflect on their writing and extend it.

Use integrated process writing units such as the type outlined above and watch your students become confident, capable writers.

If you are interested in improving your students' process writing skills or to learn more about teaching process writing, see the grade specific links below.

Process Writing for Grade 2

Process Writing for Grade 3

Process Writing for Grade 4

Process Writing for Grade 5

Process Writing for Grade 6

Process Writing for Grade 7

Process Writing for Grade 8


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