Formal Writing Across the Content Areas

This resource explores instructional practices for incorporating formal writing into English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies instruction. 

This resource uses original content from the Texas Adolescent Literacy Academies: Focus on Writing (TALA Writing) professional development. Any handout numbers in this resource refer to the original TALA Writing handouts.

Download and print the handout packet for this resource by clicking the button below.

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Formal writing includes both literary and informational texts, such as biographies, essays, summaries, analyses, articles, and reports. Content area teachers who explicitly teach (by modeling and thinking aloud) how to read and write different types of formal texts improve their students' overall comprehension and content learning. For example, a history teacher modeling how to read and write an expository essay enhances students' ability to comprehend the genre's text structures (e.g., concept and definition, cause and effect, problem and solution, sequence) when reading their textbooks.

Locate the Incorporating Formal Writing in the Content Areas handout from the handout packet.

Read the handout. Then, place a checkmark beside the writing activities on page 2 that you already incorporate in your content area instruction.

Airtight Writing Tasks

Content area writing tasks and assignments should extend beyond the typical prompt: "Using complete sentences, answer the questions at the end of the chapter." This section examines how teachers can develop effective writing tasks and assignments, commonly referred to as prompts.

"Airtight" writing tasks are specific, meaningful, and aligned with the content area curriculum. Airtight assignments require students to think analytically and critically, make assumptions, apply previous knowledge, link causes and effects, draw conclusions, and formulate original ideas as they write. 

Locate the Developing Clear and Meaningful Content Area Writing Tasks handout from the handout packet.

Read the tips for developing airtight writing tasks. Then, look at how some "leaky" writing tasks—tasks that are unclear, vague, or poorly crafted—have been rewritten to become airtight.

Finally, develop an airtight writing task aligned with the content you will teach next week. Record the writing assignment in your teaching journal.

Reading and Understanding Writing Prompts and Assignments

This section provides strategies for teaching students how to process and effectively respond to writing prompts and assignments.

Locate Handout 25: General Prewriting Guidelines for Essays from the handout packet.

Take a few minutes to read the guidelines.

Next, locate Handout 17: The Whole Family Under One Roof? from the handout packet.

Use the handout as you watch the video below, which shows a teacher thinking aloud as she models for her students how to read and understand a writing prompt or assignment.

When you are ready, click play on the video below.

Finally, think about the following question and record your thoughts in your teaching journal:

How will you explicitly model for your students how to use the guidelines on Handout 25 for reading and understanding essay prompts and assignments?

Purposes for Writing

This section explores different purposes for writing and the importance of determining purpose before students begin to draft.

Locate the Authentic Writing Purposes handout from the handout packet.

Read the handout.

When you are ready, click play on the video below.

When students understand an author's reason or purpose for writing, they begin to see how that purpose drives the content and how it is written. Understanding the purpose also shows students how to organize their writing and develop their ideas. Often, students are given a topic or prompt and begin writing without establishing the reason or purpose for writing.

Locate the Mathematical Written Responses handout from the handout packet.

Take a moment to read the handout.

Next, review the sample question and written response on the first page of the handout. Identify the student's purpose for writing and briefly explain your rationale in your teaching journal. If necessary, consult the Authentic Writing Purposes handout to help you.