Using Writing in Other Subject Areas Gives Students a Learning Boost

Writing has significant potential to help students learn other content areas like math, science, social studies, art, physical education, and more. Like speaking and listening, writing isn’t one more thing to teach but rather a tool to help students learn whatever it is you’re teaching.

It is critical to use rigorous, evidence-based instructional strategies within your framework. All students can learn at rigorous levels when provided appropriate instruction that incorporates support and scaffolding. Here, let’s look at two specific research-based literacy recommendations: providing differentiated reading instruction and increasing how much students write.

When working with at-risk students, layering can be a helpful strategy. Especially if the student is reading below grade level, they can struggle with their textbooks, so find an article or section from another book on the same topic that is easier to read. This helps them build background knowledge and learn some of the specialized vocabulary. Then, students can return to the main text and read it with support. Since they have read the easier text, they are better able to handle the grade level text, which is more rigorous. As they progress through the year, some students will no longer need the extra step. Others, however, may need the continued support.

It is also important to increase the overall amount of time students write in the classroom. Although this can be a formal writing lesson, or a large project like a research paper, you can also incorporate writing in small ways throughout lessons in any subject area. These include exit slips, writing letters or postcards to summarize information, keeping learning logs or journals, or working together for collaborative note-taking where each student in a group summarizes one section of the text and then students share information.

Here are some ideas for incorporating writing into Math, Science, Art, and Physical Education courses:

Write one sentence explaining how students solved problem
Write one sentence explaining why a student used a particular strategy
Keep a learning log to review important math concepts and skills
Do a Think-Write-Share
Create an alphabet book (or alpha blocks) of math vocabulary

Write and/or create a script for video responses to learning
Write letters/blogs about current events through a scientific lens
Respond to recent scientific advancements, issues, and news
Write prose-based hypotheses, procedures, and results
Write/write about an alternative experiment that could measure a similar variable

Art (Primary Grades)
Draw original creature and ‘write’ (or write about) the sounds they make
Draw a treasure map and write directions to a variety of specific audiences (someone new to the area, a child, someone who only speaks in opposites, etc.)
Create and send thank you art to local ‘people: the elderly, veterans, police officers, firemen, etc.

Art (Upper Grades)
Make paintings about goals and dreams, write an explanation
Design building, write purpose and uses
Create/design and draw a ‘species,’ write about how it should be classified and explain (this is as much science as it is art)

Physical Education
Choose a sport and list personal strengths and areas of improvement
Develop action plan for a specific desired improvement
Keep record and track progress toward a goal with anecdotal description
Create a job description for a specific category of athlete (runner, etc.)

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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