Teach Essay Strategies

I was in my high school’s competitive marching band, and we practiced twice during the week and competed on Saturdays. Our practices during the week consisted of running through portions of the performance over and over and over again. We’d play the same measures, march the same steps until we could do them perfectly every time. Then, on Saturday, we’d perform the whole show … once.

You see, during the week it was OK to mess up. We were coached by our instructors, and provided with feedback, encouragement, and direction. We’d take this feedback to heart and do our best to apply it. Then on the weekend it was show time.

When it comes to schoolwork, we as teachers need to determine if what students are working on is the “practice” or the “big show.” If it’s the big show, then students get one shot to demonstrate what they’re made of. But if it’s practice, then there are some implications for how we use that practice and other teaching strategies for providing feedback, encouragement, and direction.

Part of the “practice” process, I’ve found, is allowing students to revise some of their work. I’d often play wrong rhythms in marching band (I was a drummer) or take a step in the wrong direction, but then I’d get a chance to fix my mistake and learn from it. Revising class work can serve a similar opportunity for learning.

Teaching Strategies:Simple Steps for Revisions

I try to make sure that students understand the opportunity and value of revising their work. I tell them that making mistakes is OK. Trying their best and not getting a perfect outcome is OK. Their current abilities are OK … all as long as they learn.

  1. Give Students Their Assignments Back with Timely Feedback: The first step starts with me. After they complete their work and give it to me, it’s my responsibility to review their work, provide feedback, and assign it a grade. Then I return it to students and allow them time in class to review their feedback.
  2. Tell Students about the Opportunity to Revise: After students review their feedback and their grade, they’re allowed to ask themselves, “Could I do this better?” and “Do I want another shot at doing this?” If they answer yes, then I tell them that they can in fact do the assignment again or make corrections to their work to make it stronger.
  3. They Must Reflect First: Before anything else, my students are required to answer a few questions based on the feedback they received. These questions include items like, “How would you summarize your feedback?” and “What are up to three areas you want to focus on to improve this work?” This allows them an opportunity to practice self-reflection and not immediately rely on a teacher to “Tell them what to fix.”
  4. Students Must Conference with a Teacher: The self-reflective questions they answer are a prerequisite for conferencing with me or another teacher. This helps narrow down the one-on-one conversation and prevents students from saying, “Just look at everything!” I or another teacher then looks at the student’s work and provides targeted instruction focusing on the areas they have identified.
  5. Students Have a Week to Revise: After students have met with another teacher, they have just one week to complete the revision. This new due date helps keep them on track and ensures that they’ll remember the instruction they received during their conference. Then, once students turn in their revised work, I re-grade it. I give them new feedback and a new grade.

A Few Restrictions and Caveats

Of course, this process is not used for every student for every piece of classwork. Here are a few items I take into consideration when deciding when revision is an option:

  • Is the assignment substantial enough to offer more learning and merit revision? I typically reserve revisions for the bigger assignments.
  • Have students put in effort into the original assignment? If a student regularly does poorly on his/her work with the assumption that they’ll revise it later, that’s not OK with me.
  • Does the current curriculum schedule allow for an effective revision process? I can’t offer revision and then cramp students with no legitimate opportunity to complete it.
  • Have the students who revised completed their reflection and conferenced with a teacher? If they jump straight to the revision without these steps, I don’t re-grade it.

Helpful Variations on the Revision Process

There’s more than one way to facilitate revisions. Here are a few other methods you might find helpful:

Find a variety of feedback: Feedback and conferences do not only have to come from teachers. Consider ways you can have students help one another, team up your students with older ones, or even post work online that others in your network can review.

Expand the Self-Reflection: Instead of just asking two questions, sometimes I’ll ask more than a dozen questions that stimulate self-reflection. Here I’ll give students a slate of questions that ask about the process they took to complete their work, their time management and work ethic, their level of comprehension of the task, where they got stuck, how they got unstuck, if they asked for help or used online sources, if they’re proud of their work, if this is their best, and many others. These questions are designed to help students get a 360-degree look at how they produce their work and what they need to consistently do to operate at their own highest level.

Another chance to revise: After students go through the whole process of revision, I’ll ask them if they want to do it again for the same assignment. Would they be willing to take their revision and the new grade and feedback that come with it and be willing to improve it even further? If given the chance, it’s surprising how many of them say “yes.”

When the revision process is completed, the students who volunteered for this option come out a little stronger and more confident. They completed their work, opted for additional feedback, and made adjustments to turn their original into something better. Ultimately, those students come away with a better understanding of their weaknesses and strengths. Plus, when similar tasks come their way in the future, they’re better equipped to successfully tackle them.

How do you do revisions in your class? Tell us your thoughts on the process in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.

Anchor charts are a great way to make thinking visible as you record strategies, processes, cues, guidelines and other content during the learning process. Here are 25 of our favorite anchor charts for teaching writing.

1. Why Writers Write

First and second graders will draw inspiration from this fun-filled anchor chart about why we write. Make this chart applicable to older students by expanding on each aspect with a specific audience or goal. “To share experiences” can become “to share experiences with friends, in a postcard or with readers in a memoir.”

Source: The First Grade Parade


2. Personal Narrative

Personal narrative is a style that all students will practice in elementary school. This website has some great worksheets to use with your students to prepare them to write their personal narrative. Then all your students can reference this anchor chart to keep them on task.

Source: Rachel’s Reflections


3. Understanding Character

Before you can writer about character, you first have to understand it. This anchor chart will help your young writers understand the difference between inside and outside characteristics.

Source: Teacher Trap 


4. Diving Deeper into Character

Now that your students understand inside vs. outside characteristics, dive deeper into describing a specific character. This anchor chart is a wonderful idea because students can write their idea on a sticky and then add it.

Source: MPM Ideas 


5. Six Traits of Writing

This anchor chart is jam-packed with things for fourth- and fifth-grade writers to remember about the six traits of writing. Use the chart as a whole-class reference, or laminate it to use with a small group. When it’s laminated, students can check off each aspect they’ve included in their own writing. Meaningful dialogue? Check! Problem and solution? Check!

Source: Working for the Classroom 


6. Writing Realistic Fiction

This anchor chart reminds upper elementary students how to create realistic stories. It really walks your students through so they have all the elements they need to create their own story.

Source: Two Writing Teachers


7. Sequence of Events

Help early-elementary students stay organized with an anchor chart that’s focused on order-of-events language. Tactile learners can write their first drafts on sentence strips and use this format to put the events in order before they transcribe their work onto writing paper.

Source: Life in First Grade


8. Informational Writing

Focus upper elementary students on the most important aspects of informational writing while keeping them organized. This chart could be used to support paragraph writing or essays.

Source: Teaching with a Mountain View


9. OREO Opinions

This deliciously inspired opinion anchor chart can be used by students in grades 3–5 during writers workshop, or when developing an opinion for discussion or debate. To build out student writing, have them “double-stuff” their Oreos with extra “E” examples.


10. Student Reporters

This anchor chart, best for K–2, is made relevant with examples of student work, in this case a fantastic ladybug report. Keep this chart relevant by updating the examples with student work throughout the year. In kindergarten, this will also showcase how students move from prewriting and pictures to writing words and sentences.

Source: Joyful Learning in KC 


11. Write from the Heart

Sometimes the hardest part about writing is coming up with who and what you should write about. This is the fun part, though! Use this anchor chart to remind your students that they have lots of good writing options.

Source: First Grade Parade 


12. Get Argumentative

Use this anchor chart with middle schoolers to make sure they’re considering all sides of an argument, not just the one that matters the most to them. One way to adapt this chart as students develop their understanding of argument is to write each element—claim, argument, evidence—under a flap that students can lift if they need a reminder.

Source: Literacy & Math Ideas


13. Writing Process

This is an anchor charts you’ll likely directly your students to again and again. The writing process has several steps, and it’s good to remind students of this so they don’t get frustrated.

Source: Mrs. Skowronski 


14. Writing Checklist

For those young writers in your class, these covers the basics in an easy way.

Source: Kindergarten Chaos 


15. Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect will always be an essential part of any story. Help your students come up with different scenarios for cause and effect. In many instances you could have multiples effects, so challenge your students to identify three to four at a time. This will really give them something to write about!


Source: Mrs. Sandburg


16. Organized Paragraph

The stoplight visual can be used to help early elementary students understand and write clear paragraphs. As students are editing their work, have them read with green, yellow and red pencils in hand so they can see how their paragraphs are hooking and engaging readers.

SOURCE: Mandy’s Tips for Teachers 


17. A Strong Lead

This sixth-grade anchor chart gives students lots of ways to start their writing. It could be updated midyear with strong examples of leads that students have written or that they’ve found in books. Students could also copy this chart into their notebooks and keep track of the different ways they’ve started their own writing, to see if they develop a signature lead.

Source: Miss Klohn’s Classroom


18. Power Up Student Sentences

Inspire students to get crafty and creative with their sentences. Update the moods or keywords with every writing assignment so students are constantly refining their clauses, verbs, and descriptions.

Source: Teaching My Friends 


19. Show, Don’t Tell

“Show, don’t tell” is a cardinal rule of writing. This anchor chart, best for upper elementary writers, can be used to strengthen scenes in fiction and narrat

ive nonfiction works. Build this chart out for middle school writers with additional ideas and more complex emotions.

Source: Upper Elementary Snapshots 


20. Narrative Organizer

Leave this chart up in your classroom for your students to reference often when they’re writing. It really takes them through creating a successful story.

Source: Working 4 the Classroom 


21. Expository Writing

This anchor chart really brings together the elements of a story in a creative, color-coded way.

Source: Adventures of a Future Teacher


22. Strong Sentences

Get early-elementary students to write longer, more descriptive sentences with this chart. Bonus: Use sentence strips to switch out the examples of strong sentences based on student writing.

Source: The Good Life


23. The Internal Story

This second-grade chart gives students the language to add their own thoughts into their writing. Modify this chart by highlighting key phrases for students with special needs. Or have students create different thought-bubble icons to represent each internal-dialogue sentence starter.

Source: Totally Terrific in Texas 



24. Evidence Supported

Upper elementary students will benefit from reminders on how to refer to and cite text evidence. Use this anchor chart during writing and discussion to help connect the language that we use across domains.

Source: History Tech 


25. CUPS and ARMS

Pick your acronym when revising and editing. These charts are great for third, fourth and fifth graders. Older students can get more targeted with editing marks.


26. Spicy Edits

Have students choose one element or “spice” to add to their work as they revise. This chart works for students in elementary and middle school, depending on which elements they include.

Source: Ms. Liu 


27. Writing Buddies

Sometimes students can get stuck when working with writing buddies. This anchor chart will help, encouraging students to be positive and make good, thoughtful suggestions.


28. Publishing Guidelines

Third and fourth graders can easily see if they’re finished writing with this publishing checklist. Consider making an anchor chart that shows how students can determine if their digital writing is ready to publish (or print) as well.

Source: Juice Boxes and Crayolas 


Posting anchor charts keeps current learning accessible and helps your students to make connections as their understanding grows. Keep the charts up-to-date and they’ll serve as a living reference in your classroom and will inspire a culture of writing.

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