To Teach Effective Writing, Model Effective Writing

Photo purchased from Bigstock.com.

When I was a kid, every weekend, my parents would drive me to Loon Mountain in New Hampshire to master the sport of skiing — and downhill racing, in particular. On the chairlift, my instructors would critique the technique of those skiing below us. On the race course, I would spend hours studying and eventually trying to mimic the most experienced racers.

I can’t overstate the importance of effective modeling in helping me become an amazing skier. Effective modeling is also how I learned to write well. I spent equal time and effort actually watching other, more experienced writers write.

In high school, I sat beside terrific teachers and paid close attention as they actively reworked my sentence structure and diction. Just as I absorbed knowledge by watching better skiers, here too, teachers provided effective modeling for me to emulate. I wish to make perfectly clear that they certainly didn’t do my work for me. Together, rather, we worked toward my overall mastery.

Writing for the student paper of Brandeis University, I spent more time watching others write, rewrite, and edit. In fact, during my first year in The Justicenewsroom, I did little else than observe production night, which actually started around mid-afternoon and went until the early morning hours of the next day. Years later, I can still hear my more experienced peers calling for punchier prose, tighter paragraphs, and better quotes.

I’ve kept all of this in mind when teaching writing to my students. Along those lines, I wish to share some helpful advice.

  1. To teach effective writing, you yourself must be an effective writer. We can’t teach what we don’t know, and when it comes to writing, it’s important to continue honing your craft. If you haven’t engaged in much formal writing since college, you will remain a less effective teacher. No matter what you teach, try starting a blog, writing articles, or short stories. All of those are terrific ways to engage the mind and keep your skills sharp. Reading is important, but reading alone isn’t enough to strengthen your writing skills, or to make you a credible authority in the subject.

How do you teach effective writing? I would love to hear your thoughts.

A high school history and journalism teacher from Massachusetts.

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