Daily in-class writing can help your students discover the writer within.
Do students write every day in your classroom?
If not, you’re not alone. Research on writing frequency suggests that just a quarter of middle and high school students write for at least 30 minutes a day, a minimum standard set by learning experts.
During my sixteen years as an ELA teacher, there were times my students wrote enough and times they did not. But, unsurprisingly, when I devoted adequate time to in-class writing, my students gained skills and confidence more quickly and I had greater insight into their lives.
I remember one student—we’ll call her Imani—who would sit in class and stare at her blank computer screen as the minutes ticked by. She sighed, she groaned, she started writing and hit the delete key almost immediately. She seemed to feel like everything was riding on crafting the perfect paragraph.
What if she came to class knowing she would write every day? Would she feel less pressure to “get it right?” Probably. Would she start to see that the only way to become a better writer was to write frequently? Likely. Would writing begin to feel more attainable and perhaps even a little rewarding? Definitely!
Studies suggest that teaching students how to write well is one of the best things educators can do to ensure academic engagement and future success. With this in mind, consider adding short, low-stakes writing sessions to your daily schedule regardless of what subject you teach. From building working memory to fostering metacognition, the benefits are worth the time invested.
Here are five research-backed reasons daily classroom writing is a must.
1. Writing is good for mental health and capacity.
Anyone who journals daily can talk about the emotional benefits of having a place to clarify their thoughts and work through their emotions. And it turns out that science confirms these benefits. There are more than 200 studies that show the positive effect of writing on mental health.
Not only can writing help students understand their emotions, it can also help their brains run more efficiently. A study funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health showed that anxiety takes up a tremendous amount of brainpower. However, when daily writing soothes students’ worries, cognitive resources are freed up to work on other tasks.
Jason Moser, one of the study's authors, explains, “Students who wrote about their worries were able to offload these worries and run more like a brand new Prius. Whereas the students who didn’t offload their worries ran more like a ’74 Impala—guzzling more brain gas to achieve the same outcomes.”
2. Writing strengthens executive functions.
Executive functions are the mental processes that enable us to plan, pay attention, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Given how many executive function skills are used in the writing process, it's no wonder that many children who struggle with executive function find writing to be daunting. But this skill overlap means that strengthening writing and executive function skills simultaneously is an effective way to learn.
When teaching writing to students who struggle with executive function, you’ll want to give detailed instructions and models for every step of the writing process, along with frequent check-ins and practice time. If you just tell students to “write a paragraph,” they might not know where to begin and stall out quickly. But if you review steps, help them make a plan, and teach them to assess their work with rubrics, they’ll improve their writing and practice crucial executive function skills simultaneously.
3. Writing helps educators assess student learning.
In a piece about teaching literacy in her math classroom, former teacher Sarah Galasso shares how she was surprised when a high-performing student wrote that she was confused about classwork. Equipped with this intel, Galasso adjusted her feedback to boost this student’s confidence and help her see that she understood much more than she thought she did.
Reading student writing gives teachers valuable insight into how students are progressing in class and also who they are as people—what their likes, dislikes, concerns, and dreams are. The more we know, the more we can invite students to share all parts of themselves, which builds an asset-based classroom.
Lastly, reading student writing regularly lets you monitor how your students are doing with their social-emotional learning. You’ll gain insight into any emotional road bumps they’re encountering and also be able to identify students who may need more support.
4. Writing cultivates creativity.
Creativity, as psychologists define it, is the ability to come up with original and useful ideas. And contrary to popular opinion, creativity can be taught. Combining seemingly unrelated ideas, working backward to solve a problem, and challenging assumptions, are three ways, among many, we can ignite creativity.
Another way to build creativity is through daily writing. Writing encourages students to use their imaginations, make connections, view a problem in various ways, strategize solutions, and tell stories. Writing also lets students exercise agency and feel joy at creating something new.
5. Writing encourages reflection and self-awareness.
Writing requires students to reflect, and the metacognitive skill of thinking about thinking is an invaluable learning tool. When students can reflect upon what they know, don't know, and would like to learn more about, they’ll be able to consolidate information, ask the right questions, self-direct when acquiring new knowledge and take ownership over their learning.
Writing regularly can also increase students’ self-awareness by helping them learn from their experiences. Research suggests that becoming more self-aware can increase our confidence and encourage us to be more accepting of others. Confident students tend to fare better academically and socially, and strong classroom communities rely on students embracing one another’s differences.
Think back to Imani, my student who didn’t know how to start writing. Now imagine her walking into her classroom knowing that she’s there to write. She sits down, takes out her computer, and gets to it.
Her writing isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s improving. She’s learning that process is more important than perfection. She’s learning how to clarify her thinking and express herself effectively. Most importantly, her writing confidence has soared, and every day, she’s building skills that will improve her future.
Before joining Carnegie Learning’s marketing team in 2021, Emily Anderson spent 16 years teaching middle school, high school, and college English in classrooms throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, and Minnesota. During these years, Emily developed a passion for designing exciting, relatable curricula and developing transformative teaching strategies. She holds master's degrees in English and Women’s Studies and a doctorate in American literature and lives for those classroom moments when students learn something that will forever change them. She loves helping amazing teachers achieve more of these moments in their classrooms.Explore more related to this author
"When I devoted adequate time to in-class writing, my students gained skills and confidence more quickly and I had greater insight into their lives."
Emily Anderson, PhD