Do the Write Thing, Part 2: Integrating Writing into All Subjects

by Meghan Brubaker


Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

How much time do your students spend writing in an average week? And I don’t mean writing math equations or copying science terms or completing a penmanship paper. I mean real, original writing. How much time do your students spend actually wrestling with their thoughts and opinions and letting them flow out through their fingers?

If your classroom is anything like mine used to be, the answer is surprisingly little. Oh, I had that one forty-minute writing class every week, and there was that grammar chapter about writing paragraphs, and there were those weeks we spent writing a research paper. But partway through my teaching career, when I stopped to think about how many cumulative hours I spent teaching them stuff in a school year, I realized that the amount of time I spent teaching them how to write well was alarmingly small.

Perhaps your classroom is the same way, which leads me to another question. What would happen if we would spend as much time teaching writing as we did our core subjects? (I’m talking about several hours every single week). How would our graduates be different? Would they think differently? Would they act differently? Would they be more prepared or less prepared to go into the world and serve effectively in Christ’s kingdom?

As you can probably guess, my answer to these questions is instantaneous and unwavering. Yes. Spending more time and energy teaching our students to be good writers would change who they are in beneficial ways. If you question the validity of that last statement, I encourage you to first go read Part One of this series, “Why Writing Matters,” and see why I believe that writing is a key academic and character-building skill we should be developing in our students.

Now, of course, it’s all fine and good to say we need to spend more time writing. But that doesn’t remove the seemingly insurmountable problem before us—time. It’s probably already difficult for you to fit everything your students need to accomplish into your day. How are you supposed to fit more writing in, too?

First, I’d like to point out that we give time to things that matter. Every teacher knows the crunch of time, yet we manage to fit math class into the schedule every day. If we truly value writing, we will do what it takes to fit it into our classroom rhythms. However, sometimes that may take some creativity and flexibility.

One way to spend more time writing is to look for spaces of time you already have, but may not be using well. For example, often a test will take less time to complete than a normal lesson would. Make it a habit to have a writing assignment ready for your students to work on after they have finished their tests.

It’s a great idea to have a file of writing project ideas ready and pull them out in times when you have strange, random spaces in your day. This might be when a lesson unexpectedly takes ten minutes less than you thought it would. Or maybe one student is taking an unusually long time to finish an assignment, and the other students are getting restless. Having a writing assignment ready to pull out in these situations is a great way to use the bits of extra time you do have.

Another way to add more writing to your classroom is to look for places where you can methodically adjust something occasionally. Perhaps every quarter, you could skip one list of spelling and spend that week of spelling classes doing writing. At the end of the year, your students will have practiced only four fewer lists of spelling words. Will that be detrimental? I’d say no. And I’d also say that the writing experience they will have gained in those four weeks will be more beneficial in the long run than those four specific lists of spelling words will be.

Or maybe you could have a tradition in your classroom that when you finish a story for read-aloud, you’ll take the next day’s read-aloud period to do a bit of writing. It could be something related to the book you just read, like a book review or a summary of the story. Or it could simply be a random, fun writing assignment.

You could do the same thing the day after you finish a history unit or every time you complete a math chapter. Now, of course, if you have a very rigid scope and sequence and are required to complete every lesson in your book by the end of the year, this may not be a good fit for you. But if your school isn’t insistent on every lesson in the book being completed before the end of the year, this is a good way to minimally borrow some time from subjects we spend a lot of time on and reallocate it to teaching valuable writing skills.

All the ideas I’ve mentioned so far might seem small enough to be insignificant. However, something is better than nothing when it comes to giving our students opportunities to become proficient writers.

Perhaps the most natural and effective way to get your students writing more is to integrate writing into all subjects. Writing is wonderful for many reasons, but one of them is that it’s so versatile. You can even incorporate writing into math class! (I’ll tell you how below).

The beauty of having students write in every subject is that writing is an amazing way to assess how much they have learned about something. Writing about their learning forces students to really wrestle with the concepts they’ve learned, which often leads to deeper understanding. This benefits our students, because having them apply a concept in various contexts is an essential part of them mastering and retaining what we have taught them. Writing creates another avenue to apply what they have learned.

There are infinite possibilities of how to integrate writing into all subjects. As a teacher, you get to be creative in the ways you apply this. However, to get your mind rolling, I’ve created a list of examples of writing assignments you might give in various subjects. Of course, these likely will not be a perfect fit for your specific age level or content, but I hope that it can give you a practical starting point from which your own ideas can grow. I hope you’ll also see some ways that you could actually use writing in place of traditional worksheets or practice problems as a way to assess how much your students have learned.

Bible

  • Write a story in which you put yourself into the Bible story you just learned. Choose a unique perspective to tell the story from.
    • For example:
      • Noah and the ark from the perspective of Noah’s wife
      • The Christmas story from the perspective of the manger
      • One of Jesus’s miracles from the perspective of the best friend of the sick person
    • Write a personal response to what we learned today about honesty. What are three ways you can apply it to your life?
    • Write about the concept learned in today’s Bible class as if you are explaining it to a small child. What questions would the child have? How would you answer those questions?

History

  • Write a journal entry from the perspective of Balboa on the day he first saw the Pacific Ocean.
  • Write a letter from someone living in the Dust Bowl in the 1930s to their family member living in the East. Have them describe at least four of the hardships they were facing.
  • Write two stories, one about a boy growing up in the city-state of Sparta and one about a boy growing up in the city-state of Athens. Be sure to contrast the various ways these boys’ growing up years would have been different than each other’s.
  • Write a paragraph describing why we should not take sides in wars when we look at history. Give three reasons to support your opinions.

Science

  • Take what you’re learning and make a creative writing prompt out of it. Require them to apply specific knowledge you’ve been teaching them. For example:
    • When learning about invertebrates: create a new species of invertebrate. Give it a name, and mention what kingdom and phyla it is part of. Use the characteristics of different phyla we have learned about and describe what each characteristic looks like on your new creature.
    • When learning about gravity: Write a story in which there is no gravity! In your story, you should include three specific ways you have learned that gravity affects life on earth.
    • When learning about cell theory: Write what Robert Hooke’s journal entry might have looked like on the day when he observed cork cells through his microscope.
    • When learning about immunity: Write about the body’s defense system when a pathogen invades as if it is an army fighting off an invader. You should use each of the following as a character in your story: B Cells, T Cells, Helper T Cells, Killer T Cells, and Memory Cells. Be sure to have each of these fulfilling a role similar to what they do in real life.
  • Write a “how to” from the perspective of a scientist you have learned about. (For example, “How to Believe in a Heliocentric Model” by Galileo or “How to Organize the Periodic Table of the Elements” by Dmitri Mendeleev).

Math

  • Write a process analysis about how to do a recently learned math concept. Use words like first, second, next, after that, etc. Make it very detailed and thorough. Someone reading it should be able to use your instructions to complete a problem and get the correct answer.
  • Write new lyrics to the tune of a familiar song to help you remember how to do a certain math process.
  • Choose a simple poem format, such as haiku, quatrain, joybell, or shaped poem. Write a poem in this format about a recently learned math concept.

Art

  • Have a ready-made slideshow with famous works of art. Have them respond to a prompt about the picture, such as:
    • What event do you think this picture is showing? Describe it in detail.
    • What happening in the artist’s life might have inspired them to paint this picture?
    • What emotions does this picture convey? Describe them using lots of similes and metaphors.
    • Imagine you are an art critic who has been asked to write a review of this painting. Be honest and specific.
  • Write about the creation of your latest art project from the perspective of the piece of paper.

Spelling/Vocab

  • Write a story using all of your spelling words.
  • Write a story where someone doesn’t understand what one of your vocab words means, and it gets them into a predicament.
  • Choose the three trickiest words from your spelling list. Write step-by-step instructions of how to remember to spell them, including hints, tips, or acronyms.

Literature/Reading

  • Write a parody of a poem you study. You could have students mimic the rhyme scheme, the number of words in each line, the topic, or even just delete parts of the poem and have them fill in the blanks with their own ideas.
  • Stop reading a story several pages before the ending and have the students write a possible ending.
  • Compare and contrast two characters. Include details about their physical features, personalities, and roles in the story.
  • Did the story end the way you wanted it to? Write a persuasive paragraph saying why or why not.

Finding ways to incorporate more writing into your schedule doesn’t need to be an insurmountable task. There are lots of quick and easy ways to get your students writing just a little bit more. Every additional writing experience you can give them is worthwhile, even if it can’t happen very often. But of course, the more opportunities we can give our students to write, the more skilled they will become at this important, empowering, growth-producing task.

Writing can be so much more than a task reserved for the occasional writing class. By integrating writing into every subject you teach, you will help your students gain valuable writing skills while also having essential learning experiences along the way.

Read Part 1 of this series on writing here: Why Writing Matters

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CONTRIBUTOR: Meghan Brubaker

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