Writing Strategies

What does a strategic writer look like? »
High school students explain (or try to explain) what they do when they feel “stuck” and don’t know what to write next. The difference between students who have been taught to discover their own writing strategies and those who have been taught a linear process approach is profoundly evident.
  • A trick for me about reflections is getting the students to be specific about their future use of strategies. If we were writing personal narratives, then I don’t want them to say they’ll use a strategy the next time they write a personal narrative! Some of the teaching about reflection has to happen in class talk about what strategy use means–and what we mean by transfer.

Further Reading:

Focuses on ways of applying the strategies effectively in a classroom setting
One of the most effective sources for a good view of what is meant by strategic writing instruction
A research-rich guide to reaching students with a wide range of writing abilities

Supplemental Materials:

Metaphorical Game Film: Reflections


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When I think about the strategies I use when I write, I realize that those strategies change, depending on what I am writing, my purposes for writing, and the context of that writing (including how much time I have). I am still working on an article that I have done the inquiry, collected the data, but can’t seem to come to the end of the inquiry into the field beyond my own study! But if I were to write a book about using picture books to teach writing? Whoa! My strategies would be very different. I just look up at the shelves above my desk. . . . and any one of those books can get me started. Sometimes I talk about my writing; sometimes I share what I write with a trusted colleague before I continue; other times I just write and send it off.

  • What strategies do you use when you write? How do those strategies change with time or task?
  • What are some strategies you see your students use for writing in your classroom? (Maybe consider some avoidance strategies, too, and why students might use them.   Why do you?)

Collins’ comment about there not being a “master list” of strategies can be a little disconcerting to teachers. When Graham and Harris remind us that there is “no set of strategies that guarantee effective writing,” it’s easy to wonder what, then, we should teach.

  • How do we approach writing strategically with these challenging ideas in mind?

Transfer is an essential characteristic of strategic writers–the ability to adapt a strategy for the writing task at hand, even knowing when to use a strategy. Many students see what they do in one class as stuck within those classroom walls. Or strategies they use on one writing task as attached (somehow) to that writing product.

  • How do we help students learn to think about writing from a strategic perspective?
  • Besides just telling about a strategy (declarative), procedural knowledge is essential to students’ acquisition of strategies. What are some of the challenges with implementing procedural strategy learning in your classroom?
  • What are some of the writing contexts your students write in? How can you weave strategies into those existing contexts? And how can you allow the social context to enhance writing in your classroom without losing students totally to the “social”?
  • During your next writing unit, identify a place you can insert modeling for your students of how to use a strategy.
  • Write some reflection questions you can use with a polished piece of writing your students will complete in the next term. Make sure the questions not only look back (at what they did) but also look forward (to when they can use the strategies again).


Here’s a link to a sample chapter from Strategic Writing that could extend your thinking about writing strategies