Encourage Quality Writing From Students Using Relevant Topics

Encourage Quality Writing From Students Using Relevant Topics

 Help Students Produce Higher Quality Writing with paired reading passages 5th grade

After 15 years in the classroom, I have found that using relevant or trendy topics as a springboard for writing really helps to motivate my students, especially my most reluctant writers. Here is the basic formula that works for me:


What is my best advice for motivating student writers?

Assign trendy and interesting topics that real kids actually want to write about!

Of course, teachers know that a fascinating topic and an article to go with it will only take kids so far. Quality teaching of writing is also required for students to produce quality writing!

Teacher techniques to increase the quality of student writing

#1  Assign On-Demand Writing

Teachers all know that time is a precious resource in the classroom- and writing takes time…sometimes a LOT of time! While there is merit in working on a particular written draft over several sessions, it is also beneficial for students to write on-demand in only one or two shorter sessions.  On-demand writing requires students to produce an essay on an assigned topic in a given short time frame.

Much of my writing time includes the use of on-demand writing assignments. I have found that these shorter, on-demand assignments give my students many more opportunities to write a variety of essays throughout the year. This type of writing is also more likely to be encountered on college entrance exams and even on standardized assessments. (During year-end testing, my state requires typed, on-demand essays beginning in 3rd grade!)



In today’s world, the fact of the matter is this: students need to become masterful at producing a well-written piece in a short amount of time. Most jobs that students will encounter in the future will require them to utilize this skill. On-demand assignments in the classroom allow for this kind of writing practice.

Click here to find out more about how I use paired texts to support on-demand writing.

#2  Plan for success

There are several foundational steps teachers can take to support and improve their students’ writing. Here are three major steps I use consistently:

  • Step 1: Have a plan  Look over the writing standards for your grade and map out exactly what students need to do to show proficiency. Start small and plan for students to build one skill upon another throughout the year. Take a peek at my teacher plan book to see an example of how I build upon students’ essay writing skills during the first half of the year.   


  • Step 2: Set expectations  Before assigning a topic to write about, preteach one or more skills you want students to use in their writing. As you teach, create and hang anchor charts showing the writing skills you’re emphasizing. Once you have assigned a topic to write about, remind students to reference the anchor charts as they construct their written responses. Below is an example of the anchor chart I display for students after I have taught a lesson on the power paragraph in September.


 Read our blog post about the effective use of classroom anchor charts.

Teacher tip! You’re not looking forward to grading and marking all those essays? Save yourself precious time! Only evaluate and provide feedback for those skills that you just taught or emphasized!

  • Step 3: Provide graphic organizers and checklists or rubrics  Use graphic organizers that are specifically tailored to match your grade-level writing standards. A well laid out graphic organizer is essential! It helps students keep their thinking organized while reminding them to include certain writing elements. Be sure to also have students evaluate their writing using a checklist or rubric that includes the same writing elements as the organizer. If nothing else- be consistent! Use the same writing organizer, checklist, and/or rubric all year long.


Read more about how I use writing organizers and checklists with my students.

Teacher tip! Train your students to assess themselves (or other students) against the checklist or rubric before they turn their essays in. This gives them one more opportunity to add in any missing elements, and saves you from writing a bunch of ‘you forgot to include ___’ feedback notes when you’re grading!

#3  Speaking precedes writing

It is important to give students time to discuss their ideas with each other before they even pick up their pencils to write. While this technique benefits all students, I suggest that it is a critical step for some of my most reluctant writers!

I have learned from experience that talking out loud prior to the writing process helps every child. At the very least it gives peers an opportunity to suggest ideas to other students who are suffering from momentary writer’s block. But more importantly, it also helps students solidify their thinking, which often translates into stronger and more cohesive essays.

Are you wondering if kids will actually stay on topic when they’re chatting? I maintain that they absolutely will, if you’ve given them an engaging topic to discuss!

Learn some of our favorite classroom discussion strategies that are perfect to use prior to the writing process.

#4  Require evidence from the text

If students are supplied with a high-interest article on an engaging topic, it makes sense that they should use evidence from that text to back-up their written ideas. Citing or referencing textual evidence is required in most state’s writing standards, but asking for evidence also serves another purpose. It requires students to closely read and re-read the article in search of relevant facts, details, and examples that support their thinking. Students in my class gather evidence for their written essays as they take notes, highlight, or annotate and code the text.



Trendy topics, high-interest articles, and quality instruction have worked together as a motivating force for my students to produce higher quality writing. The students become so engaged with an interesting topic they don’t even realize how much academic work they’re actually doing! When students are having fun, performing well, and begging, “can we please do a lesson like this again?” it makes my teacher heart so happy. ~Tatum

We’ve done all the work for you! Grab our Engaging Topics Writing Bundle– complete with teaching instructions and a variety of differentiated articles, graphic organizers, and checklists. Now in a print  or digital format for your distance learning needs.




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