Helping Students Become Active Thinkers, Part 2

Last week, Tim Hargis wrote about four areas of focus to help students become active thinkers and independent writers. He described purpose and craft in detail.  In part 2, he will go over the final two focus areas: genre and text structure and content.  To learn more about this subject, register for The Writing Diner 2: Creating Active Thinkers for Common Core Success (Elementary & Middle School) on August 6th at Kent ISD.

A Focus on Genre and Text Structures

Teaching the three different types of writing through genre and text structure units is another way to up the level of thinking for student writers. If students have to grapple with working the basic components of opinion writing into a piece while they are doing a unit on the genre of reviews, as an example, and then again doing the same thing with a unit on persuasive speeches, and later on in the year with a unit on commercial writing, it will help them, in the long run, to more fluidly think like an opinion writer when that is called for in their work.

While I would not do an entire year that is solely genre unit followed by genre unit because of the negative impact that has on student choice as writers, I would work several genre units, or text structure units, into my year of writing instruction because of the positive benefits they bring when it comes to growing active thinkers while writing.writing thinking student kent  ISD

A Focus on Connecting to Content

 A crucial step in our instruction when it comes to creating independent writers is to connect what students are learning during writing time to what they are learning during their content time, primarily with their science and social studies work. I am not talking about simultaneously teaching something new with writing while learning new content. Instead, I imagine teaching a unit during writing time and then applying that new writing knowledge down the road a bit in science or social studies class. Here’s a simple example.

Let’s say it is early October, and you are doing a mini-unit on informative writing during your writing block. During this unit, you get students to understand the purpose and the basics of informative writing. You teach them a variety of non-fiction text features and work with them to implement those features in their writing. Students work during this mini-unit on writing informational books. They choose their own topics, topics that are interesting to them and that they know a lot about. All of their cognitive energy is focused on discovering what it means to live like an informative writer. They turn in their best piece at the end of the mini-unit to show what they have learned.

Then, a few weeks later, in social studies class, you ask the students to write an informational book to show what they have learned during your study of the Native Americans of West Michigan. You are not going to re-teach them how to write informational books. You’ve done that already during writing time. Instead, students should apply what they know about informational writing as a way to represent what they have learned about Native Americans.

This is powerful when it comes to creating young, active thinkers. Consider what the students in this example have to do. They need to synthesize and evaluate all that they know and have learned about informational writing. They need to synthesize and evaluate all that they have learned about the Native Americans of West Michigan. They have to, then, combine the two in order to create a book. That is active thinking!

Weaving the connection of writing and content throughout the year for all three types of writing is a critical step in getting students to independence as writers.

It’s All About Thinking

thinkingSo, those are four areas of focus to help students become active thinkers while writing. Each has its own merit and can be effective on its own. However, if we envision a year of writing instruction, and better yet, several years of writing instruction, where these four areas of focus are connected, we can truly move our students forward when it comes to helping them be active thinkers while writing. This is what it will take for them to meet the demands of The Common Core. It is what it will take to help them demonstrate independence in order to be ready for college and career.

Tim Hargis will be leading  a professional development session at Kent ISD this summer! Click HERE to learn more about his presentation and to register.

Tim Hargis


Tim Hargis is an academic support coach for the Kentwood Public Schools as well as an independent literacy consultant. He is the author of two books on teaching writing, The Writing Diner: Creating Active Thinkers in the Writing Classroom and The Writing Diner 2: Creating Active Thinkers for All Types of Writing as well as the children’s novel, Ol’ Man Caudill’s Hat. He has worked as a classroom teacher in the Grand Rapids Public Schools and as an adjunct professor of English at Grand Valley State University. Prior to teaching, Tim was a television news producer at WLWT-TV, the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati, Ohio. He holds degrees from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. Tim lives with his wife and two daughters in Grand Rapids. 

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