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Shared Writing in the Upper Elementary Classroom by Jackie Higgins

Shared writing was a practice I used frequently in my former first-grade classroom. Gathering my first graders on the rug near the easel, I scribed my students’ thoughts on chart paper as we shared the task of writing.

Currently, I’m a reading specialist in 3rd-5th grades. You might not expect to see shared writing in my classroom, but I’ve found it to be valuable with learners of all ages.

Improving Writing Fluency

In first grade, one purpose for shared writing is to build writing fluency.

First graders have a lot to say. When the teacher scribes the students' message, the students' ideas can flow freely without them having to stop and think about spelling or grammar.

In upper elementary grades, shared writing can be useful for building writing fluency as well.

Have you ever walked by a student who just can't get ideas down on paper? Shared writing can be a tool to get those ideas flowing!

Steps for using shared writing to teach writing craft:

  1. Identify the students who need help getting started.

  2. Pull those students in a small group and talk about a topic.

  3. Co-construct a message. The students provide the text orally while the teacher scribes.

  4. Frequently re-read the writing aloud to keep ideas flowing.

  5. Provide students with copies of the text. The students are creating their own mentor text!

Teaching Writing Craft

In primary grades, I often used shared writing to demonstrate foundational writing skills like directionality, spacing, or punctuation.

In upper elementary grades, shared writing can be used to demonstrate writing skills or craft.

Recently, I had a third-grade student who was writing an opinion piece. In her writing, she identified a problem and offered a solution. During a writing conference, we used shared writing to grow her writing beyond simply stating a problem and a solution.

Using shared writing to teach writing craft:

  1. Identify a goal for the writer. My student’s goal was to add several examples to get readers to agree with her opinion.

  2. Meet with the child for a writing conference.

  3. Model the craft move. I began with a simple chart of how writers elaborate. Writers sometimes include a personal story, provide a quote from a reputable source, or give an example.

  4. Have the student provide the text orally while you scribe. My student decided to add a personal story as an example. I scribed her brief story, and she decided where to add it in her opinion piece.

  5. Guide the student to use the shared writing as a mentor text to continue working toward the goal.

  6. Leave the child with a visual reminder to continue using the skill that you worked on together. A reminder can be something as simple as placing a sticky note over the part you added together and labeling the craft move. I left my student with a sticky note that said “add an example, story, or quote.”

Bridge the Virtual Gap with Shared Writing

Shared writing also works great in virtual learning! You can compose with students on any video conferencing platform.

Shared writing can be digital or on paper. For digital shared writing, all you need is a blank document. Share your screen and type the shared writing on the document. You can easily share this document with your student at the end of the lesson.

You can also use an easel to write together on paper. Make sure you position your easel in an area where the child has a clear view with no glare. Though the text may appear backward on the teacher's computer screen, the student will see the words the correct way. After you compose together, take a picture of the writing and send it to the child electronically.

Revisiting shared writing in the upper elementary grades can increase writing fluency and craft. Let’s bring this gem into the upper elementary grades and give these students the benefit of this powerful practice, too!


Jackie Higgins is a reading specialist in St. Louis, MO. She loves reading, writing, and book shopping for her students and her two sons. She blogs at Create a Literate Classroom and tweets at @bookblogmomma.

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