4 Ways to Warm Up Students for ELA Writing Assessments
When it comes to writing assignments, some students have a tendency to freeze up. It can be intimidating, right? They’re faced with a blank space of countless ruled lines, hearts pounding under the weighty expectation to produce a masterpiece.
For students with this kind of anxiety, you can imagine that ELA writing assessments can be especially worrisome. For English language learners (ELLs) or students with disabilities, writing can be even more stressful. But when you prepare them for the writing tasks they’ll see on test day, they’ll be more relaxed and can let their skills shine.
1. Familiarize students with the test
Make sure that students are prepared for the format and structure of the test by providing them with plenty of opportunities for practice as well as explicit instruction for test-taking strategies. The types of questions on standardized tests vary from state to state. Your test may have short-response, extended-response questions, and even essay writing. Help students become confident with the types of questions they’ll face and be sure to model the types of responses that are expected for each in your lessons, homework, and assessments.
You can also help your students become more confident for test day by providing them with regular timed writing practice. By choosing engaging prompts, students will be able to see timed writing as a fun challenge rather than an overwhelming task. You can even use the prompts as a formative assessment, before or after your lessons, to help guide your instruction.
2. Keep it going with close reading
Strong close reading strategies are necessary for successful test-day writing. Oftentimes, students will be asked to find textual evidence to support their thinking, such as “use two examples from the article to explain your answer.” Extra attention to building close reading strategies will pay off for your students on their ELA writing assessments.
- If your ELA writing assessment is a timed test, students may feel pressured and resort to skimming the text quickly without deeper reading. Show them how to apply their close reading strategies with time in mind.
- Annotate the text as you read. Number the paragraphs, highlight or star important details, or + or – the facts with which you agree or disagree.
- Underline/circle key points of the task. What are you being asked to do? Should you describe a character trait or summarize the problem/solution? How many examples are you asked to use?
3. Refresh the writing process
It’s important for students to follow the sequenced steps in the writing process in all of their work, from classroom assignments to test day. As you’re practicing for ELA writing assessments, here are some tips for these three stages:
This step is a must. You know this to be true, but young writers often overlook it, as they want to jump quickly into the drafting process. But prewriting is necessary to organize thoughts and decide on a main idea and supporting points.
Planning does require some time and thought, but completing this stage allows students to execute more confidently. Prewriting must be accelerated in test writing, but the basic premise remains: When students put thought into the content and organization of their writing, they write better material.
In classroom assignments, a first draft and final rewrite are done on separate pieces of paper, but this is not possible during testing. Young writers must edit and rewrite in the same space. Some guidance you can give students for the drafting phase include:
- Write with plenty of space between words so that legible changes can be made.
- Write as clearly as possible so you can read your own writing during proofreading.
- Using proper spelling and complete sentences from the beginning will make revising easier.
Remind students that putting too much time in their writing can be as problematic as putting in too little time.
Encourage students to spend the last 5–10 minutes of the test on revisions. You’ve most likely taught your students to give themselves a long break between drafting and revising, but that is not possible during their assessments. Instead, encourage your students to stretch their arms or open and shut their eyes several times before moving on to the editing stage. Much of their focus should be put on ensuring that they have addressed the topic and provided the proper support for their main ideas.
They should also look for:
- the flow of ideas
- strong sentences
- wise word choices
4. Build a love for writing
The more comfortable kids are with writing—in and out the classroom—the better equipped they’ll be for their ELA writing assessments.
A journal can be used as a tool to inspire writers, either with prompts or without. An open-ended journal can be used differently by each student. One student may use it for creative writing. Another may fill her notebook with drawings. Another may jot down ideas for future experiments.
Writing is a tool, not a subject, so students should use it to explore any subject they are excited about. Their writer’s notebooks should begin to feel like an extension of themselves and always be within reach as they observe and collect their experiences. Everyone can be a writer because everyone has a story to tell.
Additionally, create opportunities for students to share and evaluate their writing assignments with each other. Peer review during the writing process can be a welcome (and fun) break for kids. It can also offer new perspectives versus what they see in a typical teacher evaluation. Not to mention, it takes the pressure off you to “grade” all their writing.
By using strategies to prepare your students for writing assessments, you will build their test-day confidence.
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