Writing

Create a Writing Curriculum of Mini-Units

Posted on August 13, 2018

Create a Writing Curriculum of Mini-Units

Posted on August 13, 2018

Create a Writing Curriculum of Mini-Units

Question: What should I consider when planning my writing curriculum?

Answer: Writing curriculums must include units that teach persuasive/argumentative, informative, and narrative writing. However, the individual teacher determines how the units are structured throughout the year.

Many teachers execute an all-inclusive unit that starts with lots of instruction and, several weeks later, ends with a single final-draft product. Although this is the traditional approach to planning writing curriculum, there are other options.

If the method described above is considered a "mother lode" approach, consider the possibility of executing "mini-units." This utilizes a spiral-instruction approach where students experience a particular type of writing in multiple, smaller doses. In the first "mini-unit," they may learn a couple of writing skills and then create a first-draft product. Then, a little later in the school year, they review those skills, learn another one or two, and generate another new first draft.

This cumulative approach to teaching writing breaks the single "mother lode" unit into several smaller mini-units that are spread across the school year. There are several advantages to this method of planning.

1. Experience variety.
During a single, all-inclusive writing unit that happens at one time during the year, teachers often feel pressured to teach everything. This takes time--lots of mini-lesson time. Then, each of these "mother lode" units tends to end with a "mother lode" product, meaning students spend many days engaged in the writing process. This takes more time. Such units can drag on--even longer than the teacher may have planned.

However, with shorter, spiraled mini-units, students experience the three major writing modes all year long, providing numerous opportunities to review and clarify the qualities and characteristics of each type.

Although there are advantages to immersing in one unit, this frequent shifting of writing experiences is authentic. In the real world, individuals write for different purposes, to different audiences, about different topics, and in different formats daily! Students should feel this variety within the writing curriculum.

2. Gain second chances.
When students experience each type of writing only once a year, it's no surprise that they act like they've never done that style before. In reality, they likely haven't engaged such a piece since last school year.

However, when a unit is spread across the year, teachers honor developmental readiness in their students. The cumulative approach of mini-units offers students multiple chances to hear, learn, absorb, and master a writing skill. Here's how it works.

  • MINI-UNIT #1: Teach 2 skills and assign students to write a short first-draft-only product.
  • MINI-UNIT #2: Review the previously taught skills. Teach 2 more. Assign students to write a new first draft on a different topic, assessing for all 4 skills.
  • MINI-UNIT #3: Review the previously taught skills. Teach 1 more. Assign students to write a new first draft on a different topic, assessing for all 5 skills.
  • ADDITIONAL MINI-UNITS: Continue this process until all unit skills have been taught.

Although students are learning new skills all year, those taught earlier are becoming easier. These second, third, and fourth products provide students more practice with a particular genre.

Notice that the products students create at the end of most mini-units are not final drafts--nor are they long first drafts. Most traditional writing units span multiple weeks because teachers assume each one must culminate with a polished final product. This requires a lot of class time spent on the various steps of the writing process (e.g., drafting, peer-revising, teacher conferring, peer-editing, publishing, etc.).

In contrast, as writing genres are revisited throughout the year, students' skills are developing and so is their automaticity. Therefore, they can crank out longer products in the same amount of time and with more independence.

3. Build Confidence
As each type of writing reappears throughout the year, students' knowledge is deepening. They learn what a "good" one looks like, what characteristics it should include, what facets to focus on, etc. This self-confidence is not the byproduct many teachers observe within the "mother lode" approach.

Often students lack understanding and feel overwhelmed by the writing assignment. They may even seek constant teacher approval before moving on. Is this good? Did I do this right? Now what do I do? This results in the teacher hand-holding students throughout the writing process telling them what to do step-by-step.

The spiral approach of mini-units offers students multiple experiences with each genre. This increases their writing skills and their writer confidence.

In order for students to be strong in all three types of writing by the end of the year, make a plan to teach mini-units, rather than mother lodes this year.