Put the student in control of their point of view (perspective) so they can value their voice but also follow a well-developed writing process that involves a sloppy copy, an outline (organizational structure), an initial draft, and a final draft. But no author has succeeded without revising their initial draft, which is where feedback is critical.
Sloppy Copy- The Beginning of the Writing Process
The writing process can begin with a sloppy copy. This copy is a draft that you should think of as ideas to consider, but not quite an outline or even any structure. A sloppy copy does not need to be as structured as an outline, which would be the next step. Instead, a sloppy copy focuses on the student’s point of view. Here are some important questions to ask a student when they begin their sloppy copy:
What is important to you?
What information do you want to include?
How can you develop your point of view for the reader?
One of the best ways to start a sloppy copy is to use a ‘free writing’ strategy: https://writingprocess.mit.edu/process/step-1-generate-ideas/instructions/freewriting.
Students write as much as they can, quickly and without reservation. When changes occur in the topic, they make a line break and continue writing. Students should not ‘mentally edit’ their writing or be critical of their content. They need not even be organized but can jump across topics (separating them for now but in the next [outline] phase, return to them and group them). Students should not worry about conventions (but be sure to auto-check their spelling and conventions). An important caveat is that students should write in complete sentences; their content and sequence are free to vary and wander.
Crafting a Solid Outline
Once you finish the sloppy copy, you can turn it into an outline or organizational structure using the following strategies.
Develop the central topics so they are equally important and address sufficient content. Consider at least two and no more than five topics. These main (most important) topics can even be used as headings (phrases placed alone on a line and the text starting a new paragraph below).
Place these headings above the grouped topics (think of a phrase that captures what they have in common. Later, you can remove them if they appear too structured.
Within these topics, consider sub-topics or subheadings (you need at least two for any given topic). Again, these subtopics/subheadings should be parallel in importance within the topic.
Arrange the topics in an orderly manner using one of several possibilities: cause-effect (with argumentative discourse), chronology (time) with historical summaries, compare-contrast with narrative discourse, event progression, etc. This step focuses on the sequence of topics and, eventually, their depth.
Consider writing an opening and a concluding topic that are parallel. Note: It is important to not write the opening paragraph until the end of this writing process, but in the outline, tentatively place the topic/structure it up front and know that it might (likely) change.
From Outline to Draft
Now, begin a draft essay with a preview and an opening paragraph about the main topics. Use some words from the most important topics. It is best not to list them in order but to thread them together with some reason for their selection and relations. This is a good time for teachers to provide feedback to students and guide them on the next steps from this draft essay. This feedback should be positive, critiquing comments about the topics covered, their depth, and the relations among them. The feedback can include comments like “This is a great set of topics; in your revision, provide more detail in each of them.” A shortcut in the feedback library can be made with the phrase ‘detail.’ Or a comment can be made that “the sequence of topics should be adjusted so that a more natural progression is used” with the shortcut label ‘sequence.’
Final Essay- Wrap Up the Writing Process
At this point, the student can write a final draft, incorporating teacher feedback. Because students make most traditional revisions as responses to comments and track changes with MS Word®, it is often difficult to track them with successive revisions. In WRN, you can activate revisions from the Settings menu. The program files a revised draft as a separate tab that teachers can compare without all the comments. Teachers can continue providing feedback and request Revision Submit (if activated in Settings), Final Submit, or Final Submit & Next (student in the roster) to grade the entire class efficiently.
Conclusion: Use WRN to activate the writing process, a tried-and-true strategy used for the past 50 years since the early Berkely (Bay Area) Writing Project in the 1970s and continues today (https://bawp.berkeley.edu/home).
Structure this writing process to value students’ points of view in generating a sloppy copy. Let students ‘free write’ to express their point of view, so it reflects what is important to them. Please encourage them to include (to excess) information they think is important. It is much easier to delete topics than invent them, so keep any and all topics, removing them in the next phase if they can’t be grouped.
Students should develop an outline or structure, grouping the topics, sequencing them into an order that tells a ‘story,’ and perhaps even labeling these groups with a heading (which can later be removed to provide a more natural flow).
This outline can then serve as the basis for writing a draft essay, and then you can provide feedback, and they can make revisions.
Finally, have students complete a final essay, encouraging them to sequence the topics and address language conventions properly.
One More Thing
Finally, be aware that authors and writing experts may use slightly different terms to describe these steps, but the gist is the same. The best way to get students proficient in writing is to write, which starts at the beginning. Taking notes from other sources is not writing: It is taking notes that may be useful for incorporation into a written essay. Reading is not writing but can be an important adjunct to writing and serve as a resource. Listening to teachers is not writing, but it may be an important precursor to help students begin writing. And this sequence starts with a sloppy copy by free writing, shifts the topics into a sequence with an outline (and sets the stage using transition strategies), assembles the content into a draft essay, and finally ends up as a final essay.