Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers: Let’s Integrate Technology!

Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers: Let’s Integrate Technology!

Teachers today, from kindergarten – 12th grade, are tasked with the job of teaching digital natives how to survive succeed in an ever-changing 21st century world. We must prepare our students to have successful careers in jobs that have not yet been invented.  So who prepares the teachers?

The Department of Education recently released a research-based practice guide for writing in elementary school. The practice guide, Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers, states:

This practice guide provides four recommendations for improving elementary students’ writing. Each recommendation includes implementation steps and solutions for common roadblocks. The recommendations also summarize and rate supporting evidence. This guide is geared toward teachers, literacy coaches, and other educators who want to improve the writing of their elementary students.

It is structured around the 4 recommendations listed below:

1. Provide daily time for students to write.

“The panel recommends a minimum of one hour a day devoted to writing for students, beginning in first grade. The hour should include at least 30 minutes dedicated to teaching a variety of writing strategies, techniques, and skills appropriate to students’ levels, as detailed in Recommendations 2, 3, and 4 of this guide. The remaining 30 minutes should be spent on writing practice, where students apply the skills they learned from writing-skills instruction. For students in kindergarten, at least 30 minutes each day should be devoted to writing and developing writing skills. “

2. Teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes.

“Because writing is a complex process, the steps needed to carry out this recommendation are numerous. For that reason, the individual how-to steps are separated into two sections. Recommendation 2a discusses teaching students how to apply the writing process; Recommendation 2b addresses teaching students to write for a variety of purposes.”

3. Teach students to become fluent with handwriting, spelling, sentence construction, typing, and word processing.

Handwriting, spelling, and sentence construction are all basic writing skills that students must draw upon to translate their thoughts and ideas into writing. Students also draw on typing and word processing skills when composing electronically. Students should be introduced to typing in 1st grade. By 2nd grade, students should begin regular typing practice. By the end of 2nd or 3rd grade, students should be able to type as fast as they can write by hand.”

4. Create an engaged community of writers.

Teachers should model how the ability to write affects their daily lives, demonstrate the importance of writing to communicate, model the perseverance required to create a good piece of writing, and express the satisfaction that can come from creating a meaningful text.109 

Teachers should provide opportunities for student choice in writing assignments—for example, choice in selecting writing topics or the freedom to modify a teacher-selected prompt.110
Teachers can encourage students to collaborate throughout the writing process by brain- storming ideas about a topic, responding to drafts in a writing group, or helping peers edit or revise their work.11

(Students should) share their writing and respond to written and verbal feedback from the teacher and their peers.114
Students may begin to see themselves as writers if they have opportunities to publish their writing.116 ”

Although the writing recommendations in this guide are solid instructional practices, there needs to be a clearer connection to technology integration that shows teachers how to use it in a transformative way.

The practice guide says, “The panel believes that integrating the use of technology into writing instruction is critically important. For this reason, examples of how to do so are included in “technology tip” call-out boxes in this guide.” However, the technology tips fall woefully short of giving teachers useful and practical tech integration advice.  If their new practice guide had that missing piece, it would have the potential to lay the foundation for teachers to truly transform their classrooms into 21st century learning environments.

we expect teachers to reach unattainable goals

Luckily, teachers have always banded together to support each other by collaborating on how to fill in the missing pieces that we are often left with in education. When I began writing this post, it was my intention to start matching the recommendations given with digital media so that teachers had a place to start with truly integrating technology in meaningful ways. But I recently found a new tool which educators can use as a forum for collaborating on the topic of how to transform classrooms into 21st century learning environments using digital media.

 Graphite™ is a free service from nonprofit Common Sense Media designed to help preK-12 educators discover, use, and share the best apps, games, websites, and digital curricula for their students by providing unbiased, rigorous ratings and practical insights from an active community of teachers.


(From Graphite’s ‘About Us’ Page)

Common Sense Media is the largest, independent nonprofit organization committed to helping kids, teachers, and families manage media and technology in life and learning. Our technology education curriculum is being used in more than 55,000 schools across the U.S.

Graphite was built by teachers for teachers. Our team of professional educators –- early childhood development experts, doctorates in education, and teachers with hands-on classroom experience –- rates each website, game, and app on Graphite based on our detailed rubric. Every product on Graphite is rigorously reviewed to dig deeper into what and how your students will learn with it. See more about How We Rate and Review.

We are working to help you cut through the clutter of websites, games, and apps that might be great for you and your students, if only you had the time to discover and evaluate them. Graphite’s dynamic community (and we really hope you’ll join us!) is sharing personal reviews and Field Notes about how to use specific learning products in the classroom.

We hope you’ll find new digital tools to use in your classroom and share them with colleagues and students. Get started today by creating your profile and contributing your Field Notes. Together we can build something that helps all students learn in new and lasting ways.


I was so impressed with this comprehensive resource that I became a Common Sense Media Certified Educator (which you can become too and earn a few free perks!). I love the way that graphite focuses on the things that are most important to me as a teacher and lays it out in a quick and easy to view format. At one glance I can see the pedagogy rating from the Common Sense Media reviewers who spent time evaluating each program in depth through an educational lens. It shows practical information such as price and age range, the pros AND cons of using the program in the classroom, and then teachers share their own rating through field notes and share how they use it in their classrooms. Because graphite is a non-profit organization, there is no slant on the review of any products. It is truly based on the experience and opinions of the reviewers. Teachers opinions are highly valued on this site, so the ideas and opinions are based on practical classroom use. They’ve just recently launched the Common Core Explorer, which uses intuitive filters to help you align the best digital products with the Common Core State Standards. This makes it even easier to find exactly what you are looking for.


Good luck transforming your classroom into a 21st century learning environment!

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