Elementary Writing Assignments

Writing Lessons and
Activities for Every Grade

* W.R.I.T.E. =
Write, Revise, Inform, Think, and Edit

How do you help your students overcome their fear of the blank page? How can you make writing an exercise in personal expression, not drudgery? One key to better writing is better writing assignments -- and the Internet has them. Let's tour a few of the finest writing activities that the Web has to offer.


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Ray Saitz, a teacher/librarian and facilitator of information technology at Clarke High School in Newcastle, Ontario, put his 15 years of English teaching experience to work in creating a haven of resources for educators like himself.

He is becoming a "wired librarian," and his Web site, Outta Ray's Head, is his niche and offering to the educational community at large.

"Essentially, I became frustrated at finding endless ideas on the Internet but no lessons with tips on evaluation and with original handouts for the class," Saitz told Education World. "Most of the sites that I came across were mainly elementary, and I wanted secondary school lessons."

Several terrific tried-and-true Writing Lessons are featured on the site. Saitz explained that two of his favorite and most successful activities are The Biography Assignment and Review of Anything.

In the biography activity, students work in groups of four to create six good interview questions. Each student conducts an interview with a partner and then the two exchange roles. Their grade is determined by their performance in creating interview questions, writing the biography of their partner, and designing a cover for a book or a magazine article based on the interview.

The review writing lesson involves studying and creating a review of any object, person, or thing other than a book or a film. Students combine the characteristics of the informal essay and the review to write and share an oral presentation that has a thesis and incorporates techniques presented during class.

Another activity that hasn't yet made it to the pages of Saitz's site has students writing the end to a short story. "The gist of the lesson is to take a murder/mystery/suspense short story of about two or three pages and copy it," he explained, "but omit the final important last paragraph. You can make up some story about how the story was discovered in an old trunk and the end was rotted off. Read the story with the lights out and make a big deal of acting it up to build suspense. Just when it nearly ends, stop and ask the students to complete the ending using the same style as the writer.

"The students all write pages and pages," added Saitz, "and then a few days later, you can come into the class with the original ending. I say it was found just that day and was in the newspaper. Then they compare their endings to the author's."

Saitz hopes that his site and its lessons provide a resource of ideas that will help teachers extend their repertoire. "I think that I learned the most when I was a student teacher and I saw other teachers teaching," he said. "When we graduate and start teaching, we can stop growing and learning. I hope that the lessons on the site help other teachers realize new possibilities or open new avenues of discovery."

These writing lessons and activities will allow the young authors in your classroom to shine!

Paragraph Writing. Many elementary teachers lose heart as they read short, choppy paragraphs from their students that contain little variation in sentence structure. Successful Paragraphs is a lesson plan with a unique approach to improving student writing. Students list three material things they wish for, three happenings that would make them happy, and three places they would like to visit. They follow a specific pattern to create a paragraph that tells what it would be like for them to enjoy all those things. Using the template helps them see how variation in structure makes for more interesting reading!

Terrific Topics. Often the most difficult part of writing is getting started, and this problem is frequently related to the quest for the perfect topic. A good topic is the well from which ideas flow, so it needs to be plenty deep! If you too are having difficulty coming up with assignments that will bring forth the wonderful stories your students have to tell, visit Writing Topics. This page, from the Write Source, suggests several topics for papers your students will love to write, and all grade levels are addressed. Be sure to bookmark or print this resource from The Write Source, a development house of educational materials.

Story Boxes. Creativity and language flourish in Story Boxes, an activity included on the Pizzaz Web site. You can collect objects for the story boxes, or you can have your students fill the boxes with objects and words written on pieces of paper or sticks. As the students draw objects from the box, a story unfolds. Use the plan as an oral storytelling activity or a written composition. This is not the only excellent lesson in the collection, so visit the homepage for more gems. Best of all, permission to print and copy the handouts is granted for classroom use!

Free Activities. Each month, Zaner-Bloser: Writing offers new, free activities on-line for use with students in grades 3 and up. The activities may be printed and shared with students to exercise their writing skills. A recent issue of activities addressed descriptive writing. Don't miss this opportunity to glean a few excellent handouts and ideas from these experts in the field.

More Free Activities.Scholastic.com: Writing also provides free activities to download and print. (To access these documents, you will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.) Some activities take a few minutes to load, but they are worth the wait. Sample activities include two types of stationery for student letters and a handout that encourages students to contemplate and write about their plans for the future.

Pop-Up Cards. There is an art to writing a good greeting card and an art to making it pleasing to the eye and unusual. Pop-up cards are definitely unique! Your students will be amazed when they follow the card-making directions at How to Make a Pop-Up from Joan Irvine: the Pop-Up Lady. When the work is complete, your students will have a lovely pop-up animal card that is ready for their own special sentimental touch -- the right verse!

Heroic Efforts. Have you noticed that in all epic tales -- Great Expectations, The Odyssey, Star Wars -- there seems to be a prevailing pattern in the story? This site explores the progression of the hero throughout these tales based on observations contained in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. Visitors to The Hero's Journey can examine the steps in a hero's story and read examples from ancient stories or present-day movies that illustrate the concepts. As a final project, students can follow the guidelines of the site to create their own hero stories in this pattern.

Essay Writing. What could be easier than writing a simple essay? Writing one with assistance from the Guide to Writing a Basic Essay! This site takes students through choosing a topic, organizing ideas, composing a thesis, writing the body of the paper, creating an introduction and a conclusion, and adding the finishing touches. With this on-line guide, there is no excuse for a poorly constructed essay.

Writing Worksheets. High-school English teachers have been waiting for a source like this! At OWL Handouts, the Purdue University Online Writing Lab has collected and published handouts for students that address everything from writing research papers to spelling and punctuation. Choose from an extensive group of straightforward guides to complement writing assignments in your classroom. Your students will thank you!

Teach your students to create great friendly letters and give them a reason to learn how! First, introduce the topic of the friendly letter and compare it to the business letter with the examples at Letter Formats. Next, have your students make their own stationery or print one of the cute selections at Friendly Stationery from Jan Brett.

You might have your students write to famous authors, political figures, or even celebrities. You'll find addresses for many well-known actors, actresses, and musical performers online. (Do a Google search for "celebrity addresses." You'll want to supervise student selections if you allow them to use this site.) Add an element of fun by calling the assignment "Dear John Letters" and having the students write to famous people who have John as a part of their names. Don't forget Elton John, Olivia Newton-John, and Pope John Paul II!

Is a business letter more what you had in mind? Then Parts of a Business Letter will help you prepare your students for the business world. Give your students some pointers in writing business communications, and then have them write letters to organizations. They could write to support the efforts of a charity or to complain about a problem with a product or a service. You might even have them write to an address in the book Free Stuff for Kids (published by Meadowbrook Press) and request free materials.

Anyone who writes knows how daunting the empty page can be! Graphic organizers help students overcome the blank sheet and help them put their thoughts in a logical order.

Kathy Baxter and David Leahy of Greenway Elementary School in Beaverton, Oregon, created graphic organizers and placed them on the school Web site for all to see. Setting and Events are designed to be used in writing personal narratives, and Persuasive helps students create persuasive pieces by forcing them to state an opinion, support it with three points, give examples, and summarize their belief in a conclusion.

Writing Plans from The Teacher's Desk
Put one of these great writing activities to good use in your classroom. Choices include a list of assignments for fifth- and sixth-grade students to write a paragraph a week for two years!

A+ Research and Writing for High School and College Students
Designed for upper-level students, this guide helps kids write research papers without going nuts! The site explains how to write a research paper, tells how to locate information on the Internet, and advises students about what material is best found in the library, not on the Web.

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Last updated 08/04/2011


When students score their own work using elementary writing rubrics, they deepen their understanding of the writing process and increase their confidence as authors.

From a teacher’s perspective, there is a rubric available for nearly any scoring scenario, either online or through your state or district. The most effective approach, however, is to enable children to score their own writing using a kid-friendly approach.

Why? In order to become better writers, children must learn to evaluate their own work.

Video tips: using a writing rubric with students

Using a Writing Rubric with Students

Writing rubrics step-by-step

Using all parts of an elementary writing rubric when self-scoring can be very overwhelming to students. There are so many things to assess:

  • content
  • organization
  • style
  • spelling
  • grammar
  • conventions (punctuation)

And grammar alone can include eight different sub-areas! So focus is important.

I have children score all the same items that I score when they produce a final piece of writing. But this is not an approach to take for every piece of practice work because it is very involved.

So we use the full rubric, but break it up and focus on one part at a time during most writing sessions.

NOTE: This is a lot of work, but then teaching writing is a lot of work!

Step-by-step through self-scoring

Before students begin scoring their own personal work using an elementary writing rubric, it is best to have them practice scoring other work. The most effective approach is to put an example of writing up on the screen, then explain the criteria you are focusing on and score the piece together.

Using anchor papers

You can start your scoring practice by spending time with anchor papers. These are pieces of text that have already been scored. They facilitate a discussion with the children about why they were graded a certain way.

These are often provided by either your state or district, or you can find them online for different writing standards.

Step 1: define the scoring focus

The first step in the process is to explain the scoring focus for the day in language that the children can understand. For example:

“Today we are going to look at how well the author focused his writing. Did he stay on topic and use amazing details that help explain his ideas? Or did the author wander all over, never really getting to the point?”

Step 2: score as a group

The second step in the process is to look at student writing samples together and score them as a class by applying the scoring focus.

Sometimes we do this as a whole group in front of the Smart board where we read together, discuss and mark up the text. Other times I hand out copies for students to read and mark up, then we come together to share and mark up on the Smart board.

Step 3: partner scoring

The final step is for the students to look at their own work and score it. This is most effectively done with a partner. Both kids look at one writer's work and apply the elementary writing rubric, then switch roles.

Video tips: student self-scoring process

Student Self-Scoring Tips

Making it work in your classroom

The key to effective student scoring is to emphasize that the kids must look for evidence in the text to support their scoring of their partner. This can be managed through the use of a peer feedback form. Something like this:

This form guides the students in explaining two things that the other person did well, and two questions that the scoring student has about the piece of work that their partner completed.

Why questions?

In my experience it is not effective to have students simply outline things that should be improved. First of all, you will always have some great writers who simply score perfectly and can’t really improve upon their work.

Secondly, it puts the children in the position of being critical and in the position of being criticized, which is a great way to shut down their willingness to participate.

It is much more effective for a child to simply come up with questions that the piece of writing generates in her mind. Students might ask why the author made certain style choices or a student may be confused about the topic and will ask clarifying questions.

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Great questions make kids think

I have experienced students asking these great questions:

“Why did you keep saying ‘Did you know?'”

“Why didn't you use question marks?”

Both of these questions led the author to some needed revisions. Other great questions I have seen:

“How did you choose the topic?”

“Next time, I wonder if you could include more information about…”

An elementary writing rubric is a powerful tool for improving student skills. Used correctly in a self-scoring process, it will reinforce things they are doing right, and gently point out things to improve upon.

Effective teacher scoring and feedback

Rubrics are simply tools. As with any tool, it's very important to learn how to use them for greatest impact on student development in the language arts… and how they can provide specific student feedback.

When to score

I’m a strong believer in providing feedback on every piece of writing that my students complete in my classroom. Even student journals.

It's not necessary to actually score every piece of writing using a rubric, but it is very important for them to hear back from their teacher about the effort that they have put into the assignment.

Video tips: providing writing feedback

Providing Writing Feedback to Students

Never forget that writing is very difficult for all people — especially children — to master. So we want to take the time to reinforce what has been learned and gently correct that which needs more emphasis.

Having children put so much effort into an assignment as difficult as writing and then not giving them some kind of feedback will diminish their willingness to work on the topic in the future.

How to score

Writing is as difficult to grade as it is to produce. As noted above, writing rubrics are quite comprehensive, covering topics from punctuation and spelling through style and grammar.

Because of that, it is often necessary to read the same piece of writing several times, each time looking for a particular aspect and finding evidence in the text to support your assessment.

This is the reason why every single piece of writing really cannot be scored rigorously using a rubric. The “full effort” is usually reserved for unit assessments or benchmark writing assignments.

Working with a teaching partner

It can be much easier to apply elementary writing rubrics to student work if you arrange to work with another teacher. When each of you read the same piece of writing, it has a synergistic effect that allows you to provide more effective feedback to your students.

It's also motivating to work with another person with whom you can talk through particular difficulties you're having in deciding between one score or another.

And frankly, it lessens the drudgery of correcting large stacks of multi-page writing assignments!

Accepting critique – even implied critique

There's a reason why editors exist in this world, and that’s because people who are too close to the work (such as the teacher who taught the lesson) often overlook the details that are easily seen by someone who is reviewing it for the first time.

This is the reason why it is so effective for students to partner up and score each other's work.

So another benefit of partner scoring is that you become aware of how students are performing in other classrooms in the same grade level. If you see an overall trend of better performance in another room, then it’s time to set your pride aside and get more details about the techniques being used by your fellow teacher.

Providing writing feedback

Kids love to get notes from their teachers! My children scramble to get their assignments out of their mailboxes as soon as they have the chance. Why? Because I write engaging and personal notes on all of the work they turn in.

It’s extremely motivating for them.

Teacher notes on writing assignments should not read like text from the rubric you used. Instead, they should be provided in kid-friendly language and be factual and encouraging.

Take a look at the examples I provide on this page.


Sometimes, even our very best students need to be encouraged to work harder. If you do see a distinct lack of effort on a writing assignment, then it is time to leave a note that you know a particular student can work harder.

I’ve had these written conversations with some of my highest performing kids through the years, and it always makes a big – and very necessary – impact.

Elementary writing rubrics have great power to create talented authors in our classrooms. The trick is in how we apply them. With care and attention to detail, they become tremendous tools for effective feedback to our elementary students.

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