Writing is critical to every single subject. Even mathematics often calls for argumentation in written form, especially in disciplines such as statistics.
By placing a significantly higher emphasis on a variety of writing types, we can help address the challenges regarding student writing proficiency. This is especially important in the middle school years, when students are transitioning from the foundational skills they learned in elementary school to the deeper levels of thinking required in high school and beyond.
If you have a teaching degree, it’s likely you’ve already learned about or taught many of the following types of writing styles. Whether you’re familiar with all of them or need to brush up on several, there are guaranteed to be new approaches with which you’re not yet familiar. That’s the goal of this post: to give you the tools you need to maximize your students’ learning experience, writing skills and persuasive power.
A little time taken today can substantially improve the value of your writing exercises tomorrow, so read on!
The Most Common Types of Writing Styles
The most common types of writing styles differ from their intended purpose to their structure to the level of emotional appeal for which they call. Understanding how each of these categories contributes to each type of writing will help you teach students to express themselves more proficiently, as well as reach higher levels of proficiency on state and national tests.
Here are the five most common types of writing styles, a quick exploration of each and some new strategies for teaching them.
1. Narrative Writing
We Are Teachers defines narrative writing as “writing that is characterized by a main character in a setting who engages with a problem or event in a significant way. As writing instruction goes, narrative writing encompasses a lot: author’s purpose, tone, voice, structure, in addition to teaching sentence structure, organization, and word choice.”
You can assign students a wide variety of narrative writing assignments, from personal narrative to fiction to “fan fiction,” or stories that use main characters from books students love. For instance, a student could write a short story about one of Harry Potter’s untold side adventures.
As the above definition indicates, there are a number of elements required in good narrative writing. To weave together a compelling story, students must choose:
A theme, or the main “human” idea that they want to convey
A main character with a minimum number of well-defined personality traits
Side characters, if the length and complexity of the story allows (for instance, a narrative capstone project might have 2-3 secondary characters)
A setting or multiple settings in which the story takes place
A particular structure – the style in which they will tell their story – with the various narrative elements represented: dialogue, description, action
Literary elements, such as symbolism, simile and metaphor
Vocabulary words, depending on your desires and requirements as a teacher
Teaching students to weave all of these elements together will take time, which is why each lesson should cover no more than one of the above. As students check off each item, they can incorporate it with the ones above. Eventually, the result will be a well-fleshed-out story they can be proud to share with the class and their family.
2. Analytical Writing
Bloom’s Taxonomy, a friend to all teachers and critical pedagogical guide, lists analysis in the top half of the pyramid. That’s because the ability to look at a statement, argument, character or theme and decide whether or not it has merit – and why it does or does not – is a necessary skill in secondary school, college and career.
This ability requires first identifying and then dissecting the subject at hand, after which the student can offer an argument about its meaning and merit.That’s where analytical writing comes in.
As the Educational Testing Service explains about the GRE,
“The Analytical Writing measure tests your critical thinking and analytical writing skills. It assesses your ability to articulate and support complex ideas, construct and evaluate arguments, and sustain a focused and coherent discussion. It does not assess specific content knowledge.”
While one might assume that postgraduates taking entrance exams are at a significantly different learning point than middle schoolers (which they are), the similarities between the skills needed then and needed in 7th grade are nearly identical. In fact, having those skills in later life is largely dependent on middle school teachers developing them now.
Note, however, that analytical writing is not pure explanation or description (as we will encounter in the next writing style). Instead, it requires that students read and comprehend either fiction or nonfiction, explain what is happening, and then analyze a particular facet of what they’ve read.
Analytical writing requires developing a thesis that supports their main claim, backing it up with proof from the text, and concluding with a summary that wraps the two together.
As with all forms of writing, it’s important to teach this skill slowly, starting with reading critically, identifying a thesis, finding evidence and tying it together in a paper – as well as peer examination of others’ analytical writing. It is also helpful to give examples of analytical theses, such as:
Mockingjays from The Hunger Games are symbols of freedom, because they are genetically engineered species that have broken free from the Capitol, just as Katniss has
The main theme of To Build a Fire is that nature is merciless and unforgiving
Anne Frank’s arguments against war are so powerful because she herself is devoid of hatred
Help students understand that while the analysis can be opinion-based, students do need to back up everything they say with passages from the reading.
3. Expository Writing
Expository writing, as the title suggests, is predicated on exposition, or the description and explanation of a particular idea. Topics cover pretty much the entire gamut of human experience, from inventions to nature, emotions to politics, family to hobbies and more.
Teachers can challenge students to pick their own subjects or can give them categories from which to choose or assign specific subjects. Each of these options helps develop a different skill set in kids.
There exist a number of good ways to develop expository writing skills, suggests The New York Times.
For one thing, it’s time to ditch the tired five-paragraph essay and write from a more “authentic” place. That means placing primary emphasis not on an introduction, three-body exposition and conclusion, but rather on what the piece calls for. Encourage students to take as many paragraphs as they need to express their idea well, and to be creative in their intros and conclusions.
In teaching your students, ask them questions such as:
What’s the “newsworthy” piece of this paper?
How can you introduce your piece other than giving away that newsworthy element upfront?
How can you conclude it without simply rehashing the above information?
What techniques can you use to vary sentence structure and make for a more interesting read?
How can you incorporate supporting material in an engaging way?
While some of the techniques may feel a little advanced at first, almost all of them can be broken down into simple directions that middle school students can make use of.
4. Persuasive Writing
“Persuasive writing is a form of nonfiction writing that encourages careful word choice, the development of logical arguments, and a cohesive summary,” as Reading Rocket explains. Note that there are two main components of persuasive writing: logic and emotional appeal.
Logic comes first in persuasive writing. In order to have any chance of convincing people, students have to develop a sound premise. That means choosing a topic and backing it up with good logic.
Give them examples, such as: Everyone should keep their cats indoors, because there are many dangers to cats outside. They can then expand on these dangers (coyotes, racoons, rabies) to convince people.
Help students understand that this topic should have an opposing stance. Simply stating that ‘we shouldn’t do wrong things’ isn’t a good stance, because it’s too vague and no one would argue against it.
Next, it’s time to work in sympathy. Persuading people relies heavily on reaching them emotionally. Not only must your point make sense, but you need to make them feel what you’re saying in their hearts as well as their minds.
For this reason, students should choose a topic or stance about which they feel passionate. They can save more formal academic positions for argumentative writing.
Speaking of which: Argumentative writing is the close cousin of persuasive writing, though as we shall soon see, it is not the same thing.
5. Argumentative Writing
At first blush, many people confuse persuasive and argumentative writing. This is common among teachers as well as laypeople, so if you’re scratching your head, don’t feel bad.
The main difference between persuasive and argumentative writing, as Empowering Writers explains, is that:
“While persuasive writing can get by with a heartfelt emotional appeal or a well-defended opinion, argumentative writing must cite scientific studies, statistics and quotes from experts. It also highlights evidence that the author has generated with his/her own surveys and questionnaires.”
The good news is that, in teaching persuasive writing, you can simultaneously teach kids the scientific method and statistical analysis by having them design and examine the results of questionnaires. Adds the above source, “You’ll find that writing those questionnaires or surveys and collecting responses from their classmates is not only fun for kids, but it encourages active learning and positive social interaction.”
Argumentative writing, calls for several elements:
A formal writing style, typically in the third person
Well-researched facts from reliable sources (this, by the way, is a good time to discuss why sites like Wikipedia are good as a starting point but not as final sources)
Argumentation predicated on those facts
An overall claim of which the writer is trying to convince the reader
When designing argumentative writing curricula and lessons, introduce students to the structure slowly. Their instinct is typically toward arguing for what they believe based on emotional appeal, but you can point out that they’ll have a chance to do this with persuasive writing. Instead, lead them through the process with the following steps:
Research an interest area
Choose a position or argument based on the results of that research
Collect sources (assign a specific number, usually around 3-5) from which to draw facts
Craft the flow of the argument, from initial statement of position through supporting facts (one per paragraph is a good approach) to conclusion
Conclude by both restating the argument and leaving the reader with a good reason to think about it, such as a story or quote
The Writing Way: Implement These Strategies Today
So why wait any longer to implement smart and relatively simple new strategies into your writing time? By selecting and teaching the above skills a little more often – not to mention weaving them into other subjects more often – you can substantially improve your students’ writing abilities.
One caveat, though: Don’t attempt to incorporate all of these strategies at once. You’re a teacher; you have a long career and many moldable minds ahead of you.
Take your time to deepen your familiarity with each type of writing one by one. Incorporate one new strategy per lesson plan, and no more. You can even work to develop your teaching approach to one style of writing per year to avoid teacher burnout.
And lastly, take heart. There is something you can do to help improve the state of the American education system, one lesson at a time, one paper at a time, one child at a time. Keep these tips in mind and do your best, and you’ll do just fine.