Winning the RACE of writing

student-at-computerStudents + writing = frustration . . . sound like familiar?

The growing expectation of integrating writing  in our Social Studies classroom makes us as anxious about the process as our students. Why does this happen? There are a variety of factors that contribute to this fear and frustration but the most common that I hear from other teachers is

I don’t have a solid system to assist my kids with writing.

We teach a topic and then assess students by asking them to write a response or reaction. What do we get back?

Usually a combination of rambling comments that attempt to answer our question, maybe some evidence or rationale, and hopefully a few complete sentences.   We often assume that our students rushed through the assignment or that they still do not know how to write a paragraph. In reality, the problem may lie with us.

To make writing meaningful in our classroom, we must do two things well. First, we have to provide explicit instructions and include a structure of what is expected to succeed. Second, we must dedicate time to provide authentic feedback to what students submit.

At Wamego Middle School, we are providing strong consistency and structure in our argumentative/persuasive writing through a system that we call RACE to Write. It’s a phrase that easy for both teachers and students to remember, helping to ensure continued progress:

  • R  – Restate or reword the question/prompt into a statement.
  • A – Answer the question – include all parts of the question in your answer. I think . . . or I believe . . .
  • C Cite what led you that idea. Provide or use supportive evidence. Directly quote a piece of text. The author says . . .or For example . . . or According to . . .
  • E – Explain how the quotes or evidence you used support your ideas. This shows . . . or This is because . . .  or This means . . .

race

By providing this basic concept and structure, our students have become more confident in how to write so they can spend more time and effort in developing what they write. A simple Google search will reveal multiple examples of different writing structures that schools are using. (I’ve included a few of those resources below.) But in our experience, success is built on consistency. By having our ELA and Social Studies departments utilize the same vocabulary and structure with our students, they are getting more practice and becoming better writers.

Students need to see how to make themselves better writers. Teacher feedback is a powerful tool but student feedback has become a powerful tool in our system that  encourages quality student writing. I have recently started having my students conduct what I call a “peer review and defend.”

The process is pretty simple. Two students pair up and exchange their work with each other. They read and locate the four elements of the RACE writing structure. This enables the students to analyze others’ writings, see how thoughts developed, and identify key information from secondary sources – all essential skills.

The second part of the process becomes a real teaching moment as the kids discuss and defend the choices made in the review portion. The student whose writing was reviewed might ask the editor why they marked certain parts and why they asked certain questions. The editor might ask why their partner came to the conclusion they did in their writing or why they used certain pieces of evidence. They are defending their choices . . . another essential skill. This dialogue not only produces in-depth conversations and teachable moments, it also strengthens students’ writing.

We all can acknowledge that strong persuasive writing skills are essential to developing great thinkers. This does not come naturally to many of our students so educators have a responsibility to provide opportunities to write persuasively. With some intentional instruction using a consistent format and authentic feedback, you can help your students win the RACE of writing!

Some other great writing resources:


Adam Topliff
Wamego Middle School

About glennw

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

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