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Writing Strategies Book

“I am convinced that helping writers to articulate clear goals for their work, and supporting them with strategies and feedback to accomplish those goals, makes a huge difference.”

Jennifer Serravallo

Jennifer Serravallo's Writing Strategies Book is the much-anticipated follow-up to The Reading Strategies Book, which made the New York Times Best Seller List by making it simpler to match students’ needs to high-quality instruction. Now, in The Writing Strategies Book, Jen Serravallo does the same, collecting 300 of the most effective strategies to share with writers, and grouping them beneath 10 crucial writing goals.

The Writing Strategies Book shares 300 strategies, each focused on a crucial instructional goal. The first few pages of each chapter summarize the goal, why it’s important, and how to match it to a student’s needs. Each one-page strategy provides a step-by-step procedure for instruction. To support your teaching, these strategies also include mentor-text suggestions, instructional language, teaching tips, prompts, ideas for charts or visual aids, and/or examples of student work.

Sneak Previews

Sample Chapter - Introduction

A Very Brief Introduction to Principles, Research, and Theory, and How to Use This Book

The idea for a book of writing strategies exists many times over. This one is possible only because of the great books that have come before it. There are books suggesting writing strategies meant for professional writers and college students, such as those by Noah Lukeman, Roy Peter Clark, and Janet Burroway, among others. There are countless examples of excellent compilations of writing strategies in books written for teachers of writing, such as Fletcher and Portalupi’s Craft Lessons Series, Barry Lane’s After “The End” (1993), Carl Anderson’s Strategic Writing Conferences series (2008–2009), Donald Graves’ many books, Katie Wood Ray’s Wondrous Words (1999) and other titles, Katherine Bomer’s books, Georgia Heard’s books, Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle (2014) and other resources, Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study series, and many more. My aim in this book is to offer my favorite, most useful collection of strategies that span all aspects of the writing process, all genres and modes of writing, and that will work well with students in grades K–8. I want to offer you a little bit of everything. I streamlined the language and examples, and I present the strategies in a format that is organized so that the busy teacher can find just the right strategy at just the right moment. Of course, you’ll elaborate on the streamlined language and make it your own.

But wait—before you dive in, I’m so glad you’re taking the time to spend a few moments with this “Getting Started” introduction. In this introduction, you’ll gain a helpful overview of the thinking that undergirds this book’s ideas as well as an overview of its organization. You’ll learn about strategies and all the aspects that I chose to include to elaborate on them—mentor texts, prompts, lesson language, teaching tips, and more. You’ll learn how to navigate the pages of the book so you can find what you’re looking for quickly and easily, for this is not a read-every-single-page kind of book (unless you want it to be). You’ll get a quick crash course on some important terminology and concepts that will help you use this book to its fullest— thoughts about writing as a process, and modes and genres of writing, for example. And finally, you’ll learn how to adapt what’s in the book to fit your students’ writing time in the classroom, no matter what form that time takes.

Click here to download more of the introduction of this book.

Goal 1: Composing with Pictures

Strategy Go back to your picture(s). Point to the part or picture that teaches something important about your topic. Touch or turn to the next part. Tell what new fact about your topic this part of the picture or this page teaches.

Lesson Language If I wrote or drew to teach, then when I read my writing back I'm going to make it sound like a teaching book. I’m going to tell my reader the facts I wrote about. Let me show you. I drew a picture of a big T. rex. I know a lot about them so I added a lot of details in my picture. I’m going to touch one part and teach what that part says. "The T. rex had very large jaws with big sharp teeth." Now I'm going to touch a new part and teach what that part says. "The T. rex had very short arms. It would only run using its hind legs."

Click to open a sample strategy from this goal.
Composing with Pictures

Goal 2: Engagement - Independence, Increasing Volume, and Developing a Writing Identity

Strategy First, identify the problem you're having. Then, check the spot in the room, a resource, or a friend that might help you solve the problem. Try a solution. If it doesn't work, try something else.

Teaching Tip This strategy, like "Use the Room" that appears earlier in this chapter, assumes that there are things in the room that can be helpful, and that you've taught children how to use them. For example, in a primary classroom a word wall may help a writer to spell high-frequency words. If you've introduced and used mentor texts, then having these available for children to reference on their own could help them. Sometimes the problem might be that they need to work in a new spot in the room because of the amount of distractions at their current spot. Brainstorm possible problems with your students, and come up with a list of resources and solutions. Or, this strategy can be like a culmination of past teaching from this and other chapters.

Click to open a sample strategy from this goal.

Goal 3: Generating and Collecting Ideas

Strategy Decide on a new place to visit. Go there with no more than a notebook and a set of listening ears and observing eyes. Let yourself pick up on conversation and details of the person. Jot down what you observe, and also what you imagine, about the people you see.

Teaching Tip This strategy will take you outside of the classroom, so it would work well as a whole-class lesson followed by a field trip, or as a suggestion to a student, group, or class for independent writing outside of the school day.

Click to open a sample strategy from this goal.

Goal 4: Focus/Meaning

Strategy Think about a memory and all the events that are part of that memory. Think about what’s important about that memory, or the big idea the memory leaves you with. Identify the one part of the memory that feels the most important. Write some ideas about what’s important about it, and why it’s important. Try to write just that one smaller part of the larger moment. Tell it bit by bit.

Teaching Tip The amount a writer will be able to reflect on the overall significance of a small moment will depend on her maturity level and experience with writing. For younger children, you may want to suggest choosing a small moment that will make a good story, rather than one imbued with a deep or heavy significance, or simply encourage them to narrow down the window of time

Click to open a sample strategy from this goal.

Goal 5: Organization and Structure

Strategy Before beginning to draft, visualize the shape of what you’re going to make. Create some sort of quick visual, in pictures or in words, to represent the overarching structure. As you write, check back to see where you are in your plan.

Teaching Tip This is going to be most helpful after students have learned a variety of ways to structure their pieces and have been introduced to a variety of graphic organizers that would help them to organize, or shape, the information into a structure.

Click to open a sample strategy from this goal.

Goal 6: Elaboration

Strategy Think about the subtopics for which you’ll want to collect information. Write each of your subtopics as a heading on a notebook or booklet page. As you find new information for your topic, think, “What page in my notebook should this go on? Which subtopic does it provide details for?”

Lesson Language I just found this interesting fact: Ballerinas really wear out their shoes. Many go through as many as 2–3 pairs per week! I'm going to look across the pages of my booklet to see where this would best fit. Would it belong in the section called "Types of Ballet Positions?" No, that's not about the positions. Would it go in the section called "Famous Ballets?" No. "What Ballerinas Wear?" Well, I do talk about pointe shoes in this section, so it might be cool to add this fact about how many pairs of pointe shoes the average ballerina needs. I'll keep the fact here.

Click to open a sample strategy from this goal.

Goal 7: Word Choice

Strategy Find all the action verbs in your piece. Focus on any that you think aren’t as clear, precise, or exact as they could be. List several options for what might replace that word (use a thesaurus if you need it!). Choose the word that best matches your meaning.

Teaching Tip For this strategy to work, children will need to understand what an action verb is, so identification of verbs is a first step in this strategy. Many teachers weave in some instruction during other balanced literacy components such as word study, read-aloud, and/or shared reading. You could also plan to teach direct minilessons to the class or small groups for those who do not understand parts of speech.

Click to open a sample strategy from this goal.

Goal 8: Conventions - Spelling and Letter Formation

Strategy When trying to spell a word, try to visualize where you’ve seen it written and how you’ve seen it written before. It may help to close your eyes. Then, in a margin or on a piece of scrap paper, write how you think it’s spelled. Try it a second or maybe even third way. Look back at what you’ve written and ask yourself, "Which of these tries looks right to me?"


  • Check off the parts that look right to you.
  • Write the word as you think you’ve seen it before.
  • Which parts look right? Which part looks off?
  • Do you think there are some letters missing?
  • What part of that word is tricky for you?
  • The part you’re trying to spell is also in the word _______. Does that help?

Click to open a sample strategy from this goal.

Goal 9: Conventions - Grammar and Punctuation

Strategy Find two sentences that talk about the same topic. Think about the relationship between those sentences. Choose a connector word and try combining the sentences into one. Reread and decide if you like the combined way or original way better.

Lesson Language Here’s one spot in my draft where I have two sentences that I
think go well together. I wrote: “A dog is something that can keep you company. A dog
can cheer you up.” What’s the relationship between those two sentences? They both have
to do with something that is positive about owning a dog, so I think they are related. I’m
adding more information on. I’ll try using and to combine those sentences: “A dog can
keep you company and cheer you up.” Here’s another spot: “I would love to have a dog.
My mom won’t let me have a dog.” What’s the relationship between those two sentences?
The second sentence gives more information that feels in contrast to the first. I’ll combine
them with however: “I would like to have a dog, however my mom won’t let me.” The
new sentence I made seems clearer and more to the point.

Click to open a sample strategy from this goal.

Goal 10: Collaborating with Writing Partners and Clubs

Strategy Talk with your partner about your goals (for the writing period, for the week, and/or for writing work to take place at home, and so on). Discuss together how you might get that work done. Write the goal, and make the promise...then check in with your partner soon.

Teaching Tip Reflect on your own life and goals you’ve set out to accomplish. Now think about how successful you’ve been and whether or not you made your goals public ahead of time. I know that when I share my goals with my partner, my friends, my colleagues, my editor, I am more likely to get things done. The built-in accountability, the opportunity to celebrate together, the lifeline of support in case something does not go according to plan—these are invaluable.

Click to open a sample strategy from this goal.

Companion Resources

Crosswalks to other writing programs and approaches

The Writing Strategies Book can be used effectively, with nearly any writing program or approach. Its goals align well with many rubrics, scoring criteria, and assessment categories. To help you match your instruction with the strategies in her book, Jennifer Serravallo has created a crosswalk to several commonly used writing approaches and programs.

Traits Writing | Units of Study | Empowering Writers | Strategic Writing Conferences | Being a Writer | Writing Fundamentals

View All Writing Strategies Posts from the Heinemann Blog


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