How To Teach Students to Write Effectively in a Short-Response World

Like it or not, we now live in a short-response world.

From emails to cross-curricular writing tasks to social media posts to standardized tests and assessments across the disciplines, short response rules the day. Attention spans are down, information overload is up, and the people who know how to be pointed, concise, and cogent with brisk, clean, mechanically sound writing possess a valuable skill that will serve them well in and out of school for the rest of their lives.

A Simple, Effective Writing System

Becoming a confident, capable writer in today’s world begins with mastering the skills to compose evidence-based short-response writing. And when it comes to building rock-solid short-response writers, simplicity leads to success.

The Triple C writing system, which I outline in Mastering Short-Response Writing, is all about simplicity.

  • The instructional model is simple.
  • The student writing tasks are simple.
  • The escalation of cognitive demands is simple.

It’s focused on argumentative and expository writing that scaffolds students toward concise and convincing responses to a prompt—an approach particularly effective for raising the skill sets of low-performing writers.

The Triple Cs

Teaching students how to craft rock-solid short responses is not merely a bridge to teaching multiparagraph essay writing; teaching students how to write rock-solid short responses is a highly valuable skill in and of itself.

To build strong student writers with skills that transfer across the disciplines—as well as beyond the classroom walls—we have to teach young writers how to compose an expository or argumentative short response that:

  • Makes a claim. CLAIM IT!
  • Supports the claim with evidence. CITE IT!
  • Connects the evidence to the claim to create a rock-solid response. CEMENT IT!

Through the Triple Cs, students not only learn the material, but the learning sticks! This will last our kids a lifetime. And to do so well open a world of possibility.

However, don’t mistake the simplicity of the Triple C writing system for inelegance or nonrigor. By the time your students have progressed through the Triple Cs, you’ll discover that by concentrating on simplicity you have opened a door to both complexity and creativity. Student writing will flourish but it will do so based on nothing more opulent than sound fundamentals.

To learn more about Mastering Short-Response Writing: Claim It! Cite It! Cement It!, you can purchase the book here.

About the author:

Alan Sitomer is a California Teacher of the Year award winner and the founder of The Writer’s Success Academy. He’s taught English to urban high school students and has written more than 16 trade books for children and adolescents. He combines his passion for teaching and writing as a graduate-course lecturer, educational consultant, and inspirational keynote speaker. 

5 Tips for Providing Effective Feedback on Student Writing

Strong writing instructors understand that timely feedback is essential if your responses are going to have real value. However, for most writing teachers, this presents a conundrum.

Assessing writing in general can suck up lots of time. And when you’re a classroom teacher, time is a rare and precious commodity. Therefore, you face the double bind of either staying up till 1:00 in the morning just to get your students’ work evaluated or providing feedback to your young writers so many days after they’ve composed their work that both the assignment and their response are long since forgotten.

Hmm… what to do?

Well, the good news is that it’s not an either/or scenario. You can have your cake and eat it, too.

Here are five tips from Mastering Short-Response Writing that can help you provide timely feedback, manage the paper load, and execute a productive plan for student revisions.

1. Assign one short response writing task for five days, starting on Monday. On Friday, have your students revise and proofread their BEST piece of work and turn in only that one for credit (with an emphasis on “this one is REALLY going to count!”) Then on Monday, provide feedback. The students wrote for five days (lots of formative practice), yet you only had to read one assignment (a reasonable volume for the teacher), and you’ve gotten to see their “best” effort. Of course, this also lets you clearly see your students’ strengths and weaknesses in a way that allows you to better plan your next phase of instruction.

2. Consider the complexity of the task. New concepts that are intellectually demanding (such as the Third C: Cement it!) almost always require on-the-spot feedback. Therefore, plan accordingly because the immediacy of feedback is essential to effective instruction. On the other hand, things like spelling mistakes don’t require you to be standing over the shoulder of the student.

3. Avoid platitudes. It’s common for teachers to scrawl “AWESOME!” across the top of a paper, but while we applaud the spirit of the comment, the writer is left to guess what exactly was “AWESOME!” about their work. Be precise in order to anchor skills. Instead of “AWESOME!” perhaps you write “AWESOME USE OF QUOTATION MARKS!” It takes a wee bit longer to pen but the positive returns on the extra effort make a huge difference.

4. Provide equal time to all kids. All too often low-performing students get more attention than high-performing students. Is your allocation of feedback evenly balanced across your entire classroom? Do your top writers get an equal share of your attention? Always something to keep an eye on.

5. Plan more face-to-face time than face-to-page time. Spending more time with your students’ writing than with your student writers is an easy trap to fall into. When you make comments on the writing, compose them as if the student were sitting right there next to you. Visualizing the student in this way as you assess written work helps keep you in sync with teaching the writer and not the writing.

To learn more about Mastering Short-Response Writing: Claim It! Cite It! Cement It!, you can purchase the book here.