9 Ways to Improve Student Writing in Spanish



Let's be honest - for many of our students, writing in Spanish is such a struggle. As teachers, grading 60-125 essays that are poorly written can be torture.  Imagine if you had a Spanish writing process that taught your students to write flowing sentences with correct grammar AND made them proud of their finished product.

As an added bonus, you would be spending fewer hours correcting.  Sounds like a nice scenario, right?

To help make this scenario a reality in your classes, check out these 9 ways to improve your students' writing in Spanish and to reduce your grading load.  

This is what it felt like before implementing these tips in my classroom:

* Students dreaded writing.
* They wrote short, choppy sentences and used poor grammar.
* I would spend hours correcting their work.
* They would continue to repeat the same errors in future weeks.

And here's what it felt like after I implemented some of these changes:

* Students enjoyed the writing process more and were more engaged.
* Instead of short, choppy sentences, they learned to use transition words effectively, dramatically improving their writing.
* I spent less time grading because there were fewer mistakes.
* Students learned from their errors each time we wrote and were proud of their final products.

So without further ado, here are my best tips to help your students become successful writers in Spanish.

1.  For beginner students, spend at least the first half of the year focusing on speaking and learning the language before introducing writing.  

Think of how many years you spoke your native language before anyone made you write something down on paper (at least 4-5 years).  If students can't say something, then of course, they won't be able to write yet because writing is much more complicated than speaking.

Focus on getting them thinking and speaking in Spanish before introducing writing in any sort of long form.  Writing sentences here and there is fine, but avoid assigning compositions until they master basic speaking abilities.

2.  Consider using templates when you do introduce writing.  

At the beginning of the year, I used to ask my Spanish 2 students to present an "All about Me" oral presentation that they would then turn into a composition.  Although, this was great in theory, in practice they made so many errors.

Looking back as a veteran teacher, I think about how much of what they were writing was incorrect.
Why would I want my students imprinting incorrect grammar and syntax, when instead, I could give them a model of what is correct and have them practice writing that?

Now, for many assignments, my students use a template to write their compositions.  Check out how this works with a free "All about Me" writing template in my Free Resource Library.  Here's the link to sign up (for free).  :)

P.S.  Did I mention that there are tons of other free goodies in the library?? 

3.  Spark your students' creativity with engaging Spanish writing assignments.

Writing secret Valentine's, fairy tales, resumes about famous Hispanics, vacation postcards, or social media profiles can really get your students engaged in the writing process.

Need more ideas?  Check out this list of 25 Spanish Writing Activities.

4.  Give students lists of transition words to improve writing fluidity.

When I was a student, trying to write in Spanish, I used to get frustrated because I knew how to write nice, flowing sentences in English, but didn't know how to say any of the transition words that I would normally use in Spanish.  I was super conscientious, so I would spend time looking up how to say these more advanced words.

However, often our students don't take the time to look up the words, so instead they just leave the short choppy sentences.  Don't know about you, but I can't stand choppy sentences!

In grad school, I made lists of good transition words to keep as a reference in my notebook, and then eventually, as a teacher, transformed this into a list of 100 Spanish transition words, sorted by level, with sample sentences for each one.  My students love these lists!!

5.  Incorporate peer editing so students learn how to correct themselves.

It's amazing what peer editing can do.  Students like being "the teacher" and making suggestions for other students' work.  It makes them more aware of their own errors and teaches them how to revise and improve their own work.

Get a free copy of a peer editing sheet and teacher correction symbols in my Free Resource Library.

6.  Edit, edit, edit!

When my students write, we use a multi-step process involving multiple revisions of their work.  For example, my juniors and seniors write and illustrate Spanish fairy tales as a final end of year project.  Here are the steps involved:
 
We talk about the elements of a good fairy tale: interesting characters, a dilemma or challenge, a moral, colorful illustrations that tell the story, etc., and I thoroughly explain the rubric which they receive with the instructions.

A. First Draft
Students work as a group and hand in a typed and double-spaced copy (the best draft that they can do on their own). 

B. Peer Edits
Groups evaluate other groups using a peer edit sheet with specific questions.  They underline errors, and make suggestions based on the rubric and the plot.


C. Corrections after Peer Edits 
Students hand in their first draft and second draft with the peer edits attached underneath.  This will save you some time correcting because they have already corrected some of the errors and improved their work.

D. Initial Teacher Edit
Write symbols for any errors (without correcting them), give a grade for the parts that they have done, and write comments about how it could be better (story elements, more fantasy, better character development, etc.).   Students make these corrections and hand in all the copies once again.

E. Final Teacher Corrections
Correct their final copy and this time write what the actual corrections should be on the story (because they weren't able to figure them out on their own.  Hand it back to them.

F.  Final Student Copy
Students make the final corrections and then create their books with a perfectly written copy.

** Important Note:  Be sure to grade them as they go.  I give a grade for initial grammar and a grade for final grammar.  Record these grades in your grade book in case they lose any of the previous copies.

At the end, you should have the final copy with all of the previous revisions and peer edits stapled below it.  This is a great way to show them (and for you to see), all of the progress that they have made along the way.  

Veteran Tip:  Keep a copy of 1-2 of the best writing samples from your class, as well as the revision sheets.  This is a great piece to add to your teacher portfolio to showcase student work and talk about your writing process during a job interview.

7.  Think quality over quantity.  Assign no more than 1 writing project per quarter.

Don't kill yourself by trying to have your students write all the time.  After all, think about how often they'll be using their Spanish writing skills vs. their speaking skills.  Probably 90% speaking and 10% writing, if that!

I would much rather have my students produce 1 quality piece of edited and revised writing per quarter than 3 sloppy compositions.  Less grading for you and your students will feel more accomplished and successful if they're producing high quality work.


8.  Space out your Spanish writing projects.

If you teach several preps, don't wait until the end of the quarter to assign all your writing projects.  Try to space them out throughout the quarter so that you don't end up with an enormous pile of writing projects to grade all at once.

9.  Let your students spend some class time working on their writing projects.

Why not give yourself a break from teaching and use these extra minutes to get ahead on teacher prep/other grading so that when your students turn in their huge stack of essays, you'll have time to grade them.  Also, it will give your students a chance to ask you or their peers questions during the writing process.

Hope these 9 tips dramatically improve Spanish writing in your classroom as much as they did in mine.  If you're looking for more writing tips, check out these blog posts:  "Using Templates to Teach Writing" and "Incorporating Transition Words in Student Writing".

If you have other ideas and suggestions for writing in Spanish, please share in the comments.

Happy Teaching!
Sherry


                                                      
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