I can't even tell you how many times I've asked myself that question! I've gone to seminars, classes, and talked to teachers who seem to have the "gift". With the help of some very gifted teachers, I have discovered some ideas that made a big difference in my classroom. With the new Common Core standards, it's even more important to make sure kids can express themselves in writing. Here are some ideas that worked for me!
1. Use your own writing as a model for kids. Write and think aloud as you write a sample of the new assignment in front of the class. It really helps kids to see how another writer thinks through the task. Allowing students to see you write, watch how you change your sentences around, think about grammar, and make sense while writing are all important characteristics for students to observe. Many kids have no idea how the writing process works. Watching a teacher go through the process is like a light going on.
2. Spend a lot more time writing. Learning how to be a good writer is like learning how to do anything else well. It takes lots and lots of practice. One study found that only 15 extra writing minutes per day in grades 2-8 produced better writing. In fact, 78% of studies that tested the impact of adding extra writing minutes to a daily routine showed that writing improved. There's even a bonus for that extra writing. Many studies have found that reading comprehension gets better as students write more. That only makes sense to me. As student write they have to think about their own understanding, make sure they are making sense, and struggle to spell correctly. That's why writing in social studies, math and science is so important.
3. Do some of that writing on a computer. It's much less cumbersome than writing by hand, plus it's easy to edit. Technology has changed how we write. We text, send applications through the computer, e-mail, in fact most of our writing as adults is done on some type of device. It only makes sense to allow students to use this powerful tool as part of the writing program.
4. Use writing as an opportunity to teach grammar. Once you have read enough writing by students, it becomes obvious which grammar lessons need to be addressed. Address one area thoroughly until it is mastered.
5. Allow students to draw pictures to go with their writing. I ask for writing to be done first, then pictures can be drawn. Pictures are great motivators for kids, especially for reluctant writters.
6. Give students the opportunity to share their writing. Some students are very shy about that, so they may like to read their writing to a friend. Some students are more than ready to read to the class, they should have that opportunity when possible. I found that if I asked students to choose their best paragraph to read aloud, they really put some thought into it. That's also a good time to point out strong words used iun the writing, good use of images and the like. I never used this time to point out anything negative, after all this is in front of other students. If there is an issue it can always be addressed privately later.