As a new fourth-grade teacher, I often decorated students’ papers with flashy stickers that offered accolades like “Great Job!” or “Excellent Work!” The stickers were cute and colorful, but they absolved me from giving specific feedback and denied students opportunities to understand how to become better writers. Upper elementary teachers can give better feedback on writing by centering their experience as readers. I now begin with the phrase, “As a reader…” and keep the following questions in mind: As a reader, do I find that what I am reading is clear and engaging? As a reader, do I think that what I am reading is confusing or disengaging?
By focusing on whether student writing is effective for us as readers, we can encourage them to think about their intended audience(s). Below, I offer a curated list of sentence-starters to use when providing feedback at different stages of the writing process, organized by text-type. Begin each phrase with “As a reader…”
When Students Need Support Developing Ideas
To address this problem of practice when students are writing narrative text, consider using the following:
- I am unsure of how your ideas are connected to the genre we are studying. Let’s review the features of this genre.
- I would like to hear about special places, people, or memories from your own life that might be similar to those that we saw in our mentor texts.
- It would be helpful if you shared some details about these memories, so a reader could see a clear picture in their mind.
With informational texts, use these:
- I wonder what topics or categories would be exciting for you to research. You’ll need to stick with this topic for a few weeks, so it should be something that’s engaging.
- I would like to know some smaller questions you might want to research connected to your larger topic. The more narrow your questions are, the more efficient you can be with researching.
- I want to make sure that the topic you choose has enough research connected to it, so that you will teach your reader new things they never knew before.
And for argumentative texts, use these:
- I am thinking about which topics might have an abundance of research that would help you prove your claim to a reader.
- I am curious to find out why you believe this topic is one that a reader should care about.
When Students Need Support with Organization
Thinking about structure related to narrative texts, you might offer one of these comments:
- It is difficult for me to follow the movement of time in your story. How can you better sketch out the timeline of the events, so your reader can follow along?
- It seems like you have repetitive details that can take away from the heart of your story. How can you share the most important details clearly and concisely with your reader?
For informational text, structural feedback might begin with this:
- I am having a hard time understanding how the main ideas connect to supporting details. How can you infuse larger categories of information with enough smaller details that teach your reader about your topic?
For argumentative writing, you can share one of these:
- Your reasons and examples do not seem to connect, which makes it confusing for the reader. Can you find more evidence to back up your claim from your sources?
- I am having difficulty understanding how your research backs up/connects to your claim. Can you find new pieces of evidence that might make your claim/thesis stronger?
When Students Need Support Revising
Revision, a re-seeing of content, differs across text type. For narratives, you might say the following:
- I do not feel a strong sense of voice in your writing, making it hard for me to connect to the story. Can you add precise verbs or adjectives, stretch out moments of time, or add internal thinking?
- It is hard for me to visualize the setting of your narrative. Adding in sensory details or figurative language might help to create a more vivid picture for your reader.
Here are options for informational text:
- It seems like you are generalizing some ideas. Might you think about adding in content-specific words or expert quotations that show your understanding of the topic?
- Your piece seems very text-heavy and might benefit from some interesting text features. What are some visuals that might grow/deepen your reader’s understanding of your topic in an engaging way?
And for argumentative writing, consider these:
- I find that your research could benefit from expert quotations. Do you have examples that would make your argument stronger for your reader?
- It seems that your piece opens abruptly. What are some ways that we can craft an introduction that engages your reader with an astounding statistic, a surprising quotation, or an emotional anecdote?
When Students Need Support with Conventions
Across genres, grammar and mechanics ensure a clear and engaging reading experience. For narrative writing, you might offer feedback like this: “I notice that many of your sentences are declarative. This makes it difficult for me to feel the true emotion of your piece. Can you vary the types of sentences you are using in order to create a more specific tone for your reader?” For informational text, emphasize, “I am seeing many simple sentences, which impede the flow of your writing. Can you create compound or complex sentences to create more fluency for your reader?”
And for argumentation, when students integrate other texts, you might say, “It is difficult to discern which of your sentences are quotations and which are paraphrased. Can you add in quotation marks and commas each time you introduce an expert quotation? This will make your claim stronger.”
We want to help individual writers grow, not simply make a single piece “better.” For this to happen, we need to give meaningful feedback during all stages of the writing process, not just when students receive a grade. Every text type, in every genre, is written for an intended audience; every decision a writer makes keeps that audience in mind. These sentence stems center that reminder for students, reinforcing the purpose underlying their work.