Literacy Partners

Using Shared Writing in Upper Grades

Recently, I finally gave in to peer pressure and bought an air fryer. So 2020, I know, but I couldn’t imagine adding another kitchen appliance to my roster back then. After months of feeling uninspired to cook anything and numerous friends raving to me about their air fryers, I gave in.

Once I unwrapped my new toy, I immediately found something to “fry” from the freezer, including french fries. Within a few minutes, I had a tasty snack ready to enjoy — it definitely sparked joy!

Of course, once the time came to put this rather large machine away, reality hit — I had no home for this appliance. I ended up spending the rest of the weekend Marie Kondo-ing my entire kitchen. If it didn’t spark joy, it was out.

Eventually, I found the perfect spot for the air fryer, and I’m happy to report that the rest of my kitchen makes sense now. To top things off, I’m feeling inspired to cook again. Not only do I feel energized to cook with my new gadget, but I’m also excited about dusting off those old ones.

Here’s how my air fryer journey relates to teaching literacy…

Let me introduce you to the concept of shared writing.

Shared writing is a lot like my air fryer: you can use it with minimal prep, help make sense of the writing process for kids, and help them engage or re-engage with writing.

What is shared writing?

Shared writing is a component of literacy instruction often used in primary grades, but it can also be a powerful part of the upper-grade classroom.

Shared writing is a process where the teacher and students compose a piece of writing together, with the teacher acting as the scribe. Depending on the focus and needs of your students, you can do this as a class or in small groups. All you need to get started is something to write with and on — this can be digital or analog.

LP Tip: Shared writing is different from interactive writing. Read more about interactive writing here.

Here are the basic steps for a shared writing session:

Steps It might sound like…
1. Set an authentic purpose for writing. “You’ve all been thinking about ways to make our school a better place. I thought it would be great if we write a letter to the principal together.”
2. Collaboratively determine a topic.  “What are some ideas you have about what we can write?”
3. Students plan and verbally rehearse how the writing could go. “Turn and talk to your partner: how could we start our piece? What should go next?”
4. Teacher writes down students’ ideas, lifting the language level as they go. After hearing different ideas: “How about we say it like this…?”
5. Read and reread the text as you go and at the end. “Let’s read what we have so far and see how it sounds.”


“Now we have a (text) that we can use as a model when we’re writing our own (text)!”

6. Link to students’ writing. “Remember, when you’re writing your own piece, you can also do this…”

When to use shared writing:

Anytime! Shared writing can be used as part of the immersion phase of a writing unit, especially if it’s a new genre that kids are less familiar with.

At the start of a unit, you might take a few days to compose a bare-bones piece that will give the group a vision of what the new type of writing will look like. You can also use shared writing as a tool to focus on one part of the process or a particular quality of writing. For example, you can focus on just the lead rather than writing a whole essay together.

Perhaps you have a small group of writers who could use support with planning. You could run a shared writing session to collaboratively plan a piece. Emergent bilingual students and writers who might find it challenging to write about their own topic can take on a shared writing topic first.

Shared writing can also be used across the day as part of your content area instruction, including reading. Do kids need help with making an argument in social studies or writing an analysis of a science experiment? Maybe your students are struggling with translating their reading into writing in a meaningful way. Shared writing can be an engaging way to support students with this work.

Here are some key tips on shared writing…

  1. Keep your shared writing sessions brief, just 10-15 minutes. You can always return to finish a piece over another day or so.
  2. Make sure you choose a topic that all students in the group can access or contribute to. For example, suppose you’re writing a personal narrative together. In that case, you might choose an event that happened in the classroom, such as a mishap during a science lesson, instead of something that happened at an afterschool event only some students attended.
  3. Give kids plenty of opportunities to orally rehearse the writing by letting them share ideas with a partner. You can listen in on the breakout groups and name what you heard. At times, you might strategically call on a student or two. Either way, all kids should have an opportunity to tell their ideas to a partner first.
  4. Read and reread as you write so that kids can see the connection between oral language and print.
  5. Make a copy for students to use as a mentor text. It will be particularly meaningful since they co-created it!

As Regie Routman wrote of shared writing, “It’s quick, fun, easy, efficient, and it’s a great way to teach and engage all students, of all ages, in all aspects of oral and written language.” It sounds just like my air fryer, except with language instead of tater tots!

Need more ideas on using shared writing in small groups? Here’s a great post from the Two Writing Teachers blog — Shared Writing: Expanding the Reach with Small Groups.

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