Teach Prewriting In Fifth Grade

Prewriting activities help students generate and organize ideas before beginning their first drafts.

Prewriting is a crucial part of the writing process, particularly for elementary school children who may not have learned organize their thoughts before writing. Fifth-graders are old enough to tackle complex writing assignments of the sort that require prewriting, but not old enough to use prewriting strategies on their own. By identifying useful prewriting activities for your assignment and teaching them to your students, you give them the necessary skills not only for their current paper but for an entire lifetime of writing.


1. Identify potential prewriting activities for your current writing assignment. Certain activities are useful for some assignments but not others. A Venn diagram is an ideal prewriting tool for a compare-contrast paper but not for a persuasive essay, while an outline is useful for a research project but not a poem. Possible strategies include freewriting, brainstorming, webbing, think-pair-sharing, charting, storyboarding, outlining, diagramming, listing and creating flow charts.

2. Determine which two strategies would be most useful for the current assignment and best for your students’ level of learning. Using two strategies will give students who have trouble with a certain strategy the chance to succeed with another one. For instance, you might have students freewrite an idea for a short story, then transform that idea into a storyboard or flow chart.

3. Create a worksheet, handout or graphic organizer based on each strategy you plan to use. More concrete or visual learners will benefit from having a map, web or chart in front of them rather than having to draw it themselves. Even if you choose a strategy that does not seem to lend itself to a graphic organizer, such as brainstorming or freewriting, create a handout with the directions. This will let the students read the instructions as they hear you explain them, and allow them to refer back to the instructions later, making it easier for visual learners or forgetful students to use the techniques.

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4. Create transparencies of the handouts if you have an overhead projector, or reproduce them on a blackboard, whiteboard or piece of chart paper if you do not. You will need to model the prewriting strategies for your students, which means they will need to see you completing a copy of the worksheet.

5. Create an example activity to complete as a class. Your students need to see you modeling the prewriting process, but if you use the actual assignment as a model, the students will be able to take the ideas you generated as a class rather than using their own. The activity should be similar enough to the actual assignment for you to use the same prewriting strategy. For instance, if you are having the students analyze a character from the book you just read, analyze a character from a short story you read earlier in the year for the model. For a creative writing assignment, you may find it easiest to simply choose a bizarre idea that the students could not copy without it being obvious, like a story about a time-traveling stapler.

6. Explain the first prewriting strategy to the students. Show them the blank handout on the overhead or board and tell them that for practice, you are going to fill it out using the example activity. Ask the students how they would complete the handout if they were completing the example activity instead of the actual assignment and fill out the blank handout based on their responses. This will let them see how the completed handout should look without giving them any answers.

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7. Circulate through the room as the students complete the prewriting activity on their own. Remind them that you are available to help if they have questions. Check on students who seem to be stuck and ask them leading questions to help them generate ideas.

8. Teach the second prewriting strategy in the same manner once the students have completed the first.