Learning to Write, Writing to Learn

April 12, 2023

Fishtank ELA is designed to both build students’ knowledge of diverse topics and develop their academic language. In each unit, students interact with increasingly complex texts and, through writing, learn to authentically analyze an author’s craft and structure, develop their own voice as writers, and build deeper meaning with texts and ideas. Writing is an essential component of the Fishtank ELA curriculum through which students learn to process their thoughts, identify key information, and communicate clearly.  


Fishtank’s Approach to Writing Instruction

At Fishtank, we believe that writing instruction has two goals: 1. Students should learn to write and 2. Writing should deepen student learning. Each unit provides opportunities for students to both learn to write and write to learn as they engage with core texts. There is no separate writing block and no separate writing curriculum; all writing instruction is embedded directly into lessons and units. The two main goals of writing instruction are broken down below.

1. Learning to Write 

In order to be effective writers, students need to learn the structures for how to write sentences, paragraphs, and specific genre-based pieces including narrative, informational, and opinion. Additionally, students need to learn language and grammar skills, including how to craft sentences, proper use of punctuation, and spelling. Teachers are able to drive student improvement in writing through embedded writing specific lessons and projects, and targeted feedback.  

2. Writing to Learn  

Beyond the concrete aspects of writing, Fishtank ELA ensures students are able to use writing to deepen their understanding of content and complex ideas. Students engage in daily writing to synthesize information, clarify and organize their thoughts, retain key information, and build writing fluency. Students also use writing to help them prepare for academic discourse. Students engage in writing through Target Tasks, responses to Key Questions, and writing specific projects.


Writing at the Elementary School Level

At the lower elementary level, students are focused on sentence-level writing as they begin to construct complete sentences, use conjunctions, and combine sentences. Students then move into paragraph-level writing as they create topic sentences, explain evidence, and write conclusions. At this level, students are also introduced to the brainstorming process and revision process. Throughout elementary school, students are exposed to a number of different genres and learn how to compose longer pieces of narrative, informational, and opinion writing. 

Students write every day in response to the Target Task and Key Questions. This process builds students’ writing fluency and allows them to process the new content they learn each day and synthesize their thoughts effectively. Throughout each course, there are longer writing projects that span multiple days and allow students to deepen their understanding of content and receive targeted feedback on specific writing skills. 

In the 1st grade Amazing Animals unit, students practice writing simple sentences and complete a multi-day narrative writing project in addition to daily Target Task and Key Questions responses. The Enhanced Lesson plans, available with Fishtank Plus, offer additional instructional guidance and embedded rubrics and feedback guides for assessing students.

 In the 1st grade writing lesson previewed below, you will see strategies to introduce different sentence types and supports for the diverse learners in your classroom in the Building Background and Engagement section of the Enhanced Lesson Plan. Throughout the lesson, which you can download below, you will also find guidance for engaging students in shared and independent writing.

Enhanced Lesson Plan preview showing the Building Background and Engagement Section

Enhanced Lesson Plan preview showing sentence types

Download this 1st Grade Enhanced Lesson Plan for free. 


Writing at the Middle School Level

At the middle school level, students continue building upon their paragraph writing skills as they learn to introduce characters, effectively use transitions, and include more complex sentences to support their conclusions. Students also deepen their use of the revision process as they revise for clarity, mechanics, and organization within longer writing pieces. 

Students extend their genre-based writing to include poetry and persuasive writing in addition to daily Target Task and Key Question responses. Throughout the writing process, students learn to analyze mentor texts, craft strong introductory statements, and outline body paragraphs. Additionally, students learn to create characters, compelling dialogue, and logical structure in their writing. 

Early on in the 7th grade unit Defining America: Poems, Essays, and Short Stories, students write their own prose poems. Later in the unit, students compose personal narratives using simple, complex, and compound-complex sentences in addition to daily writing in response to Target Tasks and Key Questions. Middle school Enhanced Lesson Plans, available with Fishtank Plus, also provide additional instructional guidance and embedded rubrics and feedback guides for assessing student work.  

In the 7th grade writing lesson below, you will see guidance for introducing the writing assignment in the Introduction section of the Enhanced Lesson Plan. Additionally, you will find guidance for exploring different poetic devices through the use of a mentor text as previewed below in the Engaging with the Mentor Text section. Throughout the lesson, which you can download below, you will find additional poetic devices and strategies to engage students in the brainstorming process for their poems.

Enhanced Lesson Plan preview showing the Introduction Section

Engaging with the Mentor Text Section of the Enhanced Lesson Plan

Download this 7th Grade Enhanced Lesson Plan for free. 


Additional Writing Resources 

Outside of individual lesson plans and multi-day writing projects, Fishtank users have access to additional resources to guide writing instruction and feedback. There are six tools available to all Fishtank users within the Writing Teacher Tool. These include guidance on preparing to teach a writing lesson, instructional strategies support, and a feedback tool that includes rubrics for K–12 writing assignments.

Writing Teacher Tools

Fishtank Plus users unlock two additional Teacher Tools: Writing Structures & Frameworks and Instructional Strategies for Writing Lessons (K–5). These tools provide further guidance and include classroom footage to demonstrate various instructional strategies. 

Additionally, Plus users have access to Fishtank’s Unit Launches which provide comprehensive support for intellectually preparing each unit. This support includes an analysis of Key Writing Standards and the opportunity to plan instructional supports based on the unit-level writing goals and focus areas.

Unit Launch: Key Writing Standards

This guided analysis allows teachers to identify how each focus area builds over the course of a unit, recognize the lessons that directly teach a particular focus area, and decide which students may need additional support and what that support will look like. 


Create your free account today and get your students excited to write every day. Want to learn more about Fishtank’s approach to ELA instruction? Explore our Guiding Principles, Teacher Tools, and latest posts on the Fishtank Blog.


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