Genre-Focused Planning Strategies

What Are Planning Strategies?

Planning strategies help students achieve the related goals of generating, organizing, and sifting ideas for a paper. Planning takes place before and during writing and written plans should be checked after writing has occurred to ensure the plan was followed. Planning strategies typically use acronyms to encapsulate the multiple steps involved and some sort of graphic organizer to record ideas. Genre-focused planning strategies have the additional benefit of triggering writing ideas that fit a particular text organization structure (e.g., narrative).

How Can My Students Benefit From Planning Strategies?

Although proficient writers plan before and during writing, most students who struggle with writing do very little planning and tend to dive into a writing assignment with little forethought, which results is poorly organized and unclear text. The advantage of planning strategies is that they help students organize their ideas before they begin to write, and research evidence indicates that advance planning does improve the structure and quality of students’ papers (e.g., Troia, 2002; Troia & Graham, 2003). In fact, not only do garden variety poor writers benefit from planning strategy instruction, but so do students with learning disabilities, language impairments, mild mental retardation, and attention deficit disorder. Improvements accrue for these students whether planning strategies are taught in the classroom, the resource room, or during individual tutoring sessions.

How Do I Teach Planning Strategies?

Planning strategies should be extensively modeled by the teacher before students are asked to use them. This means that a teacher identifies a topic or theme about which to write, demonstrates how to use the advance planning strategy (soliciting ideas from students can increase student engagement) while thinking aloud, writes the paper, checks the recorded plan and possibly modify it, and revises and edits the paper. Of course, taking a paper through the entire writing process will require multiple lessons, and the teacher needs to make sure that the focus on planning is not lost. The teacher will need to discuss the particular strengths and limitations of the strategy, when it should be used, and how it could be modified to fit particular situations.

After modeling how to use the planning strategy, the teacher should have students work in cooperative groups (or with a partner) to collaboratively practice using the planning strategy with ample feedback from peers and the teacher. Essentially, the students plan, write, revise, and edit a group paper. All of the students might be assigned the same prompt, or each group might be allowed to select their own prompt from a related set. Students should discuss how the strategy worked for them and offer suggestions for how to use if most effectively. Following collaborative practice, each student then should have an opportunity to individually practice the planning strategy with continued feedback.

What Are Some Genre-Specific Planning Strategies and How Do I Use Them with My Students?

SPACE LAUNCH is a strategy for planning narratives (personal or fictional) that incorporates the basic structure of narrative (i.e., SPACE) and the steps for planning and writing a good story (i.e., LAUNCH). A prompt sheet identifies the strategy steps and can be copied for each student or reproduced for a poster display. A planning sheet allows students to record their story ideas, writing goals, and self-talk statements. First, a student should establish (with teacher input) and record personalized writing goals: a quality goal and a related quantity goal. For example, if struggling with word choice (one of the six traits), a student might identify a goal to increase her quality rating for word choice from a 3 to a 5 on a 6-point scale. A related quantity goal to help her reach this level of quality in word choice might be to include a minimum of 10 descriptive words in her story. Next, the student should generate ideas for a story and record single words or short phrases that capture these ideas (it is important to discourage students from writing complete sentences on a planning sheet, as this will restrain flexibility in planning and yield a rough draft rather than a true plan). Note that space is provided for multiple ideas for each basic part of a story—students should be encouraged to explore several possibilities for setting and plot elements to foster creativity and to permit evaluation of each idea’s merit. Finally, she should record self-talk statements, which are personalized comments, exhortations, or questions to be spoken aloud (initially) or subvocalized (once memorized) while planning and writing to help her cope with negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to the writing process or the task. For example, if she believes writing is hard, she might record, “This is a challenge, but I like challenges and I have my strategy to help me do well.” Self-talk is an important aspect of self-regulation of the writing process. The last sheet is a score card, which is used by a peer to evaluate the student’s writing performance. The evaluation criteria are closely linked to the valued qualities embedded in the strategy itself (i.e., million-dollar words, sharp sentences, and lots of detail), the basic structure of a narrative, and writing mechanics. Of course, these criteria could be modified to align more with particular writing traits, and the rating scale could be adjusted to match the scale used by the teacher. At the bottom of the score card, the writer tallies her points, determines if she has improved (this implies progress monitoring, a critical aspect of strategy instruction that helps students see how their efforts impact their writing), and sets goals for her next story.

DARE to DEFEND is a strategy for planning persuasive papers that incorporates the structure of persuasion (i.e., DARE) and the steps for planning and writing a good opinion paper (i.e., DEFEND). The materials for this strategy are very similar to those provided for SPACE LAUNCH; there is a prompt sheet, a planning sheet, and a score card. Note that the student is required to identify and record ideas that support her position and ideas that counter her position. In the process of doing this, she may decide to alter her position once she evaluates the importance and relevance of each idea. The student can place an asterisk next to those ideas which she can elaborate upon or for which she can provide concrete supporting evidence, which encourages further planning.