How to Stick to Your Pacing Guide & Still Spiral Writing

Master the art of spiraling writing content for continuous mastery! In this blog post, discover effective strategies for integrating spiraled writing activities into your instruction. Learn how to keep students engaged, build upon prior knowledge, and ensure long-term retention of essential writing skills. Elevate your teaching game and empower your students to become confident and proficient writers.

When it comes to teaching writing, there is a delicate balance of progress and practice. We can move forward through the standards in our pacing guide and spiral content to sharpen skills over time. We understand that the ultimate goal is helping our students achieve mastery. But, as adults we know that writing is something that we will continue to improve and hone in on over the rest of our lives. So, today I want to talk about moving through your pacing guide, while still revisiting skills throughout the year.

1. Effective Planning with a Pacing Guide

Pacing guide for planning common core writing lesson and activities for elementary ela instruction, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade

The first step in effective planning is using a pacing guide. Create a plan that breaks down the writing standards into actionable steps and aligns with your curriculum. A clear pacing guide will keep you on track and ensure that each student progresses through the standards at the right pace.

Where can you find pacing guides?

  • Many districts/schools have their own pacing guides! Ask your team lead, instructional coach, or academic dean if there is one available.
  • Additionally, many programs have their own scope & sequence. If you’re using a program, check there, too!
  • I have free pacing guides for K-4! Grab yours here.
  • Create your own! Use a combination of the aforementioned guides and create one that suits you and your classroom!

I recommend using your pacing guide to map out your overarching writing skills with larger units. Plan when you are going to teach each writing type with the intention of progressing through that plan without too many pit stops. Differentiation and individualized instruction can help fill gaps and allow you to work with students who need additional time and practice toward mastery.

My Common Core All Year, All ELA Pacing Guides are shown in the photo above. These pacing guides cover all 6 ELA Domains for the entire year. Grades K-4 are available here.

2. Using Mini-Lessons & Small-Group Lessons Effectively

(Lessons and activities from my Common Core bundles, W.3.3 and W.1.2, are seen in the photos above.)

After getting your overarching writing units mapped out, you can then start thinking about more focused instruction. Pull standards from your pacing guide to plan your whole-group mini-lessons. Whole-group instruction time will be when you focus on progress through the standards. I have an entire blog post on using mini-lessons for teaching writing that you can read here. However, if you’d like a quick guide, here is what I recommend for planning mini-lessons:

  • Short, clear mini-lessons that introduce *new* content & skills
  • Incorporate anchor charts & mentor texts
  • Include direct vocabulary instruction
  • Access background knowledge and shared experiences
  • Modeling writing process steps
  • Guided practice pieces

Small group settings are perfect for differentiating instruction. So, while you’re utilizing mini-lessons to teach new concepts, you can use small groups for extension and intervention. Likewise, small group instruction allows you to leverage the strengths of your learning groups and focus on specific areas where they need improvement. This will provide more opportunities for time & practice toward mastery! I will talk more specifically about using small groups for writing instruction later, but if you’d like a quick guide, here is what I recommend for planning small-group:

  • Use exit slips and informal assessments to gauge skill strengths & needs
  • Group students who need to work on similar skills
  • Plan short, directed activities that will allow students to practice those specific skill needs
  • Plan extension activities for students who can develop beyond current standard requirements
  • Work for mastery, regrouping students as needed

If you’d like to read my blog post on using mini-lessons in writing, click here! Or, watch my YouTube video about Scaffolding Your Writing Lessons!

3. Spiral Writing Skills Through Other Content

Common Core Writing Unit for  planning common core writing lesson and activities for elementary ela instruction, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade

Now that you know how to plan your whole-and small-group lessons with the intention of progressing through the standards, you can intentionally spiral your writing content throughout the rest of your daily instruction. Spiraling your content will help students sharpen their skills by revisiting standards that they’ve previously learned. For example, if students have already learned about expository (or how-to) writing, you can use a how-to activity in one of their centers, morning work, or as a partner activity in science, etc.

Incorporating writing styles in a spiral format through ELA Centers, morning work, projects, and cross-curricular activities will improve chances at mastery and keep students practicing skills that you’ve already taught.

Plan spiraled activities through:

  • Centers
  • Partner/Group activities
  • Cross-Curricular activities (Math, Science, Social Studies, Arts, etc).
  • Project-Based activities
  • Morning Work
  • Homework
  • Reading Response options

Using interesting content and various activities can make the concept of writing more exciting for your students. Many teachers have ELA centers that require students to practice reading, writing, language, and other skills in small groups, partners, or independent activities. So, even if you’re working on narrative writing within your mini-lessons and small-group or writer’s workshop (if that is your writing lesson format), you can still use other writing types in your ELA centers.

Similarly, you can use these activities as morning work or homework options. Try to think about activities that would have students using skills they’ve previously learned.

For example:

  • Write a letter to your favorite author describing why you admire them
  • Read an excerpt from your nonfiction text. Rewrite the excerpt as a narrative story, using dialogue between two characters.
  • Think about your favorite meal. Write a food review for the local newspaper that is written as an opinion piece.
  • Think about a scene from a movie or television show. Using sensory details, write a descriptive narration of the scene as if the reader is experiencing it.
  • Write an informational text that describes ____________ (or the latest topic you’ve learned about in __________).
  • Write a how-to piece that teaches your reader how to __________.
  • Imagine your best friend, sibling, or family member. Write a 3 paragraph story where they are the main character. Be sure to incorporate feelings, actions, speech, and thoughts that show that character’s traits.
Common Core Writing Unit for  planning common core writing lesson and activities for elementary ela instruction, kindergarten, first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade

Finally, you can spiral your writing content by using activities in other subjects. Assigning cross-curricular projects will give your students a chance to engage with writing in real-world contexts and make learning fun.

Here are seven ideas for incorporating writing into cross-curricular activities:

  • Science Journal: Have students maintain a science journal where they record observations, conduct experiments, and write reflections on scientific concepts.
  • Math Story Problems: Ask students to create story problems that involve mathematical concepts and require written explanations of their problem-solving strategies.
  • Historical Fiction: Prompt students to write historical fiction stories set in different time periods, blending their understanding of history with their creative writing skills.
  • Art Critique: Engage students in art critique activities where they analyze and describe artwork, using written language to express their interpretations and opinions.
  • Travel Brochures: Assign students the task of creating travel brochures for different geographical locations, requiring them to research and write persuasive descriptions.
  • Historical Letters: Ask students to write letters as if they were historical figures, showcasing their understanding of the period and events they are studying.
  • Book Reviews: Have students write book reviews that analyze and evaluate literature they have read, providing recommendations and insights to their peers.

By integrating writing into cross-curricular activities, students not only strengthen their writing skills but also develop a deeper understanding of various subjects. These interdisciplinary writing tasks encourage critical thinking, creativity, and effective communication across multiple disciplines.

Resources That Are Ready to Go!

If you’re looking for writing lessons that are ready to go, these grade-level units have everything you need! Click your grade level for a closer look!


Looking for more Reading & Writing materials? Check out the All-Year-ELA Membership!

With this membership, you will get all of my ELA standards-based units. This includes my standards-based materials for Reading Informational, Reading Literature, Writing, Language and Grammar, Vocabulary, Foundational Skills, and Speaking & Listening!


Meanwhile, would you like to read more ELA planning posts?

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