Hard to Engage Your Writers? Teach with Real-World Topics

If you have taught writing before, you know just how stressful it can be. No matter how many writing acronyms are used, models are shown, or step-by-step help is provided, many teachers have experienced breaking down in tears while grading writing assignments.

However, writing does not have to be this emotional! With the right topic and scaffolding, students will become stronger writers! 

Real-World Topics

Teaching writing in isolation is similar to teaching vocabulary in isolation. If students cannot form a connection, the quality is usually not what was desired.

A great solution to this is allowing students to write about real-world topics. When students are passionate about the topic, they will be excited to write, which results in higher engagement and stronger writing.

One topic to use is the great debate that occurs in many districts: Should Cell Phones be Allowed at School?

Topic Introduction

The way a teacher sets up a writing assignment is key. There needs to be enthusiasm in the pre-writing activities in order to build student engagement. These activities also have to help build knowledge and opinions on the topic.

If you can get students discussing the topic with each other, even better! They may even have constructive arguments over the topic since they have strong ideas and opinions. 

It is important to provide time for students to get to know the topic on a deeper level than they already do while keeping an open mind. Background reading may actually change the opinions of some students or allow them to gain more evidence to support their opinion!

Have students read one passage at a time where they can highlight evidence and key terms. After this, students may answer or discuss comprehension questions to ensure information was understood. This aspect will vary class-to-class based upon the students, so differentiate however is best. 

In order for students to support their opinions, they need help bringing in evidence. By using this chart, students will cite evidence on each side of the argument to ensure they are keeping an open mind about both sides. It will be important to show students how to cite, paraphrase, and provide relevant details. This chart will help keep each student’s thoughts organized and easy to follow while writing. 

Writing Options

Since students are all at different writing levels, it may be helpful to provide different writing options. This may be especially helpful as students are progressing from sentences to paragraphs to essays. 


The most scaffolded option provides fill-in-the-blank sentence frames for students to complete. This option could also be used as a teaching method on a different topic while students learn the format, which makes this option into a model. If students are struggling writers, this option will help modify the assignment while providing a high level of support to learn the writing process. 

Sentence Structure

The second option offers scaffolds for the sentences needed in each part of the paragraph while still allowing students to bring in their own wording and opinions. Each paragraph, including the introduction and conclusion, is framed out for students. This will help students stay-on-track and include all of the required components. 


The third option is a free-write on blank paper. It does not include any sentence starters or frames, so it is for students who already have a strong grasp of the writing process and what each paragraph needs. 

After students finish writing, it will be beneficial to provide time to proofread and edit. Students should learn how important it is to revise before submitting work. A rubric is also provided to help ease the process of grading so many essays in a time-friendly format.

Once students become more comfortable with writing, the steps in this unit can be used again and again. However, you could change your writing option if students received more scaffolding and help during this first round and did well.

For example, if students used the fill-in-the-blank option, they may progress to sentence structure. By the end of the year, you may have all of your writers utilizing the free-write form! Regardless of the option, your students will become stronger writers while utilizing these key steps!

You can get this amazing writing activity where students analyze cell phones in school from two perspectives here

For other engaging topics: 

Should Cell Phones be Allowed at School?

Should School Lunches be Healthier?

What Time Should Black Friday Sales Start?

Should Reading and Math be Taught in PE?

Should School Calendars be Longer?