Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

How to Practice Writing While Reading [Upper Elementary]

Editor's Note: This blog was previously published, we're re-sharing it today as teachers begin to plan their fall semester.  


By Dr. Geraldine Haggard, Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Guest Blogger

Prompting upper-elementary and middle school students to practice important strategies that involve inferential thinking is a great way to help them become better readers and writers. This can include learning new vocabulary and phrases, identifying points of view, tracing arguments, and evaluating claims that are proved by reason and evidence. In today's blog post, I'll explain how you can use the topic of paranormal activity to engage kids in reading and writing practice. There will also be questions that will help you self-assess your effectiveness of combining reading and writing practice.

The use of a writing journal can allow students to extend reading and speaking about narrative and nonfiction content in an engaging leveled book. Narrative writing is emphasized, and students could write original narratives, or share personal experiences, as they write about the book’s topic.

Introducing an Engaging Book

After passing out copies of your chosen book, for example, a text like The Paranormal, ask if anyone sees a word they recognize inside the title. Have them write that word in their journals. Have them write about what normal means in their life. Then encourage students to read aloud some of their examples.                                                                                                                                                                                                    Talk to students about the prefix in paranormal. Have them underline the prefix para-  and explain that this prefix means unusual or abnormal. Direct students open the book to the table of contents to look for unusual entries. Have them write two or three of these in their journals and label “not normal or proven” by each entry.

Activating Prior Knowledge

Share the importance of using what is already known or prior knowledge to motivate students to understand what they are reading. For example, have them write two or three questions about ghosts that they would like to have answered in their journals. When they've done this, compile a list of questions on the board for use as you start the next session. Prior knowledge and anticipated outcomes are essential to efficient readers.

Teaching Ideas for Sections 

  • Instruct students to pay close attention to new vocabulary.  Have them explain the meanings of the words with the help of either the included glossary or the help of a dictionary.  In the example below from The Paranormal, medium, and force, are both words with multiple meanings that students could explain the meaning of using prior knowledge.  
  • Guide students to draw conclusions by writing about things they know and recognize by drawing upon prior knowledge. This could be a group or paired activity.  
  • Draw upon new words and phrases that students may not be familiar with and encourage kids to make inferences based on images in the nonfiction book for kids.  
  • Understanding the feelings and emotions of characters in the narrative text portion of this book can be a fun way to engage students. Ask students to read the page orally with you and with an expression for the voices of each character.  In The Paranormal, the students could study the woman's picture and write a sentence using the image and the description of her in the story. 

Questions That Assess Student Participation

  • Did most students work independently as they wrote? Did they work cooperatively with a partner?
  • How did they respond to you as you moved among them during writing time? Are you doing enough of this support help as you observe students?
  • Did most of the students participate in group discussions? Were most of them good listeners? What could you do to encourage better listening and oral language development?
  • Do your observations of the students during reading and writing reveal excitement or enjoyment? When was this the most obvious, and what might you do to create more of this classroom climate?

Questions for Teacher Evaluation

  • Did I use modeling, guided practice, and independent practice of important strategies? Did I see some growth in these areas? Are there strategies for which I need to provide more teacher guidance?
  • Did I provide writing activities of various lengths? Have I studied the writing samples to determine strengths and weaknesses?
  • Did I provide opportunities for students to do a silent reading after the introduction of this nonfiction leveled guided reading book? Did I also include oral reading to develop fluent reading practice? Did I demonstrate and encourage oral expression in reading that indicates an understanding of the characters’ emotions?
  • Did I suggest some extra reading from the ideas in the text? Are there books in my classroom library or online resources that might encourage more reading on the topic?

These are only a few ways to engage upper-elementary and middle school students with reading about an interesting topic. There are several other topics that engage striving readers within the Download Series because they all include narrative content that draws upon informational text within the same book. Be sure to visit our blog again soon for more tips to use with your students!


Dr. Geraldine Haggard is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher. She spent thirty-seven years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children. If you like what you read here, you can enjoy more from Dr. Haggard elsewhere on our blog.