The 3 superpowers of collaborative nonfiction writing

Writing with their peers motivates students and gives teachers multiple opportunities to provide feedback and assess authentic learning

Kids love to tell and share stories, but writing nonfiction is different, because they have to take concepts or events and not only understand them, but convey that information in writing. For many kids, it’s hard enough to show what they know verbally, but having to develop and then convey their thoughts and levels of understanding in writing can be very difficult.

When I taught middle-school English language arts and science, I remember taking over a classroom that had an old cabinet filled with science class materials, including bags of mini-marshmallows and boxes of toothpicks. (Apparently, students had used these items to create models of water molecules.) I’m a fan of a creating multiple paths, including a tactile approach, to teaching and assessing students’ levels of understanding. However, with all the standardized tests they take nowadays, kids can’t just make molecules out of marshmallows. They need to convey their understanding of concepts in writing, and teachers must help students build writing skills.

Here are three ways that collaborative nonfiction writing can be a powerful literacy tool, as well as some tips for teachers who are just getting started.

1. Instant and ongoing feedback
With a shared online platform like Google Docs, kids work independently and teachers have multiple opportunities to offer personalized feedback and additional instruction. Students get feedback when they submit their work, and teachers can revisit the final version of an assignment after the feedback. As a former special education teacher, I love the scaffolding and support that comes with this process of multiple revisions.

(Next page: How and why to bring collaborative nonfiction writing into your classroom)

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