Students Need More Writing Practice to Reverse the Skills Crisis

Students are not getting enough writing practice to build essential skills.
Here are 3 tips to help teachers provide more opportunities.
Students Need More Writing Practice to Reverse the Skills Crisis


Writing is a critical life skill. Employers emphasize strong written communication skills. College degrees require writing skills for completion.

Our K-12 educational system, however, is not providing students with sufficient writing instruction or practice so that they can develop this necessary skill set.

Minimum Daily Writing Practice for Student Skill Building

Based on the National Commission on Writing recommendations, the Institute for Education Sciences has determined that first-graders should spend about 60 minutes a day writing. Middle and high-schoolers should spend no less than 30 minutes a day.

Insufficient Daily Writing for Students

The Learning Agency Lab, in its analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress data, discovered that, in general, students are not receiving the recommended writing time in their English language arts class. Only about 25 percent of middle-schoolers and 31 percent of high-schoolers spent 30 minutes writing daily. In fact, about one-third of middle-schoolers and high-schoolers spent no more than 15 minutes a day writing.

Students also fail to receive sufficient writing instruction. Syllabi from 2,400 teacher preparation programs demonstrated that these programs spend little time on the teaching of writing. Many teachers report that they feel unprepared to teach writing and that discomfort affects how they teach.

Grammar Instruction does not Improve Writing

Overall, one-quarter of eighth-graders say their writing instruction centers around grammar. For Black and Hispanic students, the emphasis on grammar and mechanics is even greater. One-quarter of Black and Hispanic students say their grade is based primarily on grammar, while only 18 percent of White students say so. Yet grammar instruction, in isolation, does not improve writing.

Cross-Curricular Writing Critical but Missing

Students also fail to spend enough time engaged in cross-curricular writing. Writing in classes such as social studies, science, and mathematics could help students solidify their understanding of the concepts presented while also improving their writing.

For example, math teachers could assign a student to write a paragraph explaining multiplication. This will help students understand the process rather than just memorizing the multiplication tables. A social studies teacher could assign students to write an essay taking a position on whether streets should still be named after Thomas Jefferson, an enslaver. Writing assignments help students refine and communicate their thinking.

Consequences of Inadequate Writing Practice

As a result of too little writing time and instruction, 75 percent of 12th graders and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to a National Assessment of Educational Progress study quoted in the New York Times.

More than 40 percent of high school students who take the American College Testing (ACT) exam scored below the readiness criteria for taking college-level English. This lack of proficiency results in students failing to gain admission to the college of their choice; in fact, insufficient writing ability is a top reason why applicants are rejected, according to US News and World Report.

Consequences Follow Students into College and Career

College doesn’t improve writing skills either; less than half of college graduates are proficient writers, employers say. LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, has stated that the biggest professional skill gap in the US includes written communication, among several other soft skills.

The lack of writing skills can affect career opportunities. Poor writing in the workplace can tarnish a company’s image and lead to confusion, misunderstanding, lost productivity, and loss of business.

Currently, American workers are wasting time trying to understand poorly written material. Nationally, the amount of time wasted equals 6 percent of total wages or about $396 billion of our national income. Poor writing also partially contributes to low employee engagement — 48 percent cite poor communication as a major source of dissatisfaction.

Students and their parents trust the school system to provide them with the essential skills they need to succeed in life, yet the system is failing them.

Schools and colleges face a crisis of trust. The system will need to either revamp itself or face regulations that do so. If the problem of poor writing continues there, the economy will suffer.

What Can be Done?

The responsibility for this ongoing crisis must start with education policies to prevent the writing problem from becoming a larger crisis.

A change in federal policy that makes writing the center of American education, rather than the current policy focusing on reading comprehension through standardized tests, can lead to students graduating with better writing skills. Requiring a periodic writing assessment evaluated by well-informed teachers can help determine the need for early interventions. Finally, smaller class sizes can allow teachers to spend more time providing feedback to students on their writing.

3 Teacher Tips for More Student Writing Opportunities

  • Providing formative assessment activities. For example, during a lesson students can take a 3-minute writing break to write about the topic. Another example is to require exit slips on which the student has written in response to a prompt. Prompts can include what the most important thing they learned that day or further questions they may have.
  • Using low-stakes writing tasks daily. Low-stakes writing will improve the student’s confidence in handling high-stakes writing. Journal entries that include learners’ deeper reflections promote writing as a means of learning and a way of communicating learning.
  • Integrating long form writing into summative assessments. Instead of giving multiple-choice questions or one-word answer questions, ask open-ended and essay questions.


Writing has been a neglected skill set compared to reading and math. Yes, writing skills acquisition is time-consuming for both students to learn and teachers to teach. However, it is necessary for students’ college and career success. Now, more than ever, it is time to invest in writing for K-12 students.

To reach the daily minimum writing time per student, it takes effort from policy makers, districts, schools, and collective effort from teachers across all subjects to incorporate more writing opportunities.

To improve writing skills by making it more engaging for students and more efficient and time-saving for teachers, register for JoeZoo today.

Carl Mascarenhas