Activities to Improve Writing Skills at the Fifth-Grade Level

Focus writing activities on specific skills so the objectives are clear.
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When working with fifth graders to improve their writing skills, you need to find a way to engage them within specific tasks, tap into subjects they really care about, or do both. Activities allow you to assign tasks that engage your students' imaginations, providing them with enough creative control to raise the entertainment value.

1 Purposeful Prompts

Writing prompts are effective for strengthening writing skills as well as getting students warmed up for other writing exercises. You can also tailor your prompts to focus on particular writing skills. For example, fifth graders work to develop their understanding of perspective, so issue a prompt that confines them to using a particular point of view. Keep your prompts broad, so your students have as much creative control as possible. Give a prompt such as "You'll never believe what happened to me," and tell the class they can either use that line in their pieces or not, and write either fiction or nonfiction.

2 Stoplight Challenge

Fifth graders need to work on organizing their thoughts onto paper, and a paragraph construction activity can be a fun way to do it. Review the parts of a paragraph: topic sentence, supporting details and conclusion. Equate these parts to a traffic light. The topic sentence is your green light, when you first go. The amber light represents your supporting details, and your conclusion is the red light -- when you stop. Have each student write a paragraph about a subject of his choice. Then, have students pair up and read each others' work. Give each student a green, yellow and red highlighter and have them highlight the appropriate parts of each others' paragraphs. If the colors go in the order of green, yellow and red, then the students have structured their paragraphs correctly.

3 Energy of Exactitude

Mark Twain said that the difference between the almost-right word and right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning, and this wisdom applies specifically to description. Have students make a list of all the words they can use to describe an object. Then, have them use a thesaurus to find five synonyms for each word. After that, have them look up the definitions of each synonym and see how, even though they are synonyms, they all have their own distinct shades of meaning. This activity will help broaden your students' vocabularies and teach them the importance of accurate word choice.

4 Active Actions

Have students write down one thing they did yesterday. Then, ask your students what they did. Write active-voice statements on one side of the chalkboard, and passive-voice statements on the other side. Do not label these lists of statements. Next, have them write one thing that happened to them yesterday. Again, write passive statements on the passive side of the board, and active statements on the active side. Tell them which statements are active and which are passive, and explain that in the active statements they were the doers, and in the passive statements they had things done to them. Finally, have students alter their statements from one voice to the other so they can see how they are different.

Christopher Cascio is a memoirist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and literature from Southampton Arts at Stony Brook Southampton, and a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in the rhetoric of fiction from Pennsylvania State University. His literary work has appeared in "The Southampton Review," "Feathertale," "Kalliope" and "The Rose and Thorn Journal."