Supporting High School Student’s Executive Function while Teaching the Writing Process

By Lauren Murphy

May 15, 2020

I’ve been teaching writing since I started teaching at Landmark, and as someone who enjoys writing, teaching writing has been an exciting (and sometimes frustrating) opportunity for me. The majority of the students I teach have executive functioning deficits; thus, the writing process can seem like an insurmountable task for them. Although often not immediately associated, the executive functions play a large role in students’ ability to successfully move through writing assignments. Although many of my students may possess the ability to write well, and also have a keen and deep understanding of the topics they are asked to write about, when asked to produce any type of writing from quick paragraphs to longer analytical papers, their executive function deficits quickly cloud any talent or aptitude for the written word. Their ability to get started, to move from one step to the next, to persist through writer’s-block, to self-monitor progress, all essential skills in completing writing assignments, is greatly impacted by their struggles with executive functioning. 

Last year’s group of 10th graders struggled immensely with the organization of writing, from keeping track of documents to remembering that the thesis goes at the end of the introduction to the inclusion of topic sentences at the start of each paragraph. In isolation, this group of students knew that these elements helped to keep their writing organized, but they could not contextualize the skills when it came time to write a paper. Class time was often spent unproductively searching for the correct documents or templates or spending valuable individual editing sessions asking them to locate essential pieces of their paragraphs from disparate templates and papers. We weren’t making the progress I knew these bright students were capable of, so I had to re-think my approach to teaching the writing process to students. In collaboration with Abby Cain, we developed this “Writing Process Template Collection.” Putting everything students would need to help them organize both short and long pieces of writing has transformed the way students move through the writing process. 

The collection is a set of templates formatted as a presentation for students to use as a guide through the 5-step writing process. Not only is this strategy a good way to micro-unit and structure each step of the writing process, but it also allows students to have everything in one place. This helps them to avoid the “I lost my packet” problem that can really interrupt the ability to smoothly transition from one step to the next. The slides help students walk through the steps of the writing process from brainstorming all the way to the editing process within one document. This helps students see how these steps are not stand-alone entities, but rather pieces of the puzzle that are necessary to complete a piece of writing. With everything in one place (and I can see it since it’s shared with me), students no longer spend 15 minutes in class or at home trying to find all of the papers and templates they need to get started with an outline. Students can look back to their thesis while working on research note cards to make sure they are staying on topic, and the templates are color-coded by subtopic which helps keep them organized. Not only does this template keep students organized and help them become less likely to skip steps in the writing process, but it can also be adapted to shorter or longer papers, projects, or any number of long-term assignments. Students seem to love this approach too, and I’ve seen some of them re-create it for other classes, which is proof that it is a great organizational strategy for some students. 

Now more than ever, it is important for teachers to provide models and clear expectations for student work. This template could serve as a powerful tool to guide your students through the writing process during remote learning.

Lauren has taught a variety of study skills and writing courses since she came to Landmark High School in 2014. As marketing director, she coordinates marketing and communication efforts for all aspects of the program. Additionally, she teaches courses for Landmark Outreach Online and the Landmark SNHU partnership. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from St. Lawrence University and a master’s degree in special education from Simmons University.

Strategies to Download

Download Lauren’s slideshow to outline the 5-step writing process for her students.


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