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From Words to Works: Developing Writing Skills in Students of All Ages


Van Cleave tailors his hands-on, interactive writing workshops to the needs of individual audiences. Components can include research about the writing process, sentence development, foundational paragraph skills, genre writing, and the revising/editing process. Van Cleave also presents on advanced grammar and the motor component. Workshops vary in length depending on audience and need: the longer the workshop, the more in-depth the study. A general overview of the components of specific workshops is outlined below.


Keynote: In this lively and engaging keynote, Van Cleave will use current research on writing to help participants understand the issues confronting struggling writers. He will emphasize working memory and the number of simultaneous demands the writing process makes on students of all ages. He will conclude the presentation with recommendations for assisting students with the various components of writing.

Sentence Skills (Feature Workshop): More often than not, students struggle at the sentence level far more than they struggle at the paragraph level; teachers ignore this fact if they move directly to practicing prompts for assessments. This workshop, which is aligned with the Language section of the Common Core State Standards, will focus on parts of speech and sentence parts as they apply to the act of writing. Participants will learn about the components of a good lesson and strategies for developing sentence sense in student writers. They will examine parts of speech as a method of understanding the way words interact with each other and sentence parts as building blocks for creating different kinds of sentences. They will practice with the elements introduced and model the strategies suggested. (Van Cleave sometimes uses Writing Matters: Developing Sentence Skills in Students of All Ages as a course text for this workshop or conducts a book signing during workshop breaks.)

Developing Foundational Paragraph Skills: In order to succeed in coursework as well as various state and national assessments (e.g., Common Core assessments, individual school and district assessments, A.C.T., S.A.T.), students must have an understanding of basic and expanded paragraphs. Participants in this workshop will learn a structured, sequential approach to teaching the basic and expanded paragraph, including idea generation, categorization, and writing topic, supporting, and concluding sentences as well as transitions. They will work with gradual release instruction and teacher modeling of the writing process.

With a Purpose: Writing in the Genres
Students across the grades are asked to write narrative, opinion/argument, and informative text pieces. Participants first examine paragraph development as a springboard to writing with a purpose; they then turn their attention to specific genres. (Genre workshops can include/exclude specific genres to suit the needs and concerns of specific audiences.) Participants learn useful strategies for helping students develop effective writing for different purposes and genres. At all levels they work with prompt analysis, effective templates, and generating activities. For narratives, participants also look at story elements in isolation. With opinion/argument, participants work with developing adequate support to back their claims and different approaches to structuring their writing. Writing informative text requires the ability to highlight, take notes, and summarize text. Students must then learn to organize their thoughts and write a coherent piece. In this genre-focused workshop, participants learn about and practice with a variety of strategies to develop their students’ writing. (Note: This workshop can easily serve as a natural extension to the foundational paragraphs workshop and also as a springboard for the workshop on longer essays.)

Essay Writing: Participants will develop strategies to assist their students with writing responses to essay prompts and topics. They will learn a systematic, straightforward approach to developing introductory, supporting, and concluding paragraphs. In longer workshops they will work on strategies for tackling some of the more challenging issues students confront when they are working on longer papers for content courses. Van Cleave will also customize this workshop to address particular writing assessments and prompts in use in a given location.

Advanced Grammar: The Common Core recognizes the importance of advanced writing elements, such as verbals and appositives and adjective and adverb phrases and clauses. Van Cleave will guide middle and high school instructors through a study of these elements as they apply to developing student writing.

Writing in the Content Areas: With the establishment of the Common Core State Standards, teachers must incorporate writing in all aspects of the curriculum. This course, aimed at instructors in history/social studies, math, and science, makes the argument that effective writing strategies must be taught to students in all their courses and emphasizes the link between developing sentence skills and comprehension of course-related text, including text books. Teachers will learn some sentence-writing activities specifically geared towards the content and also examine appropriate strategies for tackling paragraphs and essays necessary for assessments. This workshop can also include strategies for highlighting, notetaking, and summarizing as needed.

The Motor Component – The Importance of Handwriting & Keyboarding Instruction: In this hands-on, interactive workshop, Van Cleave will cover the most up-to-date research on the importance of handwriting to student learners. He will then help participants explore effective strategies to teach students good, legible handwriting. He will instruct participants on proper positioning and letter formation with the goal of automatizing students’ handwriting so they can attend to the other components of written expression. Benefits of manuscript and cursive will be discussed, and keyboarding can be included as well.