Writing Lessons: Kelly Gallagher

Writing is hard. My students struggle with it. I struggle with it. This year I’ve been looking to help students find moments of writing that edge into places that matter to them.  Taking a page from what I know about fostering reading love, I gave them dedicated time and choice for writing. For some it has worked. But many need more to create a better writing life.

Saturday, Kelly Gallagher helped me (along with a multipurpose room full of like-minded educators) reach toward that goal. I took pages of notes. We wrote and wrote. Getting professional development like this is tangible and inspirational. What a gift! Kudos to my district’s leaders for providing this opportunity.

If you are looking for a new PD read or two, consider giving yourself these books. Much of the work we did yesterday is highlighted in Write Like This.  In the Best Interest of Students is out in a few days.


Here are a few morsels Kelly shared that I plan to use in my classroom and in my writing life.

Articulate the why.

  • Writing is hard, but writing is necessary.
  • Writing helps you sort things out.
  • Writing helps fight oppression. It’s a gatekeeping skill.
  • Words are weapons and tools.
  • Writing helps you persuade others.
  • Writing is generative.
  • Writing makes you smarter.

With this in mind remember writing, like any skill, is an act that must be practiced. As teachers we are their coaches and we need to coach throughout their game: from the sidelines, during time outs and half time.  Students need a sense of what they should be doing, adjusting their moves along the way. This drives growth.

Think about how your writing time goes and apply Dick Allington’s philosophy about reading to it — it’s less about ability and more about opportunity.

  • Allow for low stakes writing.
  • Allow for lots of writing.
  • Allow time for writing.

Model, model, model. And do it in front of your students. Real time.

Kelly Gallagher is the master of modeling. Yesterday, he took us through three models with mentor texts . All of this work is generative and focused on the craft of writing.

The first level we looked at was the most structured. The idea was to write as close as possible to a mentor text. Changing the topic yet using the model to guide each step in the process.  Rick Reilly’s  “Congrats Newly Minted Rookie” piece provided a model for us to try our own “Congrats Newly Minted…” piece. Think congrats new minted mom, kinder parent, middle school teacher. Now, imagine using an age appropriate text for your students. Or, doing this with your favorite piece of writing. For some writers this is highly supportive model and for other writers it might be highly restrictive. Either way it develops writers..

The next level was modeling  off the structure of a text. The simple approach we looked at was from Gretchen Bernabai’s book Reviving the Essay. The example we worked with was writing sentences with the stems:  what I used to think,  then this happened, and so now I think. The seeds from this type of beginnings could create a much wider range of writing possibilities.

The final and most unstructured way to use a mentor text as a model was to find “hot spots” or words/phrases that spoke to you in a piece of writing. At this level, a seed for your writing notebook could be launched from a key quote, phrase or word. We listened to and read Daniel Beaty’s Knock Knock to try out this strategy.

Imagine trying each of these methods with your students over the course of a week. Invite them to choose one to revise and revise in front of them, showing the struggle and the thinking needed to revise.

A word on revision: RADAR. Replace, Add, Delete, and Reorder. Model that. Track your process. How often do you replace, add, delete and reorder your work? Highlight each move. Imagine growing your writers along that continuum.

And speaking of continuums — What about grading? Assessments? Don’t confuse them.

Kelly considers himself a teacher of literacy, not literature. With the goal of everyone improving, everyone moves.

He’s a mentor to emulate.