Writing Guide for Teachers

All teachers should help their students become better writers. To achieve this, teachers in training should familiarize themselves with as many writing types as possible. The journey begins as soon as you apply to a program, as you must write a convincing personal statement as part of your application. Once in a program, academic coursework includes multiple research papers and essay questions.

Strong writing skills help degree candidates articulate themselves clearly. This is important as teachers regularly write to communicate with administrators and parents. Clear, concise writing helps you express ideas and lets others know that you possess the skills necessary to educate the next generation. You can instruct students on these writing techniques, which benefit them later in life as they write college application essays, resumes, and cover letters.

Types of Writing Teachers Will Do in School

Personal Statements

Developing your writing style begins even before you apply. Most programs require applicants to submit a personal statement. Personal statement questions vary by program, but most ask applicants why they wish to attend the program and their career goals. Admission counselors appreciate essays that reflect a passion for teaching. They also prefer to read polished essays with near-perfect grammar and punctuation.

To differentiate your personal statement, consider sharing real-life experiences. If the prompt questions why you want to become a teacher, discuss the event that led you to that realization. A personal story humanizes you in an admission counselors’ eyes. When writing about personal experience, try to avoid negative or controversial topics unless you are discussing overcoming adversity or learning from a past mistake.

Submit personal statements to all programs to which you apply, even if they are optional. A great personal statement introduces you to the school and leaves a lasting impression.


In a teaching program, many exams include long-form essays. Some professors provide the prompt in advance, but if not, you can focus on either the study guide or unit materials to identify the largest or most complex topic covered. Professors often choose these topics for essay questions.

When starting any exam essay, use at least five minutes of the allotted time to plan and outline your essay. Create a thesis statement that answers the question. Then connect ideas from your prior knowledge to the thesis. If at least three separate ideas connect to your thesis, you can begin writing the essay. If you can brainstorm only one or two significant ideas, consider editing your thesis to better match the available evidence you can remember from the unit.

When you write an exam essay, always use a pencil and save at least five minutes for proofreading. This allows you to edit your text, polish any awkward areas, and replace weak examples. Awkward language can lead to your professor not understanding your point, resulting in a lower grade.

Research Papers

Research papers require students to research a specialized topic and may take weeks or months to complete. Students receive an assigned topic or question and then conduct research to develop their own opinions. A common research paper topic for teaching students involves the impact and validity of different child development theories over the last century. Like an essay, you connect main ideas from your research, quotes, and paraphrases to your thesis statement. Using your research, you create an essay outline where you can rearrange ideas before you begin writing.

When writing an essay, always begin with an introductory paragraph that includes your thesis statement. After that, follow these steps: introduce the idea, provide direct evidence through quotes or paraphrases, expand or comment on this evidence using your ideas, and conclude by transitioning into the next main idea. A double-spaced, 10-page essay generally includes three to four main ideas. Before wrapping up, consider addressing any possible counterarguments. You can refute or concede to these counterarguments. Finish your essay with a concluding paragraph, and have someone proofread your paper. Performing this extra step can significantly raise your grade.

How Do You Write an Essay?

Begin by choosing which type of essay you want to write. Do you want to tell a story, or do you want to change someone’s mind about an issue? In the bullet points below, review the five most common essay types that teachers in training can use when teaching writing structure and style.


These essays tell stories from the author’s point of view and often invoke readers’ emotions. Writers can use first-person language, as they are the key witness to the events unfolding on the page. Students should use clear, concise language and include all relevant details.


This format blends features of other essays. Students investigate one or more ideas and create an argument using cause-and-effect or persuasive techniques. The best expository essays use clear transitions, support points with evidence, and include a concluding paragraph that reexamines the thesis statement in light of everything that preceded it.


Also known as an argumentative essay, writers use this essay type to change readers’ minds on a topic or issue. Writers perform extensive research before outlining their responses. Persuasive essays often use quotes and paraphrases from authority figures to support the writer’s claims, which a thesis statement anchors. Invest as much time on research and outlining as on writing and editing this essay.


In this essay, writers compare two or more items, positions, texts, or events. Teachers likely assign the two items to compare, but sometimes students must develop their own items based on a certain theme. First weigh the similarities and differences between the two items you plan to compare. The results of your brainstorming become your essay’s foundation: the thesis statement.

Cause and Effect

This format either focuses on the causes or effects of an event. Once you decide your essay’s path, build it around three ideas that support your thesis. If your essay focuses on causes, mention one or more effects in your opening paragraph so that readers understand the connection. Like a good persuasive essay, a good cause-and-effect essay helps shift readers’ thinking to your point of view.

Citations Guide for Teaching Students

Using citations ensures that you attribute quotes and ideas to their respective authors. Not doing so may lead to a lower grade or an automatic fail. From high school to doctoral-level graduate programs, students use one of four citation systems: American Psychological Association (APA), Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), Modern Language Association (MLA), or Associated Press (AP). Learn more about which professions use these styles and how citations differ in the sections below.

American Psychological Association Style

Developed by the American Psychological Association, social sciences students use APA style when writing research papers. Like all citation systems, this style features in-text citations, footnotes, and a reference page. Papers include a title page, abstract, essay, and reference page in that order. Compared to other citation systems, APA style emphasizes each reference’s date of creation. When writing a citation at the end of an APA-style essay, the copyright year immediately follows the author or creator’s name.

(Richard Smith, 2012, page 76)
The scientists discovered an amazing gem at the bottom of the mine (Smith, 2005).

Chicago Manual of Style

The CMS style involves a citation system and many unique grammar and usage rules. This style includes in-text citations and those that follow the text or a footnote on the same page. Only writers using CMS style have this option. All other citation systems have the writer include the full citation at the end of the text. New editions of the CMS appear approximately every 10 years, so be sure to use the latest version.

(Bob Adams, 1993, page 12)
“We will never know if extraterrestrial life exists” (Adams 1993, 12).

Modern Language Association Format

Students studying literature, English, other languages, and different cultures predominantly use MLA style. MLA boasts fewer rules than other citation styles, which allows high school students to learn it as their first citation system. At the undergraduate and graduate levels, some social sciences professors prefer that students use MLA over APA. Many free online resources exist to help students successfully use MLA style.

(Caulfield, 1955, page 33)
“The camera is the artist’s greatest tool” (Caulfield 33).

Associated Press Style

Journalists throughout the U.S. use AP style to guide their grammar, usage, and citations. Developed by the Associated Press news agency in the 1970s, AP style includes specific rules for business and sports reporting. The guide also includes sections on editing marks and punctuation. AP prohibits using the Oxford comma. On the AP style website, visitors can subscribe to an online version for a small annual fee or sample a free trial.

(Hank Nichols, 2014, page 12)
“Men are only as good as their masters,” Nichols wrote in his 2014 bestselling novel, Man at the Window.

The Best Writing Style for Education Majors

In your teacher preparation program, your professors likely use APA or MLA format. Becoming familiar with these citation methods before starting your degree should help you become a better academic writer. Although mastering academic writing and APA/MLA format might come naturally to you, consider your future students.

To help students improve their writing and learn at least one citation format, consider using one or more of the resources provided by the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). IEW’s products and events help teachers and parents become more effective writing teachers. Teachers of English language learners and special needs students can find multiple resources as well. For first-time visitors, IEW offers a series of free webinars. These introduce the IEW teaching writing structure and style and other instructional best practices.

Common Writing Mistakes Students Make

Active vs. Passive Voice

Active and passive voice describe the relationship between a sentence’s subject and verb. In active voice, the subject performs the verb. (Sammy bought a cake.) In passive voice, the subject does not perform the verb. The action instead happens to the subject. (The cake was bought by Sammy.) Both active and passive voice represent grammatically correct ways to write. However, they create two traps for many writers.

The first trap involves mixing active and passive voice. Pick one voice and stick with it. Also, the rules of standard English insist that you use active voice in all cases. Many people find that reading passive voice sounds wordy and unnecessary. To avoid passive voice, always proofread your text, invest in a grammar-check program, or ask someone to edit your paper.


Punctuation refers to the characters used in the English language that are not part of the 26-letter alphabet. These characters indicate the end of sentences, pauses in speech, and emphasis. Periods, questions marks, and exclamation points always come at the end of a sentence. After a complete sentence, you can use a colon to begin a list. Semicolons connect two complete sentences that share the same topic.

Most punctuation mistakes involve commas. The first rule to remember concerns the Oxford comma, putting a comma after the second to last item in a list. Example: Mary bought a donut, ice cream, and soda today. The comma after ice cream is the Oxford comma. Some writing styles use the Oxford comma. Another avoidable comma mistake involves always placing a comma between two adjectives that describe a noun. Example: William bought an expensive, beautiful house last year. A comma splice involves incorrectly joining two complete sentences with a comma.


Grammar refers to the proper use of the English language. Many mistakes students make consist of simple errors that they began using as children and did not remedy. For example, many students have trouble correctly using there, their, and they’re. These three words are homophones. They have the same pronunciation but different spellings and meanings. There indicates a location; their indicates a possessive; and they’re is a contraction of ‘they are’. Other common homophones people mix up include its; it’s; your/you’re; and pique, peek, and peak.

Another grammar trap to avoid involves when to use ‘who’ or ‘whom’ in a sentence. Both refer to a singular noun when asking a question. Which one to use involves substituting he or him into the sentence. If ‘he’ works, use ‘who.’ If ‘him’ works, use ‘whom.’

Writing Resources for Teaching Students

  • Purdue Online Writing Lab Purdue OWL represents your one-stop shop for information regarding academic writing, such as citation guides and teaching resources. Many teachers in training who use Purdue OWL in college continue to use the free service as teachers.
  • National Writing Project The NWP resource topics page provides what both new and experienced teachers need to help their students learn how to become more effective writers. Specialized topics include urban education, special needs, and digital writing.
  • Scholastic Writing Resources Scholastic helps teachers with premade writing lesson plans. These resources can help teaching students learn the basics of what makes an engaging lesson plan.
  • readwritethink This resource provides new teachers with hundreds of ideas for classroom activities that help students become better writers. The website breaks down activities by grade level, so teaching students preparing for all grade levels can use it as a reference.
  • Writing A-Z This resource focuses on both emerging writers and fluent writers, giving teachers the tools to help students at all ability levels.