EmPOWER: Strategies for Teaching Expository Writing

Writing draws on a wide range of skills and requires a high level of executive functioning. Each step in the traditional writing process is actually a combination of several smaller steps and various skills. We’ve embraced the EmPOWER writing strategy because the process breaks down each step and allows students to gain a greater understanding of the process. By breaking down the process, teachers can scaffold and release support as students become more and more independent.
The EmPOWER process starts before brainstorming, as the “E” stands for Evaluate. Students follow a procedure to evaluate directions or a writing prompt. They underline the action word and then underline important words that tell them what to do. Students then follow the mP steps, make a Plan, during which they figure out what type of writing is expected of them. For example, they think through if they have to compare, persuade, summarize or give information in their response. Once they have an understanding of the type of writing that is expected, students choose a Brain Frame to help them organize their writing. The Brain Frames are six graphic organizers that students create themselves. Each Brain Frame mimics a different cognitive process and allows students to organize notes in a meaningful way. In the O step, students Organize notes to prepare to write. In the WER steps, students write, edit and revise their work.
At each step of this process, students have a variety of resources. For example, during the writing step, paragraph templates are used to help students include all the parts of a paragraph, as well as quotes and analysis as writing becomes more advanced. The program even breaks down conclusion sentences, which are always tough for students to write in a sophisticated way. EmPOWER teaches that a conclusion sentence should answer the question “So what?” By framing conclusion sentences in this way, writers are pushed to extend their thinking and write interesting conclusions that not only wrap up their response, but also leave the reader with an interesting take away.
The EmPOWER process is most beneficial because it can be used for any content area. Additionally, different elements of the program can be used on their own with a variety of assignments. For example, students can Evaluate directions for any assignment and can use Brain Frames to take notes, even when a paragraph response is not required.
For students, the EmPOWER program reveals the “behind the scenes” thinking that goes into the writing process. For teachers, EmPOWER provides the language and resources to teach those steps that often get glossed over.
Kathy Peppers
MS Learning Specialist
The Churchill School and Center