5 Ways to Use Expository Writing Across the Curriculum to Improve Student Success

Writing across the curriculum can help all of our students be more successful in school.  I believe this is especially true of expository writing. Not only will our students become more successful when they learn how to write across the curriculum, but the latest standards also require that they know how to write in every subject.  Writing across the curriculum is a required skill that will help students learn and teachers assess student learning.  The question is not if we should write across the curriculum but how to incorporate it easily into the already crazy school day.

Writing Across the Curriculum Helped Me Learn

There are three major ways of learning – reading, writing, and lectures. In my freshman year of college, I had a terrible three-hour class, with a professor who lectured the entire time in monotone.  I remember nothing from that class except it was history.  On the other hand, I took a class on the literature of the Romanic Period and I remember writing a research paper on the symbolism of snakes and serpents.  Neither of these classes were my favorite, but over 15 years later I retained more from one over the other.  

In my literature class, we didn’t just read the book and passively think about it as we read.  We had to come up with an idea to research and explain.  Of the three ways, we commonly learn writing is one of the most powerful.

Expository Writing Across the Curriculum in My Classroom

I love engaging my students in research projects because they have to pick the topic, research it, gather the key information, think about how to organize it, and write.  If it’s a project instead of an essay then they have to present their project too.  There are so many skills involved in expository writing that when we bring this powerful learning tool to all subjects our students are going to learn and benefit from it.

What is Writing Across the Curriculum?

Writing across the curriculum is not a new method, it’s been around since the 1970s.  Writing across the curriculum is when we have our students write in every subject.  For most subjects, I believe this writing takes the form of expository writing.  The goal of writing across the curriculum is to get away from lectures and get our students to engage with the information they are learning.  Our students can easily space out during a lecture or video.  Also, it does not have to be a long expository writing project, instead, it can be short and simple.

By using writing across the curriculum we actively engage our students in learning because they are working with the information rather than passively listening to or reading it.  When our students write in every subject we are growing their critical thinking skills.  By giving them time to research and write themselves they will learn better and gain the academic skills the latest standards require. I think that’s awesome because I don’t have to lecture a bunch of blank faces every day.  

Class discussions are another big part of writing across the curriculum.  When our students write they also need to revise and edit with their peers.  This is a great opportunity for students to learn from each other by clarifying information, asking questions, and just talking about it.  We can take class discussions to another level by having students work on group projects or papers.  This has the dual benefit of more discussion and fewer papers to grade.  Presenting their projects or papers is another great way to help get students talking.

More Information About Writing Across the Curriculum

Writing Across the Curriculum: 5 Ideas for Success

Why Writing is Important for Your Students Across the Curriculum

An Introduction to Writing Across the Curriculum

Ways to Promote Writing Across the Curriculum

I love the idea of expository writing across the curriculum because our students are often studying fact-based subjects their writing will often be expository.  However, it is not necessary that expository writing that is a long research paper.  Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can start incorporating expository writing across the curriculum.

Short and Easy Ways to Implement Expository Writing Across the Curriculum

These are some quick and easy ways to have your students write in every subject.  These easy-to-implement ideas are meant to be short, easy to grade, and filled with critical thinking skills.

Think Pair Share

Think Pair Share is a popular teaching tool in most classrooms.  It’s a great way for students to share their ideas when you know you can’t listen to every single one.  Let’s add a writing twist to this activity.  Have your students write down their thoughts, pair up with a partner, and then share their ideas.  This ensures that all students have put some organization and thought into their ideas.

Quick Writes

Quick Writes are when students write for a specific amount of time on a specific topic.  Usually, teachers ask students to write for about 10 minutes on the writing prompt or information.  When you grade a quick write you want to focus on the content of their ideas, not writing skills.


Have your students keep a reflection journal about what they are learning.  They can write their ideas or questions about the content.  They can summarize the information so they remember something that they thought was important.  Their journals can include self-assessments about how they think they’re doing in class.  Through reflection, they may realize they need to change something to help them learn better.

Writing for the Real World

There are professional careers that stem from the subjects we teach in school.  That is the whole reason we teach these subjects.  And each of these careers has a specific way of writing.  The professionals have reports, essays, or journals they must keep.  They must track and record accurate data. They have notes and ideas that they need to write and share with their coworkers. We can have our students practice writing using the work of professionals as a model.

Note Taking

Note-taking is an important academic skill.  Students need to be able to recall important facts and details.  However, interpretation, reflection, and critical thinking about the notes they took are also very important.  When students write facts and then reflect on the information they are going to retain the knowledge better.   This could mean pausing in a lecture or writing a quick summary for each subtitle in their textbook.

In my history class, I used to have my students write a one-sentence summary of the section and draw a picture that would help them remember it.  It changed their note taking from facts to including reflection.

Expository Writing Across the Curriculum Research Projects

Research projects are one of my favorite ways to encourage students to write across the curriculum.  Please notice that I said research projects instead of research essays.  Students can learn and engage with information without writing a long essay.

Expository writing and research projects are so complex.  Students have to use so many skills to write an expository essay, and many of these same skills can be practiced with a research project.  

Students can practice researching information for an expository project.  The things they learn and the notes they take will be virtually the same whether they write an expository essay or create an expository project.  The biggest difference I think is that students will usually be more excited about the project than they are about the essay.

Students can practice organizing information and choosing how to present it in an expository research project just like they would in an expository essay.  Being able to read and record all the necessary information and figure out how it logically fits together and should be presented is a huge skill.  It’s way more fun to put that information together in a creative way than it is to write a long essay.  

I like to offer my students a choice board of options for how they are going to present their expository research project. I usually have a writing requirement for each choice. Students can learn just as much from these projects as they do from writing an expository essay.  But these expository writing projects are more enjoyable to create and grade.

Expository Writing Across the Curriculum With A Classroom Theme

It’s a lot of fun to have a theme run through each subject you teach.  If you are studying Ancient Egypt you can have your students study it in history, write short stories in ELA, use hieroglyphics, build pyramids, or balance scales to teach math.  Students can go on an archaeological dig or examine the mummification process in science.  

Students will be fully engaged with information about Ancient Egypt across every subject.  Then you can add a written component to each activity.  Students will have so much fun being fully emersed in a subject rather than switching gears completely every 45 minutes.

Expository Writing Across the Curriculum With Your Teaching Team

Gather your teaching team together to brainstorm ideas for how to bring expository writing across the curriculum.  Working with your team will generate so many more ideas for what you can do.  Don’t forget to use the specials teachers to help out too.

When I was in Middle School the entire 6th-grade team worked together to put on a Medieval Times Fair.  We create decorations in art, studied history, completed medieval math activities, and everyone was given a role to play. My teachers had been creating and hosting this fair for years as a team.  They loved how much students learned from it.  It’s one of those school activities I still remember.

This is just one way the teaching team got together to create a memorable experience for the students.  The key to success was that this was a team effort.  The teachers did something amazing for their students by working as a team. 

You can work with your team to make any unit an opportunity for expository writing across the curriculum.  It doesn’t have to be the whole team either.  Maybe it would be great for students to add an art or music component to their work.  

For example, when I worked in fourth grade one of the standards was that students needed to know all the states and their capitals.  The teachers had the music teacher do this with students.  They all learned a song about the states and their capitals to perform for their parents.  I bet the kids still know the song today.

Expository Writing Across the Curriculum With Project-Based Learning 

Project-Based Learning is when students engage with the curriculum through meaningful real-world projects.  This means that students can use what they learn and create.  So often student work is just that, student work that gets graded, handed back, and recycled.  Imagine if we engaged our students with work that could be used and last long term in the real world.  

Project-Based Learning activities are the kind of activities that make the news.  The school used math to plan and create a community garden, and now they are studying the growing plants for science.  Think about all the writing students would have to do to build, plant, and care for a garden.  

It can be a challenge to think of ways to create and incorporate Project Based Learning activities, but your students and the internet can help.   

Expository Writing Across the Curriculum Benefits Students and Teachers 

Expository writing across the curriculum has so many benefits for both students and teachers.  Here’s a quick list of

Benefits for Students

  • Expository writing aids in the retention of information because students are researching, organizing, and creating a project or essay.
  • Students gain expert status in a specific subject or topic by deepening their knowledge of the topic. 
  • Students use critical thinking skills to understand, plan, organize and write.
  • Students become independent thinkers because they are creating their original work rather than listening to a lecture or just taking notes.

Benefits for Teachers

  • Teachers can engage all of their students more successfully because students can’t space out, they must interact with the information.
  • Teachers can assess students for progress, strengths, and weaknesses easily because they turn in original work.
  • It’s easier for teachers to see the gaps in knowledge and add additional lessons to address them.
  • Expository writing covers multiple standards and often in multiple subjects.

Expository writing across the curriculum helps students learn better which is beneficial to both students and teachers.

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