National Writing Project

Uncommonly Good Ideas: Teaching Writing in the Common Core Era

Sandra Murphy and Mary Ann Smith

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This innovative resource provides teachers with a road map for designing a comprehensive writing curriculum that meets Common Core standards. The authors zero in on several "big ideas" that lead to and support effective practices in writing instruction, such as integrating reading, writing, speaking, and listening; teaching writing as a process; extending the range of students' writing; spiraling and scaffolding a writing curriculum; and collaborating. These "big ideas" are the cornerstones of best researched-based practices as well as the CCSS for writing.

Each chapter focuses on at least one of the uncommonly good ideas and illustrates how to create curricula around it. Uncommonly Good Ideas includes model lessons and assignments, mentor texts, teaching strategies, student writing, and practical guidance for moving the ideas from the page into the classroom.


"As Smith and Murphy explain, 'So many things to teach, so little time. So many books to read, so many papers to write, so many questions to answer, so many lives to touch.' You will love the way this book gives you permission to take time to do the intellectual work you went into this profession for. I know I did."
— From the foreword by Carol Jago, chair of the College Board's English Academic Advisory Committee and associate director of the California Reading and Literature Project, UCLA
"An uncommonly good book about uncommonly good ideas about teaching writing in the era of the Common Core—and beyond. In this slender volume two master teachers, Sandra Murphy and Mary Ann Smith, share the knowledge accumulated during their lifetimes of teaching writing and exploring the broader world of related theory and research. They confront the hard problems all teachers will face, but do so with an evident joy in their chosen profession. The book is slender, readable, and well worth the ride, whether you are a novice terrified as you stare into your first classroom or an old hand looking for an extra boost with a new class and a new year."
Arthur Applebee, Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Educational Theory and Practice, University at Albany
"Throughout this book I find the intelligence and insights that help me think about what it looks like to teach writing through the Common Core State Standards while maintaining my own integrity as a teacher. This book is a master class that you can take throughout the year, reading today about what you need to learn to do better tomorrow."
Jim Burke, best-selling author and high school teacher
About the Authors
  • Sandra Murphy is professor emerita at the University of California, Davis. She co-chaired the Steering Committee to develop the 2011 framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress in Writing and served as a work group member to develop the Common Core State Standards.
  • Mary Ann Smith directed the Bay Area and California Writing Projects and served as Director of Government Relations and Public Affairs for the National Writing Project.

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