Academic Writing & Conventions
Let's face it! Our students have to learn to write academically. It's a systemic tradition that won't change anytime soon. If they want to go to college, they have to write in academic forms; however, It shouldn't be the only way we teach students to write. In my humble opinion, focusing solely on academic writing absolutely kills writing for most students. If they never see writing used outside of school, they will see writing as useful only in school. There are loads of methods, protocols, books, and blogs on the topic. I'm not going to go into any detail here, but I will say that I use 3 different colored stickers to mark academic writing drafts. We don't use all of our drafts. Instead the students are always writing and when an assignment is given they can often choose their favorite draft to work with (or maybe combine some). Obviously, I plan ahead with the assignments so some of the work they are doing can be used later on--but not all of it.
Grammar & Conventions
I've seen and used countless ways to help students learn grammar and conventions. Sections, tabs, within drafting? Which one is best? Personally, I have found that teaching a little bit every week, use it every week, and come back to old things every week. The most effective method I've used for teaching grammar? Inquiry. I'll write more about that another time though. Have them use what they're learning as they revise and edit drafts--not in the drafting stage, it can stifle their thoughts if they're thinking about writing it correctly at first. Make sure to assess informally and give feedback.
Teaching students the possibilities and limitations of using formulaic structures is essential. This can range from note-taking structures (eg. Cornell), planning structures (eg. worksheets), and drafting structures (eg. prompts and imitations). For example, planning, organizing, and note-taking are big parts of academic writing, so teaching students the various methods to plan and organize their thoughts can be much more effective than handing out a worksheet for the entire class to plan their essays. We often wonder why every paper looks the same. Well, if they're all organizing in the same way, recording in the same way, and writing in the same way doesn't it stand to reason that there will be little variation. Just imagine how much richer their writing would be if they decided on their own how to organize their ideas based on their purpose. Every example above was an individual student directed decision. In other words, I didn't require Venn diagrams or tables, they chose to use those themselves.
Imitations are another useful form for learning to write well. The best writers imitate each other. Many writers also use prompts to get started. Some just free-write. Others collect ideas over time on post-its, napkins, and other scraps. Train your students to decide what would work best for the purpose. Collecting ideas over time isn't useful in a standardized testing situation, but could be extremely useful for a longer research paper.