First Year Teacher Self-Study Course

First Year Teacher is a self-paced professional development course for novice K-3 teachers, developed by Reading Rockets. The program provides teachers with an in-depth knowledge of reading so they are prepared to guide their students into becoming skilled and enthusiastic readers.

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Writing: In Practice

How can I support my students' writing?

The process of learning to write begins in very early for many children. The oral and written language experiences children have at home, day care, preschool, and kindergarten contribute to the developing ability to communicate in writing. Let's look at ways in which you can support your students' writing.


Adults in daycare settings and preschools can promote the development of writing skills by offering informal opportunities for children to observe, explore, and experiment with writing. When children observe adults writing in order to accomplish real tasks, they learn the value and function of writing. Caregivers can involve the children in writing brief notes to parents or listing the foods that are to be purchased for the next day's snack time. It's a good idea to have a box of writing tools and materials available for children to use when they want to engage in independent writing. The materials can be arranged on a special table that is set aside just for writing.

Although informal writing opportunities should continue at the kindergarten level, teachers should begin to provide slightly more formal and organized opportunities for students to engage in writing. For example, educators can create an "office center" in the classroom and set aside a special time when children are allowed to work in the center. The office center should contain everything students need to scribble, design signs, send notes, record telephone numbers, or write stories.


Although many kindergartners can recognize some letters, words, and phrases, they may revert to drawing or scribbling when encouraged to write a story. Educators should accept this as a valuable attempt at writing. "Invented" or "phonetic" spelling is when a young child writes a word the way that it sounds without concern for spelling the word correctly. In the course of the school year, some kindergartners will experiment with invented spelling and begin to move closer to "standard" spelling. Teachers should treat such development as part of the natural process of emerging literacy. Attempts to use emerging skills should be warmly supported, not forced or scrutinized for errors.

First grade

Throughout first grade students will still experiment between invented and standard spelling. Their attempts should be encouraged, supported and then followed by instruction. Instruction should consist of creating stories with beginning, middles and endings. It should also feature information on how to use capitalization rules and punctuation tools in appropriate ways. As a student's writing ability develops, further emphasis may include instruction on the different areas within a written piece of work. For example, a student's word choice may not be powerful or interesting enough to grab the reader's interest or attention to continue reading the piece.

One free resource that's available to teachers is Northwest Regional Lab's 6 Trait Writing framework. The 6 Trait Writing framework is a tool used by teachers to help students pinpoint areas of strengths and weaknesses as they focus on students' writing development. The framework gives teachers a 'language' to use when teaching theirs students about writing. The traits included in the framework are:

  1. Ideas/Content
  2. Word Choice
  3. Sentence Fluency
  4. Conventions
  5. Organization
  6. Voice

Each trait is an area in which instruction should focus to help a student's development as a writer.

NOTE: The framework can be used by teachers of students in any grade, but only certain traits would be included based on the age or ability level of students. The authors of the framework did not assign definitive traits for particular grade levels. For example, in a kindergarten classroom, it would be appropriate to focus on the first trait, "ideas/content" in a writing lesson. A first grade teacher would instruct on some traits, but not others. A second grade teacher could include all six traits as part of writing instruction over the course of the school year. An example of how the traits are used appear below:

NWRL's Six Traits


Writers should draw on their experience and prior knowledge. The paper should be interesting and hold the reader's attention all the way through. The piece of writing should contain details that support the writer's topic.


Voice gives a sense of the writer's personality and style. Over time, a teacher should get the sense of "this is Johnny's paper", because the Johnny's voice is different from other students. Voice conveys feelings and emotions. The language should bring the topic to life for the reader. The voice should be appropriate for the topic, purpose, and audience of the paper.

Sentence fluency

Sentence fluency effects the readability of the paper. Do the sentences flow from one to the next? The writing should sound natural – the way someone might talk. The sentences should have different beginnings, not all starting with then. The paper should have complete sentences, not fragments.


Organization is the structure of the paper. The paper should follow a logical sequence. There should be an inviting introduction that "hooks" the reader. The body should give supporting details to the paper's topic. The ending should tie everything together.

Word choice

Word choice allows the reader to form a mental picture as a result of the words used by the writer. Thus words should be illustrative and powerful. The use of action verbs may be used to show the reader what is happening. The adjectives should be as descriptive as possible. Unique phrases or words may catch the reader's eye.

Writing conventions

Conventions consists of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and paragraphing. Conventions enhance the readability of the paper. Spelling, capitalization and punctuation should be checked, revised and corrected as necessary throughout the 'draft' process. Paragraphing should reinforce organization. Use your districts writing standards to determine the standards that your students will be responsible for mastering over the course of the school year (e.g. contractions, paragraphing, etc.). Some of these concepts may not be appropriate for all grade levels.

Understanding the traits listed above will enable you to help your students become good writers!

What do I do with struggling writers?

Encourage listening and responding to read alouds

Allow students who have difficulty with writing to first respond by art (drawing their favorite part or character) or drama (rehearsing the story). This extra time allows writers to rehearse their ideas before putting them on paper.

Provide time to talk about their writing

Sitting down with a child and discussing their ideas, helps them to organize their thought and details. This also gives them an idea of how to begin their written piece.

Teach strategies in small groups or one-on-one

Spend the majority of your teaching time with small groups or one-on-one to guide a student through their writing. Strategies such as sounding out a word to hear its sounds, reviewing a spelling a pattern or teaching students to circle words that they need help spelling, are essential for children in feeling confident in their writing process.

Most importantly CELEBRATE writing

All students need to feel that their work is valued. After a student has gone through the process of brainstorming, rough draft, editing, revising and final draft; celebrate their written work! Celebrations could include inviting another class to hear stories written, hanging papers in the hallway or allowing the struggling student to read their work to a special staff person in the building of their choice.

Adapted from: Encouraging Young Children's Writing, published by the Eric Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Urbana IL

Also from: C. L. Five, M. Dionsio. 1999. Teaching Struggling Readers and Writers. The National Council of Teachers of English

A Room of Writers

Go inside Shana Sterkin's third grade class as she engages her students in writer's workshop. Everyone shares their writing, including Miss Sterkin.

Diary of a First Year Teacher

Diary of a First Year Teacher

Join Barbara Zielinski, a first grade teacher at River Plaza Elementary School in Middletown, NJ, during her first year teaching.

"Writing is thinking on paper. " — William Zinsser