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This writing sample comes from a 5 year old boy in my neighborhood, who happily wrote a big long message one afternoon. “Wow, Nelson! What did you write?” Mom asked. Nelson looked at it, scrunched his nose, and said, “I dunno. Something about a butterfly, I think.”


What this sample tells me:

  • This is a child who knows some letters! The sample contains just letters, no symbols or numbers mixed in.
  • He’s able to print letters, mostly upper-case, with two lower case i’s also.
  • This is a kid who’s willing to write. That’s a lot of work for a 5 year old.
  • He knows that writing carries a message, and he had something to say.

Where to go from here, instructionally:

The next stages of Nelson’s writing can be enhanced by instruction that focuses on two things: more letters being written that match the sounds in the words he wants to write, and the development of a concept of word. These skills can be developed using activities that focus on beginning sounds and tracking the match between speech and print.

Words Their Way (opens in a new window) is a favorite resource for activities and suggestions for learners in the emergent stage. I’ve trained lots of preservice and inservice teachers to use word study, and most teachers love it, once they get the management side of it down. The appendix has lots of pictures to use for sorts and games, templates for sorts and games, and other resources. 

There are lots of ways to develop concept of word that uses common, everyday materials. Simple sentences, cut-up into their individual words “The cat had a toy” provide opportunities for kids to manipulate individual words, putting them together to form sentences. 

For a student like Nelson, simply writing a line for each word he would like to write will help him focus on each word, and he can begin the work of representing the sounds he hears in each word. Small group and whole class fingerpoint reading of familiar books and rhymes like “Five Little Monkeys” also supports the development of a concept of word.


(Thanks to the Nellie Edge site (opens in a new window) for the Five Little Monkeys image)

About the Author

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Publication Date
August 26, 2009