What every teacher should know
Reading 101: A Guide to Teaching Reading and Writing
Sometimes it looks like children’s writing evolves naturally: from a few squiggles, to random strings of letters, to increasingly conventional writing, and eventually progressing to well-crafted essays. But just like learning to read, learning to write is not a natural process. To ensure that all students become skilled writers, we need to provide systematic, explicit instruction, combined with many opportunities for them to write and to receive feedback.
To write well, students must develop a broad set of skills.
- Basic writing skills: These include spelling, capitalization, punctuation, handwriting and keyboarding, and sentence structure (e.g., learning to eliminate run-ons and sentence fragments). Basic writing skills are sometimes called the “mechanics” of writing.
- Generating text: Text generation involves putting our thoughts into words, what might be thought of as the “content” of writing. Text generation includes word choice (vocabulary), elaboration of detail, and clarity of expression.
- Planning and editing: Especially after the earliest grades, good writing involves planning, revising, and editing your own work. These skills are indispensable in becoming a good writer, and increasingly so as students advance into the middle and secondary grades.
- Writing knowledge: Writing knowledge includes an understanding of discourse and genre — for example, understanding that a narrative is organized differently than an informational text. Students also need to learn that they are writing for an audience so they need to convey meaning clearly to the people who will be reading their work.
Becoming a strong writer involves learning, practicing and coordinating all of these skills. Writing may be the most difficult thing our students learn in school because it requires them to apply what they have learned as readers (phonics, vocabulary, text structure), plus additional skills (planning, considering audience, handwriting, revising, etc.) to generate their own work. But just as explicit and sequential instruction can help ensure that all students learn to read, the same is true for writing. To enable our students to write well, we need to help them by explicitly teaching the components of effective writing.
Video: Best Practices in Teaching Writing
Literacy expert Steve Graham talks about what the research says about the most effective practices in teaching writing. The first observation: kids need many opportunities to practice their writing.