Reading 101 is a collaboration with the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and The International Dyslexia Association.

Writing: In Depth

Writing is a complex process that requires a wide range of skills  a strong vocabulary; an understanding of genre, text structure, and voice; basic mechanical skills (grammar and punctuation); organizational skills; and higher order thinking.

Writing development

Children develop an awareness that print is meaningful and that it has many functions. Young children learn that print gives us information, helps us solve problems, and entertains us

With exposure to books, children learn that print has meaning to those who read it. Just as children advance through stages of reading development, they advance through stages of writing development.

While students are building the mechanical skills they need to write such as letter formation, spelling, and sentence creation, students also need to be taught the stages of writing development: generating and organizing ideas, initially with a group or partner; producing a rough draft; sharing ideas with others for the purpose of gaining feedback; and revising, editing, proofreading, and publishing.

The writing process

It is important to teach students that rewriting, revision, and editing are the hallmarks of good writing. For any important piece of writing, good writers typically do multiple drafts, with revisions of content (e.g., rewriting for clarification or re-organizing the sequence of ideas) and editing for mechanics (e.g., fixing punctuation errors). Struggling writers in particular may need a lot of emphasis on the idea that rewriting and more rewriting are perfectly normal parts of producing a good piece of work.

The following are steps in the writing process:

  • Planning: Students generate ideas for writing: gathering information on a topic, reading about the topic, and making an outline of what they plan to write. Planning involves thinking about how they will organize and sequence their ideas.
  • Rough Draft or "Sloppy Copy": Students get their ideas on paper. They write with a focus on content rather than on the mechanics of writing. For this stage of writing, written work does not have to be perfectly spelled or perfectly capitalized.
  • Reread: Students proofread their own work to make sure it makes sense to the reader. This is also the step when students may correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors that they can see for themselves.
  • Revise: Students improve the content by clarifying what they have written, simplifying whenever possible, and by elaborating with details as needed. Sharing their writing with peers and with the teacher can help students revise effectively.
  • Editing: Students work together with peers or the teacher on editing for mechanics and spelling. At this point they try to make sure the work is free from mechanical errors.
  • Final Draft or "Final Copy": Students produce their final copy to discuss with the teacher, and then they submit a final draft.
  • Publishing: Students publish their written pieces. This may involve turning stories into books or typing them on a computer. Celebrate!

Adapted from: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory.

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Barriers to writing

The following is a list of skills and abilities that children must develop to become effective writers:

  1. Basic Writing Skills: Students must have a mastery of basic writing skills expected for their grade. Weaknesses in basic writing skills tend to drain students’ energy and motivation for writing. Direct teaching of spelling and other basic writing skills can help students overcome these weaknesses.
  2. Language Skills: Students need age-appropriate vocabulary and expressive language in order to express their ideas in writing. Weaknesses in these language areas might be associated with a language disability, or they might simply reflect lack of exposure (such as lack of exposure to vocabulary); but in either case, they will tend to negatively affect students’ text generation abilities in writing. Again, direct instruction can be helpful for many of these areas, such as vocabulary. Students with actual disabilities involving language will require specialized interventions.
  3. Lack of Knowledge About Writing: Many students don't understand basic concepts such as genre, text structure, voice, and writing for an audience. Direct teaching and providing models of good writing through students’ reading will be helpful.
  4. Organizational Skills: Students must be able to organize their time and their materials, and they must have the ability to organize the information they receive from the teacher and the information they hope to present in their writing. All students can be taught organization strategies. Students with executive function challenges may learn more slowly and require more scaffolding. To support students, teachers can take each large step in the writing process, such as brainstorming, and break it into incremental steps. This is covered in greater detail in the In Practice section.
  5. Higher-Order Thinking Skills: These metacognitive skills are part of executive function. Students need to be able to glean the overall idea from reading a text or hearing a verbal presentation; to figure out the stages involved in completing a long-term project; to start the project on their own and then make progress step-by-step; and to evaluate, revise, and proofread their own work. Students who lack these skills are not able to reflect critically on reading or writing assignments, problem solve a new situation, see the “big picture,” or take the steps needed to complete a project in writing. You can support students with frequent check-ins and scaffolds, such as organizers, written instructions, and help with incremental steps. Provide checklists for students to follow when they become stuck. This is helpful for all students and does not single out those with executive function challenges.
  6. Motor Skills: A minority of students may have fine motor skill challenges that make both handwriting and keyboarding difficult. These students may require specialized support for writing.

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Principles for teaching writing skills

These are six basic teaching principles that support students as they build writing skills (Tarricone, 1995):

  1. Ensure success by beginning instruction at students’ current level of ability. This builds students’ confidence and enthusiasm for future challenges.
  2. Use a multisensory approach. Use the visual modality by including diagramming, graphic organizers, outlining techniques, and photographs, pictures, or videos in order to generate ideas. Use the auditory modality by leading discussions, through oral brainstorming, and through oral rehearsals. Use the kinesthetic modality by having students draw maps, write outlines, or use sticky-note organization strategies.
  3. Break larger steps of the writing process into smaller steps. Provide clear guidelines to follow. Each step of the writing process should have a checklist of steps that should be followed in order to complete the desired task.
  4. Model concrete examples at every stage of the writing process. After modeling, guide students through examples. For example, mapping and outlining skills are teacher-guided and class created. Proofreading skills are modeled by the teacher and self-questioned aloud.
  5. Practice and review all skills in the same way so that they are memorized and automatic.
  6. Students come to the “learning table” with their own frames of reference, experiences and knowledge base. Create a safe environment in which all students are respected. This helps to ensure that students will participate and become “partners” in the process.

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Learn More!


Video: Writing Poems

In Houston, Lynn Reichle and her second-grade students go on a writing adventure called the Writers’ Workshop.

Reading 101 is a collaboration with the Center for Effective Reading Instruction and The International Dyslexia Association.

"There is no frigate like a book, to take us lands away" — Emily Dickinson