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How To Teach Writing: What Educators Need To Know

Here, we’ll go over the basics of how to teach writing and how to light the imagination in a way that lends itself to stellar student writing.

As a teacher, you want to inspire your students and help them grasp the writing process. Writing assignments can be subjective, and it can be tough to teach students to harness their creativity in a way that allows their writing skills to shine.

As a language arts teacher, you know there’s no right or wrong answer when completing a piece of writing, and you want your students to take risks and be bold–all while creating good writing with top-notch vocabulary and excellent sentence structure. Whether you’re an elementary school writing teacher, someone who works with children with learning disabilities, a high school English teacher, or a college professor working on teaching the process of writing to your students, you’re teaching your kids or young adults a skill that will serve them well throughout their academic careers and beyond.

Here, we’ll take a look at the steps required to develop an effective writing lesson, how to gauge whether your students are moving forward in becoming better writers, and digital tools that you can use to help your students grow their writing practice.

Before you begin:

How to teach writing to students, step 1. talk to your students, step 2. learn about your students’ writing skills, step 3. boost class confidence, step 4. start small, step 5. pay attention to skill level, step 7. provide feedback.

  • 1. Grammarly
  • 2. Google Docs
  • 3. Purdue OWL
  • 4. Hemingway Editor
  • 5.

Teaching writing skills to students can be tricky; before you begin, plan ahead by creating a lesson plan. You can use our how-to guide below to plan your next lesson for teaching writing and learn how to teach this tricky subject easily. Include each step in your lesson plan and the list of activities you will assign your students; make sure to cover each topic in a different lesson, so you don’t overwhelm your students. 

Whether you’re working with elementary-age students or college-level young adults, many in your classroom likely have already had experiences shaping how they feel about the writing process. If your students have had negative experiences with writing in the past, it can be tough to get them to open up and be willing to try something new. Asking your students open-ended questions can help you to get a feel about where they are in their writing confidence. You may choose to ask questions out loud in a classroom setting, or you may choose to talk with your students one on one if time permits.

Some questions you may want to ask students to help you gauge how they feel about their writing skills include:

  • What do you know about the writing process? Tell me everything!
  • Last time you wrote a story, what was it about?
  • What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to writing?
  • If you’re going to write a story, how would you get started?

By asking these questions, you won’t just know more about your students’ confidence–you’ll also get an idea of what they’ve already been taught about the writing process and whether there are any gaps you’ll need to fill in as you teach them to become writers.

You may also want to let students know that they can come to talk to you with any questions or concerns they have about writing. Sometimes, students with learning disabilities or other issues that affect their writing ability may feel uncomfortable discussing these issues in front of their classmates. If necessary, you may want to work with a special education teacher who can address any unique learning needs in your classroom.

How to write a bio for work?

After you talk to your students about the writing process, you may want to provide them with a short writing assignment to help you get a better idea of where they’re at with writing. It’s up to you to decide how much guidance you’d like to give them. Some sample assignment ideas to help you get a good idea of where your students are at when it comes to writing include:

  • Write a one-page story about something interesting that happened to you over the summer.
  • Write about when you got into an argument with a family member and how the issue was resolved.
  • Imagine it’s ten years from now. Where are you? What are you doing? Who is around you? Provide as much detail as possible.

In addition to giving insight into your student’s writing ability, asking these questions can also show how comfortable your students are with the writing process. You’ll notice that some students excitedly get to work while others give short or vague answers.

Take note of how your students do with this initial assignment so that you can praise their progress as they move forward with your writing lessons. Of course, progress will differ for each student; for some, learning to write in complete sentences may be a big accomplishment. For others, mastering a five-paragraph essay may be the goal.

Step 6. Teach The Process

After you understand how your students feel about the writing process and where they’re at in their journey to become better writers, it’s time to begin teaching the writing process. The exact process that you’ll teach your students will largely depend on their age and skill level, and you may find that you need to adjust your process as you continually get a better idea of your student’s skill levels. The framework provided here is at an elementary to middle school level.

The first step in the writing process is developing topic ideas. Then, during the brainstorming process, encourage students to write down anything that comes to mind without censoring themselves—allowing students to keep their brainstorming processes to themselves (rather than requiring them to share out loud or hand in their paper) can help them think freely and write what’s on their mind without a barrier of self-judgment.

After your students complete their first brainstorm, encourage them to return to their lists and cross out any ideas that don’t seem like they could be a good fit. Narrowing down their ideas to three options can be a helpful first step in getting started. Following the initial brainstorming process, ask students to take a few moments to flesh out their three ideas. Often, students find that they can tie two of their brainstorming ideas together, making it easier for them to share more of what they’re passionate about.

During this second stage of the brainstorming process, ask students to add details to the topics they’re debating, helping them see which option has the best chance of developing a compelling story.

After your students complete the brainstorming process and decide on a topic, it’s time to move forward with developing the first draft. Again, it would be best to let your students know that their first draft is a draft. There’s no need for the first draft of their story to be perfect.

Before actually beginning the draft writing process, you may decide to encourage your students to create an outline to guide their writing. For example, they may choose to list all of the points they’d like to make if they’re writing a persuasive piece or may want to list the events they want to describe if they’re writing a personal narrative. For students who have anxiety around writing, it can be especially helpful to get some of their ideas onto paper to act as a guide before they begin writing their first draft.

For many students, writing as freely as possible–including spelling and grammar mistakes–helps them develop the framework necessary to move forward with their writing piece. Remind students that they’ll be able to come back to their work later to clean it up and that there’s no need to get everything right on the first try.

After completing the first draft, give your students some time away from their writing before they begin to revise. Taking a few hours or a few days can give students the time to process what they’ve written and look at their work in a new light. For many students, a two- or three-stage revision process can be helpful.

During the first revision, students read the work themselves. Your students may find it helpful to read all or parts of their work out loud while working through their revision. Hearing their words out loud can help them find sections of text that are awkward or incorrectly phrased and can help them find areas that could be condensed or need to be better explained.

Following the first revision of their work, peer revision can be helpful. During the peer revision, students trade their writing with one another to get constructive criticism on their work. Be warned: this part of the writing process can be difficult for some students, especially if they’re not confident in their writing skills or have chosen to write about a personal topic. Before beginning the peer revision process, set ground rules with your class on how to give the author feedback that’s helpful and drives the writing process forward.

After completing the revision process, it’s time for your students to begin the editing process, where they’ll take the feedback they received during revisions and put it to good use. Editing can take time, and it’s smart to give your students leeway to move back and forth between the revision and editing processes. It’s key to let students know that the writing process isn’t always linear, and sometimes it’s essential to take a step back and reconsider how they’re developing their work.

As an educator, you may want to review your student’s work with them during the editing process before they move on to the publishing phase. Depending on the amount of correction needed and the types of writing your students are working on, you may want to ask them to go back and create a new draft before they enter the final phase of the process. While there’s no need to re-do the pre-writing activities associated with the beginning of the writing process, exploring the draft, revision, and editing phases can make for a smoother final copy.

The publishing process will look different from classroom to classroom, and it’s up to you and your students to decide how they’d like to publish their writing. Some educators put student work into a binder of stories to distribute at the end of the year. Sometimes, simply printing a final edit of their work for them to take home to their parents can be enough to help them feel like a writer. Talk to your students about how they’d like their work to be shared. Creating a classroom website or blog can also be fun for students to share their work with others.

As a teacher, providing feedback to young children and adults on their writing can be tough, especially when you know it’s something they’ve been working to improve. However, providing direct, kind, constructive feedback can go a long way in helping students to become better writers.

When possible, try complimenting students’ writing skills while providing constructive feedback. This helps students see many positive points in their work and can help them feel motivated to continue working on their writing in the future. You may also want to create a system in your classroom that allows students to provide anonymous feedback to one another. This can allow students to read the work of others without bias and can help students feel less nervous about their peers reading their work.

Digital Tools for Teaching Writing

Technology makes it easier than ever to teach writing, as long as you know how to use the tools you have at your disposal. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most effective tools you can use to help your students boost their writing skills inside and outside the classroom.

1.  Grammarly

We know–correcting the tiny grammatical mistakes that your students make day in and day out can take a toll on you as an educator. Grammarly makes it simple for students to correct spelling and grammar mistakes and explains why certain words, phrases, and structures should be changed.

The free version of Grammarly works perfectly and provides your students with everything they need to grow as writers. In addition, when your students use a Grammarly account, their work is cloud-based and can be accessed from both school and home, making it simple for them to keep working on their writing no matter where they are.

2.  Google Docs

Like Grammarly, Google Docs makes it simple for students to keep working on their writing at school and at home. Google Docs allows multiple people to edit a document, allowing you and your students to work together to create a top-notch piece of writing. With Google Docs, you’ll also be able to make comments to your students about their writing, ask questions, and create a dialouge that allows you to understand their goals

3.  Purdue OWL

Older students will benefit from using the Purdue Online Writing Lab, or OWL, to give them the information they need to make their writing meet currently acceptable journalistic and academic standards. In addition to providing basic information on grammar, the Purdue OWL also offers citation instructions for both APA and MLA formats and can help students figure out how to create technically correct writing. Students must check against the OWL regularly, as APA and MLA requirements change from time to time.

4.  Hemingway Editor

Hemingway’s short, concise sentences and to-the-point descriptions made his writing clear and bold. Readers love Hemingway because he broke down cumbersome topics in a way that made them accessible, and many readers today strive to emulate the timeless author’s style of writing.

Another tool best suited for high school and college students, the Hemingway Editor, helps students find grammar errors and uses of passive voice, which many agree are best avoided in academic and professional writing. A word of caution: Hemingway Editor does not save work, so it’s key that students copy and paste their edited material into a Google Doc or other platform where their work will be saved.


Professional authors and students alike find themselves struggling with using the same words over and over again. Using a site like helps writers learn new words in ways that stick, making it easy to spice up writing without getting repetitive. The site is also helpful for looking up the meaning of a single word but has capabilities that go far beyond offering standard dictionary definitions. Cool bonus: the site is free!

Looking for more? Check out our guide on how to teach paraphrasing to students !

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  • Guides to Teaching Writing

The Harvard Writing Project publishes resource guides for faculty and teaching fellows that help them integrate writing into their courses more effectively — for example, by providing ideas about effective assignment design and strategies for responding to student writing.

A list of current HWP publications for faculty and teaching fellows is provided below. Most of the publications are available for download as PDF files. If you would like to be added to the Bulletin mailing list or to receive printed copies of any of the guides listed below, email James Herron at  [email protected].


Provides practical advice on commenting on student writing effectively and efficiently.

Provides guidance on creating carefully crafted and explicit paper assignments that encourage students to write better papers.

Suggests a consistent vocabulary for discussing the major components of an academic paper. This is the vocabulary used in the College's Expos 20 courses.


Authors: Zachary Sifuentes and Tess O'Toole

Authors: Kristina Olson, Shelley Carson, and Cynthia Meyersburg

Authors: Nicole Newendorp with sections by Anya Bernstein, K. Healon Gaston, and Verity Smith

Author: Department of History, Harvard University

Authors: Carla Marie, Travis D. Smith, and Annie Brewer Stilz

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Six principles for high-quality, effective writing instruction for all students

teaching writing skills

Editor’s note: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently launched “ The Acceleration Imperative ,” a crowd-sourced, evidence-based resource designed to aid instructional leaders’ efforts to address the enormous challenges faced by their students, families, teachers, and staff over the past year. It comprises four chapters split into nineteen individual topics. Over the coming weeks, we will publish each of these as a stand-alone blog post. This is the eighth. Read the first , second , third , fourth , fifth , sixth , and seventh .

Explicit writing instruction not only improves students’ writing skills but also helps build and deepen their content knowledge, boosts reading comprehension and oral language ability, and fosters habits of critical and analytical thinking. The process of planning, writing, and revising can be taught in intentional, sequential steps. In following this process, students can improve their skills and overall comprehension and retention of information. [1] It’s imperative that schools not scrimp on writing instruction as they help students recover from the pandemic.

To be effective, writing should be embedded in the content of the core curriculum and begin at the sentence level. As Judith Hochman and Natalie Wexler describe in The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades , “Writing and content knowledge are intimately related. You can’t write well about something you don’t know well. The more students know about a topic before they begin to write, the better they’ll be able to write about it. At the same time, the process of writing will deepen their understanding of a topic and help cement that understanding in their memory.” They go on to establish six key principles of the Hochman method, which include explicit skills instruction, the infusion of grammar in practice, and an emphasis on planning and revising. These form a strong basis for high-quality, effective writing instruction for all students.


  • Adopt and implement a high-quality English language arts curriculum (see the section on “Reading”).
  • Select a writing curriculum and activities that feature explicit, carefully focused instruction and connect to a variety of content areas, including building writing time into all subjects. To date, “ The Writing Revolution ,” also known as the Hochman method, is the only curriculum that combines these two elements.
  • Writing activities should start at the sentence level. Tasking young students with longer assignments will overtax them and short-circuit learning. Sentences are the building blocks for all writing.
  • Expand teachers’ awareness and enthusiasm for the role that frequent sentence-level writing, sentence expansion and combining, and even note-taking activities can play in enhancing any kind of instruction. A school-wide study of The Writing Revolution can serve as a sound starting point.
  • Invest in ongoing curriculum-based professional learning for leaders, instructional coaches, and teachers to build expertise and fully leverage the power of high-quality writing instruction.

Content and cognitive science

There is a robust body of research indicating that writing has the potential to boost comprehension and retention, extending back to the 1970s.

In a landmark study , undergraduates were given five minutes to read an article. They then were randomly assigned to one of four tasks: reading the article once; studying it for fifteen additional minutes; creating a “concept map” or bubble diagram of the ideas in the article; or writing what they could remember from the passage, known as “retrieval practice.” When tested a week later, the group that had engaged in writing had a clear advantage in recalling information and making inferences. [2]

Writing about a topic is akin to preparing to teach something you have learned, which has also been shown to improve recall, a phenomenon called the “protégé effect.” [3] Essentially, writing requires students to recall something they have slightly forgotten (the mechanism at work in retrieval practice) and explain it in their own words (the mechanism at work in the protégé effect). A recent meta-analysis found that writing about content in science, social studies, and math reliably enhances learning in all three subjects. [4]

But most existing approaches to writing instruction fail to take full advantage of these potential benefits. Instead, they ask students to write about their own experiences or about random topics, without providing much background information.

In addition, most instructional approaches vastly underestimate how difficult it is to learn to write. [5] Young students may be juggling everything from letter formation and spelling to putting their thoughts in a logical order. Yet virtually all strategies expect inexperienced writers, including kindergartners, to write multiple-paragraph essays. The theory is that students need to develop their voice, fluency, and writing stamina from the earliest stages. But writing at length only increases cognitive load, potentially overwhelming working memory and depriving students of the cognitive capacity to absorb and analyze the information they’re writing about, much less acquire target skills. [6]

The Institute of Education Science’s Practice Guide on elementary writing cites twenty-five studies finding a variety of positive effects that follow from paying close attention to the writing process. It also recommends that one hour a day be devoted to students’ writing beginning in the first grade, and acknowledges that this is unlikely to be achieved unless writing practice occurs in the context of non-ELA content area instruction. [7]

Starting at the sentence level

Studies have shown the positive effects of interventions such as sentence combining and sentence expansion and teaching sentence-construction skills generally. [8] The IES Practice Guide recommends that students be taught to construct sentences. There are also indications in the literature on “writing to learn” that shorter writing assignments, including poems, yield larger benefits. [9] In addition, focusing on learning to construct sentences before moving on to paragraphs lightens the load on students’ working memory, freeing up cognitive space for absorbing and analyzing the content they’re writing about.

And yet for some reason, there appears to have been no studies testing whether there are greater benefits from an approach that explicitly teaches students to write sentences before asking them to embark on lengthier writing.

In the meantime, it’s best to begin writing at the sentence level. Sentence-level instruction not only lightens cognitive load, it also makes instruction in the conventions of written language—such as grammar, punctuation, etc.—far more manageable. Teachers confronted with page after page of error-filled writing often don’t know where to begin, and they don’t want to discourage students by handing back a sea of red ink. And if students can’t write a good sentence, they’ll never be able to write a good paragraph or a good essay.

Many students don’t easily absorb the mechanics of constructing sentences from their reading, as most approaches to writing instruction assume. Rather, they need to practice how to use conjunctions, appositives, transition words, and so forth. Activities that teach these skills, when embedded in the content of the curriculum, simultaneously build writing skills, content knowledge, and analytical abilities.

For example, students learning about the Civil War might be given the sentence stem “Abraham Lincoln was a great president _____________.” and then asked to finish it in three different ways, using “because,” “but,” and “so.” This kind of explicit instruction can also familiarize students with the syntax and vocabulary that are found in written but not spoken language, and can boost reading comprehension. Once you have learned to use a word like “despite” or a construction like the passive voice in your own writing, you’re in a much better position to understand it when you encounter it while reading.

Example: The Writing Revolution

The potential of explicit writing instruction that is embedded in the content of the curriculum and begins with sentence-level strategies is enormous. As far as can be determined, the Writing Revolution method is currently the only approach to writing instruction that combines these two features. It rests on six key principles:

  • Students need explicit instruction in writing, beginning in the early elementary grades.
  • Sentences are the building blocks of all writing.
  • When embedded in the content of the curriculum, writing instruction is a powerful teaching tool.
  • The content of the curriculum drives the rigor of the writing activities.
  • Grammar is best taught in the context of student writing.
  • The two most important phases of the writing process are planning and revising.

Once students are ready for lengthier pieces, the Writing Revolution focuses considerable attention on teaching students to construct clear, linear outlines. When students transform their outlines into finished pieces of writing, they are able to construct coherent, fluent paragraphs and essays by drawing on the sentence-level strategies they have been taught.

Reading List

Arnold, K., Umanath, S., Thio. K., Reilly, W., McDaniel, M., Marsh, E. (2017). Understanding the cognitive processes involved in writing to learn. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. 23(2), 115-127.

Bangert-Drowns, R., Hurley, M. and Wilkinson, B. (2004). The Effects of School-Based Writing-to-Learn Interventions on Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research. 74(1), 29-58.

Graham, S., and Hebert, M. A. (2010). “ Writing to Read: Evidence for how Writing Can Improve Reading. Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. ” Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education.

  • Teaching sentence-construction skills has improved reading fluency and comprehension.

Graham, S. and Perin, D. (2007). “ Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. ” Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Graham, S., Kiuhara, S.A., and MacKay, M. (2020). The effects of writing on learning in science, social studies, and mathematics: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research. 90(2), 179-226.

  • Embedding writing instruction in content and having students write about what they are learning in English language arts, social studies, science, and math has boosted reading comprehension and learning across grade levels.

Hochman, J. and Wexler, N. (2017). The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades . Jossey-Bass.

Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D’Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., and Olinghouse, N.(2012). “ Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers: A practice guide (NCEE 2012-4058).” Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

 Karpicke, J., and Blunt, J. (2011). Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping. Science. 331(6018) 772-775.

Mueller, P. A., and Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Psychological Science , 25(6), 1159–1168.

  • Two key takeaways: the benefits of writing for information retention are strongest with writing by hand rather than on the computer; and the act of writing solidifies students’ knowledge of a subject.

Naka, M., & Naoi, H. (1995). The effect of repeated writing on memory. Memory & Cognition, 23(2), 201–212.

  • Demonstrates the crucial link between writing about something and remembering the content involved.

Panero, N.S. (2016). Progressive mastery through deliberate practice: A promising approach for improving writing. Improving Schools , 19(3), 229-245.

  • Summarizes the research on improving writing quality as well as writing strategies that improve reading comprehension, and connects those to practices taught in The Writing Revolution.

Seven, S., Koksal, A.P., Kocak, G. (2017). The Effect of Carrying out Writing to Learn Activities on Academic Success of Fifth Grade Students in Secondary School on the Subject of ‘Force and Motion. Universal Journal of Educational Research. 5(5), 744-749.

Tindle, R. and Longstaff, M.G. (2015). Writing, Reading and Listening Differentially Overload Working Memory Performance Across the Serial Position Curve. Advances in Cognitive Psychology. 11(4), 147-155.

Wexler, N. (2019). “Writing and cognitive load theory,” ResearchED , Issue 4,

  • “Writing can impose such a heavy burden on working memory that students become overwhelmed, unable either to improve their writing skill or to benefit from the positive effects that writing can have on reading comprehension and learning in general.”

Willingham, D. (2003). Students remember … what they think about. American Educator, 27(2), 37–41.

  • Writing can facilitate students’ thinking about what they are supposed to learn.

[1] From Brian Pick: I think it is important here to address both the writing process and the writing mechanics. Both matter but sometimes schools focus almost exclusively on only one or the other.

[2] From the editors: See “ Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping .” For more about writing and retrieval, see “The effect of repeated writing on memory,” which compares memorization among Japanese and American students using writing as a memorization strategy.

[3] From the editors: For example, in a study by Muis et al., elementary students who were solving complex math problems used more metacognitive strategies when preparing to teach those strategies compared to a control group. In a study by Nestojko et al. , participants who were told they would be teaching a passage had better recall than those who were told they would be tested on the passage.

[4] From the editors: See “ The Effects of Writing on Learning in Science, Social Studies, and Mathematics: A Meta-Analysis. ”

[5] From the editors: Research shows that writing imposes a heavier cognitive load on working memory than reading. See “ Writing, Reading, and Listening Differentially Overload Working Memory Performance Across the Serial Position Curve .”

[6] From Jamila Newman: I think it's important that schools see writing as gateway to student independence and agency. Reading and listening often position students as consumers, but writing and speaking position students as producers of argument, opinion, and ideas.

[7] From the editors: See “Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers.”

[8] From the editors: See both “ Writing Next” and “Writing to Read,” two Carnegie Corporation of New York reports published by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

[9] From the editors: See “The Effects of School-Based Writing-to-Learn Interventions on Academic Achievement” and “The Effect of Carrying out Writing to Learn Activities on Academic Success of Fifth Grade Students in Secondary School on the Subject of ‘Force and Motion’.”

teaching writing skills

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How to Teach Writing Skills

Last Updated: December 2, 2021 Approved

This article was co-authored by Richard Perkins . Richard Perkins is a Writing Coach, Academic English Coordinator, and the Founder of PLC Learning Center. With over 24 years of education experience, he gives teachers tools to teach writing to students and works with elementary to university level students to become proficient, confident writers. Richard is a fellow at the National Writing Project. As a teacher leader and consultant at California State University Long Beach's Global Education Project, Mr. Perkins creates and presents teacher workshops that integrate the U.N.'s 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the K-12 curriculum. He holds a BA in Communications and TV from The University of Southern California and an MEd from California State University Dominguez Hills. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article received 14 testimonials and 100% of readers who voted found it helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 256,941 times.

Literacy, or the ability to read and write, is one of the greatest gifts you can give a person. Though the skills are many and take time and practice to master, they will open up countless opportunities across a lifetime. These opportunities can then improve the lives of the next generation, greatly impacting and improving communities. Reading and writing also brings joy to many people. If you would like to encourage literacy skills in the lives of people around you, here are some helpful ideas.

Basic Skills

Step 1 Teach letters.

  • Teach your students how to recognize the different shapes of the letters. They will need to be able to easily differentiate between letter which look the same or letters which sound the same.
  • Size variation is an important part of learning to write letters. Teach your students about capital letters and lowercase letters and when to use them. If teaching a non-roman alphabet, this will be less of a problem.
  • Directionality is another important skill. Your students will need to know what direction letters face and how to properly place them next to each other. For roman lettering, this will be right to left and horizontal. For other languages it can also be left to right or vertical, depending on the region.
  • Spacing is an important skill as well. Teach your students how to place space in between words, sentences, paragraphs, etc.

Step 2 Teach phonics.

  • Teach your students to hear . They need to be able to listen to speech and recognize that those words are composed of individual sounds.
  • Once they grasp the concept of those sounds, teach them to identify the sounds. For example, your students will need to be able to hear an “aaaaahhhh” sound and know that it is written with an “a”.
  • Once they are comfortable identifying sounds, you will also need to teach them how to manipulate sounds within words. They should be able to recognize when words rhyme or when one word out of a set begins or ends with a different sound than the others. They should be able to think of their own examples as well.
  • Teach compound sounds as well. You will need to explain that when certain letters appear together, it changes how they sound. For example, in English the “th” or “sh”, in Spanish the “ll”, and in German the “ch” or “eu”.

Step 3 Teach the forming of words.

  • An important part of teaching word formation is teaching your students the difference between vowels and consonants. Teach them which letters are which and explain the necessity of vowels within a word. Teach the basic principles regarding where in a word vowels can go. For example, it is very rare for the only vowel in a word to go at the very end of the word but quite common to have the second letter or sound of a word be a vowel.

Step 4 Understand sentence structure.

  • Your students should learn how to identify nouns. Teach them what a noun is and where it usually goes in a sentence. The easiest way to explain it will likely be the tried-and-true “person, place, thing or idea”.
  • Your students will need to be able to identify verbs, too. Teach them about “action words” and give them lots of examples. You can have them act out different verbs in order to solidify the concept in their mind. Explain where verbs go in a sentence.
  • Your students will need to be able to identify adjectives as well. Explain that adjectives describe other words. Teach them where these words go in a sentence and how they attach to other words.

Step 5 Teach proper grammar.

  • Using parts of speech together is an important concept in grammar. Your students should develop an understanding of how nouns, verbs and adjectives interact and how they fit together. Where these words go in a sentence and when they must be preceded or followed by another is also important to understand.
  • Tense is a key concept to understanding how to form proper sentences. Your students should learn and practice creating sentences which take place in the past, present, and future. This will teach them how words must be changed in order to indicate time. This is a complex skill and is often not truly mastered until much later.
  • Conjugation and declension are other important skills. Conjugation is how verbs change, depending on how they interact with the other words in the sentence. For example, in English we say “I jump” but we also say “she jumped”. Nouns can go through a similar process, called declension, but it is nonexistent in English.
  • Though it has largely been removed from English, many other languages have case systems which your students will need to understand if they are learning one of those languages. Cases denote the different functions that nouns and pronouns can serve in a sentence and, at least in those languages with a case system, how the case changes the noun (generally with a shift in suffix).

Step 6 Don’t forget punctuation.

Teaching Small Children and Preteens

Step 1 Focus on the simplest skills.

  • For elementary age children, literacy skills will place a stronger emphasis on things like spelling, whereas literacy education for pre-teens will spend more time with grammar.

Step 2 Introduce the types of writing.

  • Teach your students to recognize narrative writing. This is writing which conveys a story and is the form most often read for pleasure. It is commonly used as an exercise to increase literacy skills. Examples of narrative writing include novels, biographies, history, and newspaper articles. It is easily recognized by the format: “This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.” and so on.
  • Teach your students to recognize persuasive writing. This is writing which lays out a logical argument. Examples of persuasive writing can be seen in job applications, editorials, and academic papers.
  • Teach your students to recognize expository writing. This is writing which explains, informs or describes something. What you are reading now is an excellent example of expository writing. Newspaper articles can also fall into this category, along with encyclopedias and reports.

Step 3 Teach the elements of storytelling.

  • Elements of storytelling include beginning, middle and end, crisis or climax, and character. These are most easily taught to children when done in tandem with reading a book aloud over the course of a few weeks. This gives you the opportunity to discuss and analyze the text, so that they can see how these ideas work in practice. Solidify these skills by having them write stories of their own.

Step 4 Introduce the Five...

  • Introductory assignments could include a review of their favorite toy or game, a persuasive essay about why they should be allowed to eat more candy, or a biography of their favorite family member.

Step 5 Teach the use of voice.

  • Common voices include first person (heavy use of “I/me”), second person (heavy use of “you”), and third person (heavy use of names and “they”). Tense can also be applied to each of these voices, modifying how it sounds and reads.
  • First person example (past tense): “I went for a walk today. My dog, Spike, came with me. Spike likes to go on walks with me.”
  • Second person example: “You went for a walk today. Your dog, Spike, came with you. Spike likes to go on walks with you.”
  • Third person example: “Sarah went for a walk today. Her dog, Spike, went with her. Spike likes to go on walks with her.”

Step 6 Avoid setting limits.

  • Children will also learn better by being forced to think for themselves, so giving them opportunities to do that (by leaving assignments and exercises open-ended) will help them significantly.

Step 7 Keep it as fun as possible.

  • For example, with middle-school age children you can have them create a game and then write rules for the game. This will be fun but it will also force them to think about writing specific language which is also easy to follow.
  • For elementary children, let them write, edit and illustrate their own books. This will work on developing their understanding of story and character, while simultaneously improving their ability to form correct sentences with proper spelling.

Step 8 Teach pre- and post-writing process skills.

  • Outlines are an example of a pre-writing skill. Outlining what they intend to write will help learners work through logical processes. It will also teach them to think of elements of writing (different paragraphs or subtopics) as a unified whole, rather than pieces simply placed next to each other.
  • Editing is an example of a post-writing skill. Editing their own work, as well as the work of others, will build language skills. This will make your students more competent writers, as well as increasing their confidence in their writing. If they know how to look for mistakes and correct them, they will be less restrained by fear of failure.

Teaching Teenagers

Step 1 Build on earlier skills.

  • Have your students ask questions about what they are reading. Who wrote this book? Why did they write it? Who did they write it for? What impact did the environment around them have on the text? There are many questions like these which can serve to illuminate information hidden within the things they read.
  • Have your students ask questions about their own writing. Why did I choose this voice? Why do I have the opinion I've expressed? Why is this something I care about? What would I rather be writing? These kinds of questions can lead your students to learn a lot about themselves but it will also help them make more conscious decisions about the things they write.

Step 4 Prepare for real, academic writing.

  • This will have the added benefit of often expanding a student’s vocabulary. Encourage them to look up any word they don’t know. This will help give them the adult vocabulary which is often a mark of a good education, which will help them exponentially in further academic and professional environments.

Step 6 Teach careful word choice.

  • Get overly wordy writers to learn what should be included and what is just overkill. This will often be a wealth of adjectives or repetitive sentences. Show them how to weed out extras and get their sentences down to the basics.
  • A smaller portion of writers will have a hard time getting descriptive and specific enough. Teach them to remove themselves and approach their writing with a list of requirements. Could this be understood by someone entirely new to the subject? Could someone come to a specific page and be able to follow along? Give them exercises, such as having to write an entire page describing an apple, to improve their skills.

Step 7 Develop handwriting skills.

  • Give teens lots of opportunity to practice their handwriting. Most assignments are typed these days and this removes a student’s chance to improve their handwriting. Require shorter assignments to be handwritten or find other ways for them to spend time improving their skills.
  • Encourage legibility, even lettering, and clean lines. The writing doesn’t need to be in cursive in order to look adult and professional, it simply needs to be precise. When teens excel at this, reward them. If they struggle, show them what needs to be improved and give them opportunity to fix mistakes.
  • Give handwriting exercises as minor extra credit. Repeated lines of the same letter will give students great practice and allow them to easily see improvements and become acquainted with appropriate gestures.

Teaching Adults

Step 1 Simplify.

  • Most of all, show them that you make mistakes too. Show them when you don’t know things. Let them see you look a word up in a dictionary, to find its spelling or meaning. Let them see you ask for help when you need it, such as if you are unsure of the grammar of a sentence. Modeling behavior in this way will show your students that not knowing something is not a sign of stupidity or weakness of character.

Step 3 Build self confidence.

Expert Q&A

Richard Perkins

  • When teaching letters, try to break it up in terms of height lines. Use the concept of headline, belt line, and foot line to teach when letters should be anchored, as well as where short letters should end and tall letters should end. Thanks Helpful 10 Not Helpful 1
  • Teach writing skills workshop-style. This will create the most opportunity for your students to learn. Model the skill which you are trying to teach and then let them try it for themselves. When they are done, go back in to coach them on what they did right and how they can improve. Thanks Helpful 2 Not Helpful 0
  • Learning to better evaluate writing skills, especially essays, may also prove to be a valuable ability to better assess student progress. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

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  • ↑ Richard Perkins. Writing Coach & Academic English Coordinator. Expert Interview. 1 September 2021.
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About this article

Richard Perkins

To teach writing skills to small children and preteens, show them how to identify and reproduce different types of writing, such as narrative, persuasive, and expository writing. Additionally, teach your students the elements of storytelling, including characters, setting, and climax. In order to help your students practice their own writing, introduce them to the 5 paragraph theme, which has an introduction, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. As your students grow as writers, teach them pre and post-writing process skills, like how to outline an essay or how to edit a written piece of work. To learn how to teach basic writing skills, such as understanding sentence structure, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Literacy | Primary schools

9 strategies for improving writing skills in primary school

By Michelle Casey

06 Jan 2023

Primary students improving writing on a computer

In this article:

The importance of building writing skills in primary years

Understanding 5 basic writing skills, spelling and punctuation, handwriting, reading comprehension, sentence structure, how to improve learners’ writing in primary school, 1. teach the different writing styles, 2. encourage regular reading in the classroom and at home, 3. give learners a real-life situation to write about, 4. encourage students to keep a diary, 5. give learners opportunities to read aloud, 6. use sentence starters and prompts, 7. engage in cooperative writing, 8. get creative with the teaching, 9. encourage parents to help at home, how bedrock helps primary pupils develop strong writing skills.

Learners use writing as a vehicle through which to express themselves and their ideas, both in and out of the classroom, in every subject across the curriculum. By improving learners’ writing skills, you prepare them for success in wider life.

In this guide, you will find practical advice for teachers on developing fundamental writing skills within the primary classroom.

The ability to express ideas in writing is one of the most important of all skills. Good writing is a mark of an educated person and, perhaps for that reason, it is one of the most important skills sought by employers and higher education institutions (Conley, 2003; Schmoker, 2018).

Developing our learners as writers is more than just asking them to remember tricky spellings, handwriting joins or grammatical constructs. It is a process which is intricate and complicated, but if done consistently and thoroughly, gives learners a tool which is vital for their school years, across all subjects and in life after education.

Writing makes learners’ thinking and learning visible. It provides them with the opportunity to clarify and refine their ideas for others and to themselves.

For learners to progress in their writing, they must have a solid understanding of the 5 basic writing skills and plenty of opportunity to practise and develop these skills.

Grammar is the system and structure of a language and comes with certain rules . It underpins how words are put together meaningfully and sentences are constructed. When writers use good grammar, they can effectively communicate what they want the reader to know. Through learning about nouns , punctuation , tense and aspect , brackets , semicolons , and connectors , learners can make their writing clearer and control its impact on their readers.

Spelling instruction helps learners to develop a connection between letters and their sounds. It also helps learners to recognise high-frequency common exception words. Teaching students strategies for spelling supports them in communicating effectively through writing.

While sentences can be written without punctuation, writing becomes a lot more effective if punctuated correctly. Good punctuation allows writers to convey what they mean and enables readers to understand the intended message or meaning. Every piece of punctuation has a particular role; they all work to give clarity and meaning to our written words.

Read more about the rules behind punctuation.

Handwriting is an important skill for learners to develop. Poor handwriting can harm school performance.

If a learner views handwriting as something arduous, this can reduce their motivation to write. This lack of motivation may lead to a reduction in practice which can further compound handwriting difficulties.

When learners can write comfortably, legibly and at a good pace, it gives them more ‘mental space’ to think about the content and creativity of their writing, as opposed to the logistics.

Learn more about handwriting in primary school.

Reading comprehension is the capacity to read a piece of text and understand the meaning or intent. It is important in the development of writing skills. Before learners can write with meaning, they need to be able to read.

The skills developed in reading and reading comprehension activities feed into many skills required for effective writing. It helps them to:

  • Sound out and blend words for meaning
  • Extend their vocabulary and learn how to use it contextually
  • See how words in a paragraph or in a sentence relate to each other

When the concept of reading at a base level has been achieved, learners can then start to think about a text critically ; they can infer meaning and intent and transfer this to their own writing. As well as this, reading comprehension relies on a strong understanding of vocabulary and grammar ; writing skills work together and strengthen one another.

For writing to progress, learners should have a good grasp of sentence structure. They should know the basic types of sentences : simple, compound and complex.

Learners should also be able to modify sentence structure for effect - for example, by using fronted adverbials or passive voice. Learning different ways they can structure a sentence helps learners convey their intended meaning in their writing.

Improve primary learners' writing skills

Explicit vocabulary and grammar instruction through a deep-learning algorithm to support learners of all abilities.

Teaching learners to recognise the different genres of writing and their characteristics and purpose will help them to implement these techniques in their own writing.

Throughout their schooling, learners should be exposed to a wide variety of nonfiction, narrative and poetry texts.

Within nonfiction , they will be exposed to explanation texts to inform; non-chronological reports to explain and persuasive texts to persuade and entertain, to name a few.

Within narrative texts , learners will examine stories with dilemmas, traditional tales and stories in a historical setting, among others.

Learners will also have the opportunity to explore poetry including structured poetry, visual poetry and free verse .

Learners should be given the opportunity to become familiar with a text type and its features. They should examine the language used, sentence structure, grammatical features and layout. They could highlight and annotate features of the text as they identify them - in this way, they form a kind of checklist for their own writing.

Well-chosen texts provide learners with good-quality models for their writing. In this way, they are exposed to rich language structures which lets them see how writing works and the effect it can have on the reader. Students draw on their reading experiences when producing their own writing.

Learners should be exposed to these high-quality texts across a range of genres, demonstrating a variety of writing styles. It is important that the texts chosen reflect the social and cultural diversity of the class while introducing them to a world outside the familiar.

This exposure can involve Independent Reading, Guided Reading, Shared Reading and just good old Reading for Pleasure, where the teacher or the learners take the lead.

According to the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE), ‘Reading texts to children that they are not ready to access independently exposes them to language they can own.’ This gives those struggling readers an opportunity to be enriched by high-quality vocabulary with the right scaffolding .

Learners should be given plenty of opportunities for regular reading in the classroom. Some schools implement a whole-school policy whereby one session per week or fortnight is blocked out for Reading for Pleasure.

Reading is often not only encouraged but required as part of homework tasks. It is normal for there to be certain expectations for reading sessions to be carried out at home. This is often a book from a specific level that the teacher has matched to the learner’s reading ability. However, whatever age-appropriate texts students are reading at home is beneficial: magazines, catalogues, leaflets, websites, and books from home.

Parents/guardians should be encouraged to read with students at home too; this gives learners another perspective on the text from their parent/guardian and (hopefully!) helps foster a love, or at least a like, for reading.

When learners are writing, they should be clear on who their intended audience will be. Will it be their peers? Younger students? The headteacher? The King? The MD of a company?

In being clear on their intended audience, learners can further develop their understanding that writing is a tool for communication and expression. And of course, writing is not limited to literacy lessons - writing is used across all subjects, which gives learners even more opportunity to write for an intended audience and purpose.

The teaching of writing is more effective when learners see the purpose of it, and with an audience in mind, they can adapt their tone accordingly.

Some examples of writing students could produce inspired by text or real life:

  • A letter to the headteacher persuading him/her to allow a longer break time.
  • A newspaper report on a school/ local event.
  • Instructions on how to play Minecraft (or another game that is relevant and appropriate to them).
  • Within a topic (e.g., superheroes), learners create their own superhero, then write an explanation text to explain the superhero’s powers, special gadgets, crimes/issues targeted and how they became a superhero.
  • After reading a story or part of a story, learners write about an event from a character’s point of view not presented in the text.

Children could have access to free writing journals and, if possible (in the jam-packed curriculum we are all navigating!), time to develop their own personal writing projects, allowing their personal writing style to emerge.

With the popularity of diary-style series like Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates, the idea of keeping a diary may be very attractive to some learners. It is a good way to get children writing outside the classroom environment. Learners who keep a diary are twice as likely to exceed age expectations in writing .

According to the National Literacy Trust , the vast majority of children state that they enjoy writing more when they can choose what to write about. If learners can begin to derive pleasure from writing in this way, then hopefully this can be transferred to writing in a more formal setting.

Giving learners the opportunity to read aloud enables them to hear how punctuation and sentence structure combine in the sentences they read. It may even help them to think more deeply about perspective as they read from the point of view of new characters.

Reading aloud also provides the teacher with chances to correct misconceptions, such as mispronunciations and new vocabulary. These are all skills that can be channelled into their own writing composition.

As well as this, reading aloud is a good way to celebrate a student’s written work - they can present their achievements to their classmates.

Providing students with sentence starters can help with writing flow. It provides reassurance that they are on the right track in their writing. With all the different writing genres our learners are exposed to and then expected to write, it can be beneficial for some learners to have this scaffold .

Sentence starters could be in the form of a ‘word bank’ on the board or on a piece of paper, generated by the teacher. To give learners a little more ownership, this ‘word bank’ of sentence starters could be generated as a class and left on display.

More independent learners may enjoy coming up with their own word banks as they read texts; they can ‘magpie’ sentence starters they’d like to use for their writing.

Cooperative writing is a useful tool in helping learners on their writing journey.

One aspect of this is shared writing. It involves the teacher crafting a piece of writing on a whiteboard. The learners are encouraged to give input, often aided by teacher questioning and prompts. The result is a collaborative passage which learners can use to help with their independent writing.

Another type of cooperative writing is modelled writing. This requires less student input, but the students get to watch the act of writing. The teacher might write a sentence, and then articulate their thought process as to how the vocabulary in the sentence can be improved or what form of punctuation would work best here. In this way, learners can see the strategies the teacher draws on as he or she writes.

A third method of cooperative writing is guided writing. This involves the teacher working with a smaller group of children within the lesson (when the others are ‘on task’). This usually focuses on a specific objective that this group in particular needs support with, e.g., adding more detail to writing by using fronted adverbials. In this approach, the children usually produce their own writing in their English books with the teacher prompting and questioning.

Where possible, try to connect what the children are interested in with their writing. For example, if you have learners interested in Minecraft, they could write a letter of persuasion to the Prime Minister to persuade him to allow Minecraft lessons in school .

Another way of getting the children interested and excited about writing is to use humour. Show learners two emails to compare - both could be complaining about something. One could be written using formal language and the other could be written informally, bordering on being rude.

Example of formal writing through a letter

This lets learners see the effect of both pieces of writing.

Another way to use humour is in writing an explanation text. It could be about something perceived as mundane such as ‘How a Dishwasher Works’ but could be made humourous in the following way:

Example of humorous writing through instructions

Children can then use this to write their own explanations in a similar way.

Another idea is to set something up to happen, e.g., to use the superhero topic again - have an adult in school dress up as a ‘thief’ and another adult as a superhero. They could burst into your classroom at an agreed time and have a very dramatic ‘chase’ around the room and the superhero could catch the ‘thief’. Of course, you would have to consider the children in your class and if this would be appropriate for them. This dramatic action could be a good springboard to inspire children to write.

It is important to encourage parental support with writing at home . Parents may need guidance in how they can help their children with writing at home. It might be a good idea to put together a list of ways they can help, for example:

  • Allow children to help with everyday writing such as emails, shopping lists, writing birthday cards.
  • Try to make sure your child has an area (no matter how big or small) where they can write, as well as the tools for writing.
  • Let children write about what interests them: a recipe they have helped make, a film review, a similar story to one they have read, similar lyrics to a song they have heard.

Talking homework tasks are a good way to involve parents. Talking homework is used as part of Ros Wilson’s Big Write approach. Big Writing is when learners produce an extended piece of writing independently.

The night before the Big Write, learners are given a homework task to discuss their ideas with someone at home, for what they could write the next day. This means children are getting lots of input and parents are sharing in the learning.

To learn to write, students need a blend of different skills such as vocabulary knowledge, grammar knowledge, an understanding of sentence structure, fine motor skills and more. While some of these skills come down to dedicated instruction in the classroom, such as when transcribing and practising handwriting, some of the fundamental skills of writing can be boosted by a digital literacy curriculum such as Bedrock Learning.

Bedrock’s vocabulary curriculum teaches learners aged 6-16 the Tier 2 vocabulary they need to thrive, from Year 3 level all the way to advanced reading and vocabulary. Tier 2 vocabulary is taught through an intelligent Block system, ensuring each learner is placed into the right Block for their reading level - this ensures the texts are challenging, yet accessible. The smart Block system differentiates teaching for learners of different abilities, stretching confident readers and supporting struggling readers.

In addition to this, Bedrock’s core curriculum teaches vocabulary alongside a complete grammar curriculum, differentiated for primary and secondary learners . Grammar is taught through bespoke fiction and nonfiction texts , engaging teaching videos and mastery tasks , ensuring long-term retention.

Informed by the National Curriculum, Bedrock’s core curriculum not only teaches learners the grammar they need for their KS2 SATs , but also combines grammar and vocabulary instruction to boost reading comprehension and writing skills overall.

Discover how Bedrock’s curricula can support your learners throughout primary school - and beyond!

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  • Our Mission

To Teach Effective Writing, Model Effective Writing

teaching writing skills

I strive to teach my high school students the value of criticism, especially when it comes to improving their writing.

To do so, I model how criticism continues to help me become a better writer. Earlier this year, for example, I shared a draft of one of my education feature articles, which included detailed feedback from an editor at a prominent media company. I asked my classes for advice on how to address several edits, dealing with sources, transitions, terminology, and structure. A few days later, I directed my budding writers to the much-improved final draft. This easy but worthwhile activity helped more of my students feel comfortable receiving criticism, and not view it as an affront. As a result, they improved their writing by taking the time and care to consider and respond to reader insight.

I want my students to feel secure in the knowledge that nobody is beyond criticism (even their teacher), and that the bigger challenge is developing the good sense to acknowledge and successfully respond to feedback.

Along those lines, I also offer the suggestions below about teaching writing:

1. Writers are the Best Writing Teachers

To teach effective writing, we must be effective writers ourselves. We can't teach what we don't know, and when it comes to writing, it's important to continue honing our craft. If you haven't engaged in much formal writing since college, you will remain a less effective writing teacher. No matter what subject you teach, try starting a blog, writing articles, or developing short stories -- all terrific ways to engage the mind and keep your skills sharp. Reading is important, but reading alone isn't enough to strengthen your writing skills, or to make you a credible authority on the subject. I am not proposing that every teacher write online every day (though if you do, that’s excellent). But even if just once or twice a month, in some way, shape, or form, teachers should produce writing to be read by others. It's at least that important to practice what we preach.

2. The Value of Sharing

No matter what you teach, share your written work. I always share with my students and ask for their feedback -- even their criticism. In that respect, it's essential for students to recognize not only your skill, but also your interest and engagement in constantly refining a crucial life skill. For one lesson, I even share with students some of my high school, college, and graduate school essays, and they analyze what I improved upon over time. I'm excited about sharing my work, and that in turn helps to get my students excited about doing the same.

3. Write for Your Students

No matter what you teach, write in front of students. When I am teaching about formal introductory paragraphs, for instance, my history students think of a worthy historical question for me to tackle. With the projector on, I then write out the paragraph, sharing my thought process along the way. Students observe how I work and rework my prose, and how I place a premium on concision. They also critique my work, which in turn helps them not repeat similar mistakes. Admitting my weaknesses helps my students become less defensive about their own work, and in turn more open to criticism.

4. The Writing Workshop

Create workshop environments, with multiple stations focusing on different aspects of writing. In my history classroom, I appoint a student who's great at transitions to staff the "transitions" booth, and a student great at topic sentences to staff the "topic sentence" booth. Of their own volition, or at my suggestion, students visit whatever booth fits their needs. As far as instruction goes, this maximizes utility while freeing me to meet one-to-one with the neediest students.

5. Seeking Feedback

Urge students to share their work with each other and online. Few writers have ever improved by keeping their work to themselves. As the teacher, I know that my opinions carry significant weight. But the same is true of what others think, especially one's peers. In an increasingly flat world and a digital age, students must feel comfortable and confident about sharing their work for the whole world to see. To that end, teachers should help students produce appropriate, high-quality content.

6. Real-World Writing

Most importantly, teachers must do whatever they can to convey the importance and usefulness of writing more effectively. No matter what craft or profession students wish to pursue, I make it clear at every turn that knowing how to write well will play a significant role in their success. From science, math, engineering, law, history, and journalism to anything else one can think of, the ability to express oneself clearly in writing is absolutely essential. Next year, to help get that point across, I hope to invite various professionals to speak to my students about the role writing plays in their lives.

How do you teach effective writing? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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How To Teach Writing To Anyone

  • March 19, 2020

teaching writing skills

​Writing is a key skill. The ability to put words down on paper is a critical skill for success in college and career, but few students graduate high school as proficient writers. Less than a third of high school seniors are proficient writers, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Low-income, and Black and Hispanic students fare far worse and less than 15 percent scoring proficient.

So how can students learn to write better? What tools do they need to become better at making an argument on paper? In this document, we’re largely focused on argumentative writing, which is central to, well, just about every aspect of modern life, from emails to workplace memos to empowered citizens.

Teaching argumentative writing involves teaching both argumentation and writing. This means there’s research on how to teach writing, there’s research on how to teach argumentation, and there’s research on the intersection of the two.

Earlier research in this topic often referred to it as “persuasive” writing. More recent research seems to prefer and use the term “argumentative” writing. One reason why is that “argumentative” is seen as a broader term. Persuasion is a particular goal that argumentative writing might have. But argumentative writing is seen to encompass many possible goals: persuasion, but also analysis, collaborative problem-solving, and conceptual clarity.

Main takeaways

There are important nuances further below, but the general picture of best practice based on experimental and quasi-experimental research looks something like the following:

  • Students need sufficient foundational skills and knowledge (in spelling, typing, content-specific knowledge) and may be taught some of this knowledge in the course of writing . This means that educators in early grades should work on building basic skills in hand-writing, spelling, and typing, and that educators in later grades spend some time focusing on sentence-building skills and incorporate content learning into writing assignments.
  • Students benefit from a writing environment where they write and edit frequently using word processing software on long pieces of writing that generate student interest.  Although students in early grades may by predominantly writing by hand, as they move on to late elementary school and middle school they should transition to typing, which enables more rapid editing. Although work on basic transcription and sentence-building skills is vital, educators also need to assign longer pieces of work as students progress.
  • Students benefit from clear writing purposes and from having well-defined goals for improvement.  This suggests that educators choose writing assignments that have larger purposes beyond simply being submitted for a grade—student writing that is published, displayed, or otherwise shared can improve student motivation. It also suggests that educators carefully structure the revision process. For instance, revision goals like “come up with two more reasons in favor of your argument and one reason in favor of an opposing argument” help students meaningfully revise their papers.
  • Students benefit from instruction on models of good and bad writing, and through explicit strategies in the writing process:  for example, pre-writing techniques, ways of organizing the material, making their reasoning explicit. Educators must correct misperceptions of what writing that focus on the product of writing (instead of the process). And they must be explicit about the strategies that good writers use to ultimately create solid writing.
  • Students benefit from guidance in genre-specific practices  (for instance, diagrams that help students “fill out” both sides of an argument, character sheets that help students flesh out the characters in their narratives, etc.). Educators can’t assume that skill in one genre of writing will necessarily transfer to others; students have to be taught about the expectations and norms of the writing community.
  • Students benefit from collaborating with each other: editing, receiving feedback, and editing again, or even working in groups to co-write material.  Providing feedback to others seems to provide as much or more benefit to writing skill as editing one’s own paper. Educators should focus on teaching students how to edit judiciously and provide feedback in a supportive way.​

Learning to Write

There is also an  increasing recognition  of the discipline- and genre-specific nature of writing. It’s not about teaching a single, relatively discrete skill — “writing” — but about teaching ways writing in  science , ways of  writing  in  history , ways of writing in literature. Writing in any genre is not a fully transferable skill—it  requires  contextual knowledge (about the purpose and the audience of the work), content knowledge (about the subject of the work), and writing process knowledge.

Methods and Approaches

Experimental and quasi-experimental work in this area has been the subject of many meta-analyses, with slightly differing emphases. These are fairly comprehensive quantitative summaries of the work in this area, but a substantial number of the underlying studies have  methodological problems  of one sort or another: e.g., no random assignment, no controlling for the Hawthorne effect, no measures of whether the intervention was implemented with fidelity, or simply  no descriptions  of the control condition.

More recent studies  tend to be  of higher quality, and also result in higher effect sizes than older studies (suggesting that earlier studies may have been understating the effect of some of the proposed interventions).

Meta-analyses look at broad swaths of different studies and group studies into categories to be able to calculate the effects of individual types of interventions. These categories are not always mutually exclusive. For instance, the distinction between “writing process” models (which focus on the process of writing — prewriting, organizing, drafting, editing, revising, etc.), “self-regulation” models (which focus on setting writing goals and teaching students to monitor their writing and editing to achieve those goals), and “peer writing” models (where student co-write and edit each others work)  can overlap  substantially. In other cases, single categories encompass quite a diverse set of practices. For instance, the “strategy instruction” model  includes interventions  involving pre-writing activities, peer writing, persuasive writing structures, etc.

Another complexity is how writing outcomes are measured. Rubric-based instruction may help students improve their writing when measured by the rubric, but not necessarily when evaluated through other means.

Research evaluating the popular 6+1 trait writing model, for example, shows  little improvement  in student outcomes when those outcomes are not measured with the 6+1 writing rubric.

Main Takeaways About Learning To Write

Teachers don’t assign enough writing..

The survey’s results, however, suggest some improvements in teacher practice compared to 40 years ago. Compared to an assessment made in 1979-80, teachers are giving students more questions that ask for more original analysis, they’re incorporating more research-backed strategies like process writing, explicit strategy instruction, and collaborative writing in the curriculum, and they use technology more often.

These findings dovetail with  another recent large-scale survey  of 361 high school teachers across several disciplines. Again, the main finding is that students don’t compose texts that are long enough (most writing practice asks students to compose texts one-paragraph in length or less), and that few writing assignments as students for analysis and interpretation. Moreover, most teachers say they are not prepared to teach writing (71% say they had either no or minimal college-level training in the subject in their teacher preparation programs).

Although experts argue that argumentative writing should happen across all disciplines, English teachers have often shouldered the main responsibility for teaching writing skills of all sorts (at least as judged by the surveys mentioned earlier). This emphasis, however,  clashes  with a tradition of emphasizing the literary tradition in English language arts classes (e.g., fiction and narrative), rather than argumentation. One way of providing students with more opportunities to write is to have teachers across many disciplines assign writing tasks. This has been a common aim of several reforms.

Time and expertise seem to be the main obstacles to teachers assigning more writing. Teacher workloads are high, while providing meaningful feedback on long pieces of writing takes considerable effort. Teachers report simply not having enough time to assign long pieces of writing, provide feedback on them, and providing lots of opportunities for revision.

Many teachers also report not being very confident in their ability to teach writing, not having the training or experience to teach writing well, or both. This lack of expertise (or at least lack of confidence) also likely discourages teachers from assigning more challenging pieces of writing.

Research has also revealed a number of best practices. The following best practices all improve student outcomes, and are listed in approximate order of effect size (largest to smallest) based on several recent meta-analyses of existing studies

Explicit strategy instruction helps students.

That said, authors of the survey view the overall amount of class time spent on research-backed strategies to be insufficient: for instance, about 3 minutes out of every 50 minute English class period would be devoted to one of the most support strategies—explicit writing strategy instruction.

Teachers should  illustrate  each strategy and facilitate students’ independent use of each strategy over time. For instance, a pre-writing activity like brainstorming might be initially presented to the students: the teacher can explain what the strategy is, why writers do it, and present a model of the practice to students. Then, the teacher would have students practice brainstorming in small groups, with occasional teacher guidance. After that, students would brainstorm on their own, while the teacher would provide occasional support. Finally, the teacher would encourage students to use brainstorming completely independently (revisiting aspects of the strategy if needed). ​

Self-regulation strategies can improve outcomes.

The most popular self-regulation strategy is the  SRSD  (self-regulation and strategy development) model. This integrates both explicit strategy instruction and self-regulation strategies into a classroom context. Teachers don’t just introduce a strategy—they track student progress towards mastery in using the strategy over time, aiming to motivate students and build self-confidence. The SRSD approach uses mnemonics, graphic organizers, and other scaffolds, in addition to developing prior knowledge about specific writing genres as students are taught them. Evidence  suggests  that the program is one of the most effective classroom programs, but outcome measures stop short of long trajectories (stopping at six months).

Process Writing improves student outcomes. Process writing involves getting students involved in pre-writing, organizing, drafting, revising, re-drafting, and editing their papers. It’s about engaging students in a relatively long-term writing process involving multiple drafts, rounds of peer and/or teacher feedback, and a finalized product. It’s also  helpful  to have students explain why they made their edits.

Process writing seems to be a key part of many successful writing interventions (such as SRSD), but the evidence on the efficacy of process writing alone is somewhat contradictory.

Most meta-analyses that evaluate process writing as a separate category of intervention find that process writing is a best practice and has substantial effect sizes. This effect, however,  seems modulated  by professional development — when teachers are not taught how to use process writing approaches effectively, the benefit disappears. A  meta-analysis  that focused solely on process writing found modest effects for students of average ability, but no significant effects on writing outcomes for struggling writers, which contrasts with qualitative research suggesting the benefits of process writing for struggling writers in particular. Many of the studies in the process-writing-specific meta-analysis also had weak study designs making the claim that process writing doesn’t help struggling writers at best preliminary.

Feedback Drives Achievement.

For feedback to be effective, students must be motivated to use feedback to improve and they must know how to use the feedback effectively. The first is a challenge of classroom culture. The second is a challenge of student knowledge.

Surveys   suggest  that many students feel like they don’t have enough guidance on what to do with the feedback they receive. One  study  at the undergraduate level suggests that the main factor influencing whether students implemented changes based on feedback was whether the problem described by the feedback was understood. Problem understanding increased when teachers identified where the problem was, proposed some solutions, and gave a summary of the students’ work.

Even generic automated feedback to scientific arguments  can improve  students subsequent arguments (e.g., feedback that reads something like “You haven’t provided enough evidence for your argument. You should add more evidence.” The effects, however, were most pronounced for students that had high scores to begin with, suggesting that receptiveness to feedback may also be playing a role.

One of the values of outside feedback (from either peers or teachers) is that students are  more likely  to make deeper, meaning-related changes in response to outside feedback than they are when making individual revisions.

Peer Collaboration Can Make A Difference.

Peer feedback offers  several proposed benefits . Students often perceive peer feedback as more understandable (and therefore, more actionable) than teacher feedback. Students  often feel  that teacher feedback is insufficient or unhelpful, and, in higher education at least, students report that peers provide more (and more helpful) feedback. Peer feedback is also a way of providing more overall feedback to students (on early or intermediate drafts of a piece of writing, for instance), as it requires less teacher time. Some reports even suggest that peer feedback encourages students to redouble their efforts because of the social pressure to do well on the assignment.

There are, however, also some challenges to peer feedback. Peers can offer valuable feedback, but it’s not quite up to the standards of expert feedback. For instance, in a  study  where peers used a predefined assessment guideline, peer and expert feedback was structurally comparable, although peers suggested fewer changes, gave more positive judgments and gave less evidential support for their negative judgments.

Another challenge is to develop a classroom culture where feedback is perceived to be helpful and non-threatening. In  one study , English Language Learners report liking peer feedback, but also being concerned about hurting their partners feelings or lacking enough knowledge to be helpful. In that study, students preferred online forms of feedback over face-to-face feedback.

Teaching students  how to give  valuable feedback is a critical step. Not only does this make the peer feedback more valuable for the writer, but it also helps the peer reviewer develop their own revision skills. For instance, a teacher might give peer reviewers some questions to guide their revision process. Questions like: Is the piece suitable for the intended audience—does it use the right tone, the right kinds of vocabulary words and text complexity? Is the overall structure of the argument clear? Etc.

In some cases, learning to provide peer feedback seems to have more benefits to students than receiving feedback. In a  study  from 2009, one group of students gave feedback on written work throughout the semester while the other group received feedback. Both groups improved over the course of the semester, but the givers improved more than the receivers when they had no prior experience in giving peer feedback.

Foundational skills and knowledge enable students to engage deeply with the material.

Students also  need to know  genre-specific writing structures and topic-specific vocabulary. For instance, young children have a  better understanding  of the narrative genre compared to other genres of writing (argumentative writing, scientific reports, poems). When students don’t know enough about the genre expectations, they can’t produce work that’s recognizably within the genre (e.g., when asked for a science report or an argument, they  might produce  something that’s more like a story).

Genre learning is something that continues throughout careers and  later schooling  (e.g., imagine learning about the “business case” genre, the “legal memo” genre or the “economic theory paper” genre); it’s part of the overall development of meta-cognitive knowledge. Explicitness about genre expectations also helps marginalized groups (who  may not be as familiar  with the genres they’re asked to produce) participate more fully.

Word processing lets students edit and revise more easily.

The commonly accepted explanation is that word processing makes editing and organizing a paper easier, and so encourages revision.

Although seventy-five percent of teachers report having students turn in their final draft through a computer, less than half of students use word processing for drafting, editing, and collaborating on written work. This is particularly notable given the presumed mechanism behind the advantage of using word processors over paper-and-pencil to draft and edit: word processors make editing and re-organizing far easier.

More Frequent Practice. Perhaps the simplest intervention that seems to improve writing outcomes is  more practice  (especially given the evidence on the little amount of practice that students typically get at long-form writing). Establishing writing routines (for example, having students  write  for fifteen minutes more a day than they currently do) and ensuring that the writing tasks are interesting to students — that the writing has some larger relevance or purpose — seem like  important keys  to having students write more.

Multiple drafts improve essay quality.

Writing can also improve reading..

Researchers have proposed  several explanations  for the deep relationship between reading and writing. They both involve common processes. Spelling, for example, helps students read and write. Sentence-combining helps students write complex sentences and comprehend more complex sentences. The writer also has to re-organize what she’s read, leading to deeper reflection of the material. And finally, writing provides insight into what a writer might be thinking, which helps students interpret written work.

Evaluations of programs that integrate reading and writing programs  show  positive writing outcomes. These programs typically involve professional development and peer collaboration on reading and writing assignments. Part of the explanation may be that reading helps students  anticipate  what readers may believe as they write. Reading texts that students will write about also increases their prior knowledge of the issues.

Grammar instruction is important but not that helpful for more advanced writers.

Research on common practices among exceptional writing teachers largely  complement or confirm  the best practices listed above. Exceptional teachers:

  • Are excited about teaching writing, making it clear to students that they enjoy the subject and enjoy teaching the subject.
  • Publish student work by sharing it with others, displaying it on walls, or publishing it in collections.
  • Encourage students to try hard and attribute success to effort (a component of the SRSD approach).
  • Reinforce classroom routines that help students progress along the writing process (peer editing, co-writing, revising, etc.) (a component of process writing and peer writing)
  • Have high but realistic expectations (a component of the SRSD approach).
  • Adapt writing assignments to student needs and interests.
  • Use activities that encourage deep processing (critiquing ideas about their papers) as opposed to shallow processing (filling out a worksheet that can be filled out mindlessly).
  • Encourage students to do as much as possible on their own. (a component of the SRSD approach)

Still, Some Open Questions About Learning to Write

For instance, at what age should students  begin  formulating structured arguments (either through discussion, as preparation for later writing assignments, or in writing itself)? Under certain contexts, even young children  can reason  well, which suggests that  early, more comprehensive practice  could substantially improve student reasoning in the long term. But there are also developmental considerations. There’s relatively little evidence on this question.

What’s the proper role of writing rubrics? Rubrics can help students set goals and perceive differences between their work and an ideal piece of writing. But such rubrics can become formulaic substitutes for deep engagement with the issues.

How should argument-structuring scaffolds be used? There’s little doubt that argument diagrams  can  help students formulate counter-arguments and rebuttals, and that they help lower-ability students in particular. Whether the benefits of such scaffolds extend beyond the assignments that use the scaffolding, however, is an open question: in some transfer tasks, students who have been using argument diagrams  don’t write  any better arguments than those who haven’t. They can, however, also  limit  reformulations and of the argument by making the issue seem “black and white” as opposed to “gray” and promote linear, less open approaches, particularly for higher ability students. How to fade these scaffolds over the long trajectory of student development is largely unexplored.

How should we be evaluating written argumentation skills? Researchers have used a variety of methods to distinguish “good” essays from “bad” essays, but the diversity of measurement approaches makes it challenging to compare studies. Articulating counter-arguments has been a major focus, but so have measures of elaboration and organizational structure. In some cases, it’s difficult to tell what aspect of the essays have improved because the descriptions are simply too vague.

What are interesting cases and authentic contexts for students in different classroom settings? A big hurdle for teaching written argumentation seems to be engagement. Students who feel that the writing has some larger purpose (and have some relevant experience) produce stronger written arguments, and presumably become better arguers because of it. But, as far as I can tell, there is no collection of vetted cases across the variety of classroom situations (and levels of prior knowledge) that teachers encounter.

Successful writing intervention programs involve extensive professional development, but what kinds of professional development is best, and how should successful professional development programs be scaled?

Are there other complexities to teaching students with learning disabilities that haven’t surfaced because of lack of research? The research on teaching writing to students with learning disabilities is particularly sparse. A relatively recent review of the research (2009)  found  only 9 studies that met their inclusion criteria for a total of 31 students.

​- Ulrich Boser

8 thoughts on “How To Teach Writing To Anyone”

This is a wonderful article that’s very helpful. I have been assigned to teaching 7th and 8th grade students that have very low lexile levels. These students do not know how to write and they don’t want to learn how to write. So, I’m searching for understanding and resources. I have started with building sentences, you know, writing complete sentences instead of fragments and run-on sentences.

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Thank you for this. Indeed writing is not a natural skill but one that is built upon. Contact My Homework Writers for help on writing should you feel you need that extra hand.

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Concourse 2

Teaching writing: aims and approaches


There are two other guides to writing on this site and the following assumes you are familiar with the content of those.  They are:

  • The essential guide to what writing skills are
  • An essential guide to teaching writing

and they both open in new tabs.

This guide recapitulates some of the information found in those two guides and takes things a little further in considering what knowledge writers need to bring to the construction of a text and how we might help them achieve their goals.

The ability to write is learned, not acquired. All normal human being learn to speak their first languages (and often subsequent languages) by processes which are still debated and often obscure.  How that happens is the subject of other guides to first and second language acquisition. Writing, on the other hand, is not a skill that everybody acquires.  It has to be taught and schools everywhere devote years and major resources to teaching writing often with incomplete success as a visit to a random selection of blogging sites out here will attest.

Literacy is loosely defined as the ability to read and write a language but the estimate is that nearly 15% of the world's population cannot do either (Wikipedia, 2019). Additionally, literacy is not a digital, on-off phenomenon.  It exists on a cline from the ability to write one's name and short notes up to highly literate prize-winning authors.  In between, lie most of us who have the ability to write and read in our first and often in other languages with varying degrees of competence. Until the 20th century, literacy in English was defined as familiarity with the literature of the language and only later did the concept assume its modern meaning of the ability to read and write at all. It is, in fact, difficult to find a widely accepted definition of what it means to be literate and countries around the world will calculate their literacy rates based on quite widely varying benchmarks of what it means to be literate.

UNESCO provides a definition of:

Functioning literacy is the ability to use reading, writing and numeracy skills for effective functioning and development of the individual and the community. A person is literate who can, with understanding, both read and write a short statement on his or her everyday life.

The ability to read and write a short statement on his or her daily life is an unambitious aim for a writing programme in foreign language learning.  However, skills for effective functioning and development of the individual and the community is a little more suitable for our purposes. A more challenging definition is also provided by UNESCO:

Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written (and visual) materials associated with varying contexts.

It still doesn't tell us what our learners will need to do to be able to claim that they have adequate literacy skills in English for their purposes.

What targets we set will depend on a range of variables:

  • be able to write clearly for service transactional purposes: ordering things, booking things, asking for information and so on
  • to be able to write simple interactional texts to maintain social relationships, make suggestions, arrange meetings and so on.
  • write clearly and coherently within their chosen speciality
  • use conventional generic text staging
  • be able to use a range of reporting verbs
  • be able to use modality to hedge what they write with adequate modesty
  • control the specific lexical items within their speciality
  • write discussions, reports and explanations
  • write reports and proposals
  • maintain relationships with clients and partner organisations
  • communicate clearly and effectively in-house with their colleagues
  • The level of the learners Inviting someone who has just mastered the ability to play Für Elise on the piano to write a piano concerto is probably not going to be a particularly successful or fulfilling project.  Equally, asking elementary learners to construct complex texts using conventional generic features of verbal processes, circumstance and information staging is likely to be a frustrating and unsatisfactory business. We need to be careful to match the demands of a writing programme to the abilities of the learners.  Not to do so is an incitement to error, disappointment and sheer exasperation on the part of the learners.
  • Learners who are in or intend to be in a native-speaker environment either permanently or temporarily will have to learn how to communicate, however basically, in situations which require the writing of short notes, requests and instructions.
  • Learners who are not intending to live in (and may never visit) an English-speaking culture will have no such demands on them.  They may, in fact, unless they fall into categories 1b and 1c, never have to write anything other than notes in the classroom and most of those can be in their mother tongue.

Before we go on, make a note of what you believe should be the targets of a writing programme in terms of enabling your learners in your setting with their needs.
Click .

There's no right answer to that question, of course, because settings are so various.  The nature of the task was simply to get you to think about which of the following elements of the writing skills you should be targeting and at what level of detail and commitment.

Writers need two kinds of knowledge:

  • Linguistic knowledge: a mastery of at least some of the elements of the language in which they are going to write
  • Social knowledge: an understanding of what is conventional about the kind of text they are setting out to write

If you have followed the essential guide to writing, you may recall what some of the elements are.  Even if you haven't ...

Make a note of some of the things that your learners need to know in both categories.
Click .

The following is based, rather loosely, on Raimes, 1983:6.  It is not exhaustive but, unlike the original, it has been categorised:


Linguistic knowledge is what is shown on the left under Systems.  Social knowledge is what is shown on the right under Genre.

If we attempted here to discuss all the categories, this guide would become unmanageably long.  We will assume, for the purposes of what follows, that you are aware of the fundamentals of all the categories.  Some notes will do.

Time spent alerting learners to the three aspects here is well spent.  Nobody can write a coherent text without considering why they are writing it, the topic or field of interest in which they are writing, the person who will read it and the relationship between the reader and the writer as well as the way in which they will need to organise the text and get it to the reader.

Before even beginning to consider how to teach people to write well in English, it is important to consider what is called the Context of Situation and that involves knowing what one is writing about (the Field), why one is writing, who the audience is and what relationship one has with it (the Tenor) and how the finished text will be transmitted to the reader (the Mode). So, before diving in to the development or teaching of writing skills, it is worth taking a bit of time to alert the learners to these three aspects of all texts. This can be done by having a simple form to fill in, by questioning and elicitation or via a short discussion among the learners. Something like this works well:

Before you start to write, look at these questions with a partner.
What is the subject?  
Why am I writing this text?  
Who am I writing to (the audience)?  
What is my relationship with the reader?  
How will I get the text to the reader?  

and takes about 5 minutes. If you would like to learn more about what effect the Context of Situation has on how language is used, read the guide to an introduction of Systemic Functional Linguistics, linked below.  That guide also contains a questionnaire you can use with learners for all skills work, not just writing.

In the essential guide to teaching writing, three approaches were described.  This is not the place to repeat everything that is said there so if you are concerned that the following diagrams make no sense, you should go to that guide and read through the relevant part before coming back here.  Click here and that part of the guide will open in a new tab.  When you are done, close it to return to this page.

A product approach: analytic and synthetic A process approach: cyclical A genre approach: cooperative, modelled

That's all very well and good and it appears, as do many things in this professions, that we have to make a decision concerning which approach we favour and then apply it. However, it does bear repeating from that guide that:

It can readily be seen that these approaches are not mutually exclusive.  Elements of the product approach, such as the focus on structural aspects of language can form part of the process approach when students evaluate what they have written as a first draft and such a focus is legitimately part of a genre approach when the language is being analysed. A genre approach can also be usefully combined with a process approach or a product approach.

3 ways

This does, of course, require a certain level of flexibility from the teacher because her role is to determine when in the process of learning to write a particular text type with a particular generic structure, it is necessary to pause, take a step back and look at where the focus needs to be.  This may mean:

  • stopping the process at the drafting stage and incorporating a focus on elements of formal knowledge such as lexis, verb forms, paragraphing, or whatever
  • stopping to use an evaluation stage to compare progress so far with a model text in terms of information structuring, types of verbal processes, circumstance types and so on
  • using the conferencing time when looking at the analysis of a model text to consider non-generic elements from a product approach and analyse them with controlled practice until the learners can insert them into their own texts

and a number of other possibilities.

Of course, this requires you, as a teacher of writing, to have the knowledge and analytical ability to do all this. It is with that in mind that you are directed to other guides on this site which cover the concepts involved in using a genre approach and, of course, the systems which have to be mastered before accurate and effective writing can begin. Here is a short list.

Related guides
this guide introduces the main areas of concern within Systemic Functional Linguistics and also considers some classroom implications concerning the teaching of skills
the introduction to the concepts
elsewhere these sorts of language items are analysed as adverbials (see below) but this is a useful generic classification
what verbs do and what sorts of verbs appear in what sorts of texts
how certain genres influence tense choices
for more how cohesion is maintained in texts
Formal knowledge
for the index to guides in this area
for the index to guides in this area
for the index to guides in this area
for the index to guides in this area
for a description and a distinction
for a guide to the rules
for another guide to rules (such as they are) 

References you may find useful: Cushing Weigle, S, 2002, Assessing Writing , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Harmer, J, 2004, How to Teach Writing , Harlow: Longman Hedge, T, 2005, Writing , Oxford: Oxford University Press Hughes, R, 2005, Exploring Grammar In Writing: Upper Intermediate and Advanced , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Hyland, K, 2003, Second Language Writing , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Hyland, K, 2002, Teaching and Researching Writing , Harlow: Longman Kroll, B (ed.), 1990, Second Language Writing: Research Insights for the Classroom , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Raimes, A, 1983, Techniques in Teaching Writing , Oxford: Oxford University Press Shemesh, R & Waller, S, 2000, Teaching English Spelling: A Practical Guide , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Spiro, J, 2004, Creative Poetry Writing , Oxford: Oxford University Press Tribble C, 1997, Writing . Oxford: Oxford University Press White, R & Arndt, V, 1991, Process Writing , Harlow: Longman

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Understanding and Teaching Writing: Guiding Principles

This statement, formerly known as Teaching Composition: A Position Statement (1985), was revised in November 2018 with the new title Understanding and Teaching Writing: Guiding Principles.

The statement is organized into three sections that outline, in broad strokes, what the research literature tells us about writing and the teaching of writing. Each section of this statement provides a brief definition of principles for understanding and teaching writing and provides resources for additional information. The statement concludes with implications for teachers of writing (and writers) based on the principles.

Part 1: What Is “Writing”?

“Writing” refers to the act of creating composed knowledge. Composition takes place across a range of contexts and for a variety of purposes. A writer might compose a blog entry to share news about an important event to an audience of readers whom she has never seen; alternatively, she might write about this event for herself in a private notebook that only she reads. A student might compose a series of equations to think through a difficult mathematical problem for herself as part of an exam; the same student might compose these equations in a lab notebook for others to understand a complex reaction. A community might collaboratively compose a document to convey their position on an issue, like this statement; other writers might use collaboratively composed documents to create their own compositions. As composed knowledge, writing thus serves multiple purposes: to help writers develop and document their ideas for a range of purposes and audiences in a variety of contexts; to distribute ideas to other audiences so that they can be revised or recirculated; to help an individual or a community to define, clarify, or even reify its ideas. As composed knowledge, “writing” ranges broadly from written language (such as that used in this statement), to graphics, to mathematical notation.

The focus of this statement is on teaching written language to students, largely in school, from pre-kindergarten through graduate school. This document outlines a set of principles for the teaching of writing—of composed knowledge. While teaching is conventionally associated with classroom or school settings, this statement acknowledges that teaching and learning happen across the range of a learner’s experience—in school and in the classroom, but also at home, in their communities, with colleagues and friends. As a document intended for use primarily (but not exclusively) by formal educators, the principles here may serve to guide courses, assignments, activities, and work with writers and writing (or composed knowledge) within and beyond the formalized curriculum.

Principle 1.1: Writing is social and rhetorical.

The first parts of this principle—writing is social and rhetorical—focus on external factors and writing (Roozen). Writing is produced by people, in specific situations and contexts, and often (but not always) circulates among people. Writing is thus social—it is intended to speak to audiences for particular purposes. Even when a writer writes “for themselves” (e.g., in a personal blog or diary), they are their own audience (Bawarshi). When it is effective, writing is rhetorical, i.e., it takes into account the values, ideologies, interests, needs, and commitments of the people, the audiences, for whom it is intended.

When writers produce writing, they take into consideration purposes, audiences, and contexts. This leads them to make intentional choices about the elements that go into writing:

  • content (the subject or focus of the writing);
  • form (the shape of the writing, including its organization, structure, flow, and composition elements like words, symbols, images, etc.);
  • style/register (the choice of discourse and syntax used for the writing, chosen from among the vast array of language systems [often called “dialects”] that are available for the writer); and mechanics (punctuation, citational style, etc.).

When writing reflects the expectations that audiences have for each of these elements, it is considered good; when it does not, it is considered less than good—and often the writers who produce it are judged accordingly.

Principle 1.2: Writing serves a variety of purposes.

Writing can serve a wide variety of purposes, and it happens in and out of school, as well. Sometimes, writing can be utilitarian: it is produced to achieve a specific purpose that can be quite disassociated from the writers’ identity or ideas—for instance, a manual for how to operate a digital projector. At other times, writing can be enormously personal, as when a writer is composing a document—film, poem, rap—that reflects deeply held beliefs or ideas. In each of these instances and regardless of purpose, what writers produce reflects their own assessment of the purpose, audience, context, and value of the writing—for themselves and/or for others.

Importantly, writing happens far beyond the walls of a classroom or school—and for school-aged writers, lately more often out of school than in (Applebee and Langer; Lenhart et al). When writers compose—texts to friends, Instagram posts, fan fiction, blogs, or any one of a myriad of sites where they can create identities—they are writing. However, writers increasingly do not recognize these acts as writing, seeing them as distinct from what they are asked to do in school (Lenhart et al). There, analyses have shown that when writing is taught, it is often linked to standards or expectations that writers perceive to be slightly removed or even quite distinct from their experiences, identities, and interests.

Part 2: Who Are Writers?

In teaching writing, it is important to understand who writers are. Students must learn how writing works, and to help them achieve this, recognizing who writers are is essential. Four principles provide an overview of characteristics and concepts that contribute to the formation and development of writers.

Principle 2.1: Everyone is a writer.  

Everyone has the capacity to write. Writers are not static. They develop skills and enhance their writing skills throughout their writing lives; thus, writers grow continually. Becoming a better writer requires practice. The more writers write, the more familiar it becomes. As writers, sometimes they feel confident; at other times, they may feel afraid and insecure. Therefore, students learn to write by writing.

Writers can be beginning or advanced writers in different situations. Just because they may be advanced in one situation, it does not make them advanced in all situations. Writers are researchers too, and they should develop the critical ability to evaluate their own work. They may collaborate with each other in different stages of writing, from drafting to revision to publication. Thus, writers learn how writing is a social act when they consider audiences and contexts and when they work with other writers as they compose.

Writers have varied experiences. They employ different strategies when composing in different situations, for different purposes and audiences, and when using different technologies and tools. Writers also make ethical choices, and writers always have more to learn.

Principle 2.2: Writers bring multiliteracies, and they bring cultural and linguistic assets to whatever they do.  

Because writing is linked to identity, writers represent different ideologies, values, and identities. Thus, writers’ cultures and languages influence their writing. Recognizing that students are language users with multiple literacies will help the writing instructor engage students in writing. Writers also bring their past writing and reading practices with them whenever they write or read. In short, everything they have experienced, who they are, where they have been, and what they have done impact their writing practices, literacies, and language attitudes.

Second-language, or multilingual, writers have become an integral part of writing courses and programs. They take part in these courses and programs at all grades (K–graduate level) and content areas. The language practices and linguistic backgrounds vary among these writers; thus, these writers should not be treated as one and the same. For example, some second-language writers may be native speakers of languages without ever having to learn and practice the written form of such languages. This may include their first language.

Because discourse, audience, and rhetorical appeals often differ across cultural, linguistic, and educational contexts, second-language writers may find it difficult to understand and/or apply the discursive strategies taught in a US writing classroom. Thus, second-language writers’ literacy and linguistic practices should be valued and recognized as assets in the writing classroom and not be viewed as weaknesses and as language interference problems. On the contrary, instructors should identify the strengths second-language writers bring to the classroom and seek opportunities to use these writers’ literacy and linguistic practices as a foundation.

Principle 2.3: Writers compose using different modes and technologies.

With 21st-century technologies, writers compose both print and digital texts. As technologies become more advanced and sophisticated, writers learn the possibilities afforded by these tools. They learn about the potential that various technologies have for the production, consumption, and distribution of forms of composed knowledge. This includes not only writing, but also the composition of other types of texts, such as videos and podcasts. Thus, writers may compose multimodal and digital texts.

With technology, writers are now engaged in multiple discourses, such as texting, blogging, posting on social media sites, and instant messaging, thus using language and writing on a daily basis. It is crucial for writers to be exposed to and gain access to a wide range of technologies and tools and learn about the possibilities of composing with them.

Principle 2.4: Writers compose in and outside the classroom.  

Because writing takes place in different contexts, writers compose for different readers, with varied purposes, and in diverse situations and places. Writers should develop the critical ability to evaluate their own work so that they can become effective, independent writers in the world beyond school. Writers grow by envisioning and learning to write for a variety of audiences. They reflect on the readers’ needs within particular social contexts, often including the readers’ values. As such, writers may engage with their communities and make their writing and composing public. Thus, writers may compose about, with, and for their communities.

Part 3: Essential Principles for Teaching Writing

As teachers of writers, our goal is for writers to emerge as better writers with each new writing experience. This means that as teachers we must consider how writers learn and how we can create conditions in our classroom so that learning can take place. The following four principles can help teachers as we lead classroom communities of writers, as we design curricula and instruction, as we assess learning and evaluate students’ performance, and as we inquire and talk with one another about what we are learning from our experience of leading individual writers and groups of writers. In the principles below, we use the metaphor of “grow” to remind us of our overarching goal of writers emerging from each writing experience with a better understanding of writing, with a clearer sense of who they are as writers, and with a refined and expanded repertoire of conceptual and practical tools that allows them to see possibilities and choices in their future writing experiences.

Principle 3.1: Writers grow within a context / culture / community of feedback.

To emerge as better writers from a writing experience, learners need feedback, and this feedback should fuel revision. In a community of feedback, teachers become learners too, because they inquire with learners about why writers make the choices they do. In a community of feedback, teachers and writers talk together about both products and processes, which means they share criteria, discuss challenges and choices, and offer feedback on how helpful feedback is in helping writers see new possibilities and options in steps they might take next.

Principle 3.2: Writers grow when they broaden their repertoire, and when they refine their judgment in making choices with their repertoire.

Writers need models and strategies—to find topics, issues, and questions to write about, to revise, to contextualize and connect their piece with others, to give and receive feedback. However, collecting those strategies is not enough; writers need practice not only in choosing a strategy to fit a particular purpose and context, but they also need practice in explaining why they made the choices they did.

Principle 3.3: Assessment should be transparent and contextual, and it should provide opportunities for writers to take risks and grow.

Writers need assessments that make audiences, purposes, and expectations clear, and they need multiple opportunities to practice meeting those criteria. When writers have multiple opportunities to practice, to try something new, to take risks or make mistakes, they know that not every writing experience is a high-stakes or evaluative one. For teachers of writers, this means that we can liken the practice of assessment to driving a car—we will see some fixed data (e.g., fuel tank, odometer, speedometer), and we will see some contextual data (what other cars are doing, road conditions, weather conditions). As drivers, we make decisions based on both kinds of data, and the same idea holds true for both writers and teachers of writers. The assessment tools and the way teachers use them create a set of values and purposes in which student writers respond to their experiences of trying to improve as writers. Thus, assessment provides opportunities and occasions for writers to know where they might be headed in a piece of writing.

Principle 3.4: Writers grow when they have a range of writing experiences and in-depth writing experiences.

In practice, writers need to write for multiple purposes, audiences, and contexts. When learners have a range of writing experiences, it offers opportunities for them to make choices, to self-assess, and to reflect on the wisdom of those choices they make as the write for those different purposes, audiences, and contexts. When learners have in-depth writing experiences, they have opportunities to spend time, work from multiple drafts, and see how their writing and thinking have changed over time. In both broad and deep writing experiences, writers grow when they have opportunities to expand upon—and not merely transmit—content knowledge.

Suggested Resources and Readings

Adler-Kassner, Linda, and Elizabeth Wardle, editors. Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts in Writing Studies. Utah State UP, 2015.

Anson, Ian G., and Chris M. Anson. “Assessing Peer and Instructor Response to Writing: A Corpus Analysis from an Expert Survey.” Assessing Writing, vol. 33 , 2017, pp. 12–24.

Applebee, Arthur, and Judith Langer. The State of Writing Instruction in America’s Schools: What Existing Data Tell Us . Albany, NY: Center on English Learning and Achievement, 2006.

Baca, Isabel, Yndalecio Isaac Hinojosa, and Susan Wolff-Murphy. Bordered Writers: Latinx Identities and Literacy Practices at Hispanic-Serving Institutions. SUNY Press, forthcoming 2019.

Bawarshi, Anis. Genre and the Invention of the Writer . Utah State UP, 2003.

Bruce, Shanti, and Ben Rafoth, editors. ESL Writers: A Guide for Writing Center Tutors. 2nd ed., Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 2009.

CCCC Position Statement on Community-Engaged Projects in Rhetoric and Composition. Conference on College Composition and Communication, April 2016, .

CCCC Position Statement on Students’ Right to Their Own Language. Conference on College Composition and Communication, November 2014, .

Cox, Michelle, Jay Jordan, Christina Ortmeier-Hooper, and Gwen Gray Schwartz, editors. Reinventing Identities in Second Language Writing. NCTE, 2010.

Deans, Thomas, Barbara Roswell, and Adrian J. Wurr, editors. Writing and Community Engagement: A Critical Sourcebook. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010.

Drew, Sally Valentino, Natalie G. Olinghouse, Michael Faggella-Luby, and Megan E. Welsh. “Framework for Disciplinary Writing in Science Grades 6–12: A National Survey.” Journal of Educational Psychology , vol. 109, no. 7, 2017, pp. 935–955.

Fidalgo, Raquel, Mark Torrance, Gert Rijlaarsdam, Huub van den Bergh, and M. Lourdes Alvarez. “Strategy-Focused Writing Instruction: Just Observing and Reflecting on a Model Benefits 6th Grade Students.” Contemporary Educational Psychology, vol. 41, 2015, pp. 37–50.

Foltz, P. W., K. E. Lochbaum, and M. B. Rosenstein. “Analysis of Student ELA Writing Performance for a Large Scale Implementation of Formative Assessment.” In Annual Meeting of the National Council for Measurement in Education , New Orleans, LA. 2011.

Grabill, Jeffrey T. Writing Community Change: Designing Technologies for Citizen Action. Hampton Press, 2007.

Hattie, John, and Helen Timperley. “The Power of Feedback.” Review of Educational Research , vol. 77, no. 1, 2007, pp. 81–112.

Horner, Bruce, Min-Zhan Lu, and Paul Kei Matsuda, editors. Cross-Language Relations in Composition. Southern Illinois UP, 2010.

Jeffery, Jill V., and Kristen Wilcox. “‘How Do I Do It if I Don’t Like Writing?’: Adolescents’ Stances toward Writing across Disciplines.” Reading and Writing, vol. 27, no. 6, 2014, pp. 1095–1117.

Kellogg, Ronald T., and Alison P. Whiteford. “Training Advanced Writing Skills: The Case for Deliberate Practice.” Educational Psychologist, vol. 44, no. 4, 2009, pp. 250–266.

Kirklighter, Cristina, Diana Cardenas, and Susan Wolff-Murphy, editors. Teaching Writing with Latino/a Students: Lessons Learned at Hispanic Serving Institutions . SUNY Press, 2007.

Koster, Monica, Elena Tribushinina, Peter F. de Jong, and Huub van den Bergh. (2015). “Teaching Children to Write: A Meta-analysis of Writing Intervention Research.” Journal of Writing Research, vol. 7, no. 2, 2015, pp. 299–324.

Lenhart, Amanda, et al. Writing, Technology, and Teens . Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2008.

Moore, Jessie L., et al. “Revisualizing Composition: How First-Year Writers Use Composing Technologies.” Computers and Composition , vol. 39, 2016, pp. 1–13.

NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies. National Council of Teachers of English, February 2013, .

NCTE Position Statement on Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing. National Council of Teachers of English, February 2016, .

Parks, Steve. Writing Communities: A Handbook with Readings. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017.

Philippakos, Zoi A., and Charles A. MacArthur. “The Effects of Giving Feedback on the Persuasive Writing of Fourth- and Fifth-Grade Students.” Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 51, no. 4, 2016, pp. 419–433.

Ray, Amber B., Steve Graham, Julia D. Houston, and Karen R. Harris. “Teachers’ Use of Writing to Support Students’ Learning in Middle School: A National Survey in the United States.” Reading and Writing, vol. 29, no. 5, 2016, pp. 1039–1068.

Roozen, Kevin. “Writing is a Social and Rhetorical Activity.” Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies , edited by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle, Utah State UP, 2015, pp. 17–19.

Ryan, Mary E. “Reflexive Writers: Re-thinking Writing Development and Assessment in Schools.” Assessing Writing, vol. 22, 2014, pp. 60–74.

Stock, Patricia L., editor. Composition’s Roots in English Education. Heinemann, 2011.

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, Liana Robertson, and Kara Taczak, editors. Writing Across Contexts: Transfer, Composition, and Sites of Writing. Utah State UP, 2014.

Statement Authors

This document was revised by an NCTE working committee comprising the following:

Linda Adler-Kassner, University of California Santa Barbara

Isabel Baca, University of Texas–El Paso

Jim Fredricksen, Boise State University

This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.

The Classroom Key

  • Comprehension
  • Computation
  • Measurement
  • Number Sense
  • Word Problems
  • Classroom Set Up
  • Differentiation
  • Teaching Reading
  • Teaching Writing
  • Teaching Math
  • Teaching 101
  • Classroom Management
  • Digital Activities

8 Smart Strategies for Teaching Writing

Inside: Teaching writing DOESN’T have to be complicated! With these simple strategies, you can improve students’ writing without having to work so hard.

I turned around to an outstretched notebook in a kid’s hands.

“I don’t know what to do next,” said the student.

I leaned closer to decipher the 2nd-grade handwriting. Then with my most positive I’ll-guide-you-on-the-right-path tone, I gave the student an idea to run with.

I straightened up, ready to move about the class, peering over shoulders, offering feedback as needed.

My bubble was abruptly burst.

Standing behind me was a whole line of kids that didn’t know what to do next!

Teaching writing for kids can feel complicated, especially when ever body needs help all at once. Use these strategies to help students learn to write!

Have you been there, too? What you need are writing strategies for students that break down a complicated process into pieces they can tackle. 

What follows are some of the best methods for teaching writing that I discovered over the years:

Teaching Writing Strategies for Students

Find out how to teach writing to students without working so hard! Ideas, activities, and strategies for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teachers. #teachingwriting #1stgrade #2ndgrade #3rdgrade #writing

Use Mentor Texts

If you wanted to learn how to decorate your mantle, you might look for great examples on Pinterest and then try to make yours look like that.

Similarly, kids can look at the work of published authors to see how a pro writes.

Mentor texts are published pieces that serve as a good example of the type of writing you’re helping your students to produce.

If you’re teaching how-to writing, find books about making crafts, cooking, or other DIY topics.  If you’re teaching report writing, look at nonfiction books.

  • Read these books (or parts of them) to your students.
  • Talk as a class about the special features you notice.
  • Make a list of these features (how-to books have numbered steps, pictures to match, sequence, etc.)


Cooking shows are popular because it’s easy to watch how a good cook puts together a recipe and then do the same yourself. Writing demonstrations are similar.

One method for teaching writing is writing demonstrations. Students watch as a proficient writer writes, and thinks aloud, similar to an audience watching a chef on a cooking show.

One method for teaching writing is writing demonstrations. Students watch as a proficient writer writes, and thinks aloud, similar to an audience watching a chef on a cooking show.

Write in front of your students and think aloud as you’re doing it.  Thinking aloud is a research-based teaching strategy .  You are the proficient writer in the room and you want your students to begin modeling their thinking processes after yours.

Some writing skills you might demonstrate are:

  • brainstorming topics to write about
  • creating a plan for writing
  • orally rehearsing sentences and then writing them down
  • stretching out sounds in words for spelling
  • rereading and editing writing
  • looking for places to add more interesting vocabulary
  • making a final copy that incorporates editing and revisions

Use Sentence Starters

Staring at a blank page can be so intimidating!

Help kids get started with a list of possible sentence starters. Here’s an example list of sentence starters that work well for opinion writing .

Help kids improve their writing with sentence starters

Join my weekly newsletter and as a bonus, you’ll get the sentence starter page pictured above. Just click here to download and subscribe .

Color Coding

One method for teaching writing is using color coding between the plan and the draft.

One method for teaching writing is using color coding between the plan and the draft.

(you can find the pictured graphic organizer HERE )

Use color-coding to make writing organization obvious and to connect a student’s plan to their draft.

  • Assign a different color to each element of a piece.
  • Mark whatever planning graphic organizer you’re using with these colors.
  • During drafting, underline the sentences for each section with the appropriate color.

This technique helps students make sure nothing is left out and that everything is in the right order

Integrate Vocabulary

One of the things we know about teaching vocabulary is that it’s not enough to talk about a word once.  It needs to be seen, heard, and used several times before it is mastered.

Writing is the perfect place to incorporate some vocabulary instruction.

Choose two or three words that might be useful to students for the topic they are writing about.  Teach these words, give example sentences, and share sentences where students were able to work them in.

You can either teach the words before students write their rough draft or teach them before students revise.  You may want students to keep a record of these words in a notebook.

Use a Rubric

There’s no point in making kids guess what they’re aiming for with their writing.

Research shows that when students have criteria against which to judge their writing, they begin to internalize that criteria and use it when they write new pieces.

Try teaching critique lessons where you share a few short pieces of writing with different strengths and weaknesses and evaluate them with students using a rubric.

Talk about what made a piece successful and what could be better about it.  Invite students to use the successful techniques in their own writing.  Click on the picture to get a free copy of a personal narrative rubric that I like to use.

free personal narrative writing rubric

Peer Conferencing

Many students find working with a partner to be very motivating.

It’s important to carefully structure peer writing conferencing because it can get out of hand easily.

Set a specific goal such as helping each other check for capital letters at the beginning of every sentence, rereading to make sure each sentence makes sense, or looking for words that could be traded out for something more interesting.

Another way to structure peer conferencing is to use the “Love and a Wish” system.  Students read each other’s writing.  Then they share one thing they loved about it and one thing they wished.  For example, maybe they loved how their partner described the taste of their birthday cake and they wished there was more about the games that were played at the party.

Create an Incentive

Taking a piece of writing from the planning process all the way to a final draft is a lot of work.  Find a way to celebrate that work to keep students motivated.

A chance to share their work is motivating to students. You can build in sharing while you’re roving the classroom.  At the mid-point or the end of the lesson, have a few students share how they revised a sentence to add an interesting word or the great hook that they chose.

You can give students time to share their work with a neighbor.  This way everyone gets to share in a short amount of time.

Allow students to share writing in those 5-minute blocks of time you find every now and then when you finished something else early.

A favorite writing incentive in my classroom was the “publishing party.”  After a 5 week writing unit, each student chose their best piece and we all sat in a circle and listened to each other’s work.

At the end, we toasted to our hard work with a small cup of apple juice.  Parents would share with me that this simple celebration really motivated their child to work hard in writing so they would have something great to read to the class.

Strategies for Teaching Writing to Kids - Publishing Party

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Author:  Hannah Braun

Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.

Just found your site and teacherspayteachers products. Love it all! Laughed out loud at your posters and comments on students. Thought I was the only one who noticed (was confused/irritated/baffled) at some of the things students think up to do with school equipment and behaviors. Nice to know we can laugh about it all! Thank you.

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The Flocabulary Blog

10 Strategies for teaching writing skills in the classroom

  • June 13, 2024

Darri Stephens

  • Education Tips & Tricks , Implementation , Lessons and Ideas

Often, teachers hesitate when it comes to teaching writing because they aren’t confident in their own writing skills. Although writing is a key pillar of literacy , the artistry involved and the vast styles and approaches can make it a tad daunting to teach. However, writing is not just an essential literacy skill that is foundational to personal and professional success—at its core, it is an amazing form of self-expression and creativity. As with most fundamental skills, it is vital to encourage students to write early and often. They should not let skills, or lack of them, thwart their attempts at storytelling and communication. As writers build their toolboxes of literary devices, they can begin to craft and hone their own style and voice.

What are the key components of effective writing instruction?

By taking a scaffolded approach, teachers can begin with writing mechanics and conventions such as spelling, punctuation and capitalization, and sentence construction structure. As kids literally grab hold of the fine motor skills of gripping a pencil, they can practice their handwriting. Then, layer by layer, they can begin to focus on meaning by broadening their vocabulary, playing with word choice, adding detail, and learning how best to organize their ideas with clarity. The core of teaching writing is introducing students to the writing cycle and helping them realize the artistry of revisiting drafts of ideas.

Flocabulary instructional writing examples

Reading and Writing lesson folder

Flocabulary video lessons for Reading and Writing leverage hip-hop, engaging visuals, and compelling storytelling to enhance students’ writing skills and vocabulary acquisition, making the content area more relevant and memorable. Every video lesson is paired with various activities and assessments: Vocab Cards, Vocab Game, Break It Down*, Read & Respond, and Lyric Lab. Students can specifically practice their skills with Read & Respond passages, use the Quiz to check their understanding and create rhymes using Lyric Lab .

Additionally, Flocabulary offers a creative way to infuse the fundamentals of writing instruction into your lesson planning by creating Flocabulary Mix lessons *. First, select and preview a literacy skill from those listed by grade level. Then, select a video text . The skill video provides a spoken direct set of instructions that is paired with the hip-hop video text. Your students will view both, and afterward, they can dive deeper into the newly introduced vocabulary through assessments and analysis activities designed to help them develop and practice comprehension strategies.

For instance, Richmond Public Schools’ (RPS) implementation of Flocabulary significantly enhanced vocabulary comprehension and literacy skills across all core subjects. Fourth-grade teachers at RPS reported a 75% total improvement in reading scores, including a 60% increase in growth and a 30% rise in proficiency. The use of Flocabulary not only made learning more enjoyable for students but also translated into substantial gains in their Standards of Learning (SOL) state test scores, proving that when students are motivated and excited about their education, their academic performance soars.

*Break It Down and Flocabulary Mix is only available to users with a Flocabulary Plus subscription.

New to Flocabulary? Teachers can sign up for a trial to access our lesson videos and assessment activities. Administrators can get in touch with us to learn more about unlocking the full power of Flocabulary through Flocabulary Plus.

1. Keep reading

Author Stephen King claims in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft , “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Expose students to all genres of literature, all types of authors, and instructional writing examples. As they begin to identify their favorites, pepper them with questions as to why. In English language arts classes, you can also challenge them to write in a style similar to a chosen author—imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (as they develop their own greatness, that is).

Find a plethora of K-12 video lessons in our Language Arts section, including stories, literature, and informational texts. These video lessons are perfect for covering classic stories to provide students extra context for their reading comprehension or to help them learn more reading strategies they can apply daily.

Explore these videos to support reading in your classroom:

  • Reading & Writing : Lessons on genres, figurative language, story structures and elements, and more.
  • Literature : Lessons and summaries of classical literature and Flocabulary stories for students.
  • Informational Text : Lessons and adaptations of non-fiction stories and informational texts.

The Odyssey Flocabulary literature video lesson

2. Practice storytelling

Almost all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Students need to practice telling stories, whether in writing or verbally, to grasp the idea of sequencing events and the basics of story elements. Retelling stories provides explicit instruction for honing summarization skills (which is not an easy skill for any age!). For an added challenge, give students bookends to work within, such as a character or time limit—you can use social media posts as an example with Twitter/X’s 280-character limit, TikTok’s 90-second limit, or IG Story’s 60-second limit.

Underscore comprehension strategies using skill videos for Flocabulary Mixes. Here are some examples of lessons to use across grade levels:

  • Retelling Stories (Grades K-1)
  • Identifying the Main Topic (Grade 2)
  • Author’s Purpose (Grade 3)
  • Finding the Main Idea (Grades 3-5)
  • Summarizing (Grades 4-8)

*Skill videos and Flocabulary Mix are only available to users with a Flocabulary Plus subscription .

3. Build vocabulary

It sounds simple enough, but help your students be aware of words to boost vocabulary acquisition . Highlight when others make a conscious word choice. Encourage them to play with words. As babies begin to acquire vocabulary, they build a lexicon for their primary language. This lexical development continues as learners build a sense of meanings and form and how to use words in relationship with one another. As a teacher, I encouraged my students to avoid bland “four-letter words” such as SAID or GOOD. You can encourage students to keep personal dictionaries, where they make note of new words or those that intrigue them. A thesaurus can be a budding writer’s best ally in written work! 

Explore our 5 essential strategies to teach vocabulary to understand the vital role of vocabulary acquisition as a valuable tool to enhance students’ language depth and writing abilities. Using strategies like multiple exposures and structured models such as the Frayer model, explore the importance of using and applying words creatively—a skill essential for effective writing.

4. Don’t forget the technical

teaching writing skills

While creative writing can help capture the soul and talent of young authors, they also can begin to sharpen their technical writing skills for expository and persuasive writing. Students can learn effective writing strategies for informational pieces such as essays, newsworthy articles, op-eds, advertisements, debates, and research reports. Such writing strategies teach students that there are different types of writing for different purposes: descriptive, narrative, expository, and persuasive.

Here are some lessons and writing activities you can use for elementary, middle, and high school:

  • Main Idea (Grades K-6)
  • Paragraph Writing (Grades 2-5)
  • Persuasive Language (Grades 3-8)
  • The Writing Process (Grades 5-12)
  • The Five Paragraph Essay (Grades 5-12)

5. Build up toolboxes

As students amass strategies and analyze best practices in writing, they can begin to develop their own writer’s toolbox. These toolboxes can catalog story elements such as plot, setting, characters, point of view, and conflict. Students can add definitions and examples of literary and poetic devices such as irony , alliteration, metaphors , hyperbole, and oxymoron … just to name a few. Such techniques will embolden them to use symbolism and figurative language to differentiate their prose and their writing from others. Students will delight in the sophistication they can bring to their writing by not only understanding but also employing such devices.

Showcase examples for their toolboxes by using these lessons:

  • Topic Sentences (Grades 2-5)
  • Conflict (Grades 5 to 8)
  • Five Elements of a Story (Grades 3-12)
  • Onomatopoeia (Grades 3-5)
  • Similes & Metaphors (Grades 3-8)
  • Irony (Grades 6-12)

6. Go around the writing cycle

Early in elementary school, many teachers introduce the concept of the writing cycle, which typically varies from five to seven stages. However, all versions of the writing cycle depict the idea that the step-by-step process of writing is continuous and that high-quality writing benefits from being revisited repeatedly. Pre-writing begins with seed ideas that take shape with graphic organizers or outlines. Students write multiple drafts, getting their ideas down on paper. Revising is when they continue to add or subtract pieces to refine their work. And then editing is when the more mechanical aspects of writing are revisited and polished by the author or peer reviewers. Often, the most challenging part of the writing cycle is knowing when you’re done and ready to share and celebrate via publication.

During the writing cycle, encourage students to go back and revise their writing for clarity—which often means revisiting grammar. Flocabulary has tons of video lessons on grammar, including the following:

  • Commas (Grades 1-8)
  • Nouns (Grades K-3)
  • Run-On Sentences (Grades 4-6)
  • Synonyms & Antonyms (Grades 2-8)
  • Parts of Speech (Grades 2-8)

7. Differ your point of view

Help students realize that writing is quite personal and often is based on an author’s experiences and biases (recognized or not). Challenge them to not only identify the point of view but also try seeing the story from another person’s perspective. Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs is a wonderful way to illustrate this for young readers and writers. Similarly, Gregory Maguire has found success in novels—and on stage—with his unique perspectives in books such as Wicked .

Teach about point of view using the following video lessons:

  • Point of View (Grades 3-12)
  • Nearpod Original*: Point of View (Grades 3-5)
  • Skill video*: Identifying Point of View (Grade 4)
  • Skill video*: Differing Perspectives (Grade 7)

*Skill videos and Nearpod Originals are only available to users with a Flocabulary Plus subscription .

8. Play with word choice and structure

Playing with words comes down to personal word choice as well as word structure. Challenge your students to take a simple phrase such as “The sky is blue” and mold it into something more by toying with word selection and placement. Remind students to have fun with writing—sometimes, that may mean abandoning conventions such as spelling and punctuation in a first draft. Let them “word vomit” and then go back and revise the piece with conventions that make it more readable by others. Don’t let convention get in the way of creativity.

Here are some lessons you can use in your classroom to teach about word choice, structure, and figurative language:

  • Word Choice (Grades 5-12)
  • Text Structure (Grades 3-8)
  • Skill video: Author’s Word Choice (Grades 6-8)
  • Skill video: Analyzing Word Choice (Grades 9-12)

9. Invoke sensory details

Figurative Language Flocabulary lesson

Many teachers encourage their students to “show, don’t tell” in their writing. Students can lean on their five senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch—to bring their writing alive with sensory details. I often ask kids to use their “mind’s eye” to share details that would, in turn, awaken their reader’s mind’s eye. We know how important an active imagination is, and we should encourage kids to sharpen theirs and not dull it with age.

“Young human beings need exercises in imagination as they need exercise in all the basic skills of life, bodily and mental: for growth, for health, for competence, for joy,” author Ursula K. Le Guin wrote. “This need continues as long as the mind is alive.” KQED

Encourage students of all ages to use descriptive and figurative language using these lessons:

  • Using Descriptive Language (Grades 3-12)
  • Figurative Language (Grades 5-12)

10. Lean into technology

There are so many dynamics to learning how to write, but technology can ease some of the common obstacles. If a child struggles with penmanship, keep working on those fine motor skills but give him a keyboard to learn how to type early. Don’t let a pencil grip get in the way of words and ideas flowing. Similarly, assistive and adaptive technologies can turn voice recording into text to encourage the art of storytelling. Aids like spelling and grammar checker software can provide tips and tricks that students can begin to internalize over time.

Use Flocabulary for writing instruction

If you grapple with how to teach writing skills, start by seeking out Flocab-based practices for writing instruction. Flocabulary has a clear scope and sequence by grade level to begin building foundational writing and research skills. Teaching writing can be a rewarding endeavor, as students will relish the agency and independence of finding their own voice and having a channel for true self-expression. With a focus on 21st-century learning skills, creativity, communication, critical thinking, and collaboration all come when students put pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard.

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Darri Stephens is a dedicated LX (learning experience) designer, passionate about creating quality content and programs for kids, families, and educators. With MAs in Education from both Harvard and Stanford, and work experience at best-in-class ed tech organizations including Wonder Workshop, Nickelodeon, and Common Sense Education, she is steeped in the design thinking process and committed to agile and iterative project management, which has resulted in multi-award-winning programs and products.

  • 10 Instructional strategies to teach reading comprehension
  • 5 Essential strategies for teaching vocabulary


  1. How To Teach Writing Skills in the Classroom in 8 Steps

    It also means using words to change a specific viewpoint and potentially convince people to agree with your idea. To help your students gain persuasive writing skills, you can teach them to use statistical evidence, anecdotal evidence, testimonies and textual evidence. 3. Expository writing.

  2. How To Teach Writing: What Educators Need To Know

    Provide as much detail as possible. In addition to giving insight into your student’s writing ability, asking these questions can also show how comfortable your students are with the writing process. You’ll notice that some students excitedly get to work while others give short or vague answers. Step 5.

  3. Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers

    Students should be encouraged to learn words they frequently misspell, as well as words they wish to include in their writing. Teachers also should help students acquire the skills they need to generate and check plausible spellings for words. 3. Teach students to construct sentences for fluency , meaning and style.

  4. Guides to Teaching Writing

    Guides to Teaching Writing. The Harvard Writing Project publishes resource guides for faculty and teaching fellows that help them integrate writing into their courses more effectively—for example, by providing ideas about effective assignment design and strategies for responding to student writing. A list of current HWP publications for ...

  5. Teaching Writing

    Strategy Guide. Developing Persuasive Writing Strategies. This strategy guide describes the techniques used in effective persuasive writing and shares activities you can use to help students understand and use persuasion in their writing and critical thinking. Grades.

  6. Six principles for high-quality, effective writing

    Activities that teach these skills, when embedded in the content of the curriculum, simultaneously build writing skills, content knowledge, and analytical abilities. For example, students learning about the Civil War might be given the sentence stem “Abraham Lincoln was a great president _____________.” and then asked to finish it in three ...

  7. 4 Ways to Teach Writing Skills

    For elementary children, let them write, edit and illustrate their own books. This will work on developing their understanding of story and character, while simultaneously improving their ability to form correct sentences with proper spelling. 8. Teach pre- and post-writing process skills.

  8. Teaching Writing Process

    In this module, after being introduced to the Teaching Writing specialization and considering the importance of good writing skills in virtually any career endeavor, learners will examine ways to “invite writing” from their students, identifying the characteristics and benefits of adding low-stakes writing to the more common approach of ...

  9. 9 strategies for improving writing skills in primary school

    8. Get creative with the teaching. Where possible, try to connect what the children are interested in with their writing. For example, if you have learners interested in Minecraft, they could write a letter of persuasion to the Prime Minister to persuade him to allow Minecraft lessons in school.

  10. Teaching Writing in Elementary School

    Know their writing behaviors and ability level. There are three ways to accomplish this. First, you’ll want to administer and analyze an “on demand” writing piece, a piece of writing that’s written independently in one period of time. As the students are writing, take note of their behaviors and record what you notice—are they engaged ...

  11. Top Activities and Strategies to Teach Writing Skills

    Use these resources to hone, foster, and develop your students’ writing techniques. Grades. PreK - 12.

  12. To Teach Effective Writing, Model Effective Writing

    Along those lines, I also offer the suggestions below about teaching writing: 1. Writers are the Best Writing Teachers. To teach effective writing, we must be effective writers ourselves. We can't teach what we don't know, and when it comes to writing, it's important to continue honing our craft. If you haven't engaged in much formal writing ...

  13. How To Teach Writing To Anyone

    Process writing involves getting students involved in pre-writing, organizing, drafting, revising, re-drafting, and editing their papers. It’s about engaging students in a relatively long-term writing process involving multiple drafts, rounds of peer and/or teacher feedback, and a finalized product.

  14. ELT Concourse: teaching writing skills: aims and approaches

    UNESCO provides a definition of: Functioning literacy is the ability to use reading, writing and numeracy skills for effective functioning and development of the individual and the community. A person is literate who can, with understanding, both read and write a short statement on his or her everyday life.

  15. Understanding and Teaching Writing: Guiding Principles

    As a document intended for use primarily (but not exclusively) by formal educators, the principles here may serve to guide courses, assignments, activities, and work with writers and writing (or composed knowledge) within and beyond the formalized curriculum. Principle 1.1: Writing is social and rhetorical.

  16. Teaching Writing Skills: Approaches and Effective Tips

    Here are some basic steps for teaching writing skills that can help establish a strong foundation in the learning process: 1. Ensure proper spelling and punctuation usage. The proper usage of spelling and punctuation is one of the most important elements of writing. By distributing worksheets, you can teach spelling and punctuation skills.

  17. 8 Smart Strategies for Teaching Writing

    Color Coding. One method for teaching writing is using color coding between the plan and the draft. (you can find the pictured graphic organizer HERE) Use color-coding to make writing organization obvious and to connect a student’s plan to their draft. Assign a different color to each element of a piece. Mark whatever planning graphic ...

  18. 10 Strategies for teaching writing skills in the classroom

    2. Practice storytelling. Almost all stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Students need to practice telling stories, whether in writing or verbally, to grasp the idea of sequencing events and the basics of story elements.