7 Teaching Principles for Effective Writing InstructionFebruary 9, 2023
In her bestselling guidebook The Writing Rope, Brookes author Joan Sedita identifies seven teaching principles that should be incorporated when you assign writing tasks and teach writing skills. Teachers, keep the guidelines in today’s post handy as you plan and revise your instruction—and prepare students for lifelong success with written expression!
Gradual release of responsibility
The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model (Pearson & Gallagher) is an effective approach for teaching writing. It is sometimes referred to as an I do it, we do it, you do it model of instruction. During the I do it stage, you provide explicit instruction of a writing skill, with modeling through think-aloud. During the We do it stage, students practice the skill individually, in small groups, or as a whole group (e.g., the class editing a paragraph together). Guide this practice and include corrective feedback when necessary. Students eventually reach the You do it stage when they are able to apply the skill independently.
Explicit instruction of writing strategies
Explicit instruction involves using structured and sequenced steps to teach a specific skill. It includes explaining a skill and modeling how it is applied using think-aloud, and providing guided practice with feedback. Teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions has shown a dramatic effect on the quality of students’ writing. Strategy instruction may involve teaching more generic processes, such as brainstorming or collaboration for peer revising, or it may involve strategies for accomplishing a specific type of writing task, such as writing an opinion or argument piece (Graham & Perin, 2007).
Differentiated instruction to meet individual needs
Differentiated instruction calls for designing instruction to suit individual student needs rather than using a standardized approach to instruction that assumes all students learn to write the same way. For students who struggle with different aspects of the writing process, you can provide customized scaffolds as needed to support their learning. (For more guidance on differentiation, read this post: Differentiated Instruction: 7 Key Principles and How-Tos.)
Scaffolding to support learning of new skills
Scaffolding is assistance offered by a teacher or a peer to support learning a writing skill that a student is initially unable to grasp independently, and then removal of the assistance once the skill is learned. Instructional scaffolds for writing may include the following:
- Breaking a writing task into smaller, more manageable parts or steps
- Providing word lists, prompts and questions, or writing tips
- Providing sentence starters, writing templates, graphic organizers, and checklists
- Providing opportunities for students to work collaboratively
Want more tips on scaffolding?
Opportunities for collaboration with peers
Students’ writing skills improve when they have opportunities to give feedback to their peers and receive it in return. Here are some tips for using peer collaboration to support writing instruction:
- Plan how students will be grouped ahead of time. Consider personalities and potential challenges.
- Alternate your method of group selection so that students are not always grouped with the same peers.
- Set clear expectations for behavior, process, goals, and the final product.
- Teach explicit interaction and communication rules—for example, to take turns talking, avoid interrupting, and make sure everyone participates.
- Use role play to model appropriate peer discussion and interactive behaviors.
- Define the task and the amount of time for collaboration.
Use of mentor text as models for writing
Most people learn new skills by emulating others, such as how to cook a meal, play basketball, or play the guitar. It is the same with writing. Use writing models, or mentor text, to show students what strong writing looks like, so they can imitate style, language, and structure in their own writing. Mentor models also show authors’ use of writing techniques associated with writing craft, also called writer’s moves.
Sometimes teachers unfamiliar with the value of sharing mentor text express concern that this practice will encourage students to copy the language used by another author instead of generating their own wording. However, it’s important to recognize that students can create their own original text when you help them analyze a specific writing technique and discuss how to use that technique. (The Writing Rope provides more guidance on selecting and using mentor texts.)
Increasing the amount students write in all subject areas
Adequate time for students to write is essential to the development of writing skills, and that time can occur during your content instruction (Graham et al., 2012). Although some writing skills, strategies, and techniques are typically taught by the English language arts teacher during time dedicated to writing instruction, students need to practice writing on a frequent basis throughout the school day, in all subjects. Writing is one of the major strategies that helps students extend their critical thinking about a subject-area topic. Common Core Writing Standard #10 calls for students to “write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.”
The seven principles in this post are integrated in the instructional suggestions throughout The Writing Rope. Get this bestselling book to keep reading!
The Writing Rope
A Framework for Explicit Writing Instruction in All Subjects
By Joan Sedita, M.Ed.
Perfect for professional development, this invaluable planning guide will help teachers apply the science of reading to the skill of writing—and help students master a critical aspect of literacy. Teachers of Grades 4–8 will get crystal-clear guidelines and dozens of included templates, handouts, and other resources.
Graham, S., McKeown, D., Kiuhara, S., & Harris, K. R. (2012). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for students in elementary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(4), 879–896.
Graham, S., & 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. Alliance for Excellent Education.
Pearson, P. E., & Gallagher, M. C. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317–344.
Sedita, J. (2020). Keys to early writing (2nd ed.). Keys to Literacy.