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Literacy Teacher's Workshop 2

Updated on September 15, 2014

Teaching Writing

Welcome to my third lens. In the same vein as my first lens, "Teaching Reading", this lens focuses on the teaching of writing in a scaffolded and differentiated way. Even though the ideas in this lens are probably more suited to the early childhood setting, teachers in middle to upper primary may find some ideas to help with struggling or disengaged writers. Please leave me some feedback so I'll know whether the ideas are useful to you or not!

What is Victoria Cochrane About?

The philopsophies and beliefs underlying my practice

All children can learn and have the right to a quality education.

Teachers must have high expectations of all children, even those with special needs or who are experiencing learning difficulties.

High expectations must be accompanied by focused, explicit teaching.

Teachers must constantly assess for and be aware of each child's learning needs.

Start with what the child knows to teach them something unknown.

Start with where the child is at-starting anywhere else is a waste of time.

All children go through the same stages and phases but they get there in different ways and at different times.

Literacy is a social practice and all learning is a social construction.

Children learn through experiences and by linking them to their own experiences.

Children are a product of their environment. A child's early language experiences set them up for future literacies.

Expert readers and writers always have a purpose when they read and write. Children must be taught that we write in different ways for a purpose and an audience.

Reading and writing are inexplicably linked. It is up to us to make the connections explicit to children.

Good reading and writing practices must be modelled and re-modelled, practiced and practiced and practiced.

Children should read and write every day.

Do you know the philosophies and beliefs underlying your teaching practice?

Research indicates that the more aware educators are of the pedagogies driving their practices, the stronger and more focused their teaching will be (Anstey & Bull, 2003).

Why not have a go at writing down your beliefs about teaching and learning. You may be surprised!

What Do Good Writers Do?

Moderating Our Expectations!

Expert Writers:

Always have a purpose and intended audience in mind when writing;

Understand the structures and features of a wide range of text types and genre;

Have an excellent grasp of language and manipulate it to their advantage;

Have good control over the complexities of the writing process;

Use their writer's voice to advantage to get their message across effectively;

Make a good first impression; they hook the reader in the first paragraph;

Include all aspects of the text type or genre;

Have their audience in mind the whole way through;

Write and rewrite;

Tell a story;

Vary their sentence length and structure to maintain interest;

Maintain correct tense, person and the coherence of the writing throughout;


Get their facts right, even when writing fiction;

Do not ramble!

The writer is simultaneously involved in thinking what to write involving the purpose for writing, the coherence and cohesion of the text, formation and legibility of their handwriting, spelling, grammar including punctuation, the layout, tone and register, organisation and selection of appropriate content for an intended audience.

Writers do not operate as solitary individuals but as members of a socio/cultural group. This influences how and what they write and how their writing is perceived.

Writers must understand that several factors will influence their choice of language when composing a text, and guide them to decide what is important. They are:

The purpose of the communication;

Knowledge of the subject matter;

The roles of the writer and the audience and the relationships between them;

The physical situation in which the writing occurs and

Sociocultural beliefs, values and assumptions.

Scaffolding Students' Writing

and why it is so important to do so!

It is impossible for beginning and developing writers to control all aspects of writing at once.

Children need a clear framework to assist them to control a limited aspects of writing at a time without being expected to deal with the complexity of the task all at once. There are a number of useful teaching strategies that can be employed to effectively assist developing writers to gain writing skills and control gradually without feeling overwhelmed by the task.

Strategies for scaffolding and supporting childrens' writing include:

Use of Graphic Organisers;

Use of a range of teaching procedures such as modelled, interactive, shared and guided writing;

Partnering children to write a new text type together for extra scaffolding and support;

Informing students of the purposes for writing and of what the focus is. This is a crucial element to every lesson, no matter what you are teaching-students will write more purposefully if they have a reason and an audience for doing so.

It is not necessary for children to always be expected to spell correctly-it depends on the purpose. A draft or a brainstorm will not require correct spelling, whereas a letter to the principal or a good copy of a story for display will. It is vitally important that children be told when and why correct spelling is important in their writing, and when it is ok to just get their ideas down without labouring over the spelling of every word.

The teacher who demands neat writing, correct punctuation and perfect spelling when children arewriting creatively or learning to master new skills runs the risk of:

Turning children off writing;

Creating writers who are afraid to take a risk and 'have a go';

Promoting the creation of short, boring texts;

The creation of writers who perform tasks for the teacher with no interest in the message or understanding of the purposes of writing.

Quarter Book Writing - for emergent writers

Quarter Book template
Quarter Book template

Quarter book combines the principles of language experience (Topfer, 2005), modeling of the correct model (Clay, 2001) and cut-up sentence (Clay, 2001) as a way of scaffolding children's writing. This technique makes the links between reading and writing, while providing opportunities for children to develop and practice independence and self modulating behaviour (Clay, 1993).

Quarter book writing is appropriate for role play and emergent writers and is most effective when conducted as a guided writing activity. It is most effective when the teacher can sit with the child (or children in a small group) and help to them to hear sounds in words by annunciating them clearly. She/he can also help the child to represent the sounds they can hear by pointing to the correct letter on an alphabet chart, or to write the letter on a practice page for the child to trace/copy/practice before writing it on their page. This technique is busy, as it is usually done with very young, inexperienced and dependent writers, so working with no more than six children at a time is recommended.


1. Conduct a modeled writing session first with the children, tuning them into the topic.

2. Prepare the children's scrap books or paper by ruling it into quarters. Titles can be written in the corners of each to scaffold. Prepare strips of coloured card for the cut-up sentences.

3. Provide alphabet charts, scrap paper for practice pages and word lists as appropriate.

4. The children draw their picture first.

5. Ask them to verbalise their sentence to you, then to have a go at writing.

6. Help the children to hear the prominent sounds in words and to identify the letters they are associated with.

7. Re-write their sentence in the correct model in the third square. Read it with the child and ask them to copy underneath it. If the child is a very early writer, they may need to trace over the top of the writing.

8. Write the correct model onto a strip of card. Read it with the child. Cut the sentence up into words or phrases, according to the child's ability.

9. Ask the child to assemble the sentence, checking as they go. Get them to read it to you when finished. Ask: "Does that look right? Does it make sense?" If they have made a mistake, ask them to check again, giving them a chance to correct it themselves.

10. The child re-assembles and re-reads their sentence at least three times before pasting it into the fourth quarter.

Cut-up sentence - A link between writing and reading

Cut-up sentence example
Cut-up sentence example

The cut-up sentence is the most important part of the Quarter Book technique, and can be used in any writing activity to actively encourage students to read and self-correct their own writing. Originally a Reading Recovery (Clay, 2001) technique, the cut-up sentence allows teachers to scaffold students in their writing, and to assist them to be independent problem solvers when reading and writing. The cut-up sentence should not be glued in straight away-in fact, in RR, it is sent home with the child to re-make and read over and over. The sentence should be written exactly as it has been when the child traced or copied it. If the student requires heavy support, they should be given the opportunity to match it to the written text in the trace/copy section by pasting the words underneath or on top, with the teacher helping them to read and re-read the text as they work. If they are more capable, the student can make the sentence away from the written model, being encouraged to read and check it as they go. If they make a mistake, they should be encouraged to find it and fix the error themselves, to encourage the development of independent reading and problem solving skills.

The cut-up sentence can be used in journal writing for older writers who are in the experimental or early stages (First Steps, 2005) of writing. Sections of their writing can be chosen to be re-written as a model by the teacher and made as a cut-up sentence, particularly if the section is difficult to read, doesn't make sense or the spelling is poor. The sentence should be made, read, remade and re-read several times until the child is reading it fluently and correctly.

The cut-up sentence is also a useful tool in language experience , modelled and shared writing techniques.

Sorting information report activity
Sorting information report activity

Teaching Non-Fiction Text Forms

Familiarisation and Scaffolding

Every different text form has its own structure and an organisation that flows from its purpose, and from its cultural and social context. Because language is dynamic and fluid, the purpose and shape of different text forms often merge into one another, e.g. a persuasive argument presented in a narrative form. Being able to identify texts by their primary purpose will allow students to take into account the social and cultural context of the text.

The goals for all students when learnig to write different text forms are:

To understand the purpose, structures and language features of common text forms;

To consider how these forms can be formed can be shaped and adjusted to account for variations in context.

To expand the variety of text forms they compose;

To enhance the control they exercise over a range of text forms;

Adapt, combine and manipulate texts.

Any new text form needs to be scaffolded according to The Gradual Release of Responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983).

Modelling, Sharing, Guiding, Applying

Beginning Stage, Developing Stage, Consolidating Stage, Extending Stage

The use of different teaching practices moves students from a supportive context where the teacher has a high degree of responsibility for demonstrating the creation of a text, to a more independent context, where the student has the highest degree of responsibility. This is all according to their stage of development.

FAMILIARISATION: We read texts as well as write them! We cannot expect students to write text forms they have not previously read or are unfamiliar with!

Otherwise known as Immersing or Exposing students to the text form by:

Discussing, reading, listening to, or viewing samples of the text form before launching into writing it.

Familiarising is a critical teaching practice for supporting students in the writing of the text form.


Look at the Coco Pops box. Using the proforma provided, list all of the persuasive pictures, captions, headings and graphics that you can see.

Give three facts and three opinions about children's breakfast cereals.

Read the report about bananas. Highlight the opening definition, the sequenced information and the closing statement.

Read a book and find a page with a procedure on it. Use a graphic organiser to write out the procedure. Take it home to make.

Read "Making Freddie Frog". Use the identifying features page to find all of the structures and features that make this text a procedure.


While some students will need minimum support to write simple non-fiction text types, many more will need varying degrees of support. It is unreasonable and an ineffective practice to expect students to write a new text type straight away withoutsome kind of scaffolding. This may take the form of modelling or share writing the text form as a whole or small group, writing the text with a partner, or the provision of a graphic organiser that supplies the structure of the text form for the student to follow.


With a partner, use the brainstorming graphic organiser to think of persuasive topics around the idea of 'Change'. Then plan your own persuasive poster using the 'Poster 'Power' graphic organiser.

With a partner, use the graphic organiser to plan your main details in each category for a report on snails.

Turn the flow chart 'Sunflower' into an explanatory text using an explanation scaffold to help you. Use the sentence, "Sunflowers change as they grow." as the opening statement, and the sentence on page 5 as your closing statement.

Read the simple instructions for Putting on your shoes." Nowfollow the same format to write instructions for a child to clean their teeth.


When we spell we write and when we write we spell!


Writing provides the context for spelling development.

Without writing, spelling is out of context and in isolation, which gives it no audience or purpose. This is one of the main reasons many students fail to apply their spelling words correctly when using them in their writing.

It is vital that spelling is taught in context so that students see the connection between spelling and communicating effectively through writing.

One of the best ways to help students acquire spelling proficiency is to teach spelling within the context of everyday writing.

However, a comprehensive approach to teaching spelling also needs to provide explicit teaching, frequent opportunities to investigate and analyse words, and daily opportunities for authentic writing.

Authentic writing allows students to apply and practise their new understandings.

Teach spelling as part of writing and through explicit and systematic teaching.

A combination of whole-class, small-group and individual approaches will assist teachers to support a range of student needs.

Use whole-class mini-lessons to focus on the introduction and modelling of vocabulary, spelling strategies and ways to learn new words.

Use small-group sessions to provide more explicit instruction and investigations related to students’ phases of development.

Provide time for independent practise of what they have learnt will give students opportunities to apply their new skills.

Reflection time allows students to share their discoveries and to collaboratively construct class charts to represent new and shared learning.


Do have a word wall.

Don’t forget to change the words regularly.

Do provide spelling lists that meet the weekly/monthly needs.Don't use those traditional spelling texts.

Do focus on the 44 sounds throughout the year.Don't just focus on the long and short vowels and beginning and ending consonants.

Do provide strategies to help them spell.

Don't bother with weekly spelling tests.

Topfer & Arendt (2010) advocate five key spelling strategies:

Sound: focusing on the sounds in words.

Visual: focusing on the way words look.

Meaning: thinking about word meaning.

Connecting: making connections with other words.

Checking: using live, print or electronic resources.


Collecting student data is essential for correct assessment and appropriate planning to assist students to progress in their spelling and writing development.

Assessment and collection of data methods include:

Focused observation;

Spelling error analysis;

Writing samples;

Writing logs;

Spelling journals;

Have-a-go pads;


Student self assessments.

Conferences, interviews, surveys, questionnaires.

The First Steps (Annandale et. al., 2005) Writing Map of Development provides useful stages for assessing and grouping students for ability. It also contains many useful activities to assist students' writing and spelling development.

I recommend the Single Word Spelling Test as the classroom spelling test to be administered at least twice a year; i.e. at the beginning and then towards the end of the year to monitor progress and inform teaching.

Writing Strategies Poll - Sharing ideas

Which writing strategy have you found the most useful in your classroom?

See results

Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A brainstorm web can be used for responding to guided or reciprocal reading texts.Using an information reports checker to find all of the structures and features of this text type in a book about spiders.One type of graphic organiserused by 4/5 students for writing an information report about orangutans.Grade 1/2 students sorted a simple information report on liady birds, then used the same format to write their own report on orangutans.This is a more advanced graphic organiser, used by students in the same 4/5 class, who were capable of writing more information.Another graphic organiser used by the 4/5 teacher to scaffold her English as Another Language students to write their report successfully.Antother example
A brainstorm web can be used for responding to guided or reciprocal reading texts.
A brainstorm web can be used for responding to guided or reciprocal reading texts.
Using an information reports checker to find all of the structures and features of this text type in a book about spiders.
Using an information reports checker to find all of the structures and features of this text type in a book about spiders.
One type of graphic organiserused by 4/5 students for writing an information report about orangutans.
One type of graphic organiserused by 4/5 students for writing an information report about orangutans.
Grade 1/2 students sorted a simple information report on liady birds, then used the same format to write their own report on orangutans.
Grade 1/2 students sorted a simple information report on liady birds, then used the same format to write their own report on orangutans.
This is a more advanced graphic organiser, used by students in the same 4/5 class, who were capable of writing more information.
This is a more advanced graphic organiser, used by students in the same 4/5 class, who were capable of writing more information.
Another graphic organiser used by the 4/5 teacher to scaffold her English as Another Language students to write their report successfully.
Another graphic organiser used by the 4/5 teacher to scaffold her English as Another Language students to write their report successfully.
Antother example
Antother example

Why Are Your Students Writing?

As expert writers, we always have a specific purpose and an audience for putting pen to paper. Do your students know the reason they are writing, and who they are writing it for???

Recommended books for teaching writing in primary classrooms.


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