6 Trait Writing

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6 trait writing ties in seamlessly to the Common Core standards. Teaching one strategy at a time makes being successful a reality for every student with improving their writing skills.

traits of good writing infographic

These ideas are for any grade level (just adapt and adjust as we all do). If you haven't used the six traits of writing before, just jump in.

There is no need to do them all at once. In fact, that ends up being counterproductive.

To make teaching writing like this work, your students need to be exposed to mentor texts that use a specific writing trait.  Then you have to give them lots of opportunity to practice a technique before introducing a new one.

The following sections will give you specific ideas for mentor texts and suggested activities to jump start activities for 6 trait writing. I use each one of these in my own classroom, and they work.

6 Trait Writing: Content and Ideas

Making up a story that has all the elements of a piece of narrative writing is difficult for young children. 

The most common problem is putting in too many characters and not resolving the basic problem of the story. Focusing on what they know and have experienced is always better. These small moments, as Lucy Caulkins talks about, are critical for success.

Also, imagination and fantasy is notoriously difficult for our students on the autism spectrum, so be prepared to spend quite a bit of time drawing out personal experiences for them to base their writing on.

The Secret Knowledge of Grownups

This is such a great book.  There are tons of ways to use it, but here is one way that always works in my classroom.

  • Brainstorm a list of rules students have heard from grownups at home
  • Discuss the reasons for the rules, then tell them the reasons are far more sinister than they could ever imagine!
  • Read the book as an interactive read-aloud
  • Invite students to create their own "top-secret" truth to explain a rule, using the book as a model (or do it as a guided 6 trait writing piece)

Invite the students to bring in an old toy that they used to play with. Brainstorm with them where they got it, who gave it to them, why it was important, a special memory it brings back...make their stories into a class book for them to reread later on.

Call It Out
1. Pick a category, such as animals
2. Call out questions - go from general to narrow. For example, "Does it hop?" "Is it green?" "Where does it live?" "What does it eat?"
3. Keep asking questions until the you have generated a lot of specific ideas
4. Record narrowed topics on the board and have students do a quick-write. In our example, the topic could be, "A moss-green frog that lives in the rainforest."

Show Me, Don't Tell Me
Take a non-specific statement and turn it into a showing statement:
"Frogs are nice," becomes, "The moss-green frog hopped quickly into the forest."

Class List
Keep a class list of creative writing ideas posted as an anchor chart. Add to it whenever anything happens that would be a good topic. As well, whenever you read a book aloud, use it to create a "jumping off" point for new ideas.

6 Trait Writing: Organization

Stoplight Writing
Use the colors of a stoplight for teaching how to to organize writing. Green means go: give an introduction that "hooks" the reader. Yellow means wait: a middle that is logically organized. Red means stop: Give the readers more details. Green at the end means go back: give an ending that wraps it all up and leaves the audience satisfied.

Mix It Up
Reorder a poem, recipe, or short story. Cut the text into pieces and have the students play with it like a puzzle. Ask them to look for transition words, a lead sentence (hook) and conclusion. Have the students use a highlighter to identify transitional words like first, second, finally, however, then, soon, etc.

Hook Look
Collect a box of books that have effective openings. Choose one to read the beginning aloud and discuss why it has an effective hook that grabs the reader. Divide the students into groups and give each group a few books to choose their favorite hooks from. Have them explain why they chose each hook as their favorite.

6 Trait Writing: Voice

One Minute Details
Present an object to the students. Be sure to choose something that is rather unusual. Give students one minute to study the object, then put it away. Allow one minute for students to write down everything they can remember about the object. Make one big list of details.

Is More Always Better?
Sometimes when we compare original sentences to rewritten ones, more isn't always better. For example:

"Caution! Children Crossing!"

This is very effective and gets the message across. Compare it to this:

"You better slow down a little. There are some nice kids who live here and walk or ride their bikes to school. Sometimes they don't look very carefully or listen for cars. It might be very dangerous for them if you drive too fast."

Write 10!
Choose a topic, such as Halloween. Have the students write 10 sentences on the topic. Once they have used a word in the sentence, it cannot be used again. This creative teaching idea for 6 trait writing might need to be done whole class with teaching primary children.

6 Trait Writing: Sentence Fluency

Sentence Stretching
Start with a short sentence or group of words. Pass it around a group of students, with the rule that each person must add or change one word to make the sentence more interesting.

Matt ate the pizza.
Matt snarfed the pizza.
Matt snarfed the cheesy pizza.
Matt snarfed the steamy, cheesy pizza.

Pass It On!
Give students a short beginning sentence - "The night was dark and stormy." Instruct them to use the last word in the sentence to start the next one - "Stormy wasn't even half of it!" Keep going like this until the stories are finished (they can get very silly!).

Picture a Sentence
Have students select a piece of their writing. Have them draw rectangles around their sentences. If all of the boxes are about the same size, their sentences are similar in length. If they are different lengths, there is good sentence variety in the piece of writing.

6 Trait Writing: Conventions

Punctuation, Please!
Give students a simple text without punctuation. Have them add whatever punctuation they want, wherever they think it makes sense. Ask students to read the piece aloud and discuss what was added and why. Give students a copy of the original text and discuss the differences.

Editor's Marks
Give each student a copy of these editing marks for 6 Trait Writing. Teach them how to use them, starting with one and building as they grow confident.

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