4 Stages of Teaching Writing to Children

› Stages

Teaching writing to elementary students happens over a series of scaffolded stages. A gradual release towards independence will result in improving writing skills.

4 Developmental Stages of Writing

The four stages of teaching good writing is a gradual release from teacher-directed to complete independence. It is tightly controlled to ensure success, yet the lessons can be really fun.

In fact, they should be interactive and fun, or you will lose the interest of your class (then you are toast!).

The stages are:

  • Modeled Writing
  • Shared Writing
  • Guided Writing
  • Independent Writing

For each stage you will find a specific strategy to use in your lessons. Each strategy can be used as a stand-alone lesson or at intervals during other stages.

Teaching writing to children in 4 developmental stages.

Modeled Writing

What is Modeled Writing?

  • A think aloud about strategies
  • Utilizes a problem-solving approach
  • Can be used to teach a specific element of language

Modeled writing is the first step in teaching writing to children. This is when the teacher is in front of the class doing all of the writing.

If your students struggle greatly with getting their ideas going, come back to this basic step and model your writing process for them. They need to see it being done. I like to have my students sitting on the floor in front of the chart paper so we are in an intimate setting while I discuss my thinking.

Make your thoughts about the process known (be explicit) while you are teaching writing to children.

For example, you might say, "Today I want to write about what happened to me last night. I need to make a web to sort out my thoughts, then I can start putting the words into sentences."

If it is a specific skill lesson, such as great beginning sentences, you might say, "I know that author's need to have strong beginnings to hook their readers into a story. Today I am going to use a little-known fact to hook them."

The key to modeled writing is to never assume your students are following you. Tell them everything you are doing and why. It is not enough for them just to watch you. As well, don't try to model so many things that the lesson goes on too long - you will lose their attention.

Shared Writing

During shared writing, a teacher will scribe the words, but the students are now invited to contribute to the piece. This is the type of writing I tend to do a lot of at the beginning of the year in my second grade classroom. It would be appropriate for any primary writing.

  • Students contribute ideas while the teacher writes
  • Lots of discussion, questions and answers
  • Think alouds continue to be used

The photos below show a shared writing lesson that my class did for a special assembly we had. We were to write a very simple story that had little detail (it was to be performed by a mime). The entire process, from start to finish, took us about 45 minutes.

Pre-write and brainstorming

This shows the pre-writing session of any writing process lesson plan. This is always the first step of teaching writing to children.

We listed possible topics, took a "quick and dirty" vote to narrow them down, then voted as a class on which one they thought would make the best story for our purpose.

writing a summary

After reaching a consensus on the topic of our story, it was time to formulate our main idea.

We discussed the basic elements of a narrative story, and made a summary chart. As a class, we came up with the characters, setting, problem and solution (KISS = Keep It Super Simple!).

Below is our story that we wrote together. Notice that you can see where I made my thinking visible to the students as we worked. That is critical in teaching writing to children. Words are circles and crossed out, punctuation marks are changed, and substitutions have been made throughout.

You can also see where the basic narrative elements were underlined in the story. Doing this helps the students see how the elements are woven into the story without saying, "The main character is..." or, "The setting was..."

writing effective beginning

This is the introduction to our story, “Snowball Revenge.”

Notice how the basic narrative elements are underlined (the colors match the ones we used while pre-writing the story elements).

teaching writing to children

This is the middle of our short story.

My thinking is visually present through cross-outs, changes in punctuation, and changing of words.

Students also made suggestions and changes.

writing effective endings

The story comes to a satisfactory conclusion when the naughty little boy learns a big lesson.

Note the use of onomatopoeias, a focus lesson from a previous week.

Guided Writing

Guided writing is the third step in teaching writing to children. In guided writing, teachers continually provide feedback, redirection and expansion of ideas. Any area of writing can be addressed, but it works well to put similar needs together and address them at the same time.

  • The step between teacher directed and independent writing
  • Teacher utilizes prompts and clues to help develop ideas and organization
  • Teacher works with students either small group or independently
  • Oral discussion of sentences before writing

You may also choose to do guided writing independently as part of how you approach teaching writing to children. I find that using smaller groups works really well for teaching creative writing as so many children struggle with formulating ideas.

During a writer's workshop, I like to walk around the classroom and stop at my students desks. I have them read to me what they are working on and ask them what they might be struggling with.

It is surprising what they realize they need help with, and it is not always what I thought they should work on, but the motivation to improve an aspect of writing is there so we do it.

The absolute best series of videos to watch on teaching Guided Writing are found at Primary Framework Guided Writing. I have no affiliate relationship with them, so my opinion is completely unbiased. You must watch these though, as they give a clear, conceptual understanding of what guided writing really is and how to use it within the framework of teaching writing to children.

Independent Writing

This is where the students effectively utilize written language for their own purposes or as assigned by the teacher. These writing pieces can be anything, from creative stories and reports to writing journals or letters to friends and family.

  • Students use ideas from shared writing to produce their own independent piece
  • Reference to charts and other materials to revise and edit composition
  • Teacher evaluation for growth

This part of teaching writing to children must always include a time to share. It is critical to provide validation of your young author's process and growth as a writer. This provides them not only recognition, but an opportunity to receive feedback.

While some children gravitate towards writing independently, many need more practice with essential writing lessons. If you have a student who struggles, you must go back and do more shared and guided writing, as well as spending some time simply romancing young writers.

But what about the mechanics and structure of writing?

teaching writing to children eboo

Using rubrics to guide grammar and mechanics of writing is a huge help for developing writers.

The ebook shown on the left is perfect for hitting Common Core standards on the mechanics of good writing!

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