Teaching Students to be Effective Writers

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The practice guide “Teaching Elementary School Students to be Effective” provides specific, evidence-based recommendations for teaching writing. Below is an overview of the four key recommendations and associated teaching strategies and an indicator of the current level of evidence supporting the recommendation.

1. Provide daily time for writing (minimal evidence as to its effectiveness).

Intrinsic to the development of writing is setting aside time not only for explicitly teaching the skills and strategies associated with effective writing, but also for students to practise these skills and strategies.

Teaching Strategies:

  • Provide a minimum of one hour a day to writing.
  • Incorporated writing into other subject areas. For example, writing a report in science after conducting an experiment should include explicit instruction in procedural writing. Diary writing could be practised in a history lesson reflecting the experiences of a person in a particular era.

2. Teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes (strong evidence as to its effectiveness).

Explicitly teach student the components of the writing process: Planning, drafting, sharing, evaluating, revising, and editing. Publishing can also be incorporated but is not a requisite for every piece of writing.

Teaching Strategies:

  • Explicitly teach specific strategies for reach component of the writing process. For example, younger students could use POW (Pick ides, Organise notes, Write and say more). Persuasive writing body paragraphs could be taught using TEEL (Topic sentence, Explain, Example, Link back). In the editing stage, students can be given a checklist of elements to consider.
  • As a component of teaching a strategy, teachers should articulate the purpose of the strategy, model using the strategy and then guide students to use the strategy.
  • Provide models of writing that apply the strategies effectively and ineffectively. Help students identify the effective and ineffective strategies and then spend time improving the ineffective writing. Initially, this should be  modelled by the teacher, then completed in small groups and then individually.
  • As students become more competent in using a particular strategy, teachers should gradually reduce the amount of scaffolding provided, with students taking on more responsibility until they are able to independently apply the strategy as they write.
  • Explicitly teach students how to select and use appropriate writing strategies. A strategy chart, consisting of a list of strategies and situations in which those strategies could be used, might be a useful resource for students.
  • Encourage flexibility. As students’ range of strategies increases, they need to learn to move backwards and forwards between different components of the writing process.
  • Design writing activities which require students to write for different audiences.
  • Teach students the purpose of each genre (to describe, to narrate, to inform, or to persuade/analyse) and then explicitly teach the component of these genres.
  • Expose students to exemplary texts from a variety of sources (e.g., published texts, teacher’s own writing, peer writing) and highlight the features that make these texts effective (sentence structure, word choice, etc.).

3. Teach students to be fluent with handwriting, spelling, sentence construction, typing and word processing (moderate evidence as to its effectiveness).

Teaching strategies:

  • From the beginning, teach student how to hold a pencil correctly and the correct formation of letters. This is best practised in multiple short sessions and applied in a range of activities.
  • Explicitly teach the correct spelling of words, especially the frequently used word. This should include a program in which students are taught how words are coded (e.g., phonics), so they can then use this knowledge to determine the likely correct spelling of unknown words. Older students need to be taught how to check if words have been spelled correctly.
  • Teach students to construct sentences for fluency, meaning and style so the reader is engaged. This includes focusing on the meaning and syntax of sentences as well as the mechanics of sentence construction (e.g., punctuation). It also requires explicit instruction in how to vary sentences and finding synonyms to make writing more effective.
  • Explicitly teach students to touch type. By the end of the third or fourth year of formal schooling students should be able to type as fast as they can write by hand.

4. Create a community of writers (minimal evidence as to its effectiveness)

Fostering a community of writer, in which the teacher is also a participant, can be motivating to student as it provides support and demonstrates the value and importance of writing.

Teaching strategies:

  • Teachers should explicitly highlight and model how writing is intrinsic to their daily lives, including the importance of communicating effectively and the need for perseverance. For example, teachers could draft a letter to a friend in front of the class, using a ‘think out loud’ strategy to make the process ‘visible’ or when writing reports they could mention how important it is to correctly express how each student is performing and how it takes considerable thought and often rewrites to achieve this outcome.
  • Give students writing choices. For example, students could be given a choice in writing topics or audience.
  • Encourage student to collaborate. For example, in the planning stage, brainstorming can be done as a whole class or small group activity or editing can be done with a partner.
  • Provide opportunities for students to give and receive feedback. Intrinsic to this suggestion is to teach students appropriate language for feedback and to focus on constructive feedback rather than emotional or negative responses.

For more detailed information on these strategies, access the free resources in the reference list below.

Related Cracking the ABC Code Resources:

  • Introduction to Writing Persuasively
  • Writing Persuasively
  • Introduction to Writing Creatively
  • Writing Creatively


Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Olseon, C., D’Aoust, C. MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., & Olinghouse, N. (2012). Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers (NCEE 2012-4058). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/publications_reviews.aspx#pubsearch.

Harris, K., & Graham, S. (2018).  pow+tree+twa for Writing Persuasively from Source Text: Lesson Plans, Materials, and Tips. doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.5217226 https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/WWC_Elem_Writing_PG_Dec182018.pdf