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The Reading Coach

Teaching Writing
As a Process

Ernest Hemingway said, "Prose is architecture, not interior decoration." The teacher's role is to instruct, scaffold, and guide students in a "from-the-ground-up" arrangement of their ideas. There are different names for that process, but they all include the following steps:

  • Prewriting/Brainstorming
  • Organizing and developing a message/drafting
  • Revising/changing, rewriting, clarifying, deleting and regrouping text
  • Editing/grammar, punctuation and spelling corrections
  • Preparing product for publication/sharing

Early Assignments

* Have students search the Internet for graphic organizers (tools used for prewriting/organizing).
* Let students select several tools and share their favorite in class.
* Create a classroom stash of organizers (laminated for durability) and include fun graphics like the Sandwich Chart.
* Good graphic organizers are a map to bring individual students writing alive.


Within that process, introduce a range of strategies. Let students choose how to make their writing individual. Although specific guidelines can be helpful, teaching formula writing as the only "right" way leads to confusion and limited skills.

There are, in the real world, many ways to edit, revise, and organize writing. We help students develop strong writing skills when we not only teach them the steps in the process, but also guide them while they take risks and explore. Students need to investigate choices and determine what works best for them. (HINT: You can't do this in whole group instruction.) Can we teach that level of writing to students, especially once they learn the basics? We must!

Modeling and group writing help students explore genres of composition and understand options. A group-write starts with one student naming a topic, another picking a tool for organizing ideas, and others providing the details.

From there, the drafting starts, with individuals adding additional sentences or comments that lead to revisions. (Each must have an explanation for validity). Let students debate revisions in word choice, clarity, and connection to the main topic. Using that first draft, allow each student to practice adding to it, plus revising and editing to make it their own.

John Oster, Professor Emeritus at the University of Albertas Secondary Education Department tells us, "a writing program should be flexible enough to accommodate the composing processes with which students have experienced success, while . . . providing them with opportunities for experiencing alternate strategies that they may adopt as part of their personal repertoire." Regardless of the model(s) you choose to teach writing, building just that sort of atmosphere insures that your students will become writing "architects" in their own right.

More Resources

Print Resources

  • Culham, R. 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide. Scholastic (2003)
  • Elbow, P. Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. Oxford Press (1998)
  • Baines, L, and Kunkel, A, editors Going Bohemian: Activities That Engage Adolescents in the Art of Writing Well. International Reading Association (2005)

Online Resources:

About the Author

Known as the "Literacy Ambassador," Cathy Puett Miller uses her library science degree from Florida State University as the foundation of her work. With more than ten years experience as an independent literacy consultant working with teachers, parents, librarians, and non-profit family-friendly organizations, she has conducted research initiatives and best practice studies in the areas of beginning reading instruction, emergent literacy and volunteer tutoring. She currently is listed on the U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse Registry of Outcome Evaluators.
Cathy's freelance writing appears in such print publications as Atlanta Our Kids, Omaha Family, and Georgia Journal of Reading, and online at Literacy Connections,, Education World, the Reading Tub, The National Education Association, and BabyZone. Her signature is her passion for connecting children and families to positive, powerful experiences with reading; she believes there is a book for every child.
Cathy lives with her husband, Chuck, eighteen-year-old son, Charlie, and lots of friendly, ferociously read books in Huntsville, Alabama. Visit Cathy's Web site at The Literacy Ambassador.

Updated 1/15/2012