Effective Writing Skills for K-3 Students: 3 Genres for Success


Whether or not you’re a fan of state standards, most all educators agree that the early acquisition of foundational writing skills, such as handwriting and spelling is critical to ongoing literacy achievement after Grade 3.

In the US, four writing applications are generally prescribed for assessing student success: 1) writing for multiple purposes (narrate, persuade, inform/explain); 2) producing and publishing well organized text appropriate to task and purpose by increasingly applying processes involving planning, revising, editing, and collaborating with others; 3) using writing to build knowledge about specific topics or materials read; and 4) applying writing to extend and facilitate learning in a range of discipline-specific subjects as well as across purposes and audiences.

As a K-3 literacy educator, how can you enrich the writing development experiences of your young writers? Maybe you are familiar with the model of an instructional path for writing that extends a mile wide and an inch deep, and results in providing instruction for a wide variety of different genres, without giving the students the opportunity to practice and refine those genres in a meaningful way. A simpler and more effective method is called for in K-3 classrooms.

Steve Graham and Karen Harris, authors with the SRA Open Court Reading program, have extensively researched the teaching of writing approaches and developed an improved method. This new method is structured so students gain the time to explore, practice, and apply a given genre over the course of six weeks. This process is called “I Do, We Do, You Do”.

This teaching method matches the instruction contained within Open Court Reading—an explicit, systematic, researched–based curriculum program that supports all learners as they learn to read and write. It gives students a chance to use strategies and self-regulation in order to understand and meet the goals of writing within the framework of a given genre. During a six-week period, students are provided 3-5 opportunities to work on a specific type of writing, for example:

  • Opinion Writing begins the school year. Opinion writing is presented first because students are, as teachers and parents know well, familiar with having an opinion. They can develop their own opinion, reasoning and defensive positioning.
  • Informational Writing takes place during the second six-week period.
  • Narrative Writing is learned during the third six-week period. Narrative is considered to be the most difficult type of writing because it requires a character, a problem and a resolution.

For the remainder of the school year, these genres may be used interchangeably.

While immersed in the genres, students discuss grade-appropriate models of writing in a genre and why the models are good. Teachers point out the salient text features within the genre, as well as the planning strategy, graphic organizer, vocabulary and grammar features. The teacher models how to use the planning strategy over the course of 1-2 days, spending time on thinking aloud regarding the purpose of the writing, the audience, and the type of task that is being accomplished. Once the plan is completed, the teacher and the class evaluate and modify the plan using a guided rubric. Then, the teacher models the genre for students by drafting a piece of writing on the board. Using a checklist, the teacher and students evaluate the composition and check to see whether they met their goals. After the teacher models the entire process for students (I Do), the class then works on a composition together (We Do) before students work independently on their own writing (You Do).

Writing is challenging. Gaining writing skills is a complex task, requiring extensive self-regulation of a flexible, goal-directed, problem-solving activity. In addition to basic skills, students must also develop knowledge about the writing process, genre knowledge, and strategies for writing and self-regulating the writing process. Fortunately, a research-proven method for effective writing instruction is  an integral part of Open Court Reading.

You can get your classroom on track today by implementing Open Court Reading for your early readers. Learn more about Open Court Reading here.

Author:  Jenna Anderson, McGraw-Hill Education; in collaboration with Steven Graham, Warner Professor in the Division of Leadership and Innovation in Teachers College, Arizona State University; and Karen Harris, Mary Emily Warner Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University

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