Effective Writing Strategies

Learning to write well is an extremely complicated process because it requires high level cognitive processing and highly developed metacognitive skills. Unfortunately, the students who find writing the most difficult are often those with intellectual disabilities or learning disabilities (LD).  Research has shown that struggling writers benefit from explicit strategy instruction, especially when instruction focuses on direct strategies that guide the writers through the composition of a text. Several models of research have examined how students with LD can be assisted to develop their expressive writing skills, including the methods and self-regulation procedures used by more skilled writers. Two approaches, the Cognitive Strategy Instruction in Writing (CSIW) and Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), have been studied extensively in writing research and details are provided later in this blog.

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Providing clear, explicit, rule-based instructions can help improve writing skills in struggling students. Graham (1997) identified four key areas in the writing process:

  1. Knowledge of writing and writing topics
  2. Skills for producing text
  3. Motivation to write with enthusiasm
  4. Using strategies to direct thoughts for writing goals.

Direct instruction programs follow the stage of model, lead and test. It is important to cover a variety of genres, such as narrative, expository essay, direction, summary, critique and letter writing, as well as a range of critical skills in the writing process – drafting, revising and editing.

The study titled, “Grammar for writing? An investigation of the effects of contextualised grammar teaching on students’ writing,” by Jones et al. (2013) investigated whether the use of teaching materials which embedded grammar teaching within teaching units for writing improved students’ performance in writing. When it was taught in this way, the embedded teaching of grammar had an overall beneficial effect on students’ achievement in writing. Furthermore, the study showed that the impact of grammar teaching was not simply at the syntactical level but had resulted in improvements across the entire composition.

Carretti et al’s study, “Oral and Written Expression in Children with Reading Comprehension Difficulties,” (2014) explores the link between reading comprehension and written expression. Results indicate that poor reading comprehenders have difficulty writing with coherence and cohesion. Good knowledge of text structure and use of metacognitive strategies such as Self-Regulated Strategy Development are helpful ways to improve writing.

Baker at al (2003) showed that one of the main problems that children with LD face when writing is their inability to plan and organise writing tasks. Skilled writers employ lots of metacognitive mental strategies when writing. They spend a lot of time planning, revising, monitoring, evaluating and managing the writing process.

The authors suggest that teaching specific writing strategies is highly beneficial to the writing quality of students such as:

  1. Teaching the steps in process to write a quality essay or narrative
  2. Providing lots of feedback and discussion to generate oral vocabulary for writing
  3. Teaching students to understand different text structures, purposes for writing and writing genres.

More Tips for Effective Writing

  1. Use CSIW strategies such as mind maps to generate ideas and get words on the page
  2. Use graphic organisers to organise ideas into the appropriate genre
  3. Model the writing process
  4. Use the CSIW mnemonic POWER (Plan, Organise, Write, Edit, Revise) to provide a procedure for generating a written response
  5. Use the mnemonic COPS for the revision stage: Capitalization, Organisation, Punctuation and Spelling

Many studies show the SRSD strategy leads to significant improvements in writing knowledge, writing quality, writing approach, self-regulation skills, and motivation.

Self-Regulated Strategy Development’s Stages and Tasks

Stage 1: Activate and Develop Background Knowledge

  • Build enthusiasm for genre

  • Develop background knowledge (and pre-skills)

  • Read and discuss models

  • Teach genre vocabulary

Stage 2: Discuss It

  •  Teach strategy (mnemonics)

  • Map out models with graphic organizers

  • Review and repair poor models, together then alone

  • Establish benefits of strategy use

Stage 3: Model It

  • Introduce self-talk

  • Introduce focused model think a-louds

  • Students personalize and record self-statements

  • Introduce collaborative writes

  • Practice self and peer scoring with scales

  • Begin graphing

  • Introduce goal setting

Stage 4: Memorize It

  • Internalise strategy via mnemonics

  • Internalise personalized self-statements

Stage 5: Collaborative Practice

  • Continue collaborative writing experiences

  • Support students’ strategy use, fading support when ready

  • Support self-regulation, fading support when ready

  • Provide feedback on writing and self-regulation

  • Fade prompting strategy use and self-regulation

Stage 6: Independent Use

  • Students use strategies and self-regulate independently

  • Fade overt self-instruction to covert (“in your head”)

  • Ensure transfer and buy in to strategies and self-regulation

Olivia - BA, DipEd, GCertEdSt