National Writing Project

Supporting Good Writing Instruction

Supporting Good Writing Instruction

Every child can and should learn to write. However, the process of learning to write often seems mysterious. Many former students remember with frustration the red marks on their grade-school papers and the expectation that they simply fix whatever was "wrong" and get it "right" the next time.

What should parents look for in a good school writing program? The chart below highlights differences that occur when writing is simply assigned and when writing is authentically taught. It has been adapted and excerpted from Because Writing Matters, a book the National Writing Project coauthored with journalist Carl Nagin on the status of writing instruction in America.

When Writing is Assigned

Students are asked to write only on the teacher's topics.

When Writing is Taught

Students have opportunities to create topics that matter to them.
The teacher selects writing topics for papers without consideration of audience and purpose.
Audience and purpose for papers are specifically identified in assignments.
Most of a teacher's time is spent correcting papers. Most of a teacher's time is spent in class teaching writing skills and strategies.
Students are asked to analyze, compare, describe, narrate, review, and summarize, without the strategies to successfully complete these tasks. Students are given writing models, assignments, and strategies to guide each of their different writing tasks.
Students are not aware of significant improvement in their writing. Students reflect on significant growth—or lack of it—in specific writing skills.
Students are required to rewrite—in some cases. But rewriting usually is limited to correcting grammar, usage, etc. Students are encouraged to revise, edit, and improve—and to correct drafts and then resubmit.
Students are required to write without much forethought. Students think about what they write through brainstorming, freewriting, role-playing, discussion or other prewriting activities.
Students and teachers are bored by what students write. Students and teachers are excited about what students write and make efforts to display and publish it.

Other Web Resources

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE): Writing Initiative

NCTE is an association of more than 60,000 educators dedicated to improving the teaching and learning of English and the language arts. This website offers parents an excellent set of primers on how children acquire writing skills.

U.S. Department of Education: Tools for Student Success

This website provides links to several publications for parents who want to help their children succeed in school.


"The Writing on the Walls"

The Voice, Newsletter of the National Writing Project, Volume 7, Number 3.

"Parent Homework Bridges the Teacher-Student Gap"

The Voice, Newsletter of the National Writing Project, Volume 5, Number 1.

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