You are here

Research Center

Better Instruction, Better Writers

Essentials on education data and research analysis

Writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, is a creative process. Even a letter requires writers to arrange words and ideas to make meaning. According to the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, creative processes such as writing engage the mind at the highest level of cognition (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). How can teachers help students become better writers? Recent research provide answers.

Instruction in Writing Strategies

According to a research meta-analysis conducted by Steve Graham and Delores Perin (2007), the quality of student writing increases when teachers show students how to divide writing tasks into steps—planning, revising, editing—and how to accomplish each step. The meta-analysis, published by the Alliance for Excellent Education, summarizes results of 142 research studies. Graham and Perin used statistical methods to determine the strength and consistency of the various educational practices included in the studies. They conclude that direct instruction in writing strategies is the most effective way to improve writing.

Specifically, researchers identified 11 instructional elements that show positive effects on writing quality among students in grades 4-12. They are explicit strategy instruction, summary writing, collaborative writing, specific product goals, word processing, sentence combining, prewriting, inquiry activities, process writing (e.g., creating a supportive writing environment and encouraging students to take ownership of the work), study of models, and writing for content-area learning.

The authors of the Alliance study point out that their meta-analysis does not constitute a writing curriculum or reveal an “optimal way” to combine the various instructional elements. Needs may vary among individual students, they say. Instruction in writing strategies, however, seems especially effective with low-achieving students.

Students with Disabilities

A research review published by Linda H. Mason and Steve Graham in Learning Disabilities Research and Practice suggests that additional intervention and support may be necessary for students with learning disabilities not making adequate progress in general education. The review is based on results of 40 research studies focused on writing interventions for grade 4-12 students with learning disabilities.

Mason and Graham recommend:

--Teach students to regulate their own writing behaviors, such as goal setting, throughout the writing process.

--Use teacher-student and student-student conferences.

--Provide guided and independent practice across genres.

--Cognitively model the writing process (e.g., say aloud what writers usually think, such as “I know there’s a better way to say this, but I can do it when I’m editing”).

--Teach reading and writing together to support content learning.

Carla Thomas McClure is a staff writer at Edvantia, a nonprofit education research and development organization. Kay Johnston is the Education Equity Specialist for the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center (ARCC) at Edvantia and the Mid-South Regional Resource Center. For citation of the references used in this article, go to