Key principles and pedagogical approaches of teaching writing
Key principles and
pedagogical approaches of
We should teach writing in a way which:
Is underpinned by meaningful context, such as purpose,
audience and form. It is important to create good tasks.
Focuses on the writing process not the product.
Recognises the recommended sequence for teaching
writing and selects steps from this to structure their
Uses talk to support the writing process, at all stages.
Works hard to remove barriers to writing of different
Familiarisation with genre (for
example by modelling)
Idea generation: breaking down the process by the
use of creative approaches, for example sensual
Supporting writing through the
use of writing frames
The Development of Literacy
• Traditional literacy pedagogies stressed formal
correctness of grammar and syntax.
• During the 1970s and early 80s this approach was
discarded in favour of 'natural' learning by 'doing' writing.
• The introduction of the National Curriculum began to shift
back towards the formal approach, a move which was
completed by the implementation of the National Literacy
Strategy in 1999.
• However, in tandem with the learning of grammatical labels
and specific syntantic strategies, another approach has
been used, which considers the process of writing to be as
important as the product.
Process Approach to Writing
• The process approach to writing places emphasis on the different steps which compose the act of writing,
and on the giving of feedback and space for that feedback to be integrated into the creative act.
• The teacher is not someone who simply sets a title and then stands back waiting for the final product which
will then be delivered for correction: she or he scaffolds the creative process and helps students to co-
create their writing, drawing on each other, their surroundings and their teaching.
• It is a mode which is much more in sympathy with social constructivist theories of learning than the earlier
model of simple correction of the finished product.
• It corresponds much more closely with the theory of assessment for learning rather than of learning.
Feedback which is given mid-writing, whether between drafts or mid-sentence, is much more useful than
feedback given at the end. Students can act on advice on the spot. Feedback given on completed pieces of
work, in the form of summative comments, will not have any impact on that piece of work, and is unlikely to
do much to improve future pieces of work without specific activities to ensure that it does.
• White and Arntd (1991) suggest that in addition, focusing on language errors 'improves neither grammatical
accuracy nor writing fluency'; instead, they say, paying attention to what students say during the process,
and interacting with it, will lead to an improvement in their writing.
• The emphasis on the process is also designed to enable students to realise that what they have put on paper
is not unchangeable. It is an important part of developing as a writer to understand that things can be
deleted or added, restructured and redrafted.
The Principles of Writing Development
Yetta Goodman (1988) Writing Development in Young Children says there are three
overlapping principles in writing development:
• Functional includes:
– controlling the behaviour of others, for example, commands on doors
– personal communication, for example, letters
– representing experiences, for example, stories
– explaining, for example, about trips
– reminders, for example, shopping lists
• Linguistic includes:
• Relational includes:
– negotiating with those around them rather than learning being a “natural” individual
• You may provide a model for students in several ways.
• The analysis of an example text, to establish the features of a
particular text type (sometimes referred to as a 'genre approach'
pedagogy) can provide a model which students can emulate.
• It may be more useful for struggling writers to create a group text on
the board, with you as scribe, leading the process.
• In this way you can model the process of creating a text, having ideas,
selecting words and structures, as well as just the end product.
• Alternatively the work of an individual student, during the drafting
process, may be used as a mid-process model. (Web-cams can be a good
cheap alternative to a visualiser in sharing student work on a centrally-
• Discussion of the model is essential in aiding the students to see its
applicability to their own work.
Reading for writing
• Reading for writing is a different skill to that of reading for pleasure or
• Reading for writing requires the analysis of specific techniques used to create effect,
and consideration of how that might be transferred to the reader's own writing.
• It is similar to the kind of analysis that contributes to literature study at GCSE level.
• For example: a class might read Chapter 1 of Hard Times by Charles Dickens,
concentrating on how the character of Mr Gradgrind is established, noting such
techniques as repeated sentence structures, metaphors, and the voice of the
• They might then attempt to replicate those techniques in a group to create a
character sketch, practicing their use.
• Alternatively you might create a model as a whole class, with joint ownership of the
• Finally students might consider how those techniques applied to their current piece of
Talk for writing
• Talk can also be a particularly important tool in developing writing skills.
• A lower stakes activity, it can provide students who find writing difficult with an opportunity to
rehearse their ideas, to refine them, and to test them on an audience.
• Partners or small groups, or even the whole class, can discuss stimuli for creative writing together,
as part of the idea-generating process.
• Discussing an image, or a short media clip, can allow students who are less certain of themselves to
check that their ideas are acceptable; the contributions of those with plenty of ideas provides
scaffolding for those without, and removes one potential barrier to writing.
• Talk also provides an opportunity for meaningful peer and self assessment, rather than a tick box
or rapid fire approach. Encourage students to engage in dialogue with a partner about their work:
once the author has read the piece aloud, the partner should interrogate the choices which have
Why did you choose that word?
I'm not clear on how this happened - is there something I missed?
What makes this character tick?
This kind of peer assessment is about discussion and development which enables both parties to think
and talk about their work. If they find this kind of activity difficult, start by generating questions
as a class, which are more general, perhaps using some generic question stems provided by you.
• The teaching of grammar works best as part of a holistic process.
• Individual grammatical concepts, punctuation marks and syntactical structures work
well as starter activities, rather than as the focus of an entire lesson, which risks
boring students, and creating rather than removing a barrier to creativity.
• Link grammatical teaching to the specific writing task at home, situating it in a
relevant context - just as successful writing teaching situates the writing in the
context of a good task.
• There is still adherence in some schools to the formal teaching of grammar for whole
lessons, or even whole schemes of work. It is possible to integrate grammar into a
• However, it is also important to help students towards writing technically accurate
pieces, while bearing in mind the process. Many students know the theory behind the
use of correct punctuation, for example, but simply find it hard (or pointless?) to
remember to use it.
• A simple checklist on students' desks, or a quick reminder that effective writing also
requires technical accuracy, can provide a non-judgemental prompt.
A general introduction:
• Moss, J. (2003) ‘Writing’, in J. Davison & J. Dowson (eds.) Learning to teach English in the secondary school (London: Routledge)
• Using talk in writing – this book draws on a research project but also supports practical activity in the classroom:
Fisher, R., Jones, S., Larkin, S., & Myhill, D. (2010) Using talk to support writing (London: Sage Publications)
Some books which give ideas for lessons and teaching activities:
• Cowley, S. (2002) Getting the buggers to write (London: Continuum)
• Evans, Paul (2002) How to Teach Non-Fiction Writing at Key Stage 3 (London: David Fulton)
• Haynes, A. (2007) One hundred ideas for teaching writing (London: Continuum)
• Millum, T. & Warren, C. (2001) Twenty things to do with a word processor: ICT activities for the secondary English classroom (Derby: Resource Education)
• Shaw, R. (2007) 1001 Brilliant Writing Ideas: Teaching Inspirational Story-Writing for All Ages (London: David Fulton)
Williams, Mary (2002) Unlocking Writing: a guide for teachers (London: David Fulton)
Grammar, syntax and technical aspects of English language are often one of the areas which new English teachers are most worried about. The following
resources provide support for polishing your knowledge or gaining some background information. There are also a number of web-based resources for
teachers of English as a Foreign Language which can help if you are looking for activities to teach grammar in the classroom. The Stephen King book has a
useful section on grammar, but also has some very vivid memoir sections which can be used to prompt writing (about self, or creative writing).
• Crystal, D. (2003) (2nd ed.) The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
• King, Stephen (2001) On writing: a memoir of the craft (London: Hodder & Stoughton)
• Locke, T. (2010) (ed.) Beyond the grammar wars: a resource for teachers and students on developing language knowledge in the English/literacy classroom
• UCL’s ‘Internet Grammar of English’ at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/