Teaching the Writing Traits


There is an overwhelming amount of writing programs and strategies available today. What appeals to me most is authentic student writing. A structure that allows my children to be engaged in “real” writing. I don’t want a fill in the blank writing worksheet for my children. I want them to sit down and have the opportunity to create, to be involved in the messy art of putting words together to create something they are proud of and to share with others for sheer enjoyment. I want them to experience what writers experience when crafting: Floundering through ideas, bursts of inspiration, frustration, making their own decisions, growth in skill, development of individual voice. I want them to see themselves as writers. They are never going to get that authentic, “real writer’s”  experience with a worksheet or an isolated writing assignment.

The Writer’s Workshop structure coupled with teaching the traits of good writing engages students in real writing experiences, puts them in control of their own writing, and helps them gain independence as writers. You have probably heard of 6+1 Traits of Writing. Created by Ruth Culham it focuses on 7 writing traits: Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Conventions, and Presentation. The 6+1 Traits of Writing is not a curriculum, but rather enhances whatever writing curriculum you are using. The traits of writing won’t change. They are inherent components of good writing and good writers are skillful with them. Even young primary children can be taught all of the traits. Their skill with each trait will deepen as they grow, but the traits will remain the same.

I am not a student of the 6+1 Traits of Writing in the sense that I have studied the theory, or read the textbook. However, I would say that I am a student of practice. I attended a writing workshop my first year teaching at a public Montessori school. The instructor, Shirley Poulton, wrote a guide to teaching the traits of writing and showed us how to put into practice some of her activities. She created a game to explore word choice, created graphic organizers for all levels to teach organization, and (my favorite) a writer’s handbook with word lists and reference sheets for things like metaphor, simile, and personification. This is really what made me fall in love with 6+1 traits, not reading about the theory of practice, but the experience of doing it! This is so much like our children. They will not fall in love with writing because we teach them about it, but because they will have hands on experience doing it.

I found the traits easy to teach through Mini Lessons during Writer’s Workshop (a designated hour for children to put pencil to paper and practice writing). The lessons are visual, highly engaging, and practical for student application. They give children a powerful repertoire from which to draw on as they practice writing. The traits of writing are not taught in a linear fashion. You might give your child a lesson in brainstorming ideas, followed by a convention lesson about spaces between words, then a lesson on choosing powerful verbs, next possibly a lesson on organization using a topic sentence with three supporting details. It’s a very responsive way to teach your child based on your observations of where they are at with their writing skills.

The Traits

Ideas- The message or thought.

  • Drawing
  • Letters, words, or sentences(depending on their development)
  • Talking about their idea
  • Brainstorming by making lists

Organization- The framework or skeleton of writing.

  • Pictures in a sequence
  • A clear beginning, middle, and end
  • Using connecting words (but,so) and sequencing words (first, then)
  • Sequencing events
  • A clear topic sentence with supporting details

Voice- A unique, personal way of looking at and showing ideas.

  • Confidence that what is being said is important
  • Awareness of writing for an audience/readers

Word Choice- Deliberate selection of words

  • Playing with letters, words and phrases
  • Deliberate about how language is used
  • Focus on the parts of speech (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.) to build a powerful sentence.

Sentence Fluency- How a sentence flows grammatically and how it sounds when read.

  • Using short and long sentences
  • Using different types of sentences: Interrogative, exclamatory, declarative, imperative.
  • Playing with phrasing
  • Repeating sounds, words, or sentences for effect
  • Has an easy flow when read aloud

Conventions- Correct writing that is understandable (developmentally appropriate)

  • Capitalization
  • Punctuation
  • Correct Spelling of words they should know, phonetic “invented” spelling of words they have not learned to spell correctly.
  • Spacing between words, left to right sweep, indenting paragraphs

Presentation- How the writing looks when it is finished.

  • Final draft with best handwriting, correct spelling, correct indentation and paragraphs.
  • Final draft typed
  • Published in some way to be shared with others

The Writing Process

The writing process is simply the process that a writer goes through from start to finish when creating a piece of writing. We can focus on different traits at each stage of the writing process. The stages are: Pre-writing, rough draft, revising, editing, and publishing.

Pre-writing– This is the stage where writers brainstorm IDEAS. Not all ideas will make it to the rough draft stage.

Rough Draft– This is the stage where writers are getting their thoughts out there. They are using VOICE, ORGANIZATION, WORD CHOICE, SENTENCE FLUENCY and CONVENTIONS, but the focus is mostly on getting their thoughts on paper. A writer might decide during this stage that he really doesn’t have much to say about his topic, needs to research more, may find another topic idea to pursue, or the idea might morph into something else as they write.

Revising– This is the stage where writers re-read their writing to make changes. They focus more deliberately on VOICE, ORGANIZATION, WORD CHOICE, SENTENCE FLUENCY and CONVENTIONS. A writer will most likely do several revisions before moving on to editing and final drafting.

Editing– This is the stage where writer’s focus almost exclusively on CONVENTIONS. A writer may also discover during this stage that they want to revise another part of their piece.

Final Draft/Publishing– This is the stage where writers make their final draft look its best and share it in some way with others.


Have you taught the traits of writing to your child, or guided them through the writing process?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s