How to teach the key traits of writing for students

How to teach the key traits of writing for students

Teachers need to activate the core aspects of writing with students so they can better understand the behaviours of effective writers.

In Episode 71 of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy, literacy expert Sharon Callen delves into ‘The Six Plus Traits of Writing’ – ideas, organisation, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation.

She emphasised that these elements aren’t ‘just an activity or piece that you practice in a lesson’, but rather they are the behaviours and actions that writers use.

Writing trait: Ideas

Sharon explained the key qualities in ideas are finding a topic, focusing and developing the topic, and using details.

“So the first quality in ideas is finding a topic. And when we are finding a topic, what we are doing and the action we are taking is we finding a clear central theme or a simple original storyline. Why? because we want to bring something to readers that is memorable,” she said.

“This is why writers choose what they choose. So I’ll ask my students, ‘I want you to come up with something. What is going to be, for your readers, the idea that you are going to be able to create into something that stays with your reader?'”

Providing mentor texts will also help students in this process.

“If they can see it in a mentor text, that then means they’re going to be noticing how lots of different authors are doing that, so it’s not just a one-off thing that I do as teacher. All these books we are reading, every one of those writers has that behaviour where they’ve had to think through, find their topic, focus the topic, develop the topic and use details. So seeing it done in different ways by different authors gives the breadth of knowledge about this trait,” Sharon said.

Writing trait: Organisation

Organisation refers to the internal structure of the piece.

“The key qualities of organisation are creating the lead, using sequence and transition words, developing the body, and ending with a sense of resolution,” Sharon said.

“With the resolution, it’s about having a satisfying end for the reader. And so, the writer will sum up his or her thinking in a natural, thoughtful and convincing way, and has anticipated and answered any lingering questions to give the reader a strong sense of closure.”

Writing traits: Voice and word choice

Sharon revealed the next two traits, voice and word choice, centre around building connections and providing meaning to the reader.

“The voice is the tone and tenor of a piece. And once again, the four categories are establishing a tone, conveying the purpose, creating a connection with the audience, and taking risks to create voice,” she said.

“It’s looking at how the writer expresses ideas in new ways, which makes the piece interesting, original and fresh. It’s also about being able to identify why a particular text sounds like it’s been written by an author. So going, the writing sounds like this writer because of the particular use of words and phrases that have a just-right effect.

“Then, word choice is the vocabulary the writer uses to convey meaning and enlighten the reader. This is done through strong verbs, using striking words and phrases, using words that are specific and accurate, and using language effectively.”

Writing traits: Sentence fluency, conventions and presentation

Sharon went on to summarise the remaining three traits of sentence fluency, conventions and presentations.

“Sentence fluency is the way words and phrases flow through the piece. And there are four key qualities used: capturing smooth and rhythmic flow, crafting well-built sentences, varying sentence patterns, and predicting the rules,” she said.

“Conventions refer to the mechanical correctness of the piece, which is achieved through checking spelling, using punctuation and indenting paragraphs, inserting capitalisation, and applying grammar and usage.

“Finally, the last one is presentation – the physical appearance of the piece. This comes from applying handwriting skills, using word processing, using white space, and incorporating text features.”

Find out more on Episode 71 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy below and subscribe on Apple PodcastsSpotify or Google Podcasts.

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