Reading + Writing = Stronger Literacy Skills

Mary Murray Stowe, M.Ed.

February/March 2011 Link Lines

Upon reviewing the components of a new reading program to address the intensive needs of struggling readers, the question was asked, “Is a writing component included within the before, during, or after reading activities?”  The response was, “This is a reading program, not a writing program.”  Could this be true?  Is there no link between reading and writing?  Thus began my journey to find an answer.

Does a link exist between reading and writing?

My quest led me to Writing to Read (Graham & Hebert, 2010) and an answer.  Yes, a link does exist between these two literacy skills that both support enhanced reading comprehension.  The primary goal of reading is to make meaning from text. Current research and reports point to a lack of strong comprehension skill acquisition among struggling readers, as well as typically developing readers.  Writing to Read (Graham & Hebert) provides strong evidence that writing about what has been read enhances reading comprehension.  Further, writing activities connected to text read have been found to be effective for struggling students. 

Relying on a large-scale statistical review of research, Writing to Read presents evidence of the most effective instructional strategies to enhance reading comprehension.  The study focused on three questions:

1.  Does writing about material students read enhance their reading comprehension?

2.  Does teaching writing strengthen students’ reading skills?

3.  Does increasing how much students write improve how well they read?

As noted, the review found strong evidence for the importance of engaging students in writing activities based on what they have read to enhance reading comprehension.  The evidence was categorized into types of writing that produced the strongest effects.  Of the four types examined, having students respond to text in writing (extended writing activities) received the strongest support.  Responding to text activities includes writing personal reactions and analyzing or interpreting text. Less support was found for the remaining three categories, writing summaries of a text, writing notes about a text, and answering questions about a text that require only short answers. 

Do the Virginia Standards of Learning support the use of extended writing activities?

In analyzing the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) and the Essential Skills and Knowledge from the Curriculum Frameworks, support can be found to encourage extended writing activities (Gareis, 2010).  Active verbs within the standards include:  analyze, explain, infer, expand, evaluate, synthesize, elaborate, conclude, critique, and interpret.  The actions denoted by these verbs require higher-order thinking skills such as those involved in extended writing activities.

How do we put the findings into practice?

With such strong support for response-to-text activities as a means of enhancing reading comprehension from Writing to Read and requirements within the Standards of Learning, should we not take the time to use extended writing activities within our classrooms?  The Writing to Read review found that all studies examined produced support for extended writing, and that the resulting gains in comprehension were greater than with other types of instructional strategies.  Scaffolding of writing activities for students who struggle with the complexities of reading and writing will be required, but the research and the VA Standards of Learning suggest that the results are well worth the effort. What are examples of extended writing prompts?

The careful crafting of questions for response can lead to the appropriate level of writing activity.  The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) provides a guide of content area literacy strategies to assist in constructing questions that encourage higher order thinking skills (HOTS).  These questions are constructed to require analysis of and personal reactions to text.  A lesson, Bloom’s Critical Thinking Cue Questions, within the CCSSO document provides examples of HOTS questions (pp. 27-29) that align with Bloom’s taxonomy.  The table below is adapted from this lesson:

Table 1 - Bloom’s Taxonomy Cognitive Levels


Involvement in HOTS activities is critical for moving struggling students forward in their academic development toward high school graduation. Scaffolded activities can be used to lead struggling readers and writers to answer the higher order thinking questions presented above. Graphic organizers can be used as a scaffolding device to organize the response as well as a gradual increase in the amount of writing requirement.  Guiding struggling students through a written HOTS activity with component questions will provide structure to the activity.  The process can be accommodated through read aloud, oral responding, or speech-to-text options to meet the needs of struggling students who require only access to the activities. 


CCSSO’s Adolescent Literacy Toolkit: Content Area Literacy Guide. (2007, August). (Provided by Public Consulting Group’s Center for Resource Management, in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers).  

Gareis, C. (2010, November).  You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, so why construct an assessment without a Table of Specifications? Session presented at the 2010 College William   and Mary Symposium, Williamsburg, Virginia.

Graham, S., & Hebert, M. A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. 


Unlocking Reading Comprehension: Writing Is the Key; William & Mary T/TAC Consideration Packet:

Additional Resources

Link to the Council of Chief State School Officers’ Content Area Literacy Guide:

Links to Lessons Found on the Internet:

Exchanging Ideas by Sharing Journals: Interactive Response in the Classroom:  -

Thrills! Chills! Using Scary Stories to Motivate Students to Read:  -

Responding to Literature – Character Analysis from Scholastic, Inc.

Links to the Virginia Standards of Learning referenced:

Link to the English Standards of Learning on the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) website:

Link to the History and Social Science Standards of Learning on the VDOE website:

Link to the Science Standards of Learning on the VDOE website: