The Wonderful World of Writing: Strategies for Effective Writing Instruction

By Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.
May/June 2012

“Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time ... The wait is simply too long.”   Leonard Bernstein, composer and conductor (1918-1990)

Why Focus on Writing Instruction?

There is no doubt that students need to learn to write effectively. “Along with reading comprehension, writing skill is a predictor of academic gsuccess and a basic requirement for participation in civic life and in the global economy” (Graham & Perin, 2007, p. 3).  Yet, often students sit in front of blank pieces of paper or empty computer screens, waiting for inspiration to strike or not knowing where to start?

What Works?

Graham and Perin (2007) have identified 11 elements of effective writing instruction to help students in 4th through 12th grade become better writers. These key elements are:

  • Writing strategies (teaching  students explicit strategies for planning, revising, and editing)
  • Summarization (teaching students explicit strategies for summarizing written material)
  • Collaborative writing (arranging students in groups to plan, draft, revise, and edit their writing)
  • Specific product goals (providing students with attainable goals for the product)
  • Word processing (using technology to support writing)
  • Sentence-combining (teaching students how to create complex sentences)
  • Prewriting (using structured activities to help students plan and organize their writing)
  • Inquiry activities (teaching students how to analyze current data and information to complete writing tasks)
  • Process writing approach (using a structure to engage students in writing)
  • Study of models (giving students the opportunity to read and analyze examples of good writing)
  • Writing for content learning (teaching students how to use writing as a tool for learning content. Visit for a report addressing the link between writing and content reading)

What Does Writing Strategy Instruction Look Like in the Classroom?

The key instructional element with the strongest positive effect (effect size = .82) on student writing was teaching explicit strategies for planning, revising, and/or editing (Graham & Perin, 2007).

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), one approach that teachers can use to help students learn a variety of writing strategies (Santangelo, Harris, & Graham, 2008), is a six-stage framework that supports learning a particular writing strategy. The stages can be changed to meet student needs. Table 1 shows the six stages and how they may be used as a framework for teaching the RAFT strategy for prewriting. The RAFT strategy helps students plan an engaging piece of writing by having them consider the Role, Audience, Format, and Topic of the writing assignment (Santa, Havens, & Valdes, 2004).

Table 1

An Example of Self-Regulated Strategy Development

s (Santangelo et al., 2008).

Using SRSD as a framework for teaching explicit writing strategies is one way that teachers can help students become independent and proficient writers.

Additional Resources

For more comprehensive information on teaching writing, visit the National Writing Project Visit  to learn more about the Eastern Virginia Writing Project housed at The College of William and Mary.

Further, writing modules for middle school students in Virginia may be found at

For a free online learning module that outlines and describes the process for teaching students the POW+TREE strategy as a way to write a more effective persuasive essay, visit

Read the March 2012 LDOnLine e-newsletter ( to learn how to support writing development for students with learning disabilities. 


Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools – A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Santa, C. M., Havens, L. T., & Valdes, B. J. (2004). Creating independence through student-owned strategies (3rd ed.). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Santangelo, T., Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (2008). Using self-regulated strategy development to support students who have “trubol giting thangs into werds.” Remedial and Special Education, 29(2), 78-89. doi:10.1177/0741932507311636