Writing with POWER

by Sue Land, M.Ed.

"I have nothing to say."
"I know what I want to say but I can't get started."
"I can't put my ideas in the right order."
"I can't think of an ending."

The type of writing instruction that students with learning disabilities receive should help foster:

  • the development of a conceptually sound knowledge base about writing

  • security in using the cognitive processes considered essential for effective writing

  • desire to write

  • realistic self-evaluations of one's strengths and weaknesses as a writer

(Graham et al., 1993, p. 248).

Tips for Teaching Writing

By Donald Graves

  1. Students write regularly at least four times out of five days.

  2. Students have choice of topic.

  3. Students get responses from two sources- the teacher and other students.

  4. Students keep collections of their work.

  5. Students write for a broader audience than their teachers.

Do your students express complaints such as these when it comes to writing? This article focuses on the difficulties students with learning and behavior disabilities often experience when confronted with a writing assignment and then explores the POWER writing strategy. In future newsletters, effective strategies for the various stages of the writing process will be offered.

Students with learning and behavior disabilities typically have difficulty with written expression. "Several studies suggest that students with learning disabilities lack metacognitive knowledge" (Englert, Raphael, Fear, & Anderson, 1988, p. 19) concerning the writing process. Their papers are shorter, less cohesive, and more confusing (Graham, Schwartz, & MacArthur, 1993). Students with identified needs often show poor planning and organizational skills for writing. They typically skip the prewriting stage and jump to the final draft or struggle with the brainstorming of ideas for writing. Englert and Thomas (1987) also found that many students with learning disabilities experience difficulty in idea generation as well as word and sentence production. Revising for these students usually means finding the mechanical (spelling, punctuation, capitalization) errors rather than the errors in style or composition.

By using a writing strategy, students learn how to write, not how to fail at writing. The writing process itself is a strategy to help students become more effective writers. The POWER strategy consists of five stages and uses a mnemonic device that spells out the steps of the writing process: Planning, Organizing, Writing, Editing and Revising (Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Anthony, Fear, & Gregg, 1988). These stages are explained below.

Planning Stage: During planning, students answer two questions, "For whom am I writing?" and "Why am I writing this?," to establish the audience and the purpose for their writing. Then the students brainstorm their background knowledge. (See insert for Planning Questions form.)

Organizing Stage: In this stage, students decide which organizational pattern fits their assignment and then complete a pattern guide, a graphic designed to help them organize their ideas. There are a number of pattern guides to choose from including story, compare/contrast, explanation, and problem/solution. The story guide includes the key story elements of Who?, When?, Where?, What happened?, and How did it end? The compare/contrast guide includes information about the topics being compared, the characteristics on which the topics are compared, and how the topics are alike and different. The explanation guide includes the steps for completing a process. Finally, the problem/solution guide identifies the problem, explains the cause of the problem, and states the solution.

Writing Stage: Here students complete a first draft. Depending on the needs of the students, the teacher may demonstrate how to use the information from the planning and organizing stages to complete the draft. The "think aloud" technique, verbalizing your thought process in completing this stage, is helpful. To provide support for initial writing, students may work in groups or pairs until they are ready to write on their own.

Editing Stage: Students self-evaluate and peer edit in this stage. During self-evaluation, students reread and evaluate their drafts, starring sections of the assignment that they like best and putting question marks in the margins by the unclear parts. The students then think of two questions to ask peer editors. During peer editing, the writer reads his draft to the peer editor, who listens and summarizes the assignment. Suggestions are then shared with the writer, and he or she with the peer editor brainstorm ways to improve the assignment. Editing guides and scoring rubrics are helpful to students at this stage.

Revising Stage: During the final stage, students incorporate changes and improvements as they rewrite their assignments.

Students with learning and behavior disabilities have trouble with the overall process of written communication. Their approach to writing shows little systematic planning, and they have great difficulty putting their ideas on paper because of preoccupation with mechanics. They fail to monitor their writing or make useful revisions. Teaching the POWER writing strategy will provide your students with a strategy to become powerful writers.


Englert, C. S., Raphael, T. E., Anderson, L. M., Anthony, H. M., Fear, K. L., & Gregg, S. L. (1988). A case for writing intervention: Strategies for writing informational text. Learning Disabilities Focus, 3(2), 98-113.

Englert, C. S., Raphael, T. E., Fear, K. L., & Anderson, L. M. (1988). Students' metacognitive knowledge about how to write informal texts. Learning Disability Quarterly, 11, 18-46.

Englert, C. S., & Thomas, C. C. (1987). Sensitivity to text structure in reading and writing: A comparison of learning disabled and non-disabled students. Learning Disability Quarterly, 10, 93-105.

Graham, S., Schwartz, S. S., & MacArthur, C. A. (1993). Knowledge of writing and the composing process, attitude toward writing, and self-efficacy for students with and without disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 26, 237-249.

Graves, D. (2002). Tips for the teaching of writing. Retrieved February 6, 2002, from Don Graves Web site: http://www.donaldgraves.org/teach_writing.asp.

Date: May/June 2002