Evidence-Based Practices: Teach Writing Strategies with a Model, Practice, Reflect Instructional Cycle

Teach Writing Strategies with a Model, Practice, Reflect Instructional Cycle



Why writing instruction?

Writing involves a wide range of skills from spelling to grammar, word choice, sentence structure, critical thinking, generating ideas, organizing information, and understanding different types of writing.  Given the skills and executive functioning processes involved in writing, children need quality writing instruction to gradually improve their skills over time. This process is of the utmost importance because writing is a lifelong skill students need to succeed in school, in college and in their career.

What does research say about writing?

  • Children who are encouraged to draw and scribble ‘stories’ at a young age will later learn to compose more easily, more effectively, and with greater confidence than children who do not have that encouragement (What Works: Research About Teaching and Learning, 1987).
  • Teachers who provide children with regular opportunities to express themselves on paper, without feeling too constrained for correct spelling and proper handwriting, help children understand that writing has a real purpose (Graves, 1983; Sulzby, 1985; and Dyson, 1988).
  • Writing well involves more than simply documenting ideas as they come to mind. It is a process that requires that the writer think carefully about the purpose for writing, plan what to say, plan how to say it, and understand what the reader needs to know.
  • Instruction should include the components of the writing process: planning, drafting, sharing, evaluating, revising, and editing. An additional component, publishing, may be included to develop and share a final product. (Reading Rockets, 2017)

The What Works Clearinghouse report, “Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively,” indicates “strong evidence” for teaching writing strategies with a model, practice, reflect instructional cycle (pgs. 13-37, portions of report excerpted below):

(https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/508_WWCPG_SecondaryWriting_122719.pdf#page=13).  Writing is the 8th module in Eagle Academy’s new professional development series in Reading Rockets.


How should writing instruction follow a model-demonstration-reflection model?

The process of quality writing instruction should involve: 1) Teaching the key elements of writing,               2) Providing writing strategies that students can internalize and use over time, and 3) Using a model-practice-reflection instructional cycle. Gradual release of responsibility such as “I do, you do, we do” is a best practice across all content areas, and writing instruction is no different.  As teachers teach writing strategies, it is important to clearly model the strategy, give students time to practice with a peer or independently, and reflect on what they learned. Shared writing is an effective process for modeling and practicing writing! During shared writing, the teacher and students collaborate in creating a piece of writing.  The teacher acts as a model and scribe, thinking out loud as they model good writing, writing down what students articulate, prompting students to think more deeply, questioning and supporting students as they create text. Shared writing has modeling, practice and reflection built into it. In addition to regularly doing shared writing activities in the classroom,  writing instruction should target the following components:

  1. Basic Skills
  2. Creating Text
  3. Planning and Editing
  4. Understanding the Purposes for and Types of Writing


Each skill is outlined below, with sample activities to target each skill. A more comprehensive list of sample activities is available via the “writing” tab on the literacy portal.

  1. Basic Skills


In order to write effectively, students must learn basic skills such as spelling, handwriting, keyboarding, capitalization, punctuation, and sentence structure. For a basic skill like spelling, teachers may use an explicit strategy such as word study to build student knowledge of sounds and patterns in words. For building knowledge of sentence structure, a teacher may teach parts of speech and a word’s role in forming phrases, clauses, and sentences. Additionally, the teacher will introduce students to the requirements for sentences (contains a who/what-subject, includes what the who/what is doing-predicate, starts with a capital, ends with a period, is a complete thought). The teacher may then teach types of sentences (simple, compound, complex) and how to punctuate each. The teacher will also need to introduce rules for capitalization (beginning of sentence/proper nouns) and punctuation (ending punctuation as well as commas, semicolons).

Sample Activity 1:


Sound Sort: Sound sorts are a strategy often used during Word Study. To do a sound sort, a teacher would introduce two sound patterns in isolation. The sounds can be similar (/oi/ and /oy/ as in oil or boy) or dissimilar patterns (“ea” as long “ee” like in bead, and “ai” as long “ae,” like in rain).  Students then spell each pattern in the air using their finger. Next, the teacher would model sorting two words into columns on the board. For instance, if working with /oi/ and /oy/ the teacher would have words written out on notecards that contain oi/oy.  The teacher would choose two cards (such as “boy” and “oink”) and show students how they identify the oi/oy sound, see how it is spelled, and sort it accordingly.  Students would  sort the remainder of the words as a class or in pairs. Once all words are sorted, the class reads the words in each column.  To close out, the teacher may discuss “orthographic tendencies” around why one pattern is used over another.  For example,  /oi/ tends to come in the beginning or middle of words such as  “oink” or “boil,” and /oy/ tends to come at the end of words such as “soy” or “joy.” This activity could also be turned into a spelling activity, where the teacher dictates words containing oi/oy and students try to spell them using oi/oy, discussing which pattern is correct and why.

Sample Activity 2:


Moving From Sentence Anagrams to Sentence Construction:

Write each word in a sentence on a separate card and give them to students in mixed-up order. Ask students to find the words that answer specific questions as they create a meaningful sentence. Capitalize the first word in the sentence and make sure there is a card for punctuation.


Ex: (Type or write words in large font on separate cards)

Dogs woods the seven ran into The .


●        Who is doing something? (dogs)

●        How many? (seven)

●        What did they do? (ran)

●        Where did they go? (into the woods)


Once students have organized a sentence and answered the who, what, where and how questions, ask them to create their own sentence that includes a different who, what, where and how.  After writing their sentence, students can work in pairs to answer the who/what/where/how questions for each other’s sentences.

Sample Activity 3:


Sentence combining. This can be done in a variety of ways to stress use of different conjunctions such as so, and, or, and but. Introduce the concept of independent/dependent clauses and how you link complex sentences (independent clause/dependent clause, linked using comma) and compound sentences (independent clause/independent clause, linked using conjunction/comma or semicolon). Give students two sentences and have them combine them using an appropriate conjunction.


Ex: I love pizza. I enjoy pasta.

●        Combine → I love pizza, and I also enjoy pasta.

Ex: I wanted to go to bed early. My baby brother kept me awake.

●       Combine → I wanted to go to bed early, but my baby brother kept me awake.






  1. Creating Text


Once students know the writing basics, they must learn to generate text effectively. This involves the teacher modeling a writing strategy, giving students a chance to practice it, and asking students to reflect on their writing.  Since you may have already introduced writing basic sentences and sentence structure under basic writing skills, the paragraph level is a solid place to start with regards to generating text.  Students can learn a great deal about creating text by reading good writing and identifying the core components.  For that reason, having students map or highlight/code an existing paragraph (written by an adult or a peer model) is a good starting point. Strategies for giving structure or organizing writing (such as graphic organizers and sentence stems) can help students put their thoughts into words in an organized manner.  Other ways students learn about generating text include:

●       Having a teacher or peer provide feedback

●       A rubric outlining all the required components for a writing assignment

●        An exemplar writing assignment for students to read/review prior to starting their assignment

Sample Activity 1:


Coding a Paragraph: Provide your students with an exemplar writing sample from an adult or peer. Teach students a key for how they will code the paragraph when they read. For instance, if your target is teaching students the format for a basic paragraph, you could ask the students to highlight the topic sentence in green, supporting details in yellow, and the concluding sentence in red.  If your goal is to get students to evaluate how another student summarizes and analyzes something they read, you could have your students highlight plot summary in green, supporting details or examples in orange, and deeper thinking in blue.

Sample Activity 2:


Using Sentence Starters: Sentence starters can be a powerful way to get students writing immediately, as it takes some of the initial executive functioning out of the writing process. Sentence starters can be placed at the beginning of a writing assignment, placed on a chart in the writing center, etc.  As usual, sentence starters work best if the teacher walks students through how to use them by thinking aloud (Ex: “This sentence starter says: ‘I like how the author uses _______ to show ____________.’  My sentence starter shows that it wants me to think of something the author uses like wording, characters, details, events, symbols, or imagery to show something. I remember the author used a lot of descriptive words to show what a place or character looks like. Let’s use my sentence starter to fill in the blanks.  The author uses descriptive words to show what places and characters look like”).  Here are some different sentence starters you can use:

●       When I first started reading I thought ___, but now I think ___.

●       I think the big message, or theme, of the story is___.

●       I think this author wants the reader to think about ___ because of ___.

●       In this chapter, the author made important points about ___, ___, and___.

●       First the author stated ___.  Next the author said___.  Finally, the author said ___.  I think the author’s main point in writing this paragraph was ___.

●       This relates to___.

●       This reminds me of ___.

●       The basic meaning is ___, the key information is___.

●       The character I identify with most is ___, because of ___.

●       This relates to my life because___.

●       I don’t like ___, because of ___.

●       I really got into the story when ___.

●       The problem is___ and the solution is ___.

●       The cause is ___ and the effect is ___.

Sample Activity 3:


Use a Paragraph Graphic Organizer as a Scaffold: When students first start writing paragraphs, they will benefit from learning to organize their paragraph using a graphic organizer.  You can use a basic paragraph outline or a format friendlier for younger students such as the hamburger graphic organizer.  For the hamburger organizer, students fill in:

The introduction (top bun)

The internal or supporting information (the filling)

The conclusion (bottom bun)

Sample Activity 4:


Writing a Review with a Rubric: Encourage students to write a review of a place they visited using a rubric to guide their thinkingThe place could be a location they visited on vacation, a relative’s house, an amusement park, a national park, a sporting event, etc.  The teacher will introduce this review rubric and walk students through each item using an example.  Students then work with a partner to discuss/plan out what they will write about and how they will address each item in the rubric. Finally, students write their own review.  When students are done, they meet with a peer and the peer fills out the rubric to provide them with feedback.

  1. Planning and Editing


Good writers understand the importance of the writing process as they move through brainstorming, organizing/ outlining, creating a rough draft, revising, proofreading, and publishing.  Incorporating these processes requires executive functioning skills, modeling, practice, and independent work. View each step in the process as a skill that must be taught. For example, students may have heard the term brainstorming, but have they seen a skilled adult model brainstorming about a topic?  Have students practiced brainstorming on their own? Have they compared their brainstorming on a topic with that of a peer?


Sample Activity 1:


Model, Practice, Reflect on Brainstorming: Start brainstorming on simple, broad topics (i.e., basketball, the election, bullying) and progress to brainstorming on specific questions (i.e., Does the narrator of A Telltale Heart present a compelling case for Edgar Allen Poe’s genius planning. or a compelling case for his madness? Why?).  The teacher begins by modeling their own brainstorming. If a teacher chooses a broad topic like “the election,” they will talk students through their brainstorming on the board (Ex: “When I brainstorm I write down any relevant idea down that pops into my head.  I want to have as many ideas to look through as possible.  Hmm, I am thinking of the most recent election and topics that came up.  Mail-in voting was important, and ballot drop off boxes due to Coronavirus.  Voter turnout was something I heard a lot of people focusing on.  There were arguments about voter protections, voting conditions like long lines, and voter fraud.  Let me see what else…all elections in the United States have to do with the popular vote. The Electoral College, the president, senators, representatives, governors, mayors, and attorney generals are all important.  Term limits play a role in elections, and the majority is important in deciding who has the most power to pass laws.  Now that I have all these ideas down, I have to narrow my ideas by picking one specific topic to write about.  Hmm, I think I’ll just focus on voter turnout and voting conditions.  Which terms or topics from my list are most relevant to that?”).  Next, the teacher would invite the class to brainstorm a topic on the board together, providing students feedback or prompting as they go (alternatively, the teacher could have students brainstorm in pairs as the teacher circulates to check-in, ask questions, and prompt thinking).  Finally, the teacher asks students to brainstorm a topic independently, encouraging the students to pick a topic that is meaningful to them.  When students finish brainstorming, encourage students to meet with a peer to share their topic and brainstorming, reflecting on and/or adding to each other’s lists.

Sample Activity 2:


Model, Practice, Reflect on Organizing: Teachers should model multiple different ways to turn brainstorming into a formal outline for writing.  The teacher would start the process by explaining the purpose of different forms of writing (introducing academic vocabulary such as opinion, predict, explain, inform, writer’s purpose).  The teacher could take a previously brainstormed topic, such as the election brainstorming above, and walk students through taking the brainstorming to a writing format.  The teacher may start with an explanation (Ex: “Before when I brainstormed election topics, I said I wanted to focus on voter turnout and voting conditions.  Based on choosing that topic, I would decide on my purpose for writing.  Do I want to state my opinion on voter turnout and voting conditions to the reader? Do I want to explain issues with voter turnout and voting conditions? Do I want to make a prediction about voting conditions and voter turnout? Hmm, I think I want to state my opinion.  From there, I must organize my main ideas and brainstorm them a bit further.  I could use a format like Cornell Notes to help me organize.”  The teacher can share Blank Cornell Notes or show students an already Completed Cornell Notes to illustrate organization of thoughts. Teachers may share other methods of organizing brainstorming and outlining for writing such as basic paragraph outline, organizing concepts with sticky notes or index cards, or five paragraph essay organizer.  Once the teacher models using one of these processes, they will guide students to repeat the process together, then independently, then meet with a partner to review and get feedback.

Sample Activity 3:


Model, Practice, and Reflect on Rough Draft: Teachers should walk students through turning a graphic organizer into a draft.  The teacher would show step-by-step how they used their graphic organizer to start drafting. Another useful tool to provide is a transitional word handout or anchor chart , modeling for students how transitional words can be used to help organize paragraphs.  Next, the teacher could move to drafting an essay as a class using a graphic organizer, and eventually to the phase of students drafting an essay together using a graphic organizer.  Finally, students can be encouraged to draft independently, followed by reflecting with a partner to discuss their drafts and reflect.

Sample Activity 4:


Model, Practice, Reflect on Revising or Editing: Again, this process starts with a teacher model.  Teachers would share either:  A) A sample student essay in rough draft format or B) A teacher essay in rough draft format.  The General Writing Checklist, One Paragraph Checklist or Five Paragraph Checklist could help show students how to revise and edit.  The teacher should walk students through each type of revision using the checklist.  A writing rubric can also show students how to assess their draft for revisions.  Once the teacher has modeled, students can meet in pairs to read a peer’s rough draft and complete the checklist or rubric.  Students can reflect with their peer, complete a final draft using the feedback, and meet one more time with the same peer to share their changes.

  1. Understanding the Purposes for and Types of Writing


In addition to basic skills, text creation, and awareness of the writing process, it is also essential for students to understand the different purposes for writing. Students must write for an audience, write descriptively, write with voice,  comprehend  different text structures, and be familiar with the aspects of different genres of writing. Further, they need modeling, practice and reflection with these concepts to further reinforce them.


Sample Activity 1:


Model, Practice and Reflect on the Different Purposes for Writing: Many students may confuse a writing topic with a purpose for writing.  A student must be taught that good writers write for a purpose (Ex: A topic could be “chipmunks”, a purpose for writing could be “to inform my audience about habitats of chipmunks” or to “to persuade my audience chipmunks are the cutest animal”).  The different purposes for writing can be condensed into categories such as: to explain, to teach, to entertain, to persuade, to tell how to, or to find something out.  The teacher in the Butterfly Squisher Video takes the time to explain the purposes of writing and uses a concrete example for how/why students might write to a student they see squishing a butterfly at recess.  After walking students through hands-on examples and/or practicing writing for a specific purpose, teachers can self-create an anchor chart on the purposes of writing (sample anchor charts ideas are here).  Teachers can then regularly have students practice selecting their purpose for writing, using the anchor chart as a reference.  When students finish writing, encourage them to exchange writing samples with a partner.  Model how students can share their purpose for writing, have their partner read their writing sample, and have their partner provide feedback on whether they accomplished their purpose.

Sample Activity 2:


Show and Tell Sentences: Reading comprehension and writing are integrally linked! To understand what good writing looks like, students must be exposed to high quality literature.  The teacher in this Writers Workshop Video exposes her students to high quality poetry using descriptive language, and the teacher explicitly points out the language the poet uses.  Exposing students to a mentor text that uses descriptive language/imagery is a great starting point to launch this Show and Tell Sentences Activity.  After completing this activity, teachers can shift to having students write descriptive paragraphs, utilizing a tool like a five senses graphic organizer outlined in this video, or something like a Picture Prompts activity to get students started.

Sample Activity 3:


Situation, Audience, and Voice:  Once students understand the purposes for writing, teachers can explain situations where a writer might write, the audience they are writing to, and the voice they might use to write with.  You can model this process with a sample scenario where you choose a situation you will write about, identify a specific person or audience you will write to, and select a specific voice in which to write (Ex- Situation: I bought a new car that immediately broke down. Audience: The car dealer I bought my car from. Voice: Angry teacher that wants their car fixed or their money back). Show students how you think through addressing your audience, what to say that will help your voice come through, etc. Write a paragraph and encourage them to discuss whether you effectively described your situation, addressed your audience, and used your voice. You can move to asking students to do this with a Guided Situation, Audience, Voice Writing Prompt that they complete with a partner.  After the students complete their writing, have them share their writing sample with the class, encouraging them to explain how they described the situation, addressed a specific audience, and used their voice.

Sample Activity 4:


Text Structures: Many texts have hierarchical structures that can be grouped into one or more of five categories: comparison, cause and effect, problem and solution, sequence, and description. These text structures are used to organize texts, regardless of whether they are narrative texts, content related texts, etc.  If students learn these basic text structures, they will be able to more effectively comprehend and write about what they read in any genre or content area.  Additionally, since text structures are represented in the Common Core Standards, many state-wide assessments have questions focused on text structures. If students are comfortable with text structures, they may also perform better on the reading comprehension/writing portion of tests such as PARCC.  Teachers must thoroughly introduce each text structure, providing child-friendly definitions and examples (sample Text Structure Definitions and Examples).  Additionally, teachers should use a variety of texts to model identifying text structures in context, prior to assigning students to discuss or write about text structures in small groups or individually.  Teachers can regularly use the Text Structures Graphic Organizer to plan lessons and give guidance to students as they learn to apply text structures to different types of texts. Additionally, teachers could utilize individual graphic organizers geared towards practicing specific text structures, such as the Venn Diagram Graphic Organizer to practice the compare/contrast text structure.

Sample Activity 5:


Genre Study with Model, Practice, Reflection Cycles: The best way for students to learn about different genres is to do genre studies. If you implement a writers workshop, you likely already do genre studies. Genre studies generally happen over a period of two to three weeks.  A teacher will introduce one specific genre (fantasy, fiction, historical fiction, realistic fiction, mystery, science fiction, non-fiction, biography, poetry, etc.). by probing a students’ background knowledge. (Ex: “Have you ever heard of science fiction? Great, tell me what you know…”).  Once students have shared their background knowledge, the teacher can share common characteristics of that particular genre (Ex: “Science fiction texts often tell about science, technology, or inventions of the future.  Science fiction sometimes takes place in the future, on a different planet, or in a new world.  Science fiction sometimes includes true or partially true scientific facts or theories.”).  The teacher can then move to exploring the genre with read aloud texts. As the teacher reads aloud, students will talk through the text and point out where specific characteristics of the genre come through.  The teacher could also assign partner reading or independent reading, providing students with something like a graphic organizer, think aloud questions, or a writing prompt to complete during/after their reading.  Next, teachers can assign a writing task related to the genre (Ex: students could be asked to write their own short science fiction story during writers workshop OR students may be asked to write a paragraph analyzing how a science fiction story they read has elements common to the science fiction genre).  Ideas on types of genres and teaching activities can be located here.


Important terms to know:
Word Definition
Word Study A systematic approach to spelling that moves away from random memorization and instead targets patterns. Through focus on letter-sound correspondence, prefixes/suffixes, or other patterns in words, teachers help students gain word consciousness.  Word study can be taught in conjunction with another practice such as guided reading (i.e., teach letter-sound patterns within the context of guided reading groups as a before or after reading activity), or in isolation (basing lessons on the developmental spelling level of the classroom).
Mechanics The rules of written language (including punctuation, capitalization, and spelling)
Phonology The way sounds are put together to form words and syllables
Syntax The arrangement of words and phrases to create well formed sentences in a language (word order, different sentence types such as simple/compound/complex)
Morphology The study of words and word structure (parts, formation, prefix/suffix meaning)
Semantics Study of language (spoken or written) focused on the different meanings and connotations of words
Grammar The structure of language, including the study of words and the way words are used to make sentences (can include phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics)
Phrase A small group of words that are related and grouped together (Ex: “to improve standards”)
Clause A group of words that contains a subject (who/what) and predicate (what the who or what is doing).  An independent clause always contains both a subject and predicate (Ex: “The boy joyously ate ice cream.”).  A dependent clause is missing a subject or predicate (Ex: “After the game”).
Independent Clause A group of words that contains a subject and predicate, is a complete thought, and makes sense if it is read by itself (i.e., it does not sound like something is missing or left out).  Ex: “I was called for jury duty this week.”
Dependent Clause A group of words that is missing a subject or predicate, is not a complete thought, and does not make sense if it is read by itself (i.e., it will sound like something is missing or left out).  Ex: “Despite the long wait in line”
Simple Sentence A simple sentence includes just one complete thought or independent clause that can stand alone by itself.  Ex: “The basketball game was extremely exciting.”
Complex Sentence A complex sentence contains two clauses, one independent clause and one dependent clause. Generally a complex sentence is linked with only a comma.  Ex: “Despite the long wait in line, I was happy to cast my vote at the polling station.” (The dependent clause is “Despite the long wait in line” because it is not a complete thought. “I was happy to cast my vote at the polling station” is the independent clause because it is a complete thought all by itself.  The two clauses are linked by the comma to form a complex sentence).
Compound Sentence A compound sentence contains two independent clauses (i.e., they are both complete thoughts and make sense alone).  Two independent clauses can be linked with a comma ( , ) and a conjunction (and, but, so, or). Ex: “The crows scattered when the car drove up, but they quickly returned to feast on the dead animal.”  They can also can be linked with just a semicolon ( ; ).  Ex #2: “The game lasted a full four hours; we stayed the entire game because it was an exciting match.”
Shared Writing Teachers and students collaborate in creating a piece of writing.  The teacher acts as a model and scribe, thinking out loud as they model good writing, writing down what students articulate, prompting students to think more deeply, questioning and supporting students as they create text. Shared writing has modeling, practice and reflection built into it.