All About Writing

One of my favorite parts of teaching is helping children learn to write. There is something magical about the way they tell stories and the care they put into letters to friends and family.  I always keep a collection of each child’s most prized writings to give to parents at the end of the year as a keepsake documenting how far the writing has come.


As children learn to write, they tend to move through a predictable series of stages:


1.  Drawing.  Although this may not seem like a form of writing, children actually use pictures to tell important stories.  They create illustrations of family trips, funny memories, and play dates with friends.  As they explain what is happening in their picture, they are telling you the words they would be writing down if they knew how to do it.  I love writing down a child’s storyline as they dictate it to me so that we can remember the details of their tale.


2.  Labeling.  When a child starts learning the letters in the alphabet, they often begin labeling parts of their pictures.  They will write “M” for “Mom” next to a drawing of their mother or will add “S” for “sun” next to the big yellow circle in their sky.  Labeling is a great way for children to experiment with writing without feeling overwhelmed by the thought of writing an entire story on their own.


3.  Copying.  As children understand that words are groups of letters, they become able to copy words they see around them.  They can copy the words on cereal box labels, book titles, shopping lists… the possibilities are endless. Visit Teach Mama’s blog post on writing around the room here.


 4.  Writing “sentences”.  At first, children write sentences using only the first letter of words.  For instance, their paper might say, “I G T P” for “I am going to the park”.  As if by magic, however, they quickly begin including other letters in their sentences.  The same sentence (above) would soon be written, “I M GN T TH PRK”.  And several months later it would include middle vowel sounds (“I AM GOIN TOO THU PORK”.)


At this point in the process, teachers typically do not correct children’s spelling.  Instead, they encourage them to include more sounds by slowly stretching the word out for the child and asking, “What other sounds do you hear?”  Teachers do, however, start encouraging children to add another sentence of two to their writing.  They ask specific questions including, “What happened next?” or “Who was with you?

 5.  Conventional writing.  After a child is able to include beginning, middle and ending sounds in their writing, they typically start using more traditional spelling.  Although the words may not be written correctly every time, they use more finger spaces between words and write longer sentences.  This is when writing seems to take off and two sentence stories soon stretch into two pages.


Other Resources


Subscribe to Playdough to Plato’s Writing Ideas pinboard and stay up to date on my favorite writing finds.


To see examples of what the development of a child’s writing looks like, visit the Panicked Teacher’s Writing Resource page here.


“Mrs. Lee’s Labeling Lesson” teaches children how to add labels to their pictures by sticking post its on their teacher.  The activity would be easy to adapt to any sized classroom or home.


Let’s Explore shared a crafty way to create a clipboard for your child to use as he writes around the room here.


I love the letter writing station Playful Learning set up.  Creating a designated writing space is a great way to encourage children to practice.

Join the Conversation


What is something new you will do with your child after reading this post? Share in the comments below.


Malia Hollowell

Malia Hollowell

Malia is a National Board Certified elementary teacher turned stay at home mom to three young kids {5, 3 and 1}. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Education {go Stanford Cardinal!} and spent seven years teaching in a classroom before taking time off to raise her little ones.
Malia Hollowell

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