Unit 3: Developing Literacy Skills: Writing

3.1. Pre-requisites for writing and emergent writing skills

3.2. Assessment of written language at different levels

3.3. Components and types of writing

3.4. Steps and Strategies in Developing Writing

3.5. Challenges and Remedial Strategies











3.1. Pre-requisites for writing and emergent writing skills


Pre-writing skills are the fundamental skills children need to develop before they are able to write. These skills contribute to the child’s ability to hold and use a pencil, and the ability to draw, write, copy, and colour. A major component of pre-writing skills are the pre-writing shapes. These are the pencil strokes that most letters, numbers and early drawings are comprised of. They are typically mastered in sequential order, and to an age specific level. These strokes include the following strokes: |, —, O, +, /, square, \, X, and Δ.

Physical / Motor Writing Skills

·      hold and move pencil

·      hold and move pencil, making mark on paper

·      hold and move pencil, making mark on paper without ripping the paper or breaking the pencil

·      hold writing utensil with correct pincer grasp

·      use a variety of writing and art tools to randomly draw and scribble

·      colour, using random lines

·      fill a large undefined space with colour

·      fill a medium undefined space with colour

·      fill a small undefined space with colour

·      color within a defined space

·      use a variety of writing and art tools to create a picture- collage making

·      sit with his/her body in a suitable and comfortable position for writing comfortably

·      position and hold paper so that he or she can trace, copy and draw horizontal lines vertical lines, a cross

·      trace a circle with both ends of the circle closed

·      copy a circle with both ends of the circle closed

·      draw a circle with both ends of the circle closed

·      trace a square with four straight lines connecting at corners

·      copy a square with four straight lines connecting at corners

·      draw a square with four straight lines connecting at corners

·      trace a triangle with three straight lines connecting at corners

·      copy a triangle with three straight lines connecting at corners

·      draw a triangle with three straight lines connecting at corners

·      make scribble-like letters or letter-like forms for writing

·      trace own first name in correct sequential order

·      copy own first name in correct sequential order

·      print own first name in correct sequential order

·      trace own last name in correct sequential order

·      copy own last name in correct sequential order

·      print own last name in correct sequential order

·      print own first and last name

·      trace letters which incorporate horizontal and vertical lines

·      copy letters which incorporate horizontal and vertical lines

·      print letters which incorporate horizontal and vertical lines

·      trace letters which incorporate straight lines and curves

·      copy letters which incorporate straight lines and curves

·      print letters which incorporate straight lines and curves

·      trace letters made of straight lines and diagonals

·      copy letters made of straight lines and diagonals

·      print letters made of straight lines and diagonals

·      trace recognizable upper-case letters

·      copy recognizable upper-case letters

·      print recognizable upper-case letters

·      trace recognizable lower-case letters

·      copy recognizable lower-case letters

·      print recognizable lower-case letters

·      trace the numerals 0-9

·      copy the numerals 0-9

·      print the numerals 0-9

·      print each letter of the alphabet

Pre-writing skills are essential for the child to be able to develop the ability to hold and move a pencil fluently and effectively and therefore produce legible writing. When these skills are underdeveloped it can lead to frustration and resistance due to the child not being able to produce legible writing or to ‘keep up’ in class due to fatigue. This can then result in poor self esteem and academic performance.

Building blocks necessary to develop writing readiness (pre-writing)

·       Hand and finger strength: An ability to exert force against resistance using the hands and fingers that allows the necessary muscle power for controlled movement of the pencil.

·       Crossing the mid-line: The ability to cross the imaginary line running from a person’s nose to pelvis that divides the body into left and right sides.

·       Pencil grasp: The efficiency of how the pencil is held, allowing age appropriate pencil movement generation.

·       Hand eye coordination: The ability to process information received from the eyes to control, guide and direct the hands in the performance of a task such as handwriting.

·       Bilateral integration: Using two hands together with one hand leading (e.g. holding and moving the pencil with the dominant hand while the other hand helps by holding the writing paper).

·       Upper body strength: The strength and stability provided by the shoulder to allow controlled hand movement for good pencil control.

·       Object manipulation: The ability to skilfully manipulate tools (including holding and moving pencils and scissors) and controlled use of everyday tools (such as a toothbrush, hairbrush, cutlery).

·       Visual perception: The brain’s ability to interpret and make sense of visual images seen by the eyes, such as letters and numbers.

·       Hand dominance: The consistent use of one (usually the same) hand for task performance, which allows refined skills to develop.

·       Hand division: Using just the thumb, index and middle finger for manipulation, leaving the fourth and little finger tucked into the palm stabilizing the other fingers but not participating.


Writing is a challenging task for all students, as expressing thoughts in words requires the accurate spelling of words, the correct use of syntax, semantic and pragmatic skills and the accurate use of punctuation. Writing expression, which requires the combined use of various skills, is an even more challenging and complex task for hearing-impaired students, who experience a delay in the development of their language skills (Schirmer, 2000). In various studies, hearing-impaired students were found to perform poorly in writing skills (Geers, 2003; Schirmer & Mcgouhg, 2005) and their writing scores were found to be lower than their peers with normal hearing abilities (Antia et al., 2005; Spencer, Baker & Tomblin, 2003). Two reasons for this could be that hearing-impaired children are not able to acquire language experiences, as rich as that of their peers with normal hearing abilities, and that teaching practices on reading and writing are insufficient.


3.2. Assessment of written language at different levels


Assessment is the gathering of information about student learning. It can be used for formative purposes−−to adjust instruction−−or summative purposes: to render a judgment about the quality of student work. It is a key instructional activity, and teachers engage in it every day in a variety of informal and formal ways.

Assessment of student writing is a process. Assessment of student writing and performance in the class should occur at many different stages throughout the course and could come in many different forms. At various points in the assessment process, teachers usually take on different roles such as motivator, collaborator, critic, evaluator, etc., and give different types of response.

Student writing can be assessed on five product factors: fluency, content, conventions, syntax, and vocabulary. Writing samples also should be assessed across a variety of purposes for writing to give a complete picture of a student's writing performance across different text structures and genres. These simple classroom help in identifying strengths and weaknesses, planning instruction, evaluating instructional activities, giving feedback, monitoring performance, and reporting progress.

To understand how to assess writing skills, we have to understand the different types of writing performance:


at this stage, form is the primary concern to assess learner’s skills in the fundamental and basic tasks of writing letterswordspunctuation, and very brief sentences.

This category also includes the ability to spell correctly and to perceive phoneme-grapheme correspondences in the English spelling system.


This refers to producing appropriate vocabulary within a context, collocations and idioms, and correct grammatical features up to the length of a sentence.


Assessment tasks here require learners to perform at a limited discourse level, connecting sentences into a paragraph and creating a logically connected sequence of two or three paragraphs. Form-focused attention is mostly at the discourse level, with a strong emphasis on context and meaning.


Extensive writing implies successful management of all the processes and strategies of writing for all purposes, up to the length of an essay a term paper, a major research project report, or even a thesis. Writers focus on achieving a purpose, organizing and developing ideas logically, using details to support or illustrate ideas, demonstrating syntactic and lexical variety, and in many cases, engaging in the process of multiple drafts to achieve a final product.

(1)   Paraphrasing: to say something in one’s own words and offer some variety in expression. It’s more often a part of informal and formative assessment than of formal, summative assessment, and therefore student responses should be viewed as opportunities for teachers and students to gain positive washback on the art of paraphrasing.

(2)   Guided question and answer

A lower-end task as a guided question-answer format may be as long as two or three paragraphs and can be scored on either an analytic or a holistic scale. Writing an outline is a variation of the task.

(3)   Paragraph construction tasks

1.     Topic sentence writing (subject + the controlling idea)

Topic development within a paragraph

·       the clarity of expression of ideas

·       the logic of the sequence and connections

·       the cohesiveness or unity of the paragraph

·       the overall effectiveness of impact of the paragraph as a whole

Development of main and supporting ideas across paragraphs

·       addressing the topic, main idea, or principal purpose

·       organizing and developing supporting ideas

·        using appropriate details to undergird supporting ideas

·       showing facility and fluency in the use of language

·        demonstrating syntactic variety


Written language disorders, as with spoken language disorders, can involve any or a combination of the five language domains (i.e., phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) as well as the spelling system of a language, or orthography. Problems can occur in the awareness, comprehension, and production of language at the phonemic, syllable, word, sentence, and discourse levels, as indicated below:

Sound-, Syllable-, and Word-Level Difficulties

Sentence- and Discourse-Level Difficulties

Commonly Used Tests of Written Expression

Dr. Farrall explains "scores on tests do not tell the whole story. When evaluating writing skill, it is important to look at the skills tested."

Dr. Farrall describes tests that measure different skills in written expression. 

·      Woodcook-Johnson III Tests of Achievement (WJ-III)



3.3. Components and types of writing


Characteristics of Written Language

There are quite a number of salient and relevant differences between spoken and written language. Students already literate in their native lan­guages will of course be familiar with the broad, basic characteristics of writ­ten language; however, some characteristics of English writing, especially cer­tain rhetorical conventions, may be so different from their native language


Classifying writing activities


Writing as a means or as an end


1. As a means

Writing is widely used within foreign language lessons as a convenient means for engaging with aspects of language other than the writing itself.

For example: learners note down new vocabulary; copy out grammar rules; write out answers to reading or listening comprehension questions; do written tests. In these examples, writing is simply used either as a means of getting the students to attend to and practise a particular language point, or - even more frequently -as a convenient method of testing it: providing information as to how well something has been learned in a form which the teacher can then check at his or her leisure.


2. As an end

Other activities take as their main objective the writing itself.

At the 'micro' level they practise specific written forms at the level of word or sentence (handwriting or typing, spelling, punctuation)-at the 'macro' level the emphasis, is on content and organization: tasks invite learners to express themselves using their own words, state a purpose for writing, and often specify an audience. Examples of such activities would be: narrating a story, writing a letter.


3. As both means and end

A third kind of activity combines purposeful and original writing with the learning or practice of some other skill or content. For example, a written response to the reading of a controversial newspaper article (combines writing with reading); the writing of anecdotes to illustrate the meaning of idioms (combines writing with vocabulary practice).

Writing is both a social and a cognitive process. In the world outside the classroom, people write to communicate with an audience, drawing on their knowledge of content and writing, strategies for planning and revising, and basic writing skills. Development of writing skills in children with disabilities can be seen in the following components:

·          the social context for writing

·          the writer’s knowledge

·          planning processes

·          text production

·          evaluation and revision

·          self-regulation

The components of effective writing instruction help parents assess the quality of instruction in their child’s classroom. The goals of good writing instruction for students with disabilities are the same as those for all students.  All students need to develop their knowledge about the purposes and forms of writing, basic writing skills, strategies for planning and evaluating their work, and motivation. However, struggling writers need more support and more intensive, explicit instruction in skills and strategies.

A high-quality writing program will provide a balance between opportunities for children to engage in writing that is meaningful to them, and to receive explicit instruction in the skills and strategies they need to become proficient writers. Development of the self-regulation strategies and motivation needed for independent writing are also important.



Types of classroom writing performance


Classroom writing performance is limited. Consider the following five major categories of classroom writing performance:


1.    Imitative writing, writing down, copying

At the beginning level of learning to write, students will simply “write down” English letters, words, and possibly sentences in order to learn the conventions of the orthographic code. Some forms of dictation fall into this category.


2.    Intensive writing, controlled writing

Writing is sometimes used as a production mode for learning, reinforc­ing, or testing grammatical concepts. This intensive writing typically appears in controlled, written grammar exercises. This type of writing would not allow much, if any, creativity on the part of the writer.

A common form of controlled writing is to present a paragraph to stu­dents in which they have to alter a given structure throughout. So, for exam­ple, they may be asked to change all present tense verbs to past; in such a case, students may need to alter other time references in the paragraph.

Guided writing loosens the teacher's control but still offers a series of stimulators. For example, the teacher might get students to tell a story just viewed on a video tape by asking them a series of questions: Where does the story take place? Describe the principal character. What does he say to the woman in the car?...


3. Self-writing

A significant proportion of classroom writing may be devoted to self-writing, or writing with only the self in mind as an audience. The most salient instance of this category in classrooms is note taking, where students take notes during a lecture for the purpose of later recall. Diary or journal writing also falls into this category. However, in recent years more and more dialogue journal writing takes place, where students write thoughts, feelings, and reactions in a journal and an instructor reads and responds, in which case the journal, while ostensibly written for oneself, has two audiences.

4. Display writing

Writing within the school curricular con­text is a way of life. For all language students, short answer exercises, essay examinations, and even research reports will involve an element of display. For academically bound ESL students, one of the academic skills that they need to master is a whole array of display writing techniques.


5. Real writing

While virtually every classroom writing task will have an element of dis­play writing in it, nevertheless some classroom writing aims at the genuine communication of messages to an audience in need of those messages. The two categories of real and display writing are actually two ends of a continu­um, and in between the two extremes lie some practical instances of a combi­nation of display writing and real. Three subcategories illustrate how reality can be injected:

(a) Academic. The Language Experience Approach gives groups of stu­dents opportunities to convey genuine information to each other. Content-based instruction encourages the exchange of useful information, and some of this learning uses the written word. Group problem-solving tasks, especially those that relate to current issues and other personally relevant topics, may have a writing component in which information is genuinely sought and con­veyed. Peer-editing work adds to what would otherwise be an audience of one (the instructor) and provides real writing opportunity.

(b) Vocational/technical. Quite a variety of real writing can take place in classes of students studying English for advancement in their occupation. Real letters can be written; genuine directions for some operation or assembly might be given; and actual forms can be filled out. These possibilities are even greater in what has come to be called "English in the Workplace" where ESL is offered within companies and corporations.

(c) Personal. In virtually any ESL class, diaries, letters, post cards, notes, personal messages, and other informal writing can take place, especially within the context of an interactive classroom. While certain tasks may be somewhat contrived, nevertheless the genuine exchange of information can happen.


3.4. Steps and Strategies in Developing Writing


Pre-writing skills are the lines and strokes kids need to master and know BEFORE learning how to print the alphabet. Each of these lines is developed in a sequence, based on how old the child is.

This developmental sequence is:


Pre-writing expectation

1 -2 years

·       Randomly scribbles

·       Spontaneously scribbles in vertical/horizontal and/or circular direction

·       Imitates a horizontal/vertical/circular direction

2 – 3 years

·       Imitates a horizontal line

·       Imitates a vertical line

·       Imitates a circle

3 – 4 years

§  Copies a horizontal line

§  Copies a vertical line

§  Copies a circle

§  Imitates  +

§  Imitates  / and \

§  Imitates a square

4 -5 years

·       Copies a +

·       Traces a line

·       Copies a square

·       Copies a / and \

·       Imitates  X

·       Imitates  Δ

·       Grasps pencil in writing position

5 -6 years

·       Copies  X

·       Copies  Δ

·       Recognises between a big and small line or curve


Working on pre-writing skills (lines and strokes) in hands-on ways will naturally develop your child’s fine motor skills and provide them with the well-rounded handwriting skills they need for letter formation, line orientation, spacing, and hand grasp.

It’s important to focus on all the gross motor skills first before expecting fine motor skills to be mastered. Each skill builds on one another and you need all of them for great handwriting skills.

Some benefits of working on pre-writing skills include:

·       Promoting proper hand grasp/pencil grasp on objects used in hands-on activities (such as tongs, paint brushes, grasping objects, etc). Particularly working on the pincer grasp will be helpful for future handwriting skills.

·       Hand strength needed to grasp a pencil

·       Hand manipulation skills needed to pick up and put down a pencil, plus moving a pencil to form letters across the paper.

·       Working on left to right pre-writing lines/shapes and letter formations

·       Finger dexterity and strength needed for handwriting assignments

·       Bilateral coordination in the hands to be able to hold the paper and write at the same time

·       Crossing midline and choosing a dominant hand for handwriting tasks

From Pre-Writing to Formal Writing

Once these patterns are mastered, and gross and fine motor skills are well developed, a child is ready to start forming letters. This follows a fairly predictable pattern:

·       Letters are first introduced on a large scale – such as on big paper or written on a board.

·       When the formation has been practised on a larger scale, the child is ready to begin writing on special paper with multiple lines.

·       Children must learn to start at the correct point and follow the procedure for each letter (e.g. to make a letter ‘b’ start at the top, go down, up and around to the right and close the circle). They also learn to leave spaces between letters.

·       The next phase is putting letters together to form words, which are then separated by spaces.

·       These words then form sentences and simple punctuation can be introduced, such as using capital letters and full stops.

·       Lastly, children are taught to form paragraphs, which leads to story-writing.

When a child is ready, they will no longer need to write on multiple lines but can use single lines. By then, their letters will be well formed and their writing at an appropriate size for the lines they are writing on.

Deafness is a sensory disability which hinders language development and at times it is referred to as a disability of language itself. The limited language casts its effect on reading development because of the missing element of “phonological processing”. The same is held responsible for a poorer writing skill in deaf students. According to Mather, Wendling, and Roberts (2009), poorer phonological awareness hinders a person to guess the order of sounds and poses difficulties in identifying and remembering orthographic forms of words. Researchers and scholars have long been working to find a crucial linkage that could serve as a bridge to neutralize the effects of hearing loss on writing competencies. Andrews, Shaw and Lomas, (2011) have reported that students who are deaf typically find reading and writing challenging. Many of them have found reasons in the cognitive domains, while others have raised elements in the process of writing itself. Berninger (2009) postulated a significant link between memories in general and working memory is particular while during writing that may cause a fault especially for deaf writers. He has referred to problems with spelling, grammatical structures, morphological awareness, organizing information and translating thoughts in a written product.





3.5. Challenges and Remedial Strategies


Improving writing readiness (pre-writing) skills


·       Hand dominance: Determine and reinforce the dominant hand use in precision task performance.

·       Experience: Encourage participation in activities that involve grasping and manipulating small objects such drawing, puzzles, opening containers, threading or other related tasks.

·       Poking and pointing: Practice tasks that use just one or two fingers (not all at once) e.g. poking games.

·       Praise and encouragement when your child engages in fine motor activities, especially if they are persistent when finding an activity difficult.

·       Hand and finger strength (e.g. scrunching, paper, using tweezers, play dough, pegs).

·       Sensory play activities (e.g. rice play, finger painting) to assist the development of tactile awareness.

·       Hand-eye coordination: Practice activities that involve hand-eye coordination (e.g. throwing and catching) and crossing the mid-line (e.g. reaching across the body to pick up items).

·       Upper limb strength: Encourage play activities that develop upper limb strength (e.g. climbing ladders, wheelbarrow walking).

Activities that can help improve writing readiness (pre-writing) skills

·       Threading and lacing with a variety of sized laces.

·       Play-doh (playdough) activities that may involve rolling with hands or a rolling pin, hiding objects such as coins in the play dough or just creative construction.

·       Scissor projects that may involve cutting out geometric shapes to then paste them together to make pictures such as robots, trains or houses.

·       Tongs or teabag squeezers to pick up objects.

·       Drawing or writing on a vertical surface.

·       Every day activities that require finger strength such as opening containers and jars.

·       Pre writing shapes: Practice drawing the pre-writing shapes (l, —, O, +, /, square, \, X, and Δ).

·       Finger games: that practice specific finger movements such as Incy wincy Spider.

·       Craft: Make things using old boxes, egg cartons, wool, paper and sticky or masking tape.

·       Construction: Building with duplo, lego, mobilo or other construction toys.

The writing classroom should provide:

·      a context for regular, meaningful writing

·      instruction in handwriting, spelling, and sentence formation, as needed

·      instruction in strategies for planning, revising, and self-regulation during the writing process

·      attention to development of motivation for writing

·      use of technology to support the writing process

Teach Spelling Skills

Once students learn to copy other words, they can progress to spelling words after hearing them spoken. Try these strategies to boost emerging spelling skills: