New Practice Guide: Teaching Elementary School Students to be Effective Writers

ThinkStockTeaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers, a new What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) practice guide, provides four recommendations that teachers and other educators can use to improve students’ writing. After examining the relevant research evidence, a panel of experts in writing, language arts, and education research developed the practice guide that highlights the following recommendations. 

The Recommendations

  • Provide daily time for students to write. Students need dedicated instructional time—a minimum of one hour a day—to learn and practice the skills and strategies necessary to become effective writers. During that hour, teachers can observe the way students write, identify difficulties, and assist them with learning and applying the writing process.
  • Teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes. Writing well 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. Students should be introduced to a variety of strategies for carrying out the writing process and learn how to write for different purposes.
  • Teach students to become fluent with handwriting, spelling, sentence construction, typing, and word processing. When these basic writing skills become relatively effortless for students, they can focus less on the mechanics of writing and more on developing and communicating their ideas.
  • Create an engaged community of writers. Teachers should create a supportive environment in their classroom so that students are motivated to write well. Teachers should participate in the writing community and provide opportunities for students to collaborate with others, make decisions about what to write and how to write about it, and receive constructive feedback.

Each recommendation includes implementation steps and solutions for common roadblocks. The guide also uses a set of ratings — strong, moderate, or minimal — to indicate the strength of research evidence supporting each recommendation. Evidence ratings reflect the degree to which each recommendation is supported by high-quality experimental and quasi-experimental design studies that meet WWC standards. Information about these standards and other practice guides are available at A pdf of Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers can be downloaded here.

About the Panelists: Recommendations in the practice guide were developed by a panel of seven practitioners and researchers who have expertise in writing instruction:  Alisha A. Bollinger, M.Ed., is a teacher of fourth grade at Norris Elementary School in Firth, Nebraska; Carol Booth Olson, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Education at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and director of the UCI site of the National Writing Project; Catherine D’Aoust is the coordinator of English language arts, K–12, in the Saddleback Valley Unified School District in Mission Viejo, California, and co-director of the University of California, Irvine (UCI) site of the National Writing Project; Steve Graham, Ph.D., is the Warner Professor of Special Education at Arizona State University; Charles MacArthur, Ph.D., is a professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware; Deborah McCutchen, Ph.D., is a professor of education at the University of Washington; and Natalie Olinghouse, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of educational psychology and a research scientist in the Center for Behavioral Education and Research at the University of Connecticut.

About the What Works Clearinghouse: A project of the U.S. Department of Education, the WWC is a central and trusted source of scientific evidence for what works in education. The WWC develops and implements standards for reviewing education research, assesses the rigor of research evidence on the effectiveness of interventions (programs, products, practices, and policies), and produces user-friendly practice guides for educators. The WWC is administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences through a contract with Mathematica Policy Research.