What is Good Writing?
- Grades: 9–12
- Unit Plan:
- Assess samples of writing for each trait and discuss rationale for scoring.
- Understand that the traits of writing offer a common language for revision.
- Overhead transparencies of writing samples for each trait - one strong example and one weak sample, plus a few extra samples. The 6 + 1 Traits of Writing contains excellent samples, as do many of the other Writing Trait books.
- Overhead markers (two colors if available).
- Copies of a Student Scoring Grid (PDF) (one for each student).
Set Up and Prepare
- Select and copy transparencies.
- Copy Student Scoring Grid (PDF).
Some Background on the Traits:
In case you are unfamiliar with the traits of writing, here is a quick review of them:
Ideas: the meaning and development of the message
Organization: the internal structure of the piece
Voice: the way the writer brings the topic to life
Word Choice: the specific vocabulary the writer uses to convey meaning
Sentence Fluency: the way the words and phrases flow throughout the text
Conventions: the mechanical correctness of the piece
Presentation: the overall appearance of the work
A detailed description of each trait, guidelines for assessing student writing according to the traits, and ideas for teaching writing according to the traits can be found in The 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide by Ruth Culham (Scholastic, 2003). You'll also find a history of the traits, their development over the years at Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland, Oregon, and research showing the effectiveness of the traits as a writing assessment and instruction tool.
Step 1: Explain the concept of assessing and improving writing by studying what qualities make for quality writing. List each trait on board or overhead and gather student responses about what would be a part of each trait (Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Conventions, and Presentation). See any of the Writing Trait books for a clear definition of each trait.
Step 2: Share rubric of the six traits on overhead and discuss how a paper could score low on some traits and high on others.
Step 3: Read overhead sample on Ideas and discuss what would make this paper a high score for the trait of Ideas only. Remind students to isolate their analysis to the rubric points for this trait and not be swayed by convention errors or other weak points. I use two colors of overhead markers: one color to underline or mark where students point out examples of the trait and the other color if they mention examples of other traits evident in this sample.
Step 4: Repeat with weak sample on the trait of Ideas. Verbalize what would make this sample score higher in the trait of Ideas. Remember that the point of scoring isn't to argue over the "correct" score. The purpose is to make the piece of writing better and to show students that revising is a natural part of the writing process - and is not the same as editing. The first five traits are all revision traits; only Conventions would be a part of editing.
Step 1: Introduce each of the other traits this way. After all have been introduced, put another sample on the overhead and read aloud. Ask students to score for one trait of your choice, then discuss range of scores and rationale until students come close to consensus. Use the Student Scoring Grid (PDF) to help students focus on assessing one trait at a time.
Supporting All Learners
Each sample is read aloud and opportunities for discussion with a partner or group about the paper can benefit all learners. The 6 + 1 Trait model emphasizes that it is the one piece of writing in front of us that is being scored, not the writer, and that pieces can score low in one trait and high in another.
RAFTS (assignments designed with Role, Audience, Format, Topic, and Strong Verb) are the suggested way to practice the traits, whether in a literature-based lesson or in the content area. There are many more extension ideas in the Scholastic Writing
Traits books. See the booklist for titles.
Let parents know how you are approaching writing in your classroom. Once they know it is not all about conventions, you will find more support as you work on each trait. Ask parents to be on the lookout for writing samples: menus, real estate listings, job memos, technical manuals, instructions, etc. that you can use in showing the traits used outside of school writing.
Students participate in evaluating and improving writing samples with the class or a partner.
As you reflect on the introduction of the traits and teaching students to assess using the traits, think of the range of student scores on the practice papers. If students were able to agree on a score point or fall within a difference of one, your students get the idea.
- Even if students had a wider gap in their scores, were they able to discuss why they rated the piece at a particular score?
- Were they comfortable with the language of the traits and the rubric?
- Are you comfortable assessing student writing using the traits?
It may take some practice to evaluate papers on the traits, rather than an overall grade that may weight conventions heavily. However, I have learned that student writing improves so much with this format that it is worth the adjustment.
The rubrics, checklists, and all the forms you could ever want can be found in the Scholastic book 40 Reproducible Forms for the Writing Traits Classroom. This book makes it easy for teachers of any grade to help students understand and use the traits to improve their writing.