Helping Our Students Become Efficient, Capable, and Competent Writers

As Reading Recovery teachers, we work with students who have a wide range of writing abilities.  Some of our students may be using pictures or symbols to record their messages while other students are able to say words slowly and record some of the sounds they hear.  No matter where our students start, we work to support them in becoming efficient problem-solvers who are flexible enough to use what they know in reading in their writing.

There are some key writing behaviors to teach for in order to help our students become efficient, capable, and competent writers.

Generates a message

Through our conversations with our students, based on what we know will catch their interest, we can support our students with generating their own message.  At first, we may need to assist our students with getting their sentence started until they are able to take the task over for themselves.  Once our students are able to compose simple sentences on their own, we can then teach them how to add on to their sentence by using words like:

  • and
  • but
  • because
  • so

We can also teach our students how to add more to their story by asking questions about who? when? where? why? how?  The books that our students are reading are great resources that can be used to show what you want your students to try out (a new language structure, punctuation mark, etc).  With this type of support, our students will begin creating increasingly complex sentences by independently adjusting and extending their ideas on the run.

Rereads and monitors reading

Our students should consistently reread their writing to see what word comes next.  When rereading students can also monitor their own reading by checking to see if what they wrote makes sense, sounds right, and looks right.  It is powerful for a child to find and fix his/her own mistakes.  This takes a little restraint on our part.  We have to work hard to not jump in and tell the child when they have made a mistake. Especially, if the student is able to find and fix themselves.


We have to help our students understand the importance of left to right at the letter, word, and sentence level.  As we pull out letters to write on the practice page we show our students top to bottom, left to right letter formation.  When working on word learning we reinforce left to right each time the child builds the word.  If we know our students well we can interrupt any patterns of behavior that do not reinforce the directional rules of reading and writing.

Uses capital letters and punctuation marks

Our students need to be aware that there are lowercase and uppercase letters.  They have to be able to differentiate between the two cases and know when to use them.  We can use the books our students read daily to bring to their attention to where authors use uppercase letters.  Letter sorts are a great way to help students become fast and fluent with identifying upper and lower case letters.

Sometimes our students will let us know when they have noticed a particular punctuation mark in their reading. We can make that punctuation mark more memorable by showing them how they can use it in their own writing.

Acquires an increased writing vocabulary

Word learning may be slow at first but should grow to become quicker over time.  Our students should be able to write their known words confidently, quickly and automatically.  Each student’s writing vocabulary should match their reading vocabulary.  If a student knows 80 words in reading but can only write 30 words we need to take a closer look at what is causing the disconnect.

Click here to read more about Growing Known Writing Vocabulary

Makes attempts at unknown words  

Our students need to know how to independently say words slowly and listen for sounds sequentially throughout words.  We can not get into the habit of saying words slowly for our students.  After modeling and practicing together, our students should take this work over to do on their own.  If a student is not able to take this work on after lots of modeling and practicing together we have to brainstorm about what might be impeding progress.

In the beginning, our students will work toward hearing most of the consonant sounds but might not hear vowel sounds yet.  Later students will hear those tricky vowel sounds and write words with unusual spelling patterns.  We help our students learn how to connect what is known well with what is unknown (analogies).

In Summary

During the writing portion of a Reading Recovery lesson, we support our students’ processing system (problem-solving).  Rather than commenting on a student’s accurate production of a word, it would be more powerful to comment on the work the student did to produce the word.

In order to develop these important writing behaviors, we have to hold ourselves back from jumping in too soon.  Silence is key!  We have to pause and allow our students the time they need to initiate problem-solving on words they don’t know how to write, allow them time to reread their sentence and give them the opportunity to check their own writing in order to find and fix their mistakes.

We don’t want to work on all of these behaviors at once because we know that too much teaching can confuse our students.  The best place to start is with what our students can already do and then build on from there.









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