The Power of Using Writing to Enhance Reading

Throughout the years, educators have wondered whether students should be taught to read first or to write first.  In the past, some educators have viewed writing as something that is taught to students after they learn letter sounds and after they learn words.  Currently, many educators take the stance that the biggest impact on literacy can be made by teaching reading and writing simultaneously.

Literacy researcher, Marie Clay, defines reading as a “message-getting, problem-solving activity,” and writing as a “message-sending, problem-solving activity (p. 5).” Essentially, reading and writing are two different avenues to help students learn the same items and processes. When working with struggling readers, taking advantage of the reciprocity of reading and writing can drastically speed up their progress. Teachers can use the strength in one of these areas to help build up the other.

Since reading and writing share much of the same “mental processes” and “cognitive knowledge,” students who partake in copious amounts of reading experiences have shown increased gains in writing achievement and students who write extensively demonstrate improved reading comprehension (Lee & Schallert, p. 145).  When researching the impact of reading on writing achievement and writing on reading achievement, Graham and Herbert found, “the evidence is clear: writing can be a vehicle for improving reading. In particular, having students write about a text they are reading enhances how well they comprehend it. The same result occurs when students write about a text from different content areas, such as science and social studies (p. 6).”

There is a strong connection between early reading and writing behaviors. Writing requires students to slow down and attend to items in detail, such as attending to particular letters and sounds, the sequence of phonemes, and provides a link to what the child is saying orally to the written message. Knowing an item in detail when writing is a step closer to knowing an item with automaticity in reading. Writing can help students to become more flexible and automatic with what they know. Students learn that they can recognize in text words they have learned in writing.

Not all students make connections between writing and reading automatically.  Teachers need to intentionally demonstrate and bring to the student’s attention the reciprocal nature of reading and writing.  It is not always clear to students that what they are able to do effectively in one area can help them with the other area.

The following are some examples of how to use explicit language to help students bridge their knowledge of reading and writing.

  • During a shared reading activity, a teacher can say, “We start reading our words here (point to the top left) just like when we write (point to the starting place in a familiar shared writing piece)”  to strengthen students’ understanding of how print works.
  • When reading, if a student stops at a word they have previously written easily with independence the teacher can prompt the student with, “You know how to write that word.  Write it with your finger on the table.  Now read it.”
  • If the teacher wants to encourage the student to use letter-sound correspondence to problem-solve an unknown word the teacher can tell the student, “say the word slowly like when you are writing.”

Reading comprehension can be strengthened through writing by having students write about what they are reading, teaching students the writing process, and by increasing the amount of time students write (Graham and Herbert, p.5).

There is strong evidence to suggest that writing can boost students’ growth in reading.  The reciprocity between reading and writing, however, needs to be explicitly taught to students.  When teachers capitalize on the power of writing to increase reading achievement, the benefit to students is immense.

Originally posted as a part of Classroom Q and A with Larry Ferrlazzo – “Writing Helps Grow Readers”.  Check it out for more great resources on the reading-writing connection. 


If you enjoyed this post you might also like:

Planning for Writing about Reading

The Basics of Interactive Writing


Briggs, C., & Anderson, N.  “Reciprocity Between Reading and Writing:  Strategic Processing as Common Ground.”  The Reading Teacher Volume 64, No. 7, April (2011):  546-549.  Print

Clay, M.  Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals (2nd edition). Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2016. Print.

Graham, S., & Hebert, M. Writing to read: Evidence of how writing can improve reading. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.  2010.  Print.

Lee, J., & Schallert, D.  “Exploring the Reading-Writing Connection: A Year-Long Classroom-Based Experimental Study of Middle School Students Developing Literacy in a New Language.”  Reading Research Quarterly 51(2), (2016):  143-164.  Print.




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