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P-5 Writing Instruction
June 2021


"What does the research say about best practices in preschool through grade 5 writing instruction?"

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Arrimada, M., Torrance, M., & Fidalgo, R. (2019). Effects of teaching planning strategies to first‐grade writers. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(4), 670-688. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Background. Traditionally writing instruction at the start of school has focused on developing students’ ability to spell and handwrite. Teaching children explicit self-regulatory strategies for developing content and structure for their text has proved effective for students in later grades of primary (elementary) education. Aims. The present study aims to determine whether first-grade students benefit from learning higher-level self-regulating strategies for explicit planning of content and structure. Sample. Five mixed-ability Spanish first-grade classes were randomly assigned to either an experimental condition that received strategy-focused instruction (3 classes, N=62), or to a practice-matched control condition (2 classes, N=39). Method. Over 10, 50 minutes sessions, the intervention taught strategies for writing stories. Writing performance was assessed prior to intervention, immediately after intervention and 7 weeks post-intervention, in terms of both text features associated with written narratives and by holistic quality ratings. Results. Students who received the intervention subsequently produced texts with better structure, coherence and quality, and a larger number of features associated with narrative texts. These effects remained at follow-up and were not present in the control condition. Conclusion. Our findings indicate that teaching explicit strategies for planning text content and structure benefits young writers even when spelling and handwriting skills are not yet well established.."

Coker, D. L., Farley-Ripple, E., Jackson, A. F., Wen, H., MacArthur, C. A., & Jennings, A. S. (2016). Writing instruction in first grade: An observational study. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 29(5), 793-832.

From the Abstract:
"As schools work to meet the ambitious Common Core State Standards in writing (Common Core State Standards Initiation, 2010), instructional approaches are likely to be examined. However, there is little research that describes the current state of instruction. This study was designed to expand the empirical base on writing instruction in first grade. Daylong observations were conducted four times during the year in 50 first-grade classrooms. Using a time-sampled, observational protocol, observers coded multiple dimensions of instruction, including grouping, instructional focus, teacher action, and student tasks. Results revealed that writing was commonly taught in whole-class settings with teachers presenting information and asking students questions. Considerable variability was observed at both the classroom and school level in the amount and focus of writing instruction and in student writing practice. Several moderate relationships were found between the instructional focus and the type of student practice. A few schools were identified with distinctive patterns in their approach to instruction and practice, signaling the potential importance of school-level factors. These findings reveal the inconsistent nature of first-grade writing instruction across classrooms and schools and point to instructional implications for teachers and schools. [This report was published in "Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal" (EJ1097743).]"

Coker, D. L., Jr., Jennings, A. S., Farley-Ripple, E., & MacArthur, C. A. (2018). The type of writing instruction and practice matters: The direct and indirect effects of writing instruction and student practice on reading achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 110(4), 502–517.

From the Abstract:
"Previous research has demonstrated that writing instruction can support reading achievement (Graham & Hebert, 2011); however much of this work involved carefully designed interventions. In this study, we evaluated a conceptual framework of the direct and indirect effects of typical writing instruction and student writing practice on reading achievement in first grade. Fall reading, vocabulary, and writing data were collected from 391 students, and classroom writing instruction and student writing practice were observed in 50 classrooms. The effects of writing instruction on spring reading achievement were evaluated using a two-level, fixed effects structural equation model. In a multiple mediator model, the total indirect effect of composing writing instruction through student writing practice on spring reading achievement was positive and statistically significant ([beta] = 0.17, p = 0.029), with a modest effect of composing writing instruction mediated by generative writing practice ([beta] = 0.15, p = 0.024). The final model explained 86% and 59% of the variability in spring reading achievement at the student and classroom levels, respectively. These results suggest that generative writing practice mediates the relationship between composing instruction and spring reading achievement. The results also highlight some potentially positive effects of typical writing instruction and student writing practice after controlling for reading instruction and fall reading achievement. [This paper was published in "Journal of Educational Psychology" (EJ1178420).]"

Datchuk, S. M., & Dembek, G. A. (2018). Adapting a sentence intervention with spelling and handwriting support for elementary students with writing difficulties: A preliminary investigation. Insights into Learning Disabilities, 15(1), 7-27.

From the Abstract:
"Difficulties with two critical transcription skills, handwriting and spelling, can hinder acquisition and use of simple sentences during writing for elementary students. This preliminary investigation used a framework of data-based individualization to adapt and study effects of a multi-component intervention designed to teach simple sentence construction. Two adaptations to the intervention included a modified form of cover-copy-compare procedures for spelling difficulties and extended time for handwriting difficulties. Intervention was delivered across two small groups of elementary students at-risk for or with identified learning disabilities. All students showed gains in simple sentence construction; however, results must be viewed with caution given high variability for some students in performance and several design limitations."

Finlayson, K., & McCrudden, M. T. (2020). Teacher-implemented writing instruction for elementary students: A literature review. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 36(1), 1-18. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Researcher-implemented writing interventions have been shown to improve student writing performance. However, there has been limited research on teacher-implemented writing interventions, which are more likely to be sustainable in a classroom. The purpose of this review was to examine the effectiveness of teacher-implemented writing interventions in regular-classroom environments with elementary-aged students. The inclusion criteria resulted in the identification of 13 experimental research studies. Classroom teachers implemented a range of writing strategies. However, explicit strategy instruction, including self-regulated strategy development, was the most commonly used approach that improved students' writing achievement. Practical implications of the results are discussed and directions for future research are provided."

Gerde, H. K., Wright, T. S., & Bingham, G. E. (2019). Preschool teachers’ beliefs about and instruction for writing. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 40(4), 326-351.Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Early writing--a valuable early literacy skill--begins to develop prior to kindergarten. Young children participating in preschool benefit from writing opportunities facilitated by teachers. Writing opportunities, however, are often limited in preschool settings. It is important to understand teachers' beliefs and practices for promoting early writing, because teachers' beliefs inform their practices of this valuable skill. Thus, this study examined ways in which preschool teachers talk about and enact practices to support children's writing. Thirty-two preschool teachers participated in structured interviews about their beliefs and practices for promoting writing and were observed using the "Writing Resources and Interactions in Teaching Environments" assessment to examine reported and observed practices. Qualitative coding organized teachers' interview responses into conceptually meaningful categories. Results indicated that teachers' reported and observed practices generally aligned but represented a limited set of pedagogical approaches. Although teachers reported and were observed providing materials and enacting strategies for guiding children's handwriting, few identified strategies to support children in writing for meaning (i.e., composing) or in a manner that supported other literacy skills (e.g., letter-sound knowledge). Programmatic structure, curriculum, and teachers' background characteristics were not associated with teachers' beliefs or practices."

Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D’Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., & Olinghouse, N. (2012). Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers: A practice guide (NCEE 2012- 4058). National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

From the Abstract:
"Writing is a fundamental part of engaging in professional, social, community, and civic activities. Nearly 70 percent of salaried employees have at least some responsibility for writing, and the ability to write ‘well’ is a critical component of being able to communicate effectively to a variety of audiences. Because writing is a valuable tool for communication, learning, and self-expression, people who do not have adequate writing skills may be at a disadvantage and may face restricted opportunities for education and employment. Students should develop an early foundation in writing in order to communicate their ideas effectively and efficiently—yet many American students are not strong writers. In fact, less than one-third of all students performed at or above the ‘proficient’ level in writing on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress Writing Assessment. The authors believe that students who develop strong writing skills at an early age acquire a valuable tool for learning, communication, and self-expression. Such skills can be developed through effective writing instruction practices that provide adequate time for students to write. This guide, developed by a panel of experts, presents four recommendations that educators can use to increase writing achievement for elementary students and help them succeed in school and society. These recommendations are based on the best available research evidence, as well as the combined experience and expertise of the panel members." REL West note: see pp. 8 & 34 for recommendation 4: "Teachers should create a supportive and motivating environment so that young writers feel safe engaging fully in the writing process."

Graham, S., Hebert, M., & Harris, K. R. (2015). Formative assessment and writing: A meta-analysis. The Elementary School Journal, 115(4), 523-547. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"To determine whether formative writing assessments that are directly tied to everyday classroom teaching and learning enhance students' writing performance, we conducted a meta-analysis of true and quasi-experiments conducted with students in grades 1 to 8. We found that feedback to students about writing from adults, peers, self, and computers statistically enhanced writing quality, yielding average weighted effect sizes of 0.87, 0.58, 0.62, and 0.38, respectively. We did not find, however, that teachers' monitoring of students' writing progress or implementation of the 6 + 1 Trait Writing model meaningfully enhanced students' writing. The findings from this meta-analysis provide support for the use of formative writing assessments that provide feedback directly to students as part of everyday teaching and learning. We argue that such assessments should be used more frequently by teachers, and that they should play a stronger role in the Next-Generation Assessment Systems being developed by Smarter Balanced and PARCC."

Graham, S., McKeown, D., Kiuhara, S., & Harris, K. R. (2012). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for students in the elementary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(4), 879–896.. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"In an effort to identify effective instructional practices for teaching writing to elementary grade students, we conducted a meta-analysis of the writing intervention literature, focusing our efforts on true and quasi-experiments. We located 115 documents that included the statistics for computing an effect size (ES). We calculated an average weighted ES for 13 writing interventions. To be included in the analysis, a writing intervention had to be tested in 4 studies. Six writing interventions involved explicitly teaching writing processes, skills, or knowledge. All but 1 of these interventions (grammar instruction) produced a statistically significant effect: strategy instruction (ES = 1.02), adding self-regulation to strategy instruction (ES = 0.50), text structure instruction (ES = 0.59), creativity/imagery instruction (ES = 0.70), and teaching transcription skills (ES = 0.55). Four writing interventions involved procedures for scaffolding or supporting students’ writing. Each of these interventions produced statistically significant effects: prewriting activities (ES = 0.54), peer assistance when writing (ES = 0.89), product goals (ES = 0.76), and assessing writing (0.42). We also found that word processing (ES = 0.47), extra writing (ES = 0.30), and comprehensive writing programs (ES = 0.42) resulted in a statistically significant improvement in the quality of students’ writing. Moderator analyses revealed that the self-regulated strategy development model (ES = 1.17) and process approach to writing instruction (ES = 0.40) improved how well students wrote."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: ("Writing" OR "writing instruction"), ("Elementary school" OR preschool OR "primary grades" OR "early elementary" OR "early childhood")", "Instructional practices"

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.