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Bringing Balanced Literacy Into Primary, Intermediate and Upper Grade Classrooms

Writing to Learn

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Writing to Learn

Writing facilitates learning by helping students explore, clarify, and think deeply about the ideas and concepts they encounter while reading. Writing about ideas and concepts encountered in texts will improve students’ acquisition of content more than simply reading without writing (Vacca & Vacca, 2002). Students benefit from writing to learn activities specific to each content area.

The role of the teacher is:

To identify writing strategies that allow students to communicate and deepen their understanding of text.

To model the writing activity and guide students as they engage in writing.

To provide multiple and varied opportunities for students to write to clarify their thinking in response to text in all content areas.

To provide feedback that will help students construct meaning of text.

To focus on students’ content rather than technical writing conventions.

The role of the student is:

To observe the teacher model writing activities.

To use writing to learn activities to explore and clarify responses to text.

To write in ways that communicate understanding and thinking about the concepts in text.

To use writing strategies in all content areas.

The observer will see:

The teacher modeling writing to learn activities that allow students to extend and organize their thinking.

The teacher providing opportunities to use writing to respond in all content areas.

The teacher encouraging participation and collaborative discussion based on the writing students have completed.

The students using writing to develop their understanding of content area concepts.


Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle: New understandings about writing, reading, and learning. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton Cook Publishers.

National writing project. (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2004, from

Vacca, R., & Vacca, J.L. (2002). Content area reading: Literacy and learning across the curriculum. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Writing initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2004, from NCTE’s Web site:

CPS Grades 4-8 Literacy Observation Guidelines 27