The Stages of a Child’s Writing Ability


handwriting, drawing, friends, stages of writingI often hear that home-school kids—multi-culture kids in particular–though high achievers in many areas tend to be deficient in their writing skills.  Recently, a co-worker gave me a writing continuum chart ( by Christopher-Gordon publishers, which shows stages and ages of writing ability.  Below is a compilation of that chart with activities supplied by Johnston County schools.  This link actually provides details for each school grade and provides four steps within each grade level.  This site is also a great place to find suggestions for writing resources by grade level.

Pre-conventional ages 3-5

q       Relies primarily on pictures to convey meaning.

q       Begins to label and add “words” to pictures.

q       Writes first name.

q       Demonstrates awareness that print conveys meaning.

q       Makes marks other than drawing on paper (scribbles).

q       Writes random recognizable letters to represent words.

q       Tells about own pictures and writing.

Activities:  Trace highlighted name, draw picture depicting activity you did, cut and paste, use magnetic or wooden letters to make name, self portraits, label centers/rooms, letter chart, label objects in room, poems or songs posted on walls, simple journals, family or class rules posted, shared  writing.

Explanations of Strategies/Activities

Journals: reading response journals, science journals, math journals, personal journals, center journals

Sign-up sheets: students sign in at stations, when entering the classroom, choosing lunch, restrooms

Spacers: tongue depressors, craft sticks, pennies, fingers, die-cuts

Labeling: label different items in the classroom

Read the Room: students walk around the room with a pointer and read all written material (word wall, labeled items, posters, charts, etc.)

Shared writing: teacher writes information provided by students

Interactive writing: teacher and students share the pen during writing

Turn and Talk: students sit knee to knee with a partner and tell their story BEFORE writing

Five senses method: students use their five senses to brainstorm and describe items before writing

Think, Draw, Write: students think about the topic, then draw a picture, then use their picture to write

Review the day chart: at the end of the day the class reviews the day’s activities using interactive or shared writing

Emerging ages 4-6

q       Uses pictures and print to convey meaning.

q       Writes words to describe or support pictures.

q       Copies signs, labels, names, and words (environmental print).

q       Demonstrates understanding of letter/sound relationship.

q       Prints with upper case letters.

q       Matches letters to sounds.

q       Uses beginning consonants to make words.

q       Uses beginning and ending consonants to make words.

q       Pretends to read own writing.

q       Sees self as writer.

q       Takes risks with writing.

Activities: Use beginning handwriting paper, simple letter writing, notes, weather report, journal, sentences cut apart and pieced together like a puzzle, sentence about a picture.

Developing ages 5-7

q       Writes 1-2 sentences about a topic.

q       Writes names and familiar words.

q       Generates own ideas for writing.

q       Writes from top to bottom, left to right, and front to back.

q       Intermixes upper and lower case letters.

q       Experiments with capitals.

q       Experiments with punctuation.

q       Begins to use spacing between words.

q       Uses growing awareness of sound segments (e.g., phonemes, syllables, rhymes) to write words.

q       Spells words on the basis of sounds without regard for conventional spelling patterns.

q       Uses beginning, middle, and ending sounds to make words.

q       Begins to read own writing.

Activities: Editing, story maps/webs, story starter prompts, graphs, weather reports, charts, lists, surveys, posters, recipes, making words, author’s chair, descriptive writing, writing about five senses, think/draw/write, making words, highlight beginning letters of sentences, written conversations, unscrambled sentences, handwriting stationery, word family charts.

Conference logs: while monitoring writing the teacher conferences with students and keeps a log with brief comments about their writing

Synonym cards: cards containing synonyms for frequently overused words (happy, sad, good, bad, etc)

Book Talks: students share and discuss the different components of stories read (setting, characters, problem, solution, events, beginning, middle, end, etc)

Making words: students manipulate given letters to make words of various letter counts

Author’s chair: students sit front and center to share their story with the class as the audience (microphones may be used)

Author Tea: students share published work with classmates, parents, and various visitors

Writer’s workshop: writing process involving mini-lessons, teacher conferences, editing and publishing

Beginning ages 6-8

q       Writes several sentences about a topic.

q       Writes about observations and experiences.

q       Writes short nonfiction pieces (simple facts about a topic) with guidance.

q       Chooses own writing topics.

q       Reads own writing and notices mistakes with guidance.

q       Revises by adding details with guidance.

q       Uses spacing between words consistently.

q       Forms most letters legibly.

q       Writes pieces that self and others can read.

q       Uses phonetic spelling to write independently.

q       Spells simple words and some high frequency words correctly.

q       Begins to use periods and capital letters correctly.

q       Shares own writing with others.

Activities:  making books about me, expository writing, instructions, letters, editing, five senses, writer’s workshop, narrative writing, response journals, writing rubrics, book talks, early publishing of work, re-writing, vocabulary notebooks, copying homework assignments, interactive writing, highlighting high frequency words, synonym cards, making a dictionary, using a dictionary, poetry writing, mobiles, dioramas, surveys, graphs, brochures (travel, products, etc.).

Expanding ages 7-9

q       Writes short fiction and poetry with guidance.

q       Writes a variety of short nonfiction pieces (e.g., facts about a topic, letters, lists) with guidance.

q       Writes with a central idea.

q       Writes using complete sentences.

q       Organizes ideas in a logical sequence in fiction and nonfiction writing with guidance.

q       Begins to recognize and use interesting language.

q       Uses several prewriting strategies (e.g., web, brainstorm) with guidance.

q       Listens to others’ writing and offers feedback.

q       Begins to consider suggestions from others about own writing.

q       Adds description and detail with guidance.

q       Edits for capitals and punctuation with guidance.

q       Publishes own writing with guidance.

q       Writes legibly.

q       Spells most high frequency words correctly and moves toward conventional spelling.

q       Identifies own writing strategies and sets goals with guidance.

Activities: simple narratives, short reports, friendly letters, directions, instructions, poems, learning logs, notes, use of writing process elements (Prewriting, Draft, Revision, Editing, Sharing/Publishing), writing for different audiences, explore technology as a tool to create a written product.

Bridging ages 8-10

q       Writes about feelings and opinions.

q       Writes fiction with clear beginning, middle, and end.

q       Writes poetry using carefully chosen language with guidance.

q       Writes organized nonfiction pieces (e.g., reports, letters, and lists) with guidance.

q       Begins to use paragraphs to organize ideas.

q       Uses strong verbs, interesting language, and dialogue with guidance.

q       Seeks feedback on writing.

q       Revises for clarity with guidance.

q       Revises to enhance ideas by adding description and detail.

q       Uses resources (e.g., thesaurus and word lists) to make writing more effective with guidance.

q       Edits for punctuation, spelling, and grammar.

q       Publishes writing in polished format with guidance.

q       Increases use of visual strategies, spelling rules, and knowledge of word parts to spell correctly.

q       Uses commas and apostrophes correctly with guidance.

q       Uses criteria for effective writing to set own writing goals with guidance.

Activities: personal narratives, imaginative narratives, research reports, logs, diaries, journals, rules, instructions, letters (friendly, request, complaint), planning strategies (brainstorming, mapping, webbing), focused revision, continued use of technology to gather, organize and present information.

Fluent ages 9-11

q       Begins to write organized fiction and nonfiction (e.g., reports, letters, biographies, and autobiographies).

q       Develops stories with plots that include problems and solutions with guidance.

q       Creates characters in stories with guidance.

q       Writes poetry using carefully chosen language.

q       Begins to experiment with sentence length and complex sentence structure.

q       Varies leads and endings with guidance.

q       Uses description, details, and similes with guidance.

q       Uses dialogue with guidance.

q       Uses a range of strategies for planning writing.

q       Adapts writing for purpose and audience with guidance.

q       Revises for specific writing traits (e.g., ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice, and conventions) with guidance.

q       Incorporates suggestions from others about own writing with guidance.

q       Edits for punctuation, spelling, and grammar with greater precision.

q       Uses tools (e.g., dictionaries, word lists, and spell checkers) to edit with guidance.

q       Develops criteria for effective writing in different genres with guidance.

Activities: clarification (evaluation), research reports, news articles, business letters, letters to the editor, poetry, essays, feature

stories, use of writing process, develop a lead/character/mood, edit conventions and spelling, publish.


Sample Expressive Prompt:

Narrate a single remembered incident and tell why it was important to you.

As you write your essay, be sure to:

• Focus on a single remembered incident.

• Choose words that are well-suited to the purpose, audience, and

context of your essay.

• Organize your essay so that your ideas progress logically.

• Include relevant details that clearly develop your essay.

• Edit your essay for standard grammar and language usage.

Write the final copy of your essay.


Proficient ages 10-13

q       Writes persuasively about ideas, feelings, and opinions.

q       Creates plots with problems and solutions.

q       Begins to develop the main characters and describe detailed settings.

q       Begins to write organized and fluent nonfiction, including simple bibliographies.

q       Writes cohesive paragraphs including reasons and examples with guidance.

q       Uses transitional sentences to connect paragraphs.

q       Varies sentence structure, leads, and endings.

q       Begins to use descriptive language, details, and similes.

q       Uses voice to evoke emotional response from readers.

q       Begins to integrate information on a topic from a variety of sources.

q       Begins to revise for specific writing traits (e.g., ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice, and conventions).

q       Uses tools (e.g., dictionaries, word lists, spell checkers) to edit independently.

q       Selects and publishes writing in polished format independently.

q       Begins to use complex punctuation (e.g., commas, colons, semicolons, quotation marks) appropriately.

q       Begins to set goals and identify strategies to improve writing in different genres.

Activities: Expressive writing includes memoir, narrative poetry, self-evaluation, autobiography, reflection, and editorial. Evaluative writing—states a judgment with logical, relevant reasons and clear examples, includes supporting details and is appropriate for purpose, audience, and context.  Students must make a choice and analyze that choice. Problem-Solution—students are presented with a problem and must explore the problem and solve it by proposing one or more solutions.  They may utilize three types of appeals: ethical, emotional, and logical.  Examples are editorials, speeches, ads, commercials, song lyrics, and court scenes. Persuasive writing is used to convince a reader. Student must establish a viewpoint supporting or refuting a position with convincing arguments.  This style should conclude with a call to action.  Literary Analysis—is an essay which analyzes the author’s use of some literary element (such as setting, conflict, characterization, dynamic/static characters, or theme.

Connecting ages 11-14

q       Writes in a variety of genres and forms for different audiences and purposes independently.

q       Creates plots with a climax.

q       Creates detailed, believable settings and characters in stories.

q       Writes organized, fluent, and detailed nonfiction independently, including bibliographies with correct format.

q       Writes cohesive paragraphs including supportive reasons and examples.

q       Uses descriptive language, details, similes, and imagery to enhance ideas independently.

q       Begins to use dialogue to enhance character development.

q       Incorporates personal voice in writing with increasing frequency.

q       Integrates information on a topic from a variety of sources independently.

q       Constructs charts, graphs, and tables to convey information when appropriate.

q       Uses prewriting strategies effectively to organize and strengthen writing.

q       Revises for specific writing traits (e.g., ideas, organization, word choice, sentence fluency, voice, and conventions) independently.

q       Includes deletion in revision strategies.

q       Incorporates suggestions from others on own writing independently.

q       Uses complex punctuation (e.g., commas, colons, semicolons, quotation marks) with increasing accuracy.

Activities:  Activities are the same as above, yet the ability varies.


Sample Evaluative Prompt:

Write a movie review for your local newspaper. Your review may include a

recommended audience as well as evaluations of the plot, actors, music, or

special effects.

As you write your review, be sure to:

• Focus on one movie.

• Choose words that are well-suited to the purpose, audience, and

context of your review.

• Organize your review so that your ideas progress logically.

• Include relevant details that clearly develop your review.

• Edit your review for standard grammar and language usage.

Use the blank sheet of paper given to you by your teacher to plan your

review. Anything you write on the blank sheet will not be scored. You must

write the final copy of your review on the next page.

Write the final copy of your review on the next page.



q       Writes organized, fluent, accurate, and in-depth nonfiction, including references with correct bibliographic format.

q       Writes cohesive, fluent, and effective poetry and fiction.

q       Uses a clear sequence of paragraphs with effective transitions.

q       Begins to incorporate literary devices (e.g., imagery, metaphors, personification, and foreshadowing).

q       Weaves dialogue effectively into stories.

q       Develops plots, characters, setting, and mood (literary elements) effectively.

q       Begins to develop personal voice and style of writing.

q       Revises through multiple drafts independently.

q       Seeks feedback from others and incorporates suggestions in order to strengthen own writing.

q       Publishes writing for different audiences and purposes in polished format independently.

q       Internalizes writing process.

q       Uses correct grammar (e.g., subject/verb agreement and verb tense) consistently.

q       Writes with confidence and competence on a range of topics independently.

q       Perseveres through complex or challenging writing projects independently.

q       Sets writing goals independently by analyzing and evaluating own writing.

Activities: SAT practice prompts, MLA format, current issues, college application essays, research papers, article analysis, business letters, resume, interdisciplinary articles, abstracts.

You may also be interested in reading these articles:

Writing a Good College Essay

Helpful Writing Tips and Links

Sharpening Your Writing Skills


See also:

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

For regular updates and interesting tidbits check out and “like” Delana’s Facebook pages! Your support is appreciated!

Education, Homeschool, Gap YearYou can vote once every 24 hours just by clicking on the image above. Thanks!


3 thoughts on “The Stages of a Child’s Writing Ability

  1. Pingback: Surprised and Delighted! | The Education Cafe

  2. Pingback: Developmental Writing Stages « Write to Read ~ Read to Write

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s