6 Writing Traits

Emergent Writing – some strategies for encouraging reluctant writers

  • Create a literacy-rich environment – e.g. have books in the classroom, word walls, letters on the wall, paper / pencils available, etc. Read and celebrate literature
  • You need to be a writer yourself to teach writing – you don’t have to be a good writer just need lots of practice. Model. Share writer’s secrets.
  • Give students choice as much as possible – around what to write and read. Give them experiences they can write about. Flexible format.
  • Talking and drawing can be pre-writing.
  • Sometimes it is good to ask students to read their stories to you first so you don’t focus just on conventions (grammar and spelling sometimes immediately jump out to us but we are assessing on more than that)
  • Read and celebrate literature – you can use literature as examples of good writing / to help students identify the traits – see activities under children’s literature
  • Writer’s workshop
  • When grading papers remember 1 is beginner (not failure).

Teaching The 6 Writing Traits and Assessing Writing 

Also see Chapters 2 and 10 in Creating Writers by Vicki Spandel

Process, assessment, lessons.


1. Ideas – the message

DescriptionFrom the trait “shortie in the Creating Writers textbook:

  • The piece has a MAIN idea, message, point to make or story to tell.
  • The main message is clear and easy to understand
  • The writer knows the topic well
  • The writer chooses important, interesting details to expand the message
  • Details make a picture in the reader’s mind or create a strong impression
  • The piece holds the reader’s attention

2. Organization (of thoughts) – this is the design

Description: From the trait “shortie” in the Creating Writers textbook:

  • The whole piece has a strong sense of direction and purpose
  • An enticing lead (hook) pulls readers in
  • Good structure and/or clear thinking guides readers through the piece
  • Strong transitions clearly connect ideas
  • The writer paces things well, slowing down or speeding up at just the right moments
  • A satisfying ending wraps things up and leaves readers thinking

3. Voice (does it sound like you, the character, etc.) – the writer’s “presence” on the page

Description: From the trait “shortie” in the Creating Writers textbook:

  • The writing is individual and distinctive
  • You might recognize this writer’s voice in another piece
  • You enjoy sharing the writing aloud
  • The writer seems passionate about the topic
  • The writing “speaks” to readers – they feel part of the conversation
  • The writer knows the topic well enough to write with confidence
  • Readers trust this writer to tell what is true and important
  • Readers feel they “know” the person behind the words
  • Readers don’t want the piece to end

Can you hear them in the story?

When you burst out laughing there’s a good chance the writing has lots of voice.

In telling the truth, we reveal confidence in our organized ideas and these must come from the heart, which is where the voice lies (page 50 of Creating Writers textbook)

Activity: we looked at some writing and graded it based on just voice. For example, we looked at a story from the Creating Writers textbook that a grade 5 student had written about a family vacation.

4. Word choice (vocabulary) – phrasing and terminology

DescriptionFrom the trait “shortie” in the Creating Writers textbook:

  • The wording is clear and helps the reader understand the message
  • Phrasing is original – it reflects the writer’s unique way of saying things
  • The wording is concise – it has punch
  • The words sound natural – the writer isn’t straining to impress the reader
  • Strong verbs give the writing energy
  • The writer defines new or technical words – or makes the meaning clear from how they are used
  • Modifiers aren’t overdone – nouns and verbs carry the weight
  • The words paint a clear picture in the reader’s mind
  • The reader finds many moments to quote or highlight

Activity: give students a list of 15 words that describe anger (or another feeling) and ask them (in pairs) to order them from least angry to most angry. Then give one word on a piece of paper to each pair and get all the words to line up in front of the class in order (they will have to agree on an order). The words we used were: cross, furious, annoyed, fuming, incensed, hopping mad, frustrated, concerned, bothered, irritated, enraged, beside oneself, irate, distracted, seeing red, livid.

Here is a picture from when our class did this:


5. Sentence Fluency (sense of sentences) – this is about rhythm and flow

DescriptionFrom the trait “shortie” in the Creating Writers textbook:

  • Sentences are clear and make sense
  • They begin in different ways
  • The piece sounds rhythmic and fluent when read aloud
  • Purposeful beginnings create a sentence-to-sentence flow
  • Sentences range from short to long
  • Repetition, run-ons, or fragments – if used – work
  • The writing is easy to read – even on the first try
  • Try writer may use any of these to add variety: questions, exclamations, monologue, dialogue

6. Conventions and Presentation – this is about editorial correctness and eye appeal

DescriptionFrom the trait “shortie” in the Creating Writers textbook:

  • The text is edited and polished
  • Strong conventions help make the meaning clear
  • Creative conventions bring out the voice
  • No “mental editing” required – it’s easy to read
  • Eye catching presentation (as required) makes the message pop
  • Effective presentation (as required) makes info easy to find
  • This piece is ready to publish!

Here is a link to criteria for assessing each trait

Here is a link to some lesson suggestions for students struggling with each trait