The University of Iowa

Developing Writers in the Classroom: Daily Writing Time and Multipurpose Writing

Student standing with bike

Much like learning to ride a bike, students need to practice the skills and strategies that will allow them to become lifelong writers. This requires dedicated writing time in the classroom.


Posted on: March 13, 2017

Editor’s note: this is the first of a two-part series which covers recommendations for helping students become lifelong writers. 

Writing is a critical component of daily life. It is a way of communicating ideas and emotions that begins developing at a young age and continues into adulthood. Yet, many students struggle with expressing their ideas through simple writing skills.

As a result of the Common Core State Standards, writing is gaining a greater emphasis in the literacy curriculum. The standards suggest that students of all ages should be able to write for a sustained period of time and for a variety of purposes and audiences. These requirements can be overwhelming for some teachers, leaving them wondering how they are going to prepare all of their students to be successful writers.

The Institute of Education Sciences’ Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers (Graham et al., 2012) practice guide provides the following four recommendations for making writing not just a required instructional activity, but a lifelong fulfilling skill (p. 1):

  1. Provide daily time for students to write.
  2. Teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes.
  3. Teach students to become fluent with handwriting, spelling, sentence construction, typing, and word processing.
  4. Create an engaged community of writers.

Though these recommendations were developed to support elementary-aged children, they easily apply across all grade levels. Over a two-part series of blog posts, let’s take a closer look at each of these recommendations.

Provide Daily Time for Students to Write

If students are not given time to write, they will never develop writing habits and skills. Think about how you learned to ride a bike. If you only looked at your bike but never got on it, or sat on it but never peddled, you would not have learned to ride. It is only routine practice that allows you to develop the skills necessary to ride on your own without support. The same is true with writing. Without practice, students will never develop the skills and strategies necessary to write on their own, and writing likely will become a difficult and undesirable task.

In order for writing to become a priority, teachers need to set aside a dedicated, protected time for writing that ensures writing does not get pushed aside for other activities or lessons. As a result, students in these classrooms will begin to anticipate writing time and, when combined with the other recommendations, look forward to it.

Not only should this time be dedicated to the act of writing, but also providing direct instruction related to students’ writing needs. Teachers need to engage children in lessons that address different writing genres and the specific strategies related to each genre. For example, if students are to become proficient in opinion writing, they need time dedicated to familiarizing themselves with the genre by reading example texts, learning and practicing strategies for writing opinions, and finally composing their own opinion pieces.

To help make a dedicated writing time more feasible, teachers can integrate writing across the content areas. For example, students can use the time to write about the scientific observations they are making or to compose a journal entry or letter for a social studies unit. This would provide students an opportunity to write for different purposes and to synthesize the content-area material they are studying.

Teach Students to Use the Writing Process for a Variety of Purposes

In many classrooms, students are taught to brainstorm a list of ideas, turn those ideas into sentences, do a quick review and correction of mistakes, and submit the paper for a final grade. For many students, this becomes a routine exercise in writing down ideas, letting spell check do its work, turning in the paper, and never thinking about it again. Learning to write in this manner can be confusing and somewhat purposeless for young writers. In fact, it portrays the writing process as being linear when, in reality the process is more recursive for expert writers.

To help students develop an understanding of the writing process, teachers should spend time explicitly teaching a variety of strategies for each component. Table 1 from the Institute of Education Sciences Practice Guide (Graham et al., 2012) provides examples of such writing strategies for students to learn and use.

Table 1. Examples of Writing Strategies

Component of the Writing Process Writing Strategy How Students Can Use the Strategy Grade Range
Planning POW
  • Pick ideas (i.e. decide what to write about).
  • Organize their notes (i.e. brainstorm and organize possible writing ideas into a writing plan).
  • Write and say more (i.e. continue to modify the plan while writing).
Ordering ideas/outlining
  • Brainstorm/generate ideas for their paper.
  • Review their ideas and place a number by what will go first, second, third, and so on.
  • Brainstorm/generate ideas for their paper
  • Decide which are main ideas and which are supporting ideas.
  • Create an outline that shows the order of the main ideas and the supporting details for each main idea.
Drafting Imitation
  • Select a sentence, paragraph, or text excerpt and imitate the author's form.
Sentence generation
  • Try out sentences orally before writing them on paper.
  • Try multiple sentences and choose the best one.
  • Use transition words to develop different sentence structures.
  • Practice writing good topic sentences.
Sharing Peer sharing
  • In pairs, listen and read along as the author reads aloud.
  • Share feedback with their writing partner, starting with what they liked.
"Author's Chair"
  • Sit in a special chair in front of peers and read their writing.
Evaluating Self-evaluating
  • Reread and ask these questions:
    • Are the ideas clear?
    • Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end?
    • Does the writing connect with the reader?
    • Are sentence types varied?
  • Self-assess and ask these questions, either out loud or internally:
    • Did I meet the goals I developed for my writing? If not, what changes should I make to meet my goals?
    • Did I correctly use strategies that were appropriate for this task? If not, what should I change?
  • Record their answers to self-assessment questions on a chart or teacher-provided questionnaire in order to track their progress toward writing goals and strategy use.
  • Congratulate themselves, and inform their teacher, when they meet their goals.
Revising and editing Peer revising
  • Place a question mark (?) by anything they do not understand in their writing partner's paper.
  • Place a carat (^) anywhere it would be useful to have the author include more information.
COPS (editing)
  • Ask the COPS editing questions:
    • Did I Capitalize the first word in sentences and proper names?
    • How is the Overall appearance of my paper?
    • Did I use commas and end-of-sentence Punctuation?
    • Did I Spell each word correctly?

Source: Adapted from 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; p. 16). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

In addition to learning the writing process, students need opportunities to write thoughtfully-composed pieces of writing for a variety of purposes and audiences outside of the classroom. We know from research that when we provide a real audience and purpose for students’ writing, the overall quality of their work increases (Bruning & Horn, 2000; Cohen & Riel, 1989; Crowhurst & Piche, 1979; McGrail & Davis, 2011; Purcell-Gates, Duke, & Martineau, 2007).

In part two of this series, we will examine how teaching students to become fluent with the various mechanics of writing and creating an engaged community of writers in the classroom can contribute to this effort of making students better, more engaged developing writers.


Bruning, R., & Horn, C. (2000). Developing motivation to write. Educational Psychologist, 35(1), 25-37. doi:10.1207/S15326985EP3501_4

Cohen, M., & Riel, M. (1989). The effect of distant audience on students’ writing. American Educational Research Journal, 26, 143-159. doi:10.3102/00028312026002143

Crowhurst, M., & Piche, G. L. (1979). Audience and mode of discourse effects on syntactic complexity in writing at two grade levels. Research in the Teaching of English, 13, 101-109.

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). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

McGrail, E., & Davis, A. (2011). The influence of classroom blogging on elementary student writing. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 25(4), 415-437. doi:10.1080/02568543.2011.605205

Purcell-Gates, V., Duke, N. K., & Martineau, J. A. (2007). Learning to read and write genre-specific text: Roles of authentic experience and explicit teaching. Reading Research Quarterly, 42(1), 8-45. doi:10.1598/RRQ.42.1.1

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