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English Language Arts | Teaching Strategies | April 26, 2024

5 Essential Routines for Developing Early Writers

When teachers implement clear and consistent routines early on, young writers benefit. In this article, learn five essential daily routines that help build early writing habits and skills as well as confidence in children.

Combatting a Fear of Writing

Kindergartners often come to school with a fear of writing, and we have done it to them. When they show us their first attempts at writing we have said,

  • “That’s great, but let me show you how you really write that.”
  • “Good job, when you get to school, you’ll learn so much.”
  • “What is this supposed to say?”

These comments manifest themselves in the following comments.

  • I can’t write.
  • I don’t know how to write.
  • How do you spell…?

As classroom teachers, we need to break down these insecurities and build students’ confidence and independence.

It’s easy, if we start from the beginning to establish positive writing habits.

From the first day of school, providing clear and concise writing instruction with step-by-step supports, the fear will fall, and the student will soar. These routines will help to create confidence in students.

Essential Daily Writing Routines

Each and every writing lesson should contain daily routines for instruction, penmanship, phonics, mechanics, and content. Teaching the correct routines can present all these things and more without bombarding students.

Routine #1: Instruction Space

Students should be taught where and when writing should take place and what materials they will need for the writing lesson. From the outset, helping the students know what to expect will keep instructions from being overwhelming.

At the beginning of the school year, to ease the students in, instruct them that writing time is carpet time. They should be facing the easel and the sound chart and word wall should be visible. Students don’t need anything in their hands, as they will be sharing the pen and mimicking writing on the carpet. Students are engaged in writing during these lessons in multiple ways with a variety of tasks.

  • Some are chosen to write letters, patterns, or word.
  • Some are finders (locating words in the classroom to use in writing).
  • Some are mimicking writing with their fingers on the carpet or in the air.

As the year progresses, expand the directions for writing instruction. Students will know to grab a dry erase board, marker, and eraser and come to the carpet. A dry erase board might be kept in their desk, while a pen might be stored in a sock (to be used as an eraser) in a bucket by the carpet. Once the students have the board, marker, and sock, the writing lesson begins.

After routines for penmanship and mechanics have been established, students will get out their writing folders, spacers, and pencils for instruction. As the instruction continues on the easel, students are writing at their tables.

Routine #2: Letter/Sound Connection Charts

This instruction might sound easy, but we can’t overload the students with too many connections at one time. When looking for a letter/sound chart, make sure the chart has clear connections to the alphabet principle. Letter/sounds should be the most frequently used sounds (hard /c/ and hard /g/ and short vowels), easily recognized pictures, and consistent connections (not too many different pictures for the same letter). Using cat, car, circle, and clip on four different charts can create confusion with the initial “c.” Students who are struggling need a clear connection.

A good sound chart could also be used for the word wall headers and alphabet tracing book. Once a sound chart is established, a daily routine of reciting the chart can help engrain the letter/sound connection for students.

Routine #3: Penmanship Directions

With any instructional program, students need to hear how to form the letters. Hearing the external language of creating the letter while they are making the letter will provide one more sensory pathway for learning. When you are writing in front of the class or interactively writing with them, give oral directions each time. If we were writing the word “like,” the directions would include:

  • l – tall stick down (from the top)
  • i – short stick down, dot on the top
  • k – tall stick down, move out from the stick, in and out
  • e – out from the middle and all around

While we are writing the letters, students are echoing or chorally describing the strokes. If the habit of penmanship is created in whole group, the students will continue this practice independently. By combining step-by-step strokes with the “writing talk,” students can combine what they know in their head with their developing motor skills and creating writing habits in penmanship from the beginning.


Routine #4: Phonics

Before each word is written, students should be taught to recognize the sounds and discuss the patterns in the word. Using established anchor charts, students will match sounds they are making with sound connections on the anchor charts. They will discuss the vowel sounds and patterns as they appear in writing.

Some patterns are repeated, like the silent /e/ in like, and students quickly pick up on the pattern when the teacher reminds them during writing. “Students, I hear a long vowel sound in like. Our short vowels usually have one vowel and our long vowel words usually have two vowels. Let’s make sure we have two vowels.” After stretching and writing the /l/, /i/, and /k/, tell the students, “This word has a silent letter at the end of the word that makes the /i/ a long vowel.” Students are quick to shout “e” after a few lessons with this pattern.

Some patterns are briefly discussed, but not elaborated on, such as the long vowel pattern /oa/ in road. The teacher would ask students to match the letter to sound for the /r/ and /o/, but might say, “Students, I hear the long vowel /o/ in road. Sometimes the long /o/ is written with two vowels, even though we only hear one. That’s the case in road. We hear the /o/, but the vowel pattern is an /oa/. I will write the /a/.” Then continue stretching the word to add the ending /d/.

Phonetic writing is encouraged. “Rod” for “road” is acceptable if students are stretching and writing what they hear. Parents are also asked to encourage students in this writing, as “perfect” writing is not necessary to convey their written message and their accuracy will increase with time.

Consequently, early writers are not held accountable for complex skills like long vowel patterns independently, but once a pattern is introduced and an anchor is displayed, the teacher should be asking students to use the anchor to “find” the pattern. In the example above, the interactive story written about a bus contained the word road. That story should be displayed on the wall for independent reading and writing reference. If in a future story the word float is needed, the teacher could say, “Listen to the vowel sound in float. It sounds like the vowel sound in road. Can I have someone find the word road in the room (or on the bus story)? Who can tell me the vowel pattern in road?”

Routine #5: Mechanics

From the first sentence that is composed by the class, students should be using sentence mechanics for the basics: capital at the beginning, spaces in between the words, and an end mark at the end. We call it The Big 3. By explicitly teaching and practicing the writing habits in the Big 3, students are set up for writing success. We sing the song for the Big 3, practice for the Big 3, and check for the Big 3. Giving students these tools helps to reinforce writing mechanics.

When systematic instruction is provided and routines are established in whole group from the beginning, students use the daily writing habits as part of their independent routine. Writing should be scheduled and routines practiced daily. Consistent instruction and time to practice are crucial to support confident and independent writers.

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Author Bio:

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Cathy Collier

Cathy Collier has been an educator for more than 30 years, with a variety of roles, most notedly as a kindergarten teacher and reading specialist for K-2 Title 1 and non-Title 1 schools with Chesapeake Public Schools. In the role of reading specialist, Cathy was responsible for data collection, interventions, reporting, and professional development throughout her school site and her district where she also worked with curriculum development. Cathy’s passion is curriculum and learning practices...

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