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Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students

Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students

Authors: Karen R. Harris, Steve Graham, Linda H. Mason Ph.D., Barbara Friedlander

ISBN: 978-1-55766-705-2
Pages: 444
Copyright: 2008
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Size:  8.5 x 11.0
Stock Number:  67052
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Finally—highly effective, field-tested lesson plans for the students in every elementary and middle school classroom who struggle with writing. The practical how-to follow-up to Graham and Harris's popular Writing Better, this book is just what K–8 educators need to advance all students' writing skills, whether they have learning disabilities or just need extra help.

Teachers will get concise lesson plans they can use to easily supplement their existing writing curriculum. From 20 to 50 minutes each, the lessons

  • address types of writing that are key to academic success, such as writing reports and constructing essays for standardized tests
  • help with every phase of the writing process, from planning to revising
  • reinforce new skills through group and individual practice
  • ensure that improvements are sustained by teaching students critical self-regulation skills they can use independently
  • support effective instruction with step-by-step guidelines and optional scripts for teachers
  • engage students with mnemonic devices they'll immediately grasp and remember
  • include fun photocopiable support materials, such as cue cards, picture prompts, sheets for graphing story parts, and charts for brainstorming and setting goals

Firmly grounded in the authors' Self-Regulated Strategy Development approach, which has been proven effective by 2 decades of research, these brief, powerful lessons will help transform struggling students into confident, skilled, and motivated writers.

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Review: LD News
Review: Book News, Inc.
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Review: Midwest Book Review

"Designed to enable the classroom teacher to advance and enhance their student's writing skills . . . very strongly recommended as a language arts and literacy curriculum and classroom instruction plan supplemental resource."

Review by: Melanie Moran, Vanderbilt University
A new book...seeks to reverse the downward trend in the quality of student writing. Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students presents a detailed program that teachers can use to help students master writing and improve their self–confidence.
Review by: Sheldon Horowitz, Director of Professional Services, National Center for Learning Disabilities

"If you have to choose one resource on written expression, this is it! Evidence-based, practical information on structured, explicit instruction in a reader-friendly and ready-to-use format."

Review by: Nickola Nelson, Charles Van Riper Professor, Western Michigan University

"Splendid, accessible compendium of a body of respected scholarly work now packaged for all teachers. A wonderful gift to the field!"

Review by: Joanna Williams, Professor of Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University

"A powerful, evidence-based approach to instruction . . . The clear and complete lessons plans included in this volume will help teachers enhance their ability to provide effective instruction to students at all levels."

Review by: Bernice Wong, Professor Emerita, Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, Canada

"Harris and Graham are models for contemporary intervention researchers with their balanced foci on impeccable research and assiduous attention to translating research into practice."

About the Authors
Robert Reid

Part 1

  1. Welcome to Self-Regulated Strategy Development in Writing

  2. SRSD for Writing: What, Why, and How

  3. Self-Regulation and the Writing Process

  4. SRSD: Making It Work

Part 2

I. Strategy for Enhancing Word Choice

  1. Vocabulary Enrichment

II. Strategies for Story Writing
  1. POW + WWW

  2. POW + C-SPACE

III. Strategies for Narrative, Expository, and Persuasive Writing
  1. POW + TREE

  2. STOP and DARE

  3. Report Writing

  4. PLANS

IV. Strategies for Revising
  1. SCAN

  2. Compare, Diagnose, Operate


  4. Peer Revising

V. Strategy for a Writing Competency Test

VI. Strategy for Reading and Writing Informational Text
  1. TWA + PLANS


Excerpted from Chapter 2 of Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students, by Karen R. Harris, Ed.D., Steve Graham, Ed.D.,Linda H. Mason, Ph.D., & Barbara Friedlander, M.A.

Copyright © 2008 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

"Okay, students, begin writing." The students look at their clean, white, lined paper, pick up their newly sharpened pencils, and begin to think. Some students start writing, while others continue to sit still, look around the room, and, after a few minutes, raise their hands. "What should I write about?" "How do I get started?" "I'm just no good at writing." With that informal assessment, the teacher decides on an approach that will provide the students with the keys to unlocking the strategies and skills that good writers use. The teacher is confident that these students can learn to use the same powerful writing and self–regulation strategies that good writers use. In this chapter, the instructional model for teaching composing and self–regulation strategies, Self–Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), is presented. The major goals of SRSD are threefold:

  1. To assist students in mastering the higher–level cognitive processes involved in the planning, production, revising, and editing of written language

  2. To help students further develop the ability to monitor and manage their own writing

  3. To aid students in the development of positive attitudes and beliefs about writing and about themselves as writers

Many students have experienced a great deal of frustration, failure, or anxiety when faced with writing assignments. For these students, the development of positive attitudes and beliefs is essential. These attitudes and beliefs develop as the students learn powerful strategies that improve their writing. There is a great deal of truth in the old adage, "Nothing succeeds like success." To help students master writing strategies and use them effectively, the SRSD approach includes the development of skillful use of effective writing strategies, self–regulation of the writing process, and knowledge of one's own cognitive processes and other learning characteristics and an understanding of the potential and limitations of the strategies they learn.

Self–regulation of strategic performance and knowledge about the strategies are important in helping students

  • Understand how and when to apply a strategy

  • Independently produce, evaluate, and modify a strategy in an effective manner

  • Recognize meaningful improvement in skills, processes, and products

  • Gain new insights regarding strategies and their own strategic performance
  • Improve their expectations of and attitudes regarding themselves as writers

  • Maintain and generalize strategic performance


In the SRSD approach, six basic stages of instruction are used to develop and integrate use of the strategy and self–regulation components. SRSD has been successfully used with entire classes, small groups, individual students, and in tutoring settings. Throughout these stages, teachers and students collaborate on the acquisition, implementation, evaluation, and modification of strategies. These stages are not meant to be followed in a "cookbook" fashion. Instead, they provide a general format and guidelines. The instructional stages are meant to be recursive, teachers may return to any stage at any time. The stages may be reordered, combined, or modified as needed to meet student and teacher needs. In fact, as will be seen in the lesson plans in this book, the first two stages (Develop Background Knowledge and Discuss It) are typically combined in the first lessons. Some stages may not be needed by all students. Some students may already have the background knowledge needed to use the writing strategy and self–regulation processes and may therefore skip this stage or act as a resource for other students who need this stage. Finally, lessons have typically run anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes (depending on grade level and class schedules) at least three times a week. Typically, in the elementary grades, 8 to 12 lessons running 30 to 40 minutes each have proven sufficient to allow students to complete the stages. More complex strategies may take longer in middle or high school.

Generalization and Maintenance

Procedures for promoting maintenance and generalization are integrated throughout the stages of instruction in the SRSD model. These include

  • Identifying opportunities to use the writing and/or self–regulation strategies in other classes or settings

  • Discussing attempts to use the strategies at other times

  • Reminding students to use the strategies at appropriate times

  • Analyzing how these processes may be modified with other tasks and in new settings

  • Evaluating the success of these processes during and after instruction It is helpful to involve others (e.g., other teachers, parents) as they can prompt the use of the strategies at appropriate times in other settings. Booster sessions in which the strategies are reviewed, discussed, and supported are very important for most students in terms of maintaining the strategies.


Students who have experienced significant learning problems frequently develop negative beliefs and expectations that result in low motivation, attitudinal problems, and lessened effort. Repeated failure can result in feelings of helplessness. These students believe that further effort will have little effect, even when the task is doable. Self–efficacy is believed to have a strong influence on performance as it affects a person's choice of activities, the amount of effort expended, and the degree of persistence one demonstrates in the face of difficulty. Students who believe they are capable of successful performance are likely to choose challenging activities, work hard, and persist when difficulties are encountered. Throughout SRSD, self–efficacy is supported and developed.

A brief overview of the six stages of instruction in SRSD is presented in Table 2.1.

Each stage is discussed in detail and then followed by an example of SRSD in the classroom. The stages of instruction, however, represent merely the framework of instruction. Thus, this description is followed by a discussion of critical characteristics of SRSD instruction and guidelines for evaluation of this process.


During this stage, background knowledge and any preskills (e.g., vocabulary, concepts) students need for learning and using the writing or self–regulation strategies are developed. For example, if students are going to learn a story–writing strategy (e.g., the Who, When, and Where [WWW] strategy for story writing included in this book), they must understand the vocabulary related to story parts, including who, when, and where, or for older students, setting and characters. Preskills and background knowledge should be developed far enough to allow students to move into the next stages. Their development can continue into Stages 2 (Discuss It) and 3 (Model It); however, it is usually best if preskills are mastered by Stage 4 (Memorize It). Background knowledge and preskill development activities depend on the learner and the knowledge and skills that must be developed. These skills can be developed in regard to both the composition and self–regulation strategies that are to be mastered.

The concept and use of self–instructions are often introduced in Stage 1. The teacher and students might collaboratively create self–instructions relevant to composition. For example, a student who tends to act impulsively might say to himself, "Remember, I need to take my time and go slow." A student with a low tolerance for frustration might say, "I'm not going to get mad. Getting mad makes me do bad." Students can practice using such self–instructions in a variety of situations as a part of preskill development; these self–instructions can then be incorporated into the later stages of strategies instruction. This may be particularly helpful for students who have not previously learned to use self–instructions.

In addition, the teacher can discuss with students how the things they say to themselves can either help or hurt them. Students might discuss the self–speech they currently use when asked to write and whether it helps them or needs to be changed. Negative or ineffective self–statements such as "I'm no good at this" or "I hate writing" can be identified, and the ways these statements interfere with performance can be discussed.


During this stage, the teacher and students discuss the significance and benefits of the writing and self–regulation strategies to be learned. Each step in the writing strategy is discussed, as are any mnemonics to be used. The importance of student effort in strategy mastery is also emphasized. Throughout instruction, it is essential that students recognize and discuss the role of effort in learning and using strategies, and that they see their efforts paying off in better writing. This emphasis on knowing more about the strategy and how it works, along with student effort, helps set the stage for the development of positive attitudes about writing. The goals of strategies instruction are discussed and determined. This stage enables students to make a commitment to strategy mastery and participation as a partner/collaborator while helping to establish motivation.

Along with their teacher, students may also examine their current performance on the targeted composing skill. Compositions from students' portfolios or those written before strategies instruction began can be read and analyzed. For example, if the story grammar strategy has been discussed, students' selected stories can be analyzed to see how many common story elements are included. In addition, students may graph the number of elements present in their stories. Graphing of current performance can help set the stage for both goal setting and self–monitoring. If current performance is examined to help set the stage for strategies instruction, it should be done in a positive, collaborative manner with the teacher stressing that students were not expected to have all the common story parts when these stories were written because they hadn't yet learned the strategy.

The teacher and students also discuss how and when to use the strategy. This discussion should not be limited to the writing task at hand. At this time, students can begin to identify opportunities to use the strategy in new situations or for other appropriate tasks (e.g., the story grammar strategy might be useful in writing a book report). However, the teacher should be sure that the proposed benefits of the strategy are expressed reasonably so that students do not develop unreasonable expectations. In addition, the teacher and students should discuss writing tasks in which this strategy would not be useful (e.g., the story–writing strategy would not be useful for writing a science report).


During this stage, the teacher or a peer models the composing strategy and selected types of self–instructions, thinking aloud while writing an actual composition. Types of self–instructions that can be introduced include problem definition (What is it? What do I have to do here?), focusing attention and planning (I need to concentrate. First I need to . . . then . . .), strategy step statements (I need to write down my strategy reminder), self–evaluation and error correcting (Have I used all of my parts? Oops! I missed one. I'd better add it), coping and self–control (I can handle this. I need to go slow and take my time), and self–reinforcement (I like this ending!). All of these forms should not be introduced at once. Instead, teachers should select types of statements and model statements specific to the needs and characteristics of their students. It is also important that the model demonstrate coping with difficulty, such as having trouble thinking what to do next or forgetting a strategy step, and then model how one successfully deals with a particular difficulty. Students can help the teacher when difficulties are encountered.

If students initially use prompts (they are typically used, as will be seen in the lesson plans), such as a graphic or chart listing the strategy steps or detailing a mnemonic and a graphic organizer for writing, the model should use them as well. The teacher can also set a goal for her or his composition, such as including all seven story parts, and evaluate the composition to see if that goal was met. Students can also be involved in the writing process by helping the teacher or peer model during planning and writing.

After self–regulation of the writing strategy has been modeled, the teacher and students should discuss the importance of the self–statements used during modeling as well as the goal setting and self–assessment. At this point, students typically begin developing their preferred self–instructions, recording them on paper or on bulletin boards. These self–instructions will be used in later stages; modeling, reexplanation, and further development of self–instructions can occur in later stages as needed. Teachers and students can discuss the strategy steps and instructional components and then collaboratively decide if any changes are needed to make the strategy more effective and efficient. This can be discussed again in later stages. Generalization of the strategy to other tasks and settings can also be discussed further.

Teachers who have used SRSD have either creatively augmented live modeling or come up with alternatives. One teacher who was uncomfortable with modeling from memory or from notes when he first began strategy instruction came up with an innovative approach that worked well for him and his students. He worked out his modeling script, making sure he had all of the components, steps, and self–instructions he wished to model. He then put his self–talk on audiotape, reading from the script but speaking naturally and appropriately. He played this tape with his writing group, using the overhead projector to simultaneously plan for a composition. When modeling planning using the strategy prompt and graphic organizer was completed, the teacher and his students collaboratively wrote the actual composition, using the notes generated while modeling. In addition, teachers have successfully incorporated videotapes of peers who have already learned the strategies modeling their use of the writing and selfregulation strategies.

One of the aspects of modeling that makes it such a powerful procedure is the extent to which the model's performance can be individualized to meet the needs of a particular student or group of students. When teachers first prepare to model for their students, they often find it helpful to brainstorm together. As teachers become more practiced and adept at modeling, they find the preparation for this stage much easier. Modeling scripts developed by three groups of teachers during a workshop are presented in Table 2.2. Each group identified and discussed a particular student or group of students for whom the modeling was intended and then identified particular needs or goals relevant to this student or group. The same picture was used by each group as a story prompt to facilitate comparing and contrasting the different scripts. Each group then developed a script for modeling the story–writing strategy. As you will see, the scripts differ in ways that make them responsive to the needs of the target students, yet each script is based on the same strategy.


During this stage, students are required to memorize the steps in the composing strategy and the meaning of any mnemonics used. Although the task of memorizing the strategy steps and mnemonics begins in earlier stages (as will be seen in the lesson plans), it is important that teachers be sure that their students have them memorized at this point. This stage is especially important for students who experience learning or writing difficulties because such students often experience memory problems as well. A strategy that cannot be recalled cannot be used. As one student stated, "You can't use it if you can't remember it!" Students who have already memorized the strategy will not need further practice in Stage 4. Once the strategy is memorized, students may paraphrase as long as the meaning remains intact. Students might also be asked to memorize one or more self–instructions from the personal lists they generated in Stage 3. Students can be prompted to use these statements in various appropriate contexts throughout the first four stages of strategy instruction; use of these self–statements will then come more easily in the next stage.


In the same way scaffolding provides support as a building is constructed, teachers at this stage support, or scaffold, students' strategy use. During this stage, students employ the strategy, self–instructions and other self–regulation procedures as they actually compose. The teacher provides as much support and assistance as needed and will write collaboratively for a time with students who need this level of support to be successful. Criterion levels should be gradually increased until final goals are met. Prompts, interaction, and guidance are faded at a pace appropriate to individual students until each student is effectively using the writing and self–regulation strategies without assistance. Throughout this stage, the teacher and students plan for and initiate generalization and maintenance of the strategies. This stage typically takes the longest of all the stages for those students who struggle with writing; students must be given adequate time and support to master the strategies.

Research and teachers' experiences clearly show that this stage is critical for students who find writing difficult (Graham & Harris, 2003; Harris & Graham, 1992; Harris, Graham, & Mason, 2003). In fact, without this stage, it has been determined that struggling writers show little or no improvement even after all four previous stages have been sufficiently completed. Only with support and collaborative writing, fading support until the student is writing independently, do these students make the strategy their own. More capable students may need little or no time in this stage. This is so important that we often remind teachers: Please Don't P.E.E. in the Classroom—Post, Explain (even model), and Expect. Success with SRSD depends on using all the stages for students who have difficulty with writing.


If students have not already made the transition to use of covert ("in the head") selfinstructions, doing so is encouraged at this stage as students use the strategies independently. Self–regulation procedures are continued, but they can be gradually faded as determined by the teacher and individual students. Plans for maintenance and generalization (e.g., booster sessions) continue to be implemented, and the teacher and students collaboratively evaluate strategy effectiveness and performance.


As we noted earlier, the six stages of instruction should not be followed like a cookbook. Good cooks take a recipe and personalize it. The acquisition stages in our SRSD model represent a metascript, providing a general format and guidelines. It is important for teachers to personalize and individualize strategy instruction to meet both the needs of their students and their own preferences and requirements. There are many ways in which the stages can be reordered, combined, and made recursive. For example, for some students, Stage 1 (Develop Background Knowledge) may not be necessary. Stage 4 (Memorize It) might be combined with Stage 2 (Discuss It). This may be particularly appropriate in situations where students have had previous strategies instruction, the composition strategy is complicated, and the teacher wants to be sure of some degree of strategy mastery before modeling to enhance the effects of modeling. In some instances, teachers have chosen to introduce self–instructions or some subset of selfinstructions in Stage 2 (Discuss It) rather than waiting until Stage 3 (Model It).

One teacher came up with an innovative approach: She combined Stage 3 (Model It) and Stage 5 (Support It). Her middle–school students had been learning writing strategies for some time, and the strategy on which they were working was a developmental extension of one they had previously mastered. She believed that combining these two stages would be beneficial and more efficient. After discussion of the new strategy, she used it to plan and create aloud her own persuasive essay while students followed the same strategy steps to plan and write their own essays. Our observations of her lessons and her students' essays indicated that this worked well.

It should be noted that the stages presented in this book do not necessarily correspond to individual lessons. In fact, stages in lessons are typically combined, as can be seen in the lesson plans. Furthermore, teachers and students take as many class periods as necessary to complete any given lesson plan; for example, lesson plan 1 may take only one class period, while lesson plans 2 through 6 may each take several class periods to complete.

Finally, there are many other ways that teachers can effectively modify the lesson plans in this book. For example, in the story–writing lesson plans, pictures are used as story starters. Teachers are not required to use these pictures or any pictures at all. Students can select their own story ideas, story starters can be used (e.g., "Corey was a huge, friendly black dog. One day, Corey . . ."), or other options can be determined. Because most SRSD work has been done as part of research projects in teachers' classes, aspects of instruction have been standardized. Teachers, however, do not have this limitation. In the story–writing lesson plans, very short stories are provided to read with students so they may find the story parts. Teachers may find it preferable to use the literature they are reading in their classrooms during this part of SRSD, which we encourage.

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