Developmental Writing Stages

Kari has written a wonderful book on teaching writing... It is ten chapters long and this is installment three. She has graciously given permission for "The Sentinel" to publish it over the next ten weeks. We hope you enjoy it as much as we have!


Children learn to write in three distinct stages.  Within each stage children learn to identify their particular, special strengths and weaknesses.  It is exciting to watch children work their way from one stage to another.  The more they write and follow the “Writing Traffic Light” process, the more confidence they gain, and the better writers they become.

The Beginning Writer

In this first stage, parents and teachers should celebrate children’s enthusiasm!  Young children can hardly wait to tell you about their pet or how they scraped their knee.  They want to write a bout it and tell the whole world!
As a parent or teacher, do not discourage that enthusiasm!  Let them use as much paper as they need.  Young children feel accomplishment when they write their own sentences.  Help them to see that they can write things by sounding out words.  Young children love to draw and these illustrations are an integral part of their writing.  Teach them simple drawing techniques (see How to Draw Simple Shapes Chapter).   Encourage them and then ask them about their artwork and words.  This stage needs LOTS of time; so when you do the activities in this book, make sure that you plan to take plenty of time.  Don’t expect that your children will finish their projects quickly.  If a writing activity take a week, that’s ok!  Take the week, whatever you do, don’t rush this stage!

Editing in this stage is very short.  Have children read aloud what they have written to a friend.  Teach good listening skills to your class.  There will not be much revising, which is just fine.  It already took a lot of effort just to get the letters written the first time!  Part of the charm of this stage is young children’s excitement and experimentation with writing letters and drawing.  Editing with young children should include elaborating on their story.  Ask what can they ad to make their story better.


Young children can add a nice title and write their names to their stories.  Invite them to share their work by reading to an audience and hanging it on the wall or other well-seen place.  Celebrate their success and improvement through the whole process!

Beginning Writers…

  • Write with scribbles
  • Use random letters to represent writing
  • Can write their name
  • Write the first sounds of words (C=Cat)
  • Write first and last sounds of words (CT= Cat)
  • Write stories that are mostly illustrations with only a few letters to tell the story
  • Love to write about themselves and what they know

Mari is a beginning writer. She loves to write stories about her cat.  As she progresses in her writing and reading, she uses beginning letter sounds to represent words:  MCRF= My Cat Runs Fast.  The fact that Mari knows which way text is read and written—left to right, top to bottom—is something to celebrate.  She knows where the title is and the page numbers go.  She follows her teacher’s hands as she demonstrates writing. She writes in her writing journal each day, usually by drawing a picture and a sentence.
When Mari decides to write a book about cats, at first her stories are just scribbles with very basic drawings of round cats.  The drawings of her cats remain the same, but soon Mari writes a few random letters.  Later, she puts one or two words on each page of her “Flip and Fold” book (see Activities)  Ft ct= Fat cat.  Mari leaves out the vowels, but ‘hears’ the beginning and end sounds of each word.  Her teacher does not correct spelling at this point.  Mari will learn to spell as she becomes more proficient at reading and writing.  The teacher simply tells her to sound words out the best that she can and listen for the letters.  Because she doesn’t rely on the teacher to correct and spell, Mari feels independent and confident about spelling words.
Mari works on her book each day for about a week, writing letters, drawing and coloring.  When Mari finishes her book, she reads it to her friend Kirstie.  Kirstie asks what her cat eats, and Mari adds a new page to her book.  She gives it a title and reads it to her class and family.  It has been a successful writing experience for Mari and she has inspired many others to write books of their own.



The Developing Writer

The developing writer stage can be frustrating, but also very satisfying at the same time.  Children’s progress during this stage from one year to the next is amazing.  This stage typically lasts longer than the first, but if children see it for what it is—a stage they must go through—then they will begin to see the broader picture and they will become great writers.

Children in this stage are more cautious and nervous about their writing.  Remind them that this step is where they get the ideas out of their head!  Any focus on spelling and content will come in the EDIT step.  Parents and teachers should be positive about their children’s efforts to write.

Have them read aloud to themselves whatever they have written and make any corrections, including filling in missing words or taking out repetitive words.  Have children check their spelling and punctuation.  Have them read what they have written to a friend to see if it makes sense or if they can find any grammatical errors. Encourage elaboration, write more details!
If the “working copy” gets too messy, have them make another draft.  Teach kids that you will go back and forth from writing to editing.  Write and edit, that is how their papers get better!

Children love to make things SPARKLE!  Give lots of opportunities to finish and then share their writing.  Encourage best handwriting in this step or type on the computer.


Developing Writers…

  • Understand that writing is for more than just stories
  • Use more text than illustration
  • Have a growing vocabulary
  • Make a big deal about spelling things correctly
  • Can be slowed down by handwriting
  • Write better as they become more proficient readers
  • Like to write stories, poems, letters, etc.
  • Like to change their stories into plays, shape books, information books, advertisements, etc.


Logan is a developing writer.  He likes to read as well as to be read to.  Writing is much harder for him because although he has good ideas, he struggles to get them on paper.  He writes slowly and he worries about what his handwriting looks like, Logan is always nervous that he will spell the words wrong.

When Logan is assigned a topic that is not of this liking, he will take short cuts.  His sentences are choppy and general.  Logan likes to use new words when writing his stories, however, when given the chance to write about a topic of his choice, he chooses something that will be popular with his peers.  How he perceives his peers is very important at this stage.  He may also choose something that he has an interest in.  Logan still struggles with the writing process, but he is beginning to see its worth.

Editing, sometimes, feels like an attack on his self-esteem, rather than a natural part of the writing process.  He loves to make his papers and stories SPARKLE and the choice of size and font type are important.  Everything needs to be  BIG!  He is more critical of his artwork.  He wants his drawings to be realistic, and feels frustrated when he lacks the artistic skill to make them so.

Logan’s teacher knows that to find and develop his writer’s voice, Logan must ‘try on’ different voices.  To do this, she introduces varied projects, such as imitating other authors, trying his hand at poetry, and working many specific grammar lessons into his individualized writing.  The teacher knows that the more Logan writes and learns the “Writing Traffic Light” process, the easier it will become for him, and thereby will be more helpful to him.  Logan’s teacher encourages him to work with partners through the editing process, as well as for just bouncing off ideas.  The room is a buzz with writing activity.  He types his stories and projects on the computer.  He is learning to not be afraid to edit and correct his typed papers.  He likes to elaborate and add more details.

Logan writes in his writing journal each day.  He writes things down that interest him, or makes lists of things such as his favorite books, funny sounding words, favorite places, things he wishes for.  The teacher shows him how to transplant his really good ideas from his writing journal into stories, poems, or artwork.  He is learning to really enjoy writing and to find the writer within himself.

When Logan gets to the SPARKLE stage, he prints out his final project on nice paper.  He sits in the author’s chair and reads it with great expression to his audience.  After a lot of work he has had great success, and it shows on his face!



The Experienced Writer:

Experienced writers find that words are easy to put on a page.  They have found their voice or personal style of writing, and have definite ideas about what they like to write about and how. 


Children who are experienced writers think about their audience, or whom they are writing for.  Sometimes children in this group become bored by having to write the same things.  They need to be given opportunities to write in different genres or styles.  Instead of always writing stories, have children write a screenplay, write and illustrate a children’s book, write a newspaper article, or put their ideas into a Power point presentation, or start a family newsletter.  Help children realize that they can be a real benefit to their family, class, and society with real and meaningful assignments.  Give them guidelines, then Watch out!  They will take off with the idea, perhaps in an unexpected way!

As experienced writers EDIT, have them read through their writing projects, asking themselves, “Is this clear?  What questions would my audience have?”  Have them bounce ideas off a friend, for clarity.  Challenge young writers to eliminate duplicate words and teach them to use a thesaurus.  Children in this group should not be afraid to take pen in hand and mark up what they have written.  They know this is part of the writing process and that critical editing will benefit them.

The key here is to FINISH!  Experienced writers love to start stories, but sometimes have a hard time finishing them.  Encourage children to complete their stories by giving them a purpose such as hosting an “Author’s Event”, where each child shares his or her finished story.  Help children SPARKLE by giving them a forum, or “real” place, to show off their writing:  a school newspaper or family newsletter, etc.

Experienced Writers…

  • Know their voice and how they write best
  • Have ideas and words flow easily
  • Are able to write with greater detail
  • See the cause-effect relationships between things
  • Like working on their own projects and stories
  • Know that words can bring happiness, can hurt, or persuade others
  • May not want to share their work with their peers for fear of being judged by them  (They fear other’s opinions of their work.)
  • Can think clearly about their past, present and future
  • See that their actions can affect their future

A year ago Kay was nervous to share her works with others—fearing their judgment.  Now, after using the “Writing Traffic Light” process over and over, she has gained confidence as a writer.
Kay has two or three projects “in the works” at all times and has discovered that for now, she likes to write fantasy using castles, adventure, elves, etc.  Her vocabulary in her stories demonstrates that she is also an avid reader.  She no longer fears printing out a page to then rearrange it and to mark it up during the EDIT step.  Kay’s final projects are longer, mostly text and are dotted only with an occasional illustration.

She enjoys writing different things, including screenplays, mysteries, essays, or even creating a web site.  Kay likes to write for real purposes, knowing that people will be affected by her writing.  She is not intimidated by writing an article for a newsletter or paper.

She enjoys writing with and for friends, getting their input, writing a story together, or having them help edit her work.  Words come easy for Kay and through the “Writing Traffic Light” process she has learned to use her inner voice and finds meaning in her writing.  She has also learned that her stories can bring happiness and amusement to others.  She has also discovered that her words have the power to persuade.  Kay likes to read her stories and papers to others.

Kay fills her writing journal with things that she wants to use in her stories.  She is interested in how the author chooses to worked things and collects plots, characters and setting ideas.  She loves to write and start stories, write poems, or copy down lyrics to her favorite songs and questions she ponders.

Next week: "Start a Writing Journal"

You can leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions here on my feedback page. Thanks!

- Kari