Twelve Tips to Teach the Reading-Writing Connection
Educators often talk about the reading-writing connection. Dr. Kate Kinsella of San Francisco State University summarizes the reading-writing connection research as follows:
- Reading widely and regularly contributes to the development of writing ability.
- Good writers were read to as children.
- Increasing reading frequency has a stronger influence on improving writing than does solely increasing writing frequency.
- Developmental writers must see and analyze multiple effective examples of the various kinds of writing they are being asked to produce (as well as ineffective examples); they cannot, for example, be expected to write successful expository essays if they are primarily reading narrative texts.
Teaching reading and writing strategies concurrently certainly does allow teachers to “kill two birds with one stone.” Now this is not to say that reading or writing instruction should always be taught in tandem. There are certainly important lessons and skill development exclusive to each field. However, the following twelve tips to teach the reading-writing connection will enhance students’ facility in both disciplines.
1. Teach the Author-Reader Relationship
Both reading and writing involve interactive relationships between author and reader. Reading really is about communication between the reader and the author. Now, it’s true that the author is not speaking directly to the reader; however, readers understand best when they pretend that this is so. Unlike reading, writing requires the thinker to generate both sides of the dialog. The writer must create the content and anticipate the reader response. Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog with their anticipated readers, while they write, is vitally important.
Strategy: Write Aloud
2. Teach Prior Knowledge
What people already know is an essential component of good reading and writing. Content knowledge is equally important as is skill acquisition to read and write well. Reading specialists estimate that reading comprehension is a 50-50 interaction. In other words, about half of one’s understanding of the text is what the reader puts into the reading by way of experience and knowledge. However, some disclaimers are important to mention here. Although prior knowledge is important, it can also be irrelevant, inaccurate, or incomplete which may well confuse readers or misinform writers. Of course, the teacher has the responsibility to fill gaps with appropriate content.
3. Teach Sensory Descriptions
Both readers and writers make meaning through their sensory experiences. Recognizing sensory references in text improves understanding of detail, allusions, and word choice. Good readers apply all of their senses to the reading to better grasp what and how the author wishes to communicate. They listen to what the author is saying to them. For example, good readers try to feel what the characters feel, visualize the changing settings, and hear how the author uses dialog. Applying the five senses in writing produces memorable “show me,” rather than “tell me” writing.
Strategy: Interactive Reading
4. Teach Genre Characteristics
All reading and writing genres serve their own purposes, follow their own rules, and have their own unique characteristics. Knowing the text structure of each genre helps readers predict and analyze what the author will say and has said. For example, because a reader understands the format and rules of a persuasive essay, the reader knows to look for the thesis in the introduction, knows to look for the evidence that backs up the topic sentence in each body paragraph, and knows to look for the specific strategies that are utilized in the conclusion paragraphs. Writing form is an important component of rhetorical stance. Knowing each genre (domain) also helps writers include the most appropriate support details and evidence. For example, persuasive essays often use a counterpoint argument as evidence.
Strategy: Rhetorical Stance
5. Teach Structural Organization
Readers recognize main idea, anticipate plot development or line of argumentation, make inferences, and draw conclusions based upon the structural characteristics of the reading genre. For example, readers expect the headline and introductory paragraph(s) of a newspaper article to follow the structural characteristics of that genre. For example, since news articles include Who, What, Where, When, and How at the beginning, the informed reader knows to look for these components. Similarly, writers apply their knowledge of specific structural characteristics for each writing genre. For example, knowing the characteristics of these plot elements: problem, conflict; rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution will help the writer craft a complete narrative.
Strategy: Numerical Hierarchies
6. Teach Problem Solving Strategies
Good readers and writers act like detectives, looking for clues to understand and solve a case. In a persuasive essay, the reader should detect how a thesis is argued, how the variety of evidence is presented, and if the conclusions are justified in light of the evidence. In a narrative, the writer needs to clearly state the basic problem of the story and how that problem leads to a conflict. Through the elements of plot, the writer must deal with this conflict and resolve it to the reader’s satisfaction.
7. Teach Coherency and Unity
For both reading and writing, the object is to make sense of the content. Recognizing the author’s rhetorical organization, grammatical patterns, transition words, and use of writing techniques such as repetition, parallelism, and summary will facilitate comprehension. Knowing how the author communicates helps the reader understand what is being communicated. Applying an organizational pattern appropriate to the writing content and effective writing techniques will help the reader understand the content of the communication. Writing unity refers to how well sentences and paragraphs stay focused on the topic. For example, readers need to train themselves to look for irrelevant (off the point) details. Similarly, writers need to ensure that their writing stays on point and does not wander into tangential “birdwalking.”
Strategies: Coherency and Unity
8. Teach Sentence Structure Variety
Good readers are adept at parsing both good and bad sentence structure. They consciously work at identifying sentence subjects and their actions. They apply their knowledge of grammar to build comprehension. For example, they recognize misplaced pronouns and dangling participles, such as in “The boy watched the dog beg at the table and his sister fed it” and are able to understand what the author means, in spite of the poor writing. Good writing maintains the reader’s attention through interesting content, inviting writing style, effective word choice, and sentence variety. Knowing how to use different sentence structures allows the writer to say what the writer wants to say in the way the writer wants to say it. Most professional writers plan 50% of their sentences to follow the subject-verb-complement grammatical sentence structure and 50% to follow other varied sentence structures. No one is taught, convinced, or entertained when bored.
Strategy: Grammatical Sentence Openers
9. Teach Precise Word Choice
Understanding the nuances to word meanings lets the reader understand precisely what the author means. Knowing semantic variations helps the reader understand why authors use the words that they do and helps the reader “read between the lines,” i.e., to infer what the author implies. When writers use words with precision, coherency is improved. There is no ambiguity and the reader can follow the author’s intended train of thought.
Strategies: Vocabulary Ladders and Semantic Spectrums
10. Teach Style, Voice, Point of View, Tone, and Mood
Good readers recognize how an author’s writing style and voice (personality) help shape the way in which the text communicates. For example, if the style is informal and the voice is flippant, the author may use hyperbole or understatement as rhetorical devices. Recognizing whether the author uses omniscient or limited point of view in the first, second, or third person will help the reader understand who knows what, and from what perspective in the reading. Identifying the tone of helps the reader understand how something is being said. For example, if the tone is sarcastic, the reader must be alert for clues that the author is saying one thing, but meaning another. Identifying the mood of a literary work will enable the reader to see how the plot and characters shape the feeling of the writing. For example, knowing that the mood of a poem is dark allows the reader to identify the contrasting symbolism of a “shining light.” In addition to applying the writing tools described above, good writers need to be aware of errors in writing style that do not match the rules and format of certain forms of writing, such as the formal essay.
Strategy: Writing Style Errors
11. Teach Inferences
Both reading and writing is interpretive. Readers infer meaning, make interpretations, or draw logical conclusions from textual clues provided by the author. Writers imply, or suggest, rather than overtly state certain ideas or actions to build interest, create intentional ambiguity, develop suspense, or re-direct the reader.
Strategy: Inference Categories
12. Teach Metacognition and Critical Thinking
Reading and writing are thinking activities. Just decoding words does not make a good reader. Similarly, just spelling correctly, using appropriate vocabulary, and applying fitting structure to paragraphs does not make a good writer. Knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses as a reader or writer helps one identify or apply the best strategies to communicate. Knowing how to organize thought through chronology, cause-effect, problem-solution, or reasons-evidence rhetorical patterns assists both reader and writer to recognize and apply reasoning strategies. Knowing higher order questioning strategies, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation helps the reader and writer see beyond the obvious and explore issues in depth.
Strategies: Self-Questioning and Reasoning Errors
Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight to adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. With multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games (364 pages), even novice reading teachers and para-professionals will be able to use these user-friendly resources to effectively differentiate reading instruction with minimal preparation.
Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies.