Part 5 of 6: Balanced Literacy

You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page.

You can’t edit a blank page.

Jodi Picoult

Writing aloud is synonymous with modeled writing. Modeled writing is an important component to balanced literacy.

Balanced Literacy involves the following:

Guided Reading

Reading Aloud

Self Selected Reading

Word Work

Modeled Writing- This post

Independent Writing– Next post

Writing is an essential life skill. Everything we do involves being able to communicate through words. In this modern day, communicating effectively through e-mail is more important than ever. Thus, our children need to have regular opportunities to write in order to be good at it. In fact, they need us to role model what good writing looks like. That is where the modeled/shared writing lessons come in. (Writing aloud) When I say write, I’m talking about writing which is transferring thoughts from ones mind onto paper via handwriting, keyboarding, etc. I’m not talking about handwriting. In fact, in our tech world, most children write on i-Pads or laptops. As long as ideas are being crafted, the format to get the ideas onto the paper isn’t as important as the act of writing.

Reason 1: Writing is an essential life skill

Why should I make sure my child can write?

According to, writing is an essential skill in the work force. “Not only is writing an important academic skill, but it is also an important skill that translates into any career field. Nearly all professions require some form of writing on the job. For example, doctors and nurses write medical reports on patients; accountants and business managers create financial reports; engineers and software technicians write instructional sheets and user manuals; nearly every worker in all business fields composes emails and other forms of written communication for customers, clients, and co-workers. Ultimately, the number of job tasks that require writing is countless. Since writing is used in all fields and jobs, it is a skill that all students and workers should learn and become better at.”

When we role model how to write, it helps our children navigate their own writing. By starting early, they will have skills they need to write by the time they reach adulthood. I think most people think good writing skills happen by osmosis. When, in fact, they must be explicitly role modeled and taught. I remember my teachers assigning lots of writing assignments, but I don’t ever remember them thinking aloud, role modeling how the writing should look. Thus, I always invested a lot of time in my writing to only receive a “C” at best. I always had red marks all over my paper, but I never understood how to improve. When we think aloud during writing lessons for our students/children, we role model how to write effectively.

Even though we know that writing is an essential skill, it is amazingly one of the most often neglected. Why? Well, I think many of us aren’t sure how to teach the skills or role model the skills. This book will get you started: Writing Mini-Lessons For First Grade: The Four-Blocks Model By Dorothy P. Hall, Patricia Cunningham, and Denise Boger.  (This book is available for each grade level K- 5. )  There are also many other fabulous books that provide writing mini-lessons.  The mini-lessons are easy to follow allowing you to incorporate modeled writing without having to create lessons. 🙂

This only takes 15 minutes a day. How does one get better at writing? By writing. It is important to program at least 15 minutes a day to role model and another 20 minutes to allow your children to write. They need to time to apply the skills that were just role modeled during the writing aloud lesson.

Reason 2: The following skills can become the focus of modeled writing. Your children/students learn skills in context as you role model the writing by thinking aloud as you write.

  • use a Word Wall or other references for conventional spelling – You role model how to find words to spell by using a word wall or other references. Additionally, you role model to circle words you don’t know how to spell. (You tell children/students that you will edit circled words later. You don’t want to get hung up on spelling. You just want to get thoughts on the paper. By circling unknown words, you free the children to keep going, because they know they can come back later and edit.)
  • recall and follow rules of capitalization
  • use quotation marks correctly
  • follow rules for punctuation
  • indent for a new paragraph
  • write from left to right
  • write legibly
  • I call some of the above points CUPS (Capitalization, Usage, Punctuation, & Spelling)
modeled writing

Photo credit:

Reason 3: It sets students/children up for success by role modeling skills that students/children will need to use when they write independently. It shows students that writing isn’t as hard as it seems.

  • Thinking aloud while writing shows students the process of writing which moves them toward independent writing. This is another level in scaffolding which gives students/ children the support they need to learn mechanics, conventions, and the writing process.

  • Allows your children/students to gain competence and confidence in their writing skills, because the internal thinking process is demonstrated.

  • It shows your children/students that there are many topics to write about. It role models to just WRITE. Just get thoughts on the paper. This helps eliminate the most said phrase by children, “I don’t know what to write about.” The truth is that they are afraid that what they write will be wrong, or they haven’t been shown how to write thoughts down. They have plenty to write about when they are shown how. Writing aloud role models how to get thoughts onto paper.

So, What is Modeled Writing?

“Writing aloud, or modeled writing, is a strategy wherein teachers use “think aloud” strategy to share their thinking as they compose a piece of writing in front of students, helping make the writing process visible and concrete.

The writing can be about anything—a short piece about a shared experience that happened yesterday in the classroom, a list of supplies needed to set up an aquarium, directions for taking care of the class’s pet rabbit, or a longer piece about an early memory that may take several days to complete. The important point is that the teacher makes his or her thought process visible to students as he or she proceeds through the writing process. In this way the teacher is able to explicitly demonstrate the writing process and directly teach key writing skills and concepts.” (1)

When Should It Be Used?

“Writing aloud is a useful tool at any grade level and can be used throughout the school year with the whole class or with smaller groups who may need a little more support. It will be used more often at early grade levels and early in the year when developing writers are in more need of support and modeling in a variety of aspects of the writing process. Don Graves (1994) discusses these and other teacher demonstrations and states that students need this kind of instruction not once but at least once a week in a short focused lesson.” (1)

What Does It Look Like?

modeled writing

Photo credit: unknown

“Writing aloud is a “think-aloud” strategy. The main idea of this strategy is to allow students to see, and hear, the teacher use the writing process. All aspects of the writing process are modeled during writing aloud, although not always all at once. Especially at the younger grade levels, teachers concentrate on key aspects of the writing process in short, focused lessons.

Teachers may first model the brainstorming, idea-generating stage, considering aloud which possible topics they may write about, what aspect of the chosen topic, who the audience might be, and the purpose of the writing, among other considerations. Next, teachers talk through their thought processes as they draft their pieces. The content will vary, of course, depending on the grade level. For very young children, teachers will be choosing simple, grade-appropriate vocabulary, sounding out words slowly and carefully. Other concepts touched upon can include sentence structure, word choice, detail, adjectives, spelling, and so forth. Some teachers include a few well-chosen, purposeful errors to facilitate the later editing stage. The content of the writing piece can, and should, vary tremendously. Students should see all types of text in the write-aloud lessons, including narratives, lists, poetry, nonfiction, instructions, and correspondence.

Some pieces should be short and completed in one lesson, while others may be longer and continue through several days’ lessons. This allows students to see that writing can be an extended, ongoing process, and it also allows the teacher to model critical writing strategies such as rereading text you’ve already written before you continue to write. As teachers draft text in front of students, they also model the revision process-adding to the text, taking away, changing words or text order, and so forth. Often teachers ask themselves questions out loud to demonstrate their thought processes as they seek to add more detail to their texts.” (1)

How Can You Make It Happen?

Make time for it. Plan for explicit writing instruction. I believe that all grammar skills are best taught in context; so, trust me. This is not a waste of time. When you do this consistently, you will see your children improve their writing skills. Not only will they be able to put their thoughts onto paper successfully, but they will incorporate the skills you’ve role modeled. It’s beautiful. 🙂

Writing aloud can occur with the entire class, small groups, or one student. In any case, students should be arranged so that they are as close to the writing as possible. Many teachers set up a comfortable area with a rug in a quiet corner of the room just for such purposes. There should be an easily visible writing surface such as an easel or stand with chart paper or an overhead projector and screen. The lesson is generally relatively quick and focused on one or two key elements of the writing process. See this book for mini lesson ideas. (I’m not affiliated; I’ve just used it with success.) 🙂

modeled writing

This book is available for other grade levels. Photo credit:

Key concepts to take away:

  • Plan time to model writing with your children
  • Modeled writing sets your children up for successful independent writing
  • Modeled writing is writing aloud- a strategy where the teacher/parent teaches skills during a quick writing lesson by role modeling and thinking aloud
  • Writing is an essential life skill
  • Make writing a priority. Allow your children to have consistent times to write. One gets better at writing by writing.

Was this helpful to you? I’d love to know. Leave a comment.

Let’s make a positive difference~ one word at a time.


Please share this article with others that you think would benefit from these tips. Also, please ask any questions that you may have about teaching children reading or writing. Leave your questions in the comments. I’ll answer. 🙂

To learn more about Literate For Life, see the welcome post.

Also, if you’d like to get more helpful posts like this delivered to your e-mail, please be sure to subscribe to the list. See the blue box labeled “subscribe” on the top of the right side bar. This is free, and I promise not to send spam. I look forward to you becoming part of our community.