The Six Traits of Writing

In teaching elementary students how to write well, there is grammar and there is writing. Many teachers teach A LOT of grammar because when it comes to teaching writing they are at a loss.

What does it mean to teach writing? A useful model that can help elementary teachers is “The Six Traits of Writing” model. “The Six Traits of Writing” was developed in the 1980’s by several groups of researchers and teachers in order to bring about a more reliable method for analyzing and evaluating student writing.

Starting With the End in Mind: The Six Traits of Writing

“The Six Traits of Writing” model describes what good writers do. Like many breakthrough methods of instruction, this model was created by working backwards. The starting point was examining samples of excellent writing and then determining what made them excellent. The outcome of this project was these six common traits.

Overview of the Six Traits of Writing

  • Trait #1 Ideas – The message along with the main theme and details.
  • Trait #2 Organization – The internal connecting structure.
  • Trait #3 Voice – The unique expression of common words and ideas.
  • Trait #4 Word Choice – Using the right words to express ideas clearly, concisely, and creatively.
  • Trait #5 Sentence Fluency – Connecting strings of sentences with rhythm and flow.
  • Trait #6 Conventions – Grammar, spelling, punctuation, and everything else us nitpickers love to pick over.

The Six Trait Writing Model in Elementary School Writing

Understanding the Six Traits model can be very valuable for teachers. This model can be an excellent guide and reference in planning instruction and in evaluating student writing. The truth is that most writing taught in elementary school falls under at least one of the six traits. In other words, the Six Traits model puts a name and structure to what we are already teaching.

“The Six Traits” is Not All There is To Elementary Writing

The truth is there are many aspect of elementary school writing that are not addressed in the above six traits. Let’s look at some “vocabulary words” that the elementary school writing teacher must know:

Poetry, report writing, writing a friendly letter, writing with a purpose, writing to inform, writing to persuade, writing to explain, narrative writing, first person narrative, expository writing, compare and contrast writing, creative writing, journal writing, process writing, descriptive writing, the writing process, revising, prewriting, writing a summary, research papers, editing, proofreading, fantasy writing, genres of writing, vocabulary, writing lists, writing short answers, writing a newspaper article, writing a business letter, literary response, writing a critique or review…

In other words…

The Six Trait Model is Big Picture Thinking for the Teacher

It’s true that the teacher will want to be giving lessons on the above six traits. The teacher will also want to keep these traits in mind as they conference with students and evaluate student writing. However, we should also keep in mind that there is more to teaching writing than just these six traits.

The truth is, for many elementary writers, voice is not nearly as important as simply being able to create writing which will get them good grades and allow them to complete their work in a reasonable amount of time. Too many elementary students struggle with simply getting the job done. In fact, too many middle school students struggle with simply getting the job done.

In elementary school, some traits are more important that other traits!

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