Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

3 Ideas for Functional Writing Practice [First Grade]

By Sarah Maze, M.S. Ed., Guest Blogger

Why do we write? Why is it important to do it well? These are questions that your students may ask. As teachers, providing real-life examples to demonstrate the importance of good writing skills can help motivate students to develop written communication. Today we will focus on a few different types of functional writing in first grade. First, let’s examine the traits of first-grade writing.

Assessing First-Grade Writing Skills

There is a Writing Developmental Scale Assessment within Kid Writing in the 21st Century that is helpful in understanding the skills most first graders bring and the skills we aim for at the end of the year. In August and September, most first graders begin sentences with the word I and spell phonetically. The standards emphasize using correct capitalization and ending punctuation.

Other skills include varying sentence structure with conjunctions and prepositional phrases, as well as expanding sentences with details and adjectives. By December, students are practicing many of these skills in their daily writing. They are learning to write paragraphs with a topic sentence, details, and a conclusion. Keeping these goals in mind, how do we practice these skills as we teach functional writing? Let’s look at three leveled first-grade books we can use to support functional writing.

Ways to Support Functional Writing

Labels are one type of functional writing that can help students understand text. Common Core Standards require students to use nonfiction text features such as labels to locate key facts in a text. All About Pigs is an informational text that can demonstrate the function of labels for students. In this book, the parts of a pig are labeled to correspond with the text. After examining labels in this book, students can apply this concept to their own writing by labeling another animal or plant.

Enjoying Blueberries with Mom is a narrative text about two children who pick blueberries with their mom. Throughout the book, they use blueberries in many different recipes, and then they go pick more. There are many ways to apply this story to functional writing. Let’s look at two possibilities.

  1. Thank You Cards - Pretending to be one of the characters in the book, you can guide students in writing a thank you card to the mom for all the recipes she made with the blueberries. Thank you cards offer an opportunity to teach the different parts of a letter, including the date, greeting, body, and salutation. Then students could write their own thank you card to someone for time spent together.
  2. Invitations - As a class, choose a character from the book. Do a guided lesson on writing an invitation to someone to pick blueberries with them next time. This could be their family member, friend, etc. Include important details such as place, date, time, and event. This would be a great lesson to do before a classroom event, such as an open house or classroom performance. Students can create an invitation for their families too.

Another type of functional writing is procedural writing. In first grade, this is often called informative or a “how-to” paragraph. Procedural writing teaches kids how to do a task. It requires steps in order and details so that the reader can accomplish the task at hand. Procedural writing incorporates skills such as the correct sequence of steps, expanding sentences with details, choosing strong verbs, etc.

Tortilla Sundays incorporates procedural writing and provides an opportunity for students to either learn about another culture or share their culture. Ask students if they know what tortillas are, how they eat tortillas, or how to make tortillas. Read the book and then list the ingredients used to make the tortillas. Next, list the steps.

Talk about the information that may be missing but helpful if you wanted to make tortillas on your own. The book doesn’t list the measurements used, so in the next lesson, you can have fun by cooking something as a class. As you cook, guide students to write down the ingredients and steps. Ideas could be making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, grilled cheese on a griddle, Rice Krispie treats, etc.

Now students are ready to apply procedural writing to a task they know how to do. It could be drawing something, making a snowman, cooking a recipe, doing a cartwheel, etc. This is a great way to encourage students to use strong verbs and include details in their writing. Reading their writing to a partner will help them recognize gaps that missing or places that need clarification.

As you encourage functional writing, students will understand the many purposes of everyday writing and how to support their understanding of informational texts. Students will also be applying writing skills such as those mentioned in Kid Writing in the 21st Century: A Systematic Approach to Phonics, Spelling, and Writing Workshop . Check back soon for more ideas to incorporate into your instruction!


Sarah is an elementary school teacher who has taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and fifth grade. One of her most unique experiences was teaching orphans in Tanzania, Africa for a year. If you like what you read here, be sure to read more by Sarah on our blog .