Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

How to Turn Your Students into Writers Using "Kid Writing" Strategies

When it’s early in the year, and you have a brand-new crop of students at varying levels of reading and writing proficiency, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. How can you get students started writing if they have no experience or skills yet? How can you get them excited about writing when they might be intimidated by the very idea of it? The strategies presented in Kid Writing in the 21st Century lay it all out for you.

This book fills the gap between your students being able to write with "squiggles and diamonds" and with full, proficient alphabetic writing.  It takes you step by step from pre-literacy to successful writing workshop participation.  It’s not enough to just say, "write as best you can”; you need to show children how and support them.

If you start by asking them to draw a picture and write about it—at whatever phase level they are currently in, no matter how little experience they have—and give them tools to do so, they’ll become joyous “writers” even before they can write their names. Tools like the “magic line”—a line used as a placeholder when a student doesn’t know how to write any sounds in the word—take away intimidation by giving kids a way forward when they are stumped. It lets them improve their alphabetic principle skills and their confidence by skipping ahead to what they do know.

This book is the only resource that will have all your students actually writing as soon as you implement it. Many of the basal-type series might tell you to have kids write but don't actually show you how to get them started. Others have kids jump through a bunch of hoops learning ABCs and sound-symbol correspondences before letting them get to the fun part of the writing itself.

With Kid Writing, there’s no demoralizing phonics boot camp for kids to get through before they become writers—they’ll be writers from the start, learning how to identify as such and be proud of it! In Kid Writing, children's natural, gradual approximations to conventional spelling are built on, celebrated, and fine-tuned, eventually becoming sensible, logical phonetic spelling that leads to conventional spellings. Every step is groundwork for more traditional-style writing workshop.

According to an outcry among scientists and reading educators (such as Richard Allington), there is a gap between what the science says and current classroom practices. Most reading programs are twenty years behind the times because they haven’t been paying attention to the science of reading, but you can bring your students into the future!

Research in neuroimaging and cognitive psychology (Gene Ouellette and others) shows that use of the Kid Writing technique “stretching through a word with a moving target,” which involves emphasizing through volume and elongation only those sounds the teacher thinks students can successfully encode, helps kids integrate phonological awareness, phonics, decoding, encoding, and sight word recognition in the brain.

In this technique, context is key.  The sound/symbol correspondences emphasized are kept within the context of the word; the word is kept within the context of the sentence; and the sentence is within the context of the child's story or information. 

Then, to expose the student to the conventionally spelled version of what he or she just wrote, you’ll “publish” the child’s writing by rewriting it below the child’s work, so that the child can read back what he or she wrote. (This is our “adult underwriting” technique.) Kids learn the alphabet, sight words, and actual reading in the context of their own authentic writing.  This integration of skills multiplies and accelerates the learning!

Another benefit of the Kid Writing approach is flexibility in applying a child’s existing knowledge. Many other programs focus on first learning beginning sounds, then ending sounds. Kid Writing advocates that if a child knows a sound/symbol correspondence, he or she can use it early on wherever it appears in a word, as long as the child is taught to stretch through with a moving target. Being able to use what is already known is very empowering for both teachers and students!

 With these research-based, scientifically supported techniques, you’ll learn how to get your students started writing right from the beginning—even those kids who don’t know how to write their names yet—and how to monitor progress using phase observation from the earliest beginnings of kindergarten through the independent writing expected by the end of first grade. No other book or program sets your students up for such immediate success the way that Kid Writing does:

  • Scaffold early invented spelling with research-based techniques.
  • Make the writing–reading connection explicit.
  • Focus on learning the easiest sounds first.
  • Model conventional spelling through shared writing (large-chart write aloud).
  • Use the “magic line” technique to remove intimidation and increase confidence.
  • Implement the essential, science-based “stretch through a word with a moving target” technique for integrating phonological awareness, decoding, encoding, and meaning making in the beginning writer’s brain.
  • Monitor each child’s progress through five easy-to-identify research-based developmental phases.
  • Engage writers creatively in standards-based genres and content areas.

Kid Writing in the 21st Century  is your complete and comprehensive guide for developing meaningful and joyful proficient writers (and readers) in pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade!


Kid Writing in the 21st Century authors J. Richard Gentry, Eileen Feldgus, and Isabell Cardonick are award-winning educators who have many years of classroom experience and have been testing the strategies and skills presented in the book  for over 20 years.