When my kids write I never just slap a grade on what they’ve done. Instead, I give them real feedback using the 6 traits of writing:
Ideas and Content
I typically give them a score for each trait 1-5, along with a brief comment about what they did well and how they can improve.
Effective writing includes ideas that are valuable and interesting. It should be organized in a logical, effective way. Word choice should be specific, descriptive, and memorable. It should include sentence fluency that is smooth, with sentences of varying lengths and varying patterns. It should have conventions that are correct and communicative rather than being riddled with mistakes. Finally, effective writing is full of voice, meaning it has a personal tone specific to the author.
Here is a printable form that will help you as you evaluate your kids’ writing.
Now, to help you even more I’m going to detail what each of the 6 traits of writing really mean.
Ideas and Content
This is the bulk of your writing. It’s the message, the reason for writing what you’re writing. You should:
- Pick something meaningful to you.
- Keep it focused and to the point.
- Skinny it down. Don’t be too wordy.
- Avoid general statements so your message is direct and clear. I should know clearly what point or message you are trying to get across.
Organization is what gives direction to the reader.
- Make sure to have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
- Make the first and last sentences are perfect. Spend some real time crafting them.
- Use transitions.
- Make sure each paragraph supports what you’re saying.
- Make sure each sentence within a paragraph supports the topic sentence.
Word choice means choosing words that are descriptive and precise.
- Paint a picture for your reader.
- Use specific verbs.
- Keep your vocabulary natural.
- Keep your 5 senses in mind and include descriptions of what you want your reader to experience.
- Don’t repeat the same words over and over.
- Have some fun using similes, alliteration, or other vivid language.
Sentence fluency means that your sentences vary in length and structure.
- Make some sentences long and others short.
- Be careful not to start all of your sentences the same way. (Beginning writers tend to start with “the”)
- Build your sentences thoughtfully, switching the order of the subjects and predicates for variety.
An example of sentence fluency:
“My crazy cat tipped over the plant again. My cat is so full of mischief.”
“My crazy cat tipped over the plant again. Mischief is his middle name.”
The second time I varied the second sentence so that I wasn’t starting both sentences the same way. Makes for more interesting reading.
Conventions include proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It’s following the rules so your errors aren’t distracting.
- Proofread. Edit.
- Have someone else proofread and edit too.
I have found that the most effective way to teach this DURING the writing process is just by editing together. Rather than having kids turn in a paper and then getting it back with marks all over it, sit next to the kiddo and explain what changes need to be made. Have them make corrections as you talk.
Voice is your own personal touch. Your writing should sound like you!
- Say what you truly think and feel.
- Be yourself.
- Write conversationally, but still correctly. Writing is still more formal than talking.
Sometimes I use the printable grid, but now that my kids are familiar with the 6 traits sometimes I just jot a note on their paper like this:
However you do it, take the time to teach the real skills and techniques of writing instead of just expecting them to come up with them all on their own. They’ll definitely grow as writers.
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