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Emphasize the “trump” traits

January 7, 2019

While all six traits are ingredients to strong writing, they are not equally important when it comes to planning mini-lesson instruction. Writing teachers should not spend equal time teaching each trait throughout the curriculum.

To be clear—voice, word choice, and sentence fluency are valuable. They add sophistication and style to the writing. However, the traits of ideas, organization, and conventions are essential to glean the core and substance of the message.

For example, improving the word choice is less important when the piece is lacking information (i.e., ideas). Adding more voice can be a back-burner issue if the organization and flow are hard to follow. Similarly, creating sentence variety is not necessary if a reader can’t determine the words written because the spelling is so off (i.e., conventions).

The traits of ideas, organization, and conventions play a bigger role in the overall impact of the message. Therefore, they are often referred to as the “trump” traits. Similar to a card game where the trump suit outranks the other cards, the importance of these three traits in writing outranks the overall weight of voice, word choice, and sentence fluency.

Embracing this concept will help teachers prioritize what to target when planning mini-lesson instruction. If there are many writer weaknesses, focus on those that will dramatically improve the writing first. And those always fall under the traits of ideas, organization, and conventions.

IDEAS–The trait of ideas is the core of the writing. Students must first have a topic and provide details about it before there is anything else to improve.

ORGANIZATION–Once the ideas are solid, target the order they are all presented in. The reader needs a logical flow to follow. And note, the more information provided, the more vital the trait of organization becomes.

CONVENTIONS–Dynamic ideas and logical organization are moot if the reader can’t glean the information. Grade-appropriate conventions (i.e., spelling, grammar, and mechanics) are necessary in order to communicate clearly to the reader.

To remember the key writing skills that fall under all six traits, purchase a 6-Traits Cheat Sheet.

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