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Follow a 6-Traits introduction with genre-specific units
september 22, 2020
An intentional, explicit introduction to the Six Traits of Writing should be part of the annual start-up to any writer’s workshop. Regardless if students know a lot or a little about these six ingredients to good writing, this establishes common language among the community of writers.
With procedures in place, writer stamina built, and trait language introduced, now teachers transition into writing units. For some, this is to embark on six to nine-week units, while others prefer shorter mini-units. Regardless of the approach, the secret is to teach students the different purposes and structures of the different genres.
Argumentative, persuasive, informative, and narrative writing all include the same six traits—but they each require different subskills. Remember, your yearlong writing instruction is not focused on “teaching the traits” but instead on teaching small skills within mini-lessons. The traits simply provide a way to organize those skills into logical, research-based categories.
For example, each unit relies heavily on the trait of organization. But the unique purpose and function of the beginning, middle, and end will vary—thus your lessons would be different.
- Organization in persuasive/argumentative writing includes a What & Why structure. The introduction identifies the topic or issue and the writer’s opinion, claim, or stance on it. The middle paragraphs then develop the reasons and evidence to explain why.
- Organization in how-to informative writing includes a chronological structure. The introduction identifies the topic or concept and the body describes the individual steps to achieve it. (NOTE: There are many other genres and text structures for informative writing. This is just a single example.)
- Organization in narrative writing includes a Who, What, & How structure. The beginning introduces the character (i.e., who), the middle reveals the problem (i.e., what), and the end explains how it was resolved.
Here is a more thorough list of unit-specific writing skills organized by the traits.
For primary and ELL teachers, this is also the case when guiding students through the developmental stages of writing. The traits are evident in pictorial writing, labeling, listing, and sentence writing. So each writing unit—regardless of the developmental stage—should still include trait-based lessons– but again, the skills would be vastly different. Here’s a list of examples.
Regardless of the grade level, when teaching writing, you must decide which trait-based skills you want to target per unit and then identify the lessons that will best support your instruction.