The Traits of Good Writing

What are the traits of good writing? How can you give writers specific feedback that will help them improve and feel more confident about their writing skills? I’m heading back into the classroom again next week as a university faculty advisor, acting as a mentor and assessor for student teachers. New educational ideas bombard teachers at a hectic pace that often leaves their heads spinning. It makes it hard to pick out the quality strategies that are actually helpful.  One such strategy I will certainly discuss with the senior and middle years English teachers I’ll be supervising is the 6+1 or Seven Traits of good writing. I used it as an organizational and assessment tool on almost every assignment I gave to my high school students.

The concept is pretty simple. Instead of reading student essays or short stories and assigning an arbitrary grade like 17/20 you grade the piece for seven different qualities. You assign six points for each of the seven traits on the chart above.  The system developed by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland Oregon has provided a common language for teachers to talk about writing with students and has been shown to improve student writing scores on standardized tests. I like it because it helps students pinpoint what areas of their writing they need to work on. For example–students might have great ideas in their writing and you can give them full credit or 6 points for that, even if the words they choose to express those ideas aren’t the best. They might only get 2 points for their word choice. You would then work with the student to improve the quality of their word choice. You could provide information and support so they would learn how to choose words that are more descriptive, detailed and appropriate for kind of writing they are doing.

This poster from Scholastic gives a quick synopsis of what each trait is about. The system gives credit where credit is due and doesn’t let one negative quality of the writing overshadow all the others. Sometimes, for example, a writing piece may be poorly presented. It could be typed in a font that is hard to read, the paragraphs aren’t indented, it is handed in after being scrunched up in the student’s backpack with the remains of their lunch and it is illustrated with crudely drawn diagrams. The overall impression would make the teacher give the student a poor mark. In the 6+1 traits system the most you could deduct for those things would be the 6 presentation points and the student could still get full credit, or a full six points for something like conventions if they had used correct grammar, punctuation and spelling or a full 6 points for voice, if their writing was fresh and original and conveyed their passion for the topic they were writing about. 

That’s just a brief introduction to what 6+1 trait writing is all about. There are hundreds of books and websites that explain the strategy in greater depth. I think the seven traits are helpful not only to teachers and students but to anyone who wants to improve their writing skills. 

Other posts about writing……..

Helping Children Become Writers

Writing For Children Not As Easy As Thought

Six Things To Do Before You Begin Writing A Novel

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