Teaching Writing in Kindergarten

by Joan Sedita | 1 | 2 Comments

I just read another good blog post from Tim Shanahan, this one about how to teach writing in kindergarten…. on the same day that our new Keys to Early Writing book is going to the printer! So, I thought I’d devote this entry to kindergarten writing instruction.

You might be asking this question: Do young children in kindergarten even have the skills to be able to write? Part of the answer is how you define writing. If you substitute the word composing, it’s easy to see that the answer is yes! Kindergarteners definitely have the ability to compose, even if they can’t yet read or write letters.

One thing we point out in our Keys to Early Writing training is the difference between transcription skills and writing/composing skills. Transcription skills include spelling and handwriting, tasks for which students should become fluent by the time they leave grade 3. For reading, when students become fluent in decoding/word recognition, there is more cognitive energy available to focus on making meaning. It’s similar to writing – when students become fluent in transcription skills, it frees them to focus on determining what they want to say and how they want to say it. However, with both reading and writing, this doesn’t mean that students have to learn to decode, spell and write letters before we can teach them comprehension and compose. The Common Core writing standards recognize this. The opinion, informational, and narrative writing standards all begin in Kindergarten as shown below.

Kindergarten Common Core Writing Standards:

  • # 1 Opinion Writing: tell the topic or name of a book, state opinion or preference; use drawing, dictating, and writing to complete an opinion piece
  • # 2: Informational Writing: name what they are writing about; use drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative texts; supply some information about the topic
  • # 3: Narrative Writing: use drawing, dictating and writing to narrate a single event of several loosely linked events; tell about the events in the order in which they occurred; provide a reaction to what happened

Notice that the standards include drawing and dictating as an alternative to actual writing. Students enter kindergarten with a very wide range of skills – some can’t name the letters and do not know how to match sounds to letters, while others can independently apply basic reading and writing skills. Also, learning of these basic skills is highly accelerated in this grade. There is a big difference between the skills they have at the start of the school year and the end.


Drawing is a critical stage in early writing – it is a form of rehearsal for writing. The act of drawing and the picture itself provide a supportive scaffolding within which students can construct a piece of writing. Lucy Calkins (1994) notes that by using just a single word with a picture, a student is able to convey a story because most of the meaning is carried by the picture. Here’s what she has to say about kindergarten and grade 1 drawing:

“First drawings “hold the world still” – they tend to be a collection of objects placed on the page. Then students enter action by using lines, dots, arrows or something similar to show that the characters are interacting with each other in their settings. In these grades, students can convey their meaning more easily through drawing than through print because their word writing is limited.”


Young children often have a lot more to say than their drawings can capture. This is where the help of an adult comes in. When teachers ask students to explain the opinion, information, or narrative they are trying to convey in their drawing, and then transcribe (i.e., write down) their responses, the students are able to connect their composing to print.

Oral Rehearsal

Shanahan emphasizes the value of dictating throughout his blog post. Here’s some of what he suggests:

“I have always begun children’s writing with oral composition… Oral writing tends to be easier for young kids than writing by hand is and it helps them to gain the concept of writing—which very quickly bears fruit in guiding them into creating their own writing by hand. In kindergarten, I would usually start language experience out on a whole class basis. The first step is a shared experience… some hands-on activity or observational event in which everyone is engaged. Then gather kids around a chart and ask them to tell about the experience. Some of this can be “turn and talk,” some of it might be students responding individually to teacher questions. The idea is to help kids see that language allows them to relive experiences and to think about them.

Now that you have them buzzing, tell them that you want to write an article about the experience. Ask who has something they would like to say about the experience. Then help that child construct a sentence about it. This might be simply transcribing what was said, or it might be helping the child to expand a thought and then transcribing. Print the students’ ideas to get 4 or 5 sentences. I continue with this kind of thing regularly until students are able to do it easily…By the time you are done with language experience approach, the children should have a clear idea of the nature of book sentences, that print (the ABCs) is used to record one’s words, that print moves from left-to-right and from top-to-bottom. They should know the difference between pictures and writing, too.”

I’ll be sharing more from Keys to Early Writing in some upcoming blog posts. You may find some of the free templates and printables from the book helpful. Click here to access them.

Click here to learn more about Keys to Early Writing.


Calkins, L. M. (1994). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Joan Sedita

Joan Sedita is the founder of Keys to Literacy and author of the Keys to Literacy professional development programs. She is an experienced educator, nationally recognized speaker and teacher trainer. She has worked for over 35 years in the literacy education field and has presented to thousands of teachers and related professionals at schools, colleges, clinics, and professional conferences.

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  1. Rebecca Gardner

    It was interesting when Shanahan talked about how oral writing tends to be easier for young kids than writing by hand. My husband and I want to find a great kindergarten program for our daughter to give her the best possible start on her formal education this fall. Asking about oral writing should help us find a knowledgeable kindergarten teacher, so thanks for sharing the idea!

  2. Victoria Addington

    I am most captivated when you wrote that the students can connect their composing to print when teachers request students to write down the opinion, information, or narrative they are trying to express in their drawing. I think that is a very good way to enhance not just the drawing skills of a child but also their writing skills. This made me convinced more that planning to enroll my son in kindergarten is a smart move.



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