Writing Instruction Scope & Sequence

by Joan Sedita | 1 | 3 Comments

One of the hallmarks of an explicit, structured approach to teaching is to follow a logical sequence for teaching skills that progresses from basic to more complex, making sure prerequisite skills have been learned by checking for understanding before moving to the next step. This is often referred to as instruction that follows a scope and sequence. I am often asked to provide a scope and sequence for teaching writing, which is the topic of this post. But first, review these examples of common sequences:

  • A mathematics scope and sequence for teaching fractions typically follows this sequence: part and whole numbers, identifying parts of a fraction, equivalent fractions, comparing fractions, adding and subtracting fractions, multiplying and dividing fractions, and operations with mixed numbers.
  • A phonics scope and sequence progresses from teaching the most basic phonics concepts to the more advanced concepts, such as: common letter-sound correspondences (e.g., consonants and short vowels represented by one letter), digraphs, consonant blends, long vowel sounds, silent e, vowel pairs, vowel-r, and multisyllabic words with prefixes and suffixes. (see an earlier post with a detailed phonics scope and sequence)
  • A scope and sequence for teaching students how to identify main ideas progresses as follows: categorizing objects or words, identifying a paragraph main idea stated in a topic sentence, inferring a paragraph main idea that is implied, and identifying the central idea in multi-paragraph text.

What about writing?

First, it’s important to recognize that writing instruction should address many skills and strategies. In 2018, I developed The Writing Rope framework to help educators identify the elements of a comprehensive and effective writing curriculum. Writing skills, strategies, and techniques are organized into five components represented as strands in a rope, depicted in the graphic below.

When I am asked to recommend a scope and sequence for writing instruction, the answer is not simple for several reasons:

  • There is no overall scope and sequence for teaching all writing skills, and the strands in the rope should not be taught in any particular order. The writing skills and strategies identified in the different strands must be taught at the same time. For example, in the early elementary grades, students are developing transcription skills (spelling, handwriting) at the same time they are learning how to write sentences and paragraphs, the differences among types of text, and beginning skills for writing about text. In the middle and high school grades, students are learning how to write more elaborated sentences and more complex paragraphs at the same time they are learning writing craft techniques and skills such as note taking and summarizing to write about text and subject-area content. The same is true for the three types of writing – informational, narrative, and opinion/argument writing instruction should be taught simultaneously rather than in a particular order.
  • Most writing skills and strategies need to be revisited each year, taught across multiple grades. For example, basic sentence writing skills are introduced in primary grades, but students benefit from continued instruction for writing increasingly more complex and elaborated sentences as they move across grades into high school.
  • A specific scope and sequence can be identified for a few categories of writing skills. For example, sentence writing instruction should begin with teaching the two basic parts of a sentence complete sentence (subject and predicate) and the four types of sentences (statement, command, question, exclamation), followed by instruction for gradually increasing the length and complexity of a sentence. However, most writing skills and strategies do lend themselves to a linear scope of sequence.

Sometimes when educators ask for a writing scope and sequence, they are referring to grade-specific writing requirements found in state literacy standards. Most of these standards identify categories of writing skills that include capitalization and punctuation, grammar, text organization and structures, and types of writing. A close look at these standards shows that many of these topics are repeated across grades represented by increasing levels of difficulty and sophistication. For example, a detailed guide describing writing skills that should be mastered by the end of a specified time period across grades K-12 is offered by the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), based on that state’s PSSA assessments. The guide points out that most concepts require multiple instructional exposures across grades.

Guidelines Based on The Writing Rope

More often, when I am asked about a writing instruction scope and sequence, educators want suggestions for when the skills and strategies identified in The Writing Rope should be introduced. I recently developed guidelines with a suggested instructional sequence for each strand of The Writing Rope. The guidelines suggest grade ranges according to three stages: grades when formal instruction and initial learning by students happens, grades when refinement of instruction and learning happens, and grades when ongoing and advanced use by students happens. As you review the guidelines below, keep in mind:

  • The suggested grade ranges are flexible. Some students will progress faster and some slower.
  • The guidelines are designed with students who have grade-level writing skills in mind. Students who have difficulty with writing may need more formal instruction at a later grade before they reach the refinement of instruction stage or the ongoing and advanced use stage.
  • If you are using the guidelines to develop a curriculum for teaching writing, consult grade level requirements in your state’s literacy standards.

Integration of Reading and Writing

Also keep in mind that while the guidelines are focused on skills and strategies related to writing instruction, it is important to integrate reading and writing instruction whenever possible. Many of the instructional suggested in The Writing Rope and Keys to Literacy professional development programs (Keys to Early Writing, Keys to Content Writing) support the development of both reading and writing ability. Another recent post, Connecting the Ropes: Integration Reading & Writing Instruction), explores this topic in greater depth. For example:

  • Activities to improve syntactic awareness and knowledge of sentence structure help students comprehend long, complex sentences when they read and write longer, more elaborated sentences.
  • Instruction about main ideas and paragraph structure supports comprehension while reading and helps students write more organized writing pieces.
  • Instruction for critical thinking skills, such as note taking and summarizing, helps students understand text and learn content as well as improve their writing ability.

The Guidelines

A visual of the guidelines for the Transcription strand of The Writing Rope is shown below. The full set of guidelines for all strands is available in this PDF document.

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. Jamie Duncan

    Thank you for sharing your work!
    I found that laying out the content students are learning helps plan the writing for me. Then, I can purposefully go through the content and align the writing to support it and carefully make sure all components of writing are given their due attention.

  2. Jody Janelle Farrell

    Thank you so much for this post, I appreciate the concept of the Writing Rope and understand all the areas that students need to understand and refine to be successful in writing. This idea of a scope and sequence will help provide clarity as teacher we are expected to teach ‘everything’ and often I think if they are struggling we need to build the foundations first before asking students to complete whole texts.

  3. Jenny Van Remortel

    Thank you for this wonderful scope and sequence! I will share this with the classroom teachers at my school. I know it will be so helpful and will provide a great deal of clarity around teaching writing.



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