You pick up the colored pen, preparing to score another personal narrative.  You sigh, as inwardly you hope the past two weeks worth of lessons have culminated into a proficient final product.  At first glance, you scan for the usual components:  paragraphs, indentations, etc.  But, as you read on, you become engulfed in the story of a girl who said goodbye to her aunt.  The narrative describes their close knit relationship and how the elderly lady died unexpectedly.  By the time, you reach the end of the narrative, you find that the cap of your green pen has been anxiously chewed in response to the author’s emotional journey.   You reach for the tissues and celebrate the written success of your student, while feeling connected to their authentic narration of this poignantly personal memory.

Yes, we all desire this response when our students write, and occasionally the planets seem to align and we are blessed with natural writers that seem able to consistently create this marvelous written works.  However, focusing on teaching the Six Traits of Writing will help even those who are natural writers, develop into better communicators.

What are the Six Traits of Writing?

Even if you are not familiar with the phrase “The Six Traits of Writing” chances are both you and your students are using these traits in isolation or collectively, as different writing assignments are completed.  These traits are:

  1. Idea development
  2. Organization
  3. Voice
  4. Sentence fluency
  5. Word choice
  6. Conventions

Don’t worry if you are still a little fuzzy on the details, as each trait will be examined more in-depth.

I don’t know what to write about…

Certainly, the task of choosing a topic is a difficult process for writers of all ages, but this is the first part to building a successful written work.  Have students explore topics that they can relate to and enjoy.  It is never a good idea to force a class into writing about one topic, since there are so many different personalities.  If a student writes about something that they feel less than passionate about, this will come through in their writing.  Give students a chance to explore a topic that they think will work for them.

After they explore their topic, they are ready to gather details that will support their main idea.  Depending on genre being written, students may need time to conduct research or just brainstorm their topic.

The key to students having idea development is allowing them to sufficiently brainstorm their topic and complete a prewriting tool.  My personal favorite is the use of different graphic organizers.  Once students are finished Prewriting, they can begin work on the second trait of writing:  organization!

Stanzas, Paragraphs, Columns, and More…

As students begin drafting, they will need to be aware of the organizational technique that will work best for their writing.  Consequently, organization is the second trait of writing.  When organizing a piece of writing, the author must think about how they “hook” their reader with the use of a lead.  Subsequently, the author will need to consider use of appropriate transitions, pacing, and providing a clear introduction, body, and conclusion, otherwise known as the beginning, middle, and end.

This trait of writing can be discouraging for students because they may struggle initially with seeing the “big picture” or how these organizational decisions affect their final product.

Let Your Personality Shine:

Whether students are writing a feature article about the Scientific Method or telling a chilling story about their haunted Halloween adventure, letting their individual personality emerge truly allows the reader to connect with their writing.

Voice makes writing more colorful, more fun to read.  Written works that contain voice showcase a writer’s personality, makes the words sound unique, showcases feelings and emotions, and creates a feeling of connectedness that shows the writing came from the heart.

Let It Flow!


Effective writers know how to use written language to create works that flows when read aloud, utilizes  sentence variety, and an assortment of sentence beginnings.     A tip for helping writers create writing that flows is to have them read their writing aloud to another person.  If they have awkward pauses, chances are their writing lacks sentence fluency.  Additionally, students should try to include a healthy mix of simple, compound, and complex sentences.  Furthermore, sentence fluency requires that sentences begin in unique ways, rather than having multiple sentences and paragraphs begin with the same words or phrases.

Brown or Cappuccino Colored?

A focal point for students to target during the revising process is to choose words that help to truly clarify their main ideas.  Selective word choice is one specific way to allow authors to provide their reader with a mental image of their subject matter.  Students who always use “said” when writing dialogue, deprive their audience of knowing whether the speaker was angry, excited, upset, or indifferent.  Choosing a stronger, clearer verb builds more connection between one’s written words and the reader.   In addition, to selecting verbs that also express emotion, choosing to replace weak verbs with stronger ones is an area to be considered with this trait of writing.


CUPS Correctness:

By the time, students have written their rough drafts and combined the first five traits of writing, they may need a short break from their writing prior to editing.  Editing is the final stage in the writing process, but it is also the area when authors need to check for conventional areas.  These errors, which are nicknamed CUPS, refer to capitalization, usage, punctuation, and spelling errors.

This area may be the least energizing for students to correct, but it is certainly essential to guaranteeing that authors do not confuse their readers with a plethora of conventional errors.

Putting It All Together:

While working to create written works, whether long or short, the Six Traits of Writing, provide a wonderful outline and tools to guide students as they progress.  Supplying students with mini lessons and models that demonstrate proficiency in each trait will place them on the road to profiency, one composition at a time!

Internet Resources:

The Six Traits of Writing