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The six traits of writing model provides a recipe for successful prose writing. This approach defines the ingredients of effective writing for students to practice and teachers to assess, equipping both parties with tools for strategically analyzing written work.
Students can become self-sufficient and methodical writers when they learn to develop the following characteristics in their writing. To take advantage of this revolutionary model, learn what the six traits are and how to teach them.
What are the Six Traits of Writing?
The six key characteristics that define high-quality writing are:
- Word Choice
- Sentence Fluency
Please note that while this method is often called the 6 + 1 Trait Model, the plus one "presentation" trait is largely optional as it is a characteristic of the overall product and not the writing itself. This trait will not be described further here.
This writing component captures the main idea of a piece through detail. Only details that are relevant and informative of the main topic should be included. Strong writers have an awareness of how to use just the right amount of detail, using ideas that make the overall message more clear and leaving anything out that takes away from it.
How to Teach:
- Do an exercise with students where you tell a story using no detail while they close their eyes. Could they picture it? Ask them how to improve your story and introduce the concept that ideas need to be supported to be effective.
- Ask students to describe what is happening in a photograph. Have them do this in partnerships where only one partner can see the picture at a time and the other must convey the message of the photo in front of them.
- Have students compose a paragraph packed with as much supporting detail as possible. Tell them to choose a specific (true) event that happened to them and use their senses to describe it.
This trait describes how all ideas in a piece of writing must fit together within a larger message. The organizational structure of a written work needs to follow a clear pattern such as chronological order for narratives or logical order for informational writing. The writer needs to make strong connections from one point to another so that a reader can easily follow along. A sense of sequence is necessary for organizing.
How to Teach
- Take a piece of writing and cut it into chunks, having students piece the writing back together as best as they can.
- Jumble a list of directions and have students arrange the steps in order.
- Read two short informational books whose organization structures vary. Ask your students what is different about the organization of the books.
This trait describes the unique style of each writer. Through voice, a writer's personality permeates a piece but does not detract from the genre or message. Strong writers are not afraid to express their individuality and show readers their point of view. Good writing sounds like its writers.
How to Teach
- Discuss the personality traits of a few children's book authors, then read a variety of literature and have students try to identify the author by voice.
- Compare and contrast the voice in select fiction and nonfiction books.
- Have students write a letter to a grandparent about their favorite school subject. When they are finished, discuss how they cultivated their voice in the letter and whether they feel that their thoughts and emotions came through.
Word choice describes the effectiveness of each word in a piece of writing. Strong words enlighten readers and clarify ideas but too many large or misplaced words can muddle the message. Great writing is never verbose. Writers should be economical with their words and choose only the best ones because every word is important. Linguistic awareness and a robust vocabulary are necessary for effective writing.
How to Teach
- Keep a word wall, adding to and discussing it frequently.
- Show students a paragraph with words missing. Offer options for words to put in the blanks and explain why some of them are better than others.
- Introduce students to thesauruses. Teach that a well-rounded vocabulary is useful but caution against overdoing it by having them first replace as many words as they can in a paragraph and then only words that make sense to replace.
This trait describes the smoothness that sentences contribute to a piece. Fluent writing is rhythmic and forward-moving because its sentences are easy to read. Even more important to sentence fluency that correctness and grammar are meaning and variety. The best writers make sure that each of their sentences says precisely what it is supposed to say and vary their sentence structures so that they don't all resemble each other.
How to Teach
- Write a story where every single sentence begins and ends in the exact same way. Talk with your class about why this is problematic and have them help add variety to the sentence structures.
- Rearrange the sentences in a popular piece of writing. Have the students fix it and talk about why it matters that sentences flow easily into each other.
- Have students take a sentence in a piece of informational writing and flip the words around. Does it make more or less sense? Is their way better or worse?
This trait focuses on the correctness of a piece in terms of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other rules. Writing can only be great if it is technically correct. Great writers are proficient punctuators, capable spellers, and grammar savants. Conventions require time and patience to master but are easy to practice.
How to Teach
- Give your students a word to correctly work into a sentence. Begin with simple sentence parts such as subjects and verbs and progressively get more difficult with adverbs, adjectives, and more.
- Teach students to peer review each other's work for correctness. They do not need to correct every tiny detail. Rather, focus on one skill at a time (punctuation, capitalization, etc.).
- Use curriculum materials such as handouts and mini-lessons to teach conventions.
- Nast, Phil. “6 + 1 Trait Writing.” National Education Association.
- “What Are the Traits?” Education Northwest, Dec. 2012.