Afterschool Focus: Writing Instruction

In a world of emojis and internet slang like “LOL” and “OMG,” writing remains an essential skill. Writing helps improve students’ reading comprehension and supports their mastery of core academic content.1 Strong writing skills also support college and career readiness. For example, in secondary school, students will draw on writing skills for college and job applications, college essays, letters of interest for jobs, resumes, and communication with potential employers. After graduation, youth will continue to use writing in the workplace for professional correspondence and tasks such as reports and presentations.2 

Since Illinois schools implemented the Illinois learning standards in the 2013–14 school year, writing instruction has had greater emphasis on teaching students to analyze texts and synthesize ideas from multiple sources to inform and persuade readers.3 For 21st CCLC programs, this means that writing enrichment is no longer the sole responsibility of the English teachers who work in your afterschool program. Instead, just as writing permeates all aspects of our lives, it should be integrated into all aspects of our afterschool programming. 

In this issue of Illinois Quality Afterschool Quarterly, we are reviewing some of the recommendations for teaching students to be effective writers, as supported by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. These recommendations, supported by evidence, examples, and strategies for implementation, appear in two What Works Clearinghouse practice guides: Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers and Teaching secondary students to write effectively.4 We encourage you and your team to review the recommendations for your 21st CCLC program’s grade levels and select one or two to explore in depth. 

Elementary Grades

When students develop strong writing skills early, they have important tools for learning, communicating, and self-expression. Although the practices below are intended for all elementary grades, early grades will focus on more basic concepts and skills, with afterschool staff introducing students to more sophisticated writing techniques as students’ skills improve. 

Provide daily time for students to write. Students need dedicated time to learn and practice key skills needed to become effective writers. Educators can also observe students and provide support during this time. Writing time can be integrated with other content areas through activities like writing science reports or writing imaginary diary entries for people from a historical era for social studies. 

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Teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes. The writing process is an iterative series of steps, during which students plan, draft, get feedback, revise and edit, and ultimately publish a final product. Research supports the use of this process in both elementary and secondary grades. While giving students the opportunity to write for a variety of purposes in different enrichment activities, be sure that these different writing projects include the steps outlined above.   

Learn more about the writing process here.


Figure 1. The Writing Process

 diagram of the writing process


Source: Graham, Bollinger, Booth Olson, D’Aoust, MacArthur, McCutchen, & Olinghouse, 2012 

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Teach students to become fluent with handwriting, spelling, sentence construction, typing, and word processing. These skills are the foundation of effective writing, and when they require less effort, students can focus on developing and communicating their ideas.

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Create an engaged community of writers. As is the case with all academic subjects, students will be more motivated to become proficient writers if they learn in a supportive environment and see real-world applications of their projects. To foster this environment, educators can participate in the community by sharing their writing, encouraging collaboration, providing students opportunities to give and receive feedback, giving students choices in what they write, and publishing student work outside the classroom. 

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Watch a video overview.

Secondary Grades

For students in secondary grades, writing is a critical communication tool that helps students convey thoughts and opinions, describe ideas and events, and analyze information. Mastering these essential skills can position students for postsecondary success in higher education and in the workforce. 

Explicitly teach appropriate writing strategies using a Model-Practice-Reflect instructional cycle. Through this process, an educator models a specific writing strategy, students practice the strategy independently or with an instructor or peer, and they evaluate their writing and strategy use. This practice allows students to observe a strong writer’s approach, attempt to emulate the approach, and then assess their writing. 

Some examples of writing strategies include

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Integrate writing and reading to emphasize key writing features. Combining writing and reading helps students develop knowledge and learn about important features in the text. High-quality texts can illustrate specific features of effective writing, such as “organization and structure; word choice, grammar, punctuation, and spelling; and voice, including tone, mood, and style.”5 Identifying these features in texts improves students’ reading comprehension and also illustrates strategies for effective writing. 

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Use assessments of student writing to inform instruction and feedback. By regularly assessing student writing and not just the final written product, educators can learn about student progress on key learning objectives and provide support and feedback accordingly. Through this process, educators can provide additional and differentiated support for struggling students and students with disabilities, while students who have mastered the skill can advance to a new one.

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Next Steps for Afterschool Programs 

Read the summaries of selected practices. If your 21st CCLC team would like to learn more about the practices before selecting one to explore in greater detail, review the following summaries with additional details and examples for each practice:

Explore resources for implementation. Both the elementary and secondary practice guides have resources to support implementation.

Learn more about the writing process. As noted above, the writing process is fundamental to elementary and secondary grades. The U.S. Department of Education’s You for Youth (Y4Y) website for 21st CCLC programs has training materials and other resources to help afterschool practitioners model and guide students through the writing process. If your 21st CCLC team is looking for a place to start, consider providing professional development on the writing process.   



Common Core State Standards Initiative. (n.d.) Key Shifts in English Language Arts. Retrieved from

Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D’Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., & Olinghouse, N. (2012). Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers: A practice guide (NCEE 2012- 4058). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

Graham, S., Bruch, J., Fitzgerald, J., Friedrich, L., Furgeson, J., Greene, K., Kim, J., Lyskawa, J., Olson, C.B., & Smither Wulsin, C. (2016). Teaching secondary students to write effectively (NCEE 2017-4002). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from the NCEE website:

Perkins Collaborative Resource Network. (n.d.) Employability Skills. Retrieved from 

Shanahan, T. (2015). Common Core State Standards: A New Role for Writing. Elementary School Journal, 115(4), 464–479. Retrieved from



1 Shanahan, 2015.

2 Perkins Collaborative Resource Network, n.d.

3 Common Core State Standards Initiative, n.d.

4 Graham, Bollinger, Booth Olson, D’Aoust, MacArthur, McCutchen, & Olinghouse, 2012; Graham, Bruch, Fitzgerald, Friedrich, Furgeson, Greene, Kim, Lyskawa, Olson, & Smither Wulsin, 2016.

5 Graham, et al, 2016, pp. 34, 36.