I have found no other writing model that lays the foundation for teaching students to be good writers than the six traits of writing framework.
While many decent writing programs exist, I have found this model to be the most flexible and kid-friendly.
Officially known as The 6+1 Traits® Writing Model, this research-based framework identifies six qualities of good writing: Ideas (principal message), Organization (layout), Word Choice (vocabulary use), Sentence Fluency (flow of thoughts), Voice (perspective of writer), and Conventions (grammar & mechanics).
Though it may not be the most popular, I have found it to be a great fit for addressing the diverse needs of student writers!
Teachers choose various mini lessons and activities to teach each of the six qualities (traits) to students.
The six traits of writing model is unique because it’s not a “canned” curriculum”; it’s more of a framework.
It nicely wraps all of the components of good writing into one package, and many of the contents within that package are easily paired or integrated with other writing programs and curricula.
Hands-down, the six traits of writing model has been the best writing framework not only for my students but for me as a teacher.
It allows for much flexibility in teaching (can we say differentiation?!) while also providing a good deal of guidance for teachers.
Let’s Dig Into the Six Traits of Writing
Okay, visualize a house.
Keep that house in your mind.
Ideas is one of the six traits of writing.
When teaching this trait to students, we let them know that ideas is the “big idea” that the writer is trying to send to the reader.
Thinking about the house, “ideas” represent the foundation. If a house doesn’t have a strong foundation, it’s not going to be very stable and will have a negative effect on the rest of the construction of the house.
To help the reader visualize and understand the message even more, authors use lots of details that show and not tell.
Details add substance and imagery to the writer’s message. Going back to the house, details strengthen the foundation. The more details, the stronger the foundation of the writing.
A writer can demonstrate good use of the other traits in his or her writing, but if the ideas within the writing are not strong nor clear, the writer will have failed to do the very thing that writing is meant to do~communicate a message!
Organization is another component of the six traits of writing model.
It refers to the structure of a writing piece.
This trait represents the floor plan of the house. A good floor plan helps someone move from one part of the house to another with ease.
In writing, organization does the same thing; it helps the reader transition from one part of the writing to another without much hassle.
When teachers model the organization trait to students, some of the skills they teach include…
how to write a great lead (opening)
how to construct a good ending
the appropriate use of transitions
how to organize certain writing genres into beginning/middle/end
the effectiveness of the overall layout of a piece of writing.
When authors write for others, they have to remember to keep their writing organized so that the reader can follow along effortlessly.
Voice is another piece of the six traits of writing puzzle.
It is the personal tone or personality of the writing piece.
A writer’s voice should shine through the writing.
The message that the writer is trying to send to the reader will determine the tone that the author uses.
Thinking about the house, voice represents the people who live in the house. People give a home personality and a unique vibe.
Think about the show “The Addams Family”.
Their house definitely had a certain personality, and it was the people in that house that gave it that vibe.
Though everyone has his or her own unique voice, we do have various audiences. Because of that, we need to sometimes alter our voice.
Students need to know that the voice they use within their writing will change depending on the purpose and who is their intended audience.
Writing a letter to a teacher will have a different voice compared to writing a letter to a friend.
The six traits of writing also includes word choice.
Word choice is the specific vocabulary that a writer chooses to use. Those words add pizazz and flavor to the writing.
Why is this important?
Because sometimes students use the same ‘ole words over and over again causing a bit of boredom.
Instead of using the word “happy” repeatedly, teachers can encourage students to also use similar but “spicer” words such as “excited”, “elated”, “over the moon”, etc. See the difference?
A variety in word choice is especially helpful when teaching the use of verbs in writing.
Stronger verbs help to clarity the author’s message.
For example, if a student writes, “The girl said…”, the student can instead use a synonym for “said” which will really clarify how the girl said whatever she said.
“The girl screamed.” or “The girl whispered.” or “The girl joked.”
Helping students dig a little deeper to find alternative words will made their writing more flavorful.
Word choice is a great time to teach using a thesaurus!
In the six traits of writing house model, word choice is represented by the sun. The sun adds sunshine to our lives. Great word choice makes our writing brighter and much clearer for the reader to understand!
Sentence fluency is the rhythm and flow of the language. Within the six traits of writing framework, teaching sentence fluency involves showing students how to write a variety of sentence structures that flow well together.
A combination of simple sentences, complex sentences, commands, onomatopoeia, etc. add style and variety to writing.
Of course, the genre, audience, and intended purpose of the writing will determine in what quantities each type of structure is used.
Looking at our house model, the clouds represent sentence fluency.
Clouds float among each other smoothly. A variety of sentence structures within a piece of writing should flow together very nicely and to their own rhythm; one thought should lead to another smoothly.
The trait most familiar to teachers is probably conventions.
Conventions is usually thought of as grammar- putting periods, commas, and all that jazz.
While conventions are super important, notice that they are only one piece of the puzzle.
That’s what I love about the six traits of writing framework.
Grammar and mechanics are taught, but it’s not too much or too little.
The roof of the house represents conventions.
Just like the roof completes a house, good conventions complete a piece of writing. Conventions signal readers when to stop, pause, change the sound of their voice, etc.
Strong conventions complete the overall feel of a piece of writing just like a roof completes a house.
PRESENTATION, the +1
Although the six traits of writing represent the core areas of the model, you’ll sometimes hear the +1 used (e.g. 6+1 writing model).
The plus one stands for presentation. Presentation is the overall look of the writing. It is basically the publishing stage.
After the writing is done,
How are students going to present their work to their audience?
How will everything be packaged and put together?
Think of presentation like the bow on a present!
How writing is presented will depend on the teaching objective, learning goals, and preferences of the student.
Back to our house again.
Presentation is the overall look of the house from the outside.
When someone drives up to the house, presentation is everything they see first: the colors of the house, the landscaping, decorations, etc.
Presentation is the overall look of the writing. This is where students can really get creative with displaying their work.
What’s the Best Way to Teach the Six Traits of Writing?
Modeling lots of good writing for students through mini lessons is very important.
If you want to teach students how to write persuasive sentences, first model that during mini lessons, using lots of anchor texts and personal writing to show students good examples.
Mini lessons are usually about fifteen minutes.
After the mini-lesson, students write independently at their desks or other designated areas.
It is during this time that you conference with individual students.
Conference to see if students have any questions about the skill you modeled during the mini-lesson, or you may discuss a skill within a particular trait that a student is having trouble grasping.
During the lesson wrap-up, summarize in some way to students the main teaching objective that was targeted (whatever specific skill or trait you focused on during instruction).
The six traits of writing model helps pinpoint specific writing weaknesses of students (while also highlighting their strengths!). This helps to focus your planning and teaching for upcoming lessons.
What If I’m Teaching A Specific Writing Genre?
Let’s say for example that you are teaching narrative writing.
Mini lessons from the six traits of writing will provide great support for you and your students in using the traits successfully within that genre.
You may want to do a mini lesson on…
how to write a strong lead for a narrative (IDEAS)
how to use transitions to guide readers through the beginning/middle/end (ORGANIZATION)
choosing strong verbs that clearly and accurately express the actions of the characters (WORD CHOICE)
identifying dialog and responses of certain characters (VOICE)
modeling a variety of sentence structures (SENTENCE FLUENCY)
using quotation marks in dialog correctly (CONVENTIONS)
*The mini lessons and traits that you choose to focus on will depend on the needs of your learners and the teaching objectives.*
If your students use quotation marks well, then do a conventions mini lesson on exclamation marks or subject-verb agreement.
It all depends on the needs of your learners.
Whether your students are writing a biography, persuasive piece, or even something unique like creating a menu for a project, the six traits of writing can be integrated in some way.
Where Can I Find Resources for the Six Traits of Writing?
You can find all types of mini lessons and ideas to teach each trait online. These resources are a great start.
They offer a good variety that may fit the needs of your kiddos!
Remember, the six traits of writing model is a framework, not a program. So, you can pair the traits well with many writing genres and programs.
The six traits also tie in seamlessly with the Common Core Standards! SCORE!!!!!!!!!
The Six Traits of Writing Model Creates Great Writers!
It seems as though there’s always a new writing program on the horizon.
While they all have their positives, no one program is perfect all by itself.
All kids are different, so a one-program-fits-all approach is never going to cut it.
The six traits of writing model is versatile, flexible, and great for differentiation.
I have seen a difference in students’ writing.
Used consistently and well, your kiddos will become better writers!
Happy teaching and learning everyone!