The Reading-Writing Connection
Research has shown that there are significant correlations between reading and writing abilities both with children performing at grade level expectations and children with reading challenges . Thus reading instruction needs to incorporate writing instruction as well.
Language processing abilities are shared by the two complex psychological processes of reading and writing . Writing is often thought of as a way to reinforce comprehension and to have readers think more deeply about what they have read and that is, indeed, very beneficial. Research has also found that writing about a text aids in retention and recall , whether that is re-telling a story or writing about what was important in the text. This is particularly important for children with LDs, who often have challenges in retention and recall.
But writing is important for emerging and early readers as well, reinforcing syntactical features of language, such as how sentences are put together and how a story progresses in a predictable fashion.
This section of the module will address the importance of writing at different stages of reading development.
Emerging and Early Readers and Writers
For emerging and early readers, writing plays a role in reinforcing print awareness and letter-sound correspondence. Assessing students’ handwriting at this stage can also serve as an early screener for reading challenges.
Building Syntactical Knowledge
As teachers work on print awareness and reading awareness, children should start to compose their own stories. We always begin with the child drawing a picture and then describing their picture to the educator, who scribes exactly what the child has said beneath the picture. At this stage, despite the fact that the student may not be able to read what has been written, this writing practice reinforces many important aspects of print awareness, and lets the student feel that they are already capable of composing meaningful text.
Students who have good control over letter formation begin to scribe words themselves. At this stage of development, the emerging reader’s written version of words includes the first sound in the word and oftentimes a second strong sound in the word. Typically, the letters are bunched together with no space between the words. At this stage, the educator begins to teach the concept of word and word spacing (e.g., “Put a finger between each word when you write.”).
As the child writes, they internalize syntactical concepts of written language:
- reading directionality (left to right in English)
- spacing between words
- punctuation at the end of sentences
- the use of capital letters at the beginning of a sentence
Teachers can reinforce these syntactical features by having children circle all of the periods or all of the capital letters they can find in a text.
Young students should also be learning how to write the most powerful words in their world: their own name and the names of their family members. Children often write these in a vertical list formation. And, in fact, teachers can encourage even pre-writers to do this by having pencils and small pads of note paper in various learning centers and asking the students to write down lists of things related to the center, such as a grocery list. Initially, this will be “scribble writing”- but the scribble will carry meaning if the child says the word while they are writing it. Again, the act of writing, even in its earliest form as scribbling, reinforces the important understanding that text carries meaning. This is very important for children with LDs for whom reading is so laborious that they often just “try to get it done” without thinking about the meaning of what they are reading.
Early Signs of Potential Reading Challenges
All children need to be taught how to print. The kinesthetic knowledge of letter formation is a very important aspect of learning sound-symbol correlation, particularly for children with LDs. Learning to form letters correctly in kindergarten and grade 1 is important, not only for handwriting, but also for letter recognition in reading.
Young children often write letter reversals as part of regular development and it is very important that teachers reinforce correct letter formation. A child’s inability to form letters correctly may be a sign of a handwriting LD, and also potentially a sign of a reading disability. If a child persists in having difficulty when most children in the class have mastered letter formation, the child should be assessed. For more information, click here to access the article on the LDAO website Dysgraphia: The Handwriting Learning Disability.
A variety of strategies have proven to be helpful for children who are struggling with correct letter formation, including the following:
- Practice printing individual letters on a daily basis;
- Have children close their eyes and using their pointer finger, write individual letters in the air;
- Have the child use a pencil to write on top of individual letters (and later words) that have been scribed by an educator or classroom volunteer;
- Have the child write individual letters (and later words) in the line above letters or words that have been scribed by an educator or classroom volunteer.
Children who struggle with hand writing often have reading challenges as well. Early identification of those challenges is key to remediation and minimizing the long-term impact. Teachers are the key in early identification.
Transitional and Fluent Readers and Writers
For transitional and fluent readers, writing plays a role in reinforcing text structure to improve comprehension skills.
Research shows that one of the most important aspects of the reading-writing connection may be the reinforcement of text structure schemata – or syntax. We know that by grade 2, syntactical knowledge is a primary predictor of reading ability . This includes how texts are structured, and how sentences are structured.
Good readers differ from poor readers in that they “have highly automated schemata for text structure”  which enables them to anticipate the kind of information they will read at various points in a sentence and in a longer text. This, in turn, is linked to their automaticity in reading – the speed at which they read – and that is strongly correlated with comprehension.
When children are explicitly taught how to structure a sentence and a piece of writing and when those structures are consistently reinforced, they begin to internalize where to put the topic/main idea of a sentence when they are writing. Additional sentences then elaborate that topic or main idea.
Then, when they read a text, children have an internalized sense of where to look for the main idea of a text and that subsequent information in a paragraph is ‘detail’ or elaboration of that idea. This is extremely helpful for many children with LDs, who often have difficulty in differentiating main idea from detail.
Teaching the Writing Process
It is very important that primary teachers encourage children to write the first draft of their text without worrying about spelling; instead, the focus needs to be on composing the ideas – meaning making - and by grade three, in planning the structure of the text. Editing the text and ensuring correct spelling happens after the ideas have been composed and before the writing is declared to be finished.
In grade one, children will typically write stories and letters. Story or letter format needs to guide the children’s composing. For instance, in story writing, a teacher might emphasize the 5W’s and H (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How). A chart would be put on the bulletin board, providing a quick reference for the children of these components.
Research has shown that children who regularly use consistent text structures in their writing are more able to identify these features in texts that they read and their comprehension abilities increase accordingly.
The video clip below provides an overview of Writing About Reading and considerations for students with LDs.
 Chan et al, 2006; Loban, 1976; Resnick, 1984
 Stotsky, 1995
 Stotsky, 1984
 Vellutino et al, 1991
 Stotsky, 1995