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By Robert M. Head and Raymond Leblanc

Students reading in class

Strategy: Ask Reflect Text: A mnemonic text-based structure strategy for narrative story writing by middle school and high school students with LDs.

Description of the strategy

Ask, Reflect, Text (ART) is a six-step evidence-informed mnemonic story development strategy created to motivate students to write, to stimulate more elaborate story content, to enhance students' knowledge about the writing process and promote their capabilities as writers, including students with learning disabilities (LDs), who are struggling writers. The focus of the process lies in mnemonic strategy instruction that will give students struggling with writing skills practice in generating text, improving planning, organization, and composition skills throughout the writing process. ART students embark on a specific course of action, which is supported by clear and solid teacher examples and teacher feedback. To put this strategy to work in your classroom, students are instructed to work through the following steps:


Have students ask themselves the following questions, using the acrostic WWW, W=2, H=2, to remember the questions (an acrostic is a type of word puzzle, such as a double acrostic, which is constructed so that the initial, middle or last letters of lines may form words)

  • WWW: Who, Where, When
  • W=2: What does the main character do? What do the other characters do?
  • H=2: How does the story end? How do the characters feel?


Students then move on to the next step and reflect on their answers. Students can illustrate their ideas using art media, to develop a visual story plan.


Then, using their reflection exercise as a point of departure, students compose the text of their story.

Ask, Reflect, Text (ART) Strategy Example

Ask: Answers to WWW (1. Who is the main character; who else is in the story? 2. When does the story take place? ), W=2 (what does the main character do; what do the other characters want to do? What happens when the main character tries to do it?), H=2 (How does the story end? How does the main character feel; how do the others feel?). Reflect: Students sketch/paint ideas for their ideas. Text: Students write the text of the story. One day there was a mother racoon who worked at a hospital. She goes to work at 7:30 in the morning and leaves at 10:00 or 11:00 o'clock at night. One rainy day she had a patient's frog come to the hospital with a broken arm. It was raining so hard that the frog slipped on the ladder. They put him in a room. Then the electricity went out. Then the frog started to say help I need a nurse. Then Mrs. Raccoon the nurse came in and said what can I help you with. The man said that I couldn't fill my figure. Mrs. Raccoon had to put a cased on him in the dark. The electricity finally came on. The frog was so happy to have his arm fixed until he saw the bill. Finally, Mrs. Raccoon got to go home early and make dinner for her family.

Figure 1.

(Reproduced with permission: Dunn, Tudor, Scattergood & Closson, 2011)


Dunn (2007)

Dunn (2007) conducted a 20-day arts-based integrated curriculum program, in 2006, from amongst forty-five 2nd to 6th-grade students without disabilities. In 2007, a next-stage intervention research project was undertaken, whereupon he worked with special education teachers and three students with learning disabilities, which concluded that Ask, Reflect, Text helped students with learning disabilities to develop story ideas, organize them into a sequential story structure, and to produce elaborate text adhering to the principles of the WWW, W=2, and H=2 acrostic questions outlined by Graham & Harris (2005).

Dunn, Tudor, Scattergood & Closson (2011)

In the Dunn, Tudor, Scattergood & Closson (2011) article, "Ask, Reflect, Text: A Narrative Story-Writing Strategy", the authors recount their experience of conducting the 20 day arts-based/integrated curriculum program and compare the results with the further study of three students with known learning disabilities who were identified as struggling writers. With both groups, at the beginning of each session, the ART mnemonic strategy would be explained, students invited to ask themselves the WWW, W=2, and H=2 acrostic questions of (A); as they reflect about their answers, illustrate them using art media so as to have a visual story plan (R); using their visual plan, compose the text of their story (T). Students were permitted to return and continue their art and story writing as the study continued.

The Dunn, Tudor, Scattergood & Closson (2011) evidence-informed article suggested that a targeted intervention like ART can help both students without disabilities and struggling writers improve their skills, and can also engage other students. Of the three students struggling in their writing, student #1 found reading and writing very frustrating, student #2 had been identified with learning disabilities in reading and writing, and student #3 had a physical disability and developmental delays. At the end of the study, student #1 found it less intimidating to start by drawing her ideas rather than writing about them, student #2 improved organizational and flow aspects of his writing, and student #3 improved story structure, increase the number of words and decrease errors in spelling.

Classroom implementation & recommended practice

The six steps given by Dunn et al (2011) for teaching the ART Mnemonic Strategy are:

  1. Develop and activate background knowledge: do the students have any story ideas? Use this opportunity to engage students in the upcoming activity incorporating the ART strategy.
  2. Discuss the acrostic strategy: WWW, W=2, H=2. This can be done before writing anything on the board, in a general discussion format as a prelude.
  3. Choose a story topic - and begin to follow ART. This can be done as part of an introduction.
  4. Memorize the strategy: model the ART mnemonic by writing it on the board and committing it to memory by applying it to student narratives. This is done at the "Ask" stage.
  5. Support the strategy: using ART, engage in brainstorming, reviewing magazine or books, build a file of words or concepts that can be built into the writing of a story. This falls under "Reflect".
  6. Independent performance: after modelling and providing feedback, prompt students for ideas on how they can use mnemonic strategy for self-regulated application of ART. This is done by going back to "Ask", as a review.

Vygotsky (1978) wrote that "it is only in movement that a body shows what it is" (p.65).  Through Ask, Reflect, Text, students and teachers are recognized as active participants in emergent processes; learning is mediated through signs, tools and tasks which are made available to students, and that in action the student becomes an active agent who is capable of reflection on action in speech and through narrative. Figure 2 shows how a student considers the who, when and where of the 3 W's (WWW); then asks the two what questions of W=2, thinks about the two how questions, and eventually comes up with the following text: "The main character is Limpy. He lives in the summer in Kansas. He wants to save the toads. He couldn't save the toads. Some of the toads got killed on the road. He could not stop the killings. He was sad." (Dunn, Tudor,Scattergood & Closson, 2011, p.102-103)

Diagram with 3 levels and on each level a box is connected to the next with an arrow. On level 1, WWW: Box 1, Who is the main character; who else is in the story? (The Characters) Describe in different ways: (examples, limbe, limpy). Arrow points to box 2, When does the story take place? Describe in different ways: (example, Summer in the…). An arrow points to box 3, Where does the story take place? (The setting) Describe in different ways: (example:: In karosre). An arrow points to the fourth box, which is on level 2, W=2. In the box, text states: What does the main character want to do; what do the other characters want to do? Why is it a problem? (For example, Seve the toon). An arrow points to box 5, What happens when the main character tries to do it; what happens with the other characters? What happened? (For example, Some of the toads got killed. He was sad). An arrow now point to level 3, H=2, to box 6 asking: How does the story end? He could not stop killing. What happened? (Example, He was not happy). The final arrow points to box 7: How does the main character feel; how do the other characters feel? (The ending). (Example, He was sad).

Figure 2

(Reproduced with permission: Dunn, Tudor, Scattergood & Closson, 2011)

ART starts with mapping by asking students for ideas, what their background knowledge is, what the who, when and where of their story ideas is about, what the main characters do and what do other characters do, how does the story end and how do the characters feel. This process is reviewed and committed to memory. This asking stage is followed by a support strategy of brainstorming, reviewing, examining, assembling vocabulary as tools, and concepts as blueprints. The independent performance stage that follows modelling and providing feedback, prompting and committing to memory, is accomplished by asking through review. The entire process is an exercise in planning, execution, and reinforcing. Through consistent instructional support and continual learner adherence to ART, students can come to more automatically incorporate the principles and steps of ART in their learning styles. Ask. Reflect. Text. Repeat.

Relevant Resources on the LD@school Website

Click here to access the article "Writing Interventions for Children in Grades One to Six with Learning Disabilities"

Click here to access an article on the topic of "Expressive Writing"

Click here to access the article "Interventions for Students with Writing Disabilities"

Click here to access the article "Writing Interventions for Adolescents with Learning Disabilities"

Click here to access the article "Strategies to Develop Handwriting and Improve Literacy Skills"

Click here to access the article "Helping Students with Learning Disabilities to Improve their Spelling through a Reading-Writing Workshop"

Additional Resources

  1. Described as 'text construction in early writing from a Vygotskian perspective': MacKenzie, N., Veresov, N. (2013). How drawing can support writing acquisition,        Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38 (4), 22-29.
  2. Graham, S., & Harris, K. (2005). Writing better: Effective strategies for teaching students with learning difficulties. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.


Dunn, M., & Finley, S. (2008). Thirsty thinkers: A workshop for artists and writers. Journal of Reading Education, 33 (2), 28-36.

Dunn, M., Tudor, D., Scattergood, C., and Closson, S. (2011). Ask, reflect, text: a narrative story-writing strategy, Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 25 (4), 376-389.

Jansson, A. (2011). Becoming a Narrator: A Case Study in the Dynamics of Learning Based on the Theories/Methods of Vygotsky, Mind, Culture and Activity, 18, 5-25.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. horizontal line tealRobert M. Head holds a BA English Literature from McGill, a BS Secondary Education from the University of Maine at Presque Isle, and is a graduate student (MA/PhD) at the University of Ottawa. He is a licensed secondary school teacher (ELA - State of Maine), 8+ years of experience as an ELL/ESL teacher, 5+ years as Taiwan Natl. Dir. of Studies with GAC ACT ES Ltd. and Natl. Dir. for Cambridge English Education Centres (Taiwan), and is a Cambridge English Language Testing Authority (CELTA) YLE/KET/PET Examiner. He has authored and co-authored several articles for peer review acts as an academic journal' peer-reviewer and has presented at the 2014 Jean-Paul Dionne Symposium. Robert is particularly interested in Special Needs education through inclusive practices.

Dr. Raymond LeBlanc is vice-dean of research and professional development and professor in the Faculty of Education and a member of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Studies at the University of Ottawa.  His research domain is special education, socio-cultural approach and differential teaching.  His research and scholarly activities are in ASD, developmental disabilities, learning styles, language and communication, learning disabilities, qualitative methodologies, cultural psychology and quality of life. He is co-director of a collection in neuropsychology and special education which has published 26 books.