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Adapted from an article by Diane Wagner, BA, Grad. Dip. Child Study, LD@school LD Expert

Identifying and Addressing Difficulties in Written Expression

Frequently, students with LDs demonstrate a significant discrepancy between oral expression and reading ability vs. their written output. This functional gap is a source of extreme frustration for everyone involved, particularly the student who does not understand why they are unable to write with the same ease as they can understand, think, and discuss.

Sources of this breakdown include:

  • Lack of skill/expertise with the writing process - i.e. putting thoughts on paper in an organized, sequenced and edited form
  • Not following the necessary writing stages - i.e. prewriting and writing
  • Weak active working memory - i.e. remembering and using all the skills involved in written production: expressing ideas and knowledge, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, proofreading, editing, etc.
  • Weak revision and proofreading skills
  • Attentional weaknesses - weak sustained attention for difficult tasks, distractibility, low mental energy, easily fatigued
  • Difficulty recognizing “the big picture”, disorganization
  • Slow processing speed, weak retrieval memory

Suggestions for addressing written expression difficulties:

  • Assist with the development of a schedule allowing time to complete assignments
  • Work in small time periods rather than spending hours at a time
  • Begin with a brainstorming stage where ideas about the subject are written down. If a student has spelling or graphomotor problems, scribe for them or allow the use of a computer
  • Help the student organize their ideas from the brainstorming to an organizational model (i.e. a story map, a timeline, an outline, organizational software such as Inspiration, Spark-Space)
  • Encourage the student to elaborate on which ideas need to be included in the assignment within the organizational model
  • Begin writing first/rough draft from the model
  • Edit for vocabulary usage, sentencing, grammatical constructions, mechanics of writing (spelling, capitals, punctuation, paragraphing)

Suggested accommodations for written expression difficulties

  • Additional time for writing assignments
  • Alternative means of assessing knowledge (e.g. oral reports or visual projects)
  • Marks for spelling only deducted when spelling is an essential skill requirement for the task
  • For students who cannot keep up with note-taking from a blackboard, provide a copy or outline
  • Use of organizational assistive software
  • Use of a digital recorder to dictate thoughts or answers
  • Use of a scribe or speech-to-text assistive software
  • Use of word prediction or spellchecker software

To help you support your child's writing skills, LD@school and LD@home have created a 40 Minute Writing Activity. During this activity, students will practice their brainstorming, planning, writing, and proof-reading skills to create a 2-3 paragraph essay.

Image of 40 minute writing activity

Click here to access the 40 Minute Writing Activity.


Adapted from an article by Faye E. Hart, Educational Consultant (used with permission), which was based on the following references: Levine, Mel. Educational Care 1994: Cambridge. Educators Publishing Service Ltd.: Levine, Mel. Keeping a Head in School. 1990: Cambridge. Educators Publishing Service Ltd.

Relevant Resources on the LD@school website:

Click here to access an article entitled, “Expressive Writing”, by Jeffrey MacCormack and Nancy L. Hutchinson.

Click here to access an article entitled, “Narrative Story Writing”, by Robert M. Head and Raymond Leblanc.

Click here to access an article entitled, “The COPS Editing Strategy”, by Nicole Lauzon.