Tag Archives: Writing to Read

Writing to Read

It turns out there is a large body of evidence on how writing can improve reading. Three closely related instructional practices are continually effective when used to improve students’ reading comprehension. Graham & Hebert (2010) grouped these best practices in order of effectiveness. It should be noted that these effects were all positive and that social science researchers generally interpret effect sizes as small = .20; medium = .50; and large = .80.

Graham Effect Sizes

  1. Have students write about the texts they read. (Student comprehension of social studies is improved when they write about what they read).
    1. Respond to a text in writing, perhaps by writing personal reactions, or by analyzing and interpreting texts. How do students apply the material that was read, or covered in class? What can be created from this passage? Write the Russian response to the Long Telegram. Make six points from this passage. Give me three reasons why? Extended writing has a strong and consistent positive impact on reading. Why did Kennan write the Long Telegram? Analytic essays: Describe three inventions that drove industrial growth during the 19th century. Provide reasons and/or examples for each choice.
    2. Write summaries of texts (six word memoirs/definitions, Collins 10% summaries). This technique has a stronger effect on elementary students than on middle and high school students.
      1. Identify main information
      2. Delete trivial information
      3. Eliminate redundant information
      4. Write a short synopsis of the main and supporting information for each paragraph.
      5. Teachers need to explain each step, model the strategy, and allow students time to practice applying these new skills.
      6. Summarization of longer texts requires a skeleton outline, thesis, main idea subheadings each containing 2-3 important details. Later a student should convert the outline to a written summary of the entire text.
    3. Write notes about a text (paraphrasing, dual column close reading with primary sources). Consistently has a positive impact on reading comprehension.
      1. Structured note-taking (alpha-numeric, Cornell)
      2. Concept mapping
      3. 15 minute history example. Divide class into 4 groups.
    4. Answer questions about a text in writing, or create and answer written questions about a text (Kahoot Kompetitions, effective questioning)
  2. Teach students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text
    1. Teach the process of writing
    2. Text structures for writing
    3. Paragraph or sentence construction skills.
    4. (All of these improve reading comprehension).
  3. Increase how much students write
    1. Reading comprehension is improved by increasing how often students produce their own texts.
    2. NWP (2003) study asked teachers to double the amount of writing they assign in class.

It is essential to vary these techniques in order to keep students from falling into routines where they may become bored with note-taking and writing. Social Studies teachers have a larger burden than other content teachers when preparing writing tasks that help students understand what they read, as disciplinary reading within our field makes up the majority of a student’s academic vocabulary (See below).

Marzano 55%

Future Research Should:

  1. Focus on low-achieving students.
  2. Cross-comparisons on the effects of different writing practices.
  3. Comparisons on different aspects of performance.
  4. How to bring writing practices to scale.
  5. Combining writing practices. Do more complex, multi-component practices yield stronger reading gains?
  6. Establish a greater range of writing about texts strategies.
  7. What are the long-term effects of writing and writing instruction on reading?
  8. Do students become better readers due to increased instruction in planning and revising?


Graham, S., & Hebert, M. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading: A report from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Graham, S., Harris, K., & Hebert, M. (2011). Informing writing: The benefits of formative assessment. A Report from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Great Terror Tweetathon

Steve Graham and Michael Herbert (2010) conducted a meta-analysis of the literature on reading and writing called Writing to Read. Part of this work, reports the results from nine studies that demonstrated how having students respond to a text in writing has a large effect (0.77) on their reading comprehension. This research suggests that writing personal reactions and/or analyzing/interpreting texts can increase reading comprehension. Therefore, I asked my students to use textual evidence to create rhyming couplets about the Great Terror. They were given a document about Stalin and the Great Terror from The DBQ Project’s excellent materials and allowed to use their cell phones to access an online rhyming dictionary.

2015-04-17 13.18.08

A few students turned in rhymes that did not reflect understanding of the material. In a future iteration of this project I will add some peer review and quantify the results. Many students, however, were creative and demonstrated strong understanding of The Great Terror. The following couplets represent their work:

As a Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin made his enemies pay
His secret police would kill 1,000 people every day

The Russians launched mass arrests and forced labor
At times it seemed by killing you, Stalin was doing you a favor

Between 1937 and 1938, the Great Terror only lasted for two years
During this time, the Soviet people lived with many fears

The Great Terror eliminated people considered an enemy of the state
A history book would conclude that this time period was not great.

Russian intellectuals were broken and corrupted
Their contributions to society were disrupted

Mercy and dignity got in the way of survival
If you valued freedom, you were Stalin’s rival

The Great Terror tried to instilled fear in a citizen’s mind and soul
Constant threats from authority added up and took their toll

Soviet History books were just another propaganda tool
Until Roy Medvedev wrote one critical of Stalin’s rule

Joseph Stalin had a huge amount of power
Which made all of his citizens tremble and cower

This quick activity aligns with what Lopez (2011) terms culturally relevant pedagogy, which emerged in response to the need for increased engagement and educational success for all learners. Many teenagers aspire to be rappers and songwriters. This exercise allowed students to work in pairs and collaborate on a task with high social capital and improve their academic vocabulary and reading comprehension. Please make a comment and let me know how you could adapt this activity to your classroom.


Lopez, A.E. (2011). Culturally relevant pedagogy and critical literacy in diverse English classrooms: A case study of a secondary English teacher’s activism and agency. English Teaching: Practice and Critique. pp. 75-93. December, 2011, Volume 10, Number 4.