Interactive writing involves the teacher sharing the pen – or other writing implement – with the students. The teacher records words that are already known, so that the students can strategise around words that challenge them.
Because interactive writing involves the students in the physical act of writing, it is a powerful teaching approach for advancing students’ overt awareness of spelling strategies and of handwriting skills. Interactive writing is best used as a small group strategy, which allows for close attention to students’ writing attempts.
Small group teaching approach
As students physically take on the act of writing when engaged in interactive writing, it needs to be a small group teaching approach in order for all students to be involved. It is most effective for writing instructional purposes in the area of spelling.
Small groups – specifically selected for strengths or needs in different spelling strategies – can be engaged in strategising using phonological, visual, morphemic or etymological spelling strategies and forms of knowledge. Spelling/writing strategies like analogy, mnemonics and proof-reading can be supported through interactive writing.
Meaning and relevant for students
As with all classroom writing, interactive writing needs to be meaningful and relevant to the students. The writing might relate to common experiences shared at school, link to ideas and concepts connected to a classroom topic, or respond to something that has been read or viewed.
Interactive writing will reflect typical processes involved in the construction of a written text: planning (through talk), drafting or composing, re-reading and revising, before it being in a form to share with others (McCarrier, Fountas & Pinnell, 1999).
Rationale for a focus on interactive writing
Because it calls upon students to record certain words in a text (along with the teacher taking responsibility for recording others), interactive writing requires strategising around word choice and, in particular, spelling.
Hill (2012) refers to interactive writing as a dynamic and creative process requiring the teacher to be vigilant about when to challenge the students and when to offer support.
Snowball and Bolton (1999) advocate interactive writing as a means of supporting students to listen for the sounds in words and consider possible spelling patterns, and to think about meaning, morphology and etymology in their attempts to spell challenging words.
A typical interactive writing session
At Levels F-2, small group interactive writing might focus students on their developing phonological awareness, without overlooking other strategies that support spelling. So, the teacher might encourage students to take up the pen, marker or keyboard and listen for the sounds in single phonemes within words, digraphs, blends, etc.
As always, focussing on these skills within the construction of a meaningful text signals to students that these are not discrete skills, but rather can (and must) be deployed in their own independent writing attempts.
At Levels 3-4, interactive writing should engage students with more sophisticated strategies, such as those dealing with compound words, contractions, word families or morphemes, that will support the spelling of more complex words. In making individual spelling attempts, the students might be encouraged to think about the syllables in words, analogy (is there another word like this one that I already know?) and the integration of different strategies (Does it look right? Does it sound right?).
At Levels 5-6, while interactive writing is less commonly used, it is not without its benefits. The teacher can quickly record known words, while calling upon the students to draw on etymological and other more sophisticated strategies for successful spelling.
If, for example, the students are alert to the fact that aqua means water, they can draw on that knowledge for words like aquatic, aquamarine, aquifer, etc. The suffix –ian can be discussed as being related to people’s jobs or occupations: electrician, magician, optician, veterinarian, etc.
The suffix –ion can be linked to nouns like motion, option, action, location. These forms of spelling knowledge and language understanding can be advanced through interactive writing in the senior primary years.
The teacher’s role in interactive writing
In recording the words the students already know, the teacher is challenging the students to attempt words that are currently outside their repertoire. As such, the teacher needs to be ready to make suggestions or offer prompts around ways that a particular word might be approached.
The teacher might support the students in interactive writing by:
- initiating conversations around what the group will write about encouraging students to express themselves in ways that meaningfully communicate their ideas
- prompting students to consider differences between spoken and written language (“How can we write that?”)
- modelling, questioning and focussing students on concepts, such as print conventions, sounds and patterns in words, and nuances between words (“Would it be better to say the family was rich or affluent?”)
- facilitating students to re-read and suggest revisions to help make meaning clear
emphasising that good writers are attentive to checking that a text makes sense and sounds right, and that what is meant is being communicated.
The students’ role in interactive writing
Students need to be willing and not feel threatened or scared to attempt words that might be unfamiliar to them, especially in terms of spelling. They need to be ready to deploy existing understandings of language, word structure and spelling conventions to apply to new or challenging words.
Additionally, they need to work collaboratively with the teacher and each other to construct a text that would be meaningful to others.
Hill, S. (2012). Developing early literacy: assessment and teaching. (2nd ed.). South Yarra, Vic: Eleanor Curtain.
McCarrier, A., Fountas, I. & Pinnell, G. (1999). Interactive writing: How language and literacy come together, K-2. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Snowball, D. & Bolton, F. (1999). Spelling K-8: Planning and teaching. York, ME: Stenhouse.