Modelled writing centres on teacher demonstration of the thoughts and actions that go into creating a text. It is an opportunity for students to observe a proficient writer going through the process of putting ideas into a written form.
In modelled writing, teachers can focus on authorial elements of writing (such as sequencing and linking ideas, choosing appropriate words, etc.) or secretarial elements (employing spelling strategies, using correct punctuation, etc.).
The students do not offer their ideas in modelled writing. Instead, it is anticipated they will use the strategies modelled in their own independent writing. Modelled writing can be employed as a whole class or small group strategy. The students need to be able to clearly see the text as it is constructed.
During the modelling, the teacher is making their own thinking and writing processes visible for the students.
Rationale for a focus on modelled writing
Demonstration of skills, strategies and techniques of writing underpin pedagogies and approaches that have led to student success.
The genre based teaching and learning cycle (Christie, 2005; Gibbons, 2015; Hammond, 2001) strongly emphasises the process of modelling and deconstructing a text type as pivotal to supporting students as writers.
‘Think aloud’ protocols (Kucan & Beck, 1997) employed by teachers in modelled writing make visible to students the thinking a writer does as a text is constructed.
It is anticipated that teachers modelling and verbalising their thinking around writing will enable students to deploy appropriate metacognitive processes that will support their own writing attempts.
Importantly, think aloud protocols can also be used to model appropriate reading strategies, as Kucan and Beck’s (1997) research showed.
A typical modelled writing session
As modelled writing involves the teacher demonstrating the thinking and actions of a proficient writer (and does not seek the students’ input) it needs to be strategic, focussed and brief.
Depending on the year level, five to ten minutes would suffice to model different aspects of authorial or secretarial writing. At Levels F-2, the teacher might choose to teach early print concepts while modelling the construction of a meaningful piece of text.
The teacher might:
- verbally narrate and model the actions around where to begin the writing on the page or screen, directionality, spaces between words, etc.
Model spelling strategies drawing on phonic or visual understandings:
“Hmm … cat … what sound do I hear first? … /k/ … that might be a ‘k’ or a ‘c’ … let me try it with ‘c’ … c-a-t … yes, that looks right and it sounds right. I’ll go with that.”
At Levels 3-4, where students’ knowledge of different text types or genres is expanding, teachers might use modelled writing to support understanding of the linguistic structure and features of these different writing forms.
The teacher might model:
- the layout and language conventions of a formal letter
- how to structure an argument
- past tense verb choices when writing narratives or recounts.
At Levels 5-6, modelled writing still plays a role, even though most students will be competent independent writers.
In these senior years of primary school, teachers might model:
higher level revision and editorial work as part of the writing process (such as considering word choices with a mindfulness of the required register)
- more sophisticated notions around grammar.
“Oh! That does not make sense on its own – it’s a dependent clause. I better join it to the previous sentence. Let me see how that reads now.”
The teacher’s role in modelled writing
It needs to be emphasised that the teacher is in total control during modelled writing. Ideas and suggestions from the students are not sought. Instead, the teacher needs to make plain to the students what she is modelling and why.
Discussion with the students can happen afterwards, with the expectation that the actions and strategies modelled by the teacher might be deployed in their own independent writing.
The students’ role in modelled writing
The students are observers of the actions and decisions of the teacher in a modelled writing session. This might seem passive, but a skilful teacher will engage them by asking them to watch for and note the strategies being employed, consider why they are being drawn on and whether they are effective - all with a view to utilising such strategies and performing such actions in their own writing.
Christie, F. (2005). Language education in the primary years. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.
Gibbons, P. (2015). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching English language learners in the mainstream classroom (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hammond, J., ed. (2001). Scaffolding: Teaching and learning in language and literacy education. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association.
Kucan, L. & Beck, I.L. (1997). Thinking aloud and reading comprehension research: Inquiry, instruction and social interaction. Review of Educational Research, 67 (3), 271-299.