In shared writing, the students collaborate with the teacher to jointly construct a written text. The teacher acts as scribe, prompting, questioning and supporting the students as the text is shaped. Because the teacher does the recording, the text is typically more complex than what the students would be able to accomplish independently.
As such, the students can concentrate on meaning making as the teacher records their suggestions. Attention can be drawn to text coherence and cohesion, incorporation of necessary detail and context, and the linguistic structure and features of the genre of the written piece.
Shared writing can be employed as a whole class or small group strategy. Students need to be able to clearly see the text as it is constructed.
Rationale for a focus on shared writing
Co-construction of a written text is a key step in many approaches to scaffolding or supporting students’ developing writing skills. When approaching the teaching of different text types or genres (Christie, 2005; Gibbons, 2015; Hammond, 2001), the step of joint text construction is pivotal.
Such teaching reflects the gradual release of responsibility model (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983; Duke, Pearson, Strachan & Billman, 2011) in practice – as teacher and students collaboratively talk through decisions as they draft – or revise – a text.
A typical shared writing session
In this video, the teacher uses the shared writing practice to co-construct a letter with her students
While undertaking all the recording of ideas in shared writing, the teacher draws on student input to create a meaningful written text. As such, it becomes a true collaboration that maximises student involvement.
Knowing the range of strengths and needs in the class, the teacher can call on different students to offer ideas or suggestions that are within their skillset or are relevant to their writing needs.
For example, a teacher might direct a question about punctuation to one student with some knowledge in that area, while focussing on a student with a more expansive vocabulary to offer a synonym for a word already over-used in the written text.
At Levels F-2, the teacher might:
- construct a recount of a class trip to the zoo with the students
- begin by listing all the ideas that the students feel are important in this recount
- seek their support to identify the sequence of events, as they will need to be written in the text
- discuss how this needs to make sense for those who were not there on the day.
At Levels 3-4, the teacher might:
- reinforce (or challenge) students’ suggestions about where paragraphs might go in a longer, co-constructed text with some explicit teaching around paragraphs, topic sentences, etc.
- push students’ writing into the creation of more elaborated, extended tracts of text
- embellish sentences with greater detail with a mindfulness of writing often being decontextualized.
At Levels 5-6, students’ use of more specific, technical language can become a focus of shared writing.
Here, teachers can draw students’ attention to the ramifications of different word or language choices when writing.
For example, when co-constructing a narrative, discussion could centre on:
- alternate words for “cried” with students considering the appropriateness of words like exclaimed, shouted, declared and bellowed
- guide students in writing a letter of complaint to a newspaper or magazine about their coverage of a certain issue by suggesting that expressing enthusiasm for the publication, followed by criticism of a specific piece might strategically be an effective means to communicate displeasure. “Rather that immediately saying we do not like the depictions of children in this magazine, let’s try to offer something positive.”
The teacher’s role in shared writing
Regardless of whether the shared writing session is whole class or small group, the teacher needs to maximise student involvement and engagement. As not every student’s ideas will be included in the co-constructed text, there needs to be at least opportunity for all students to consider the writing issues being addressed.
A show of hands or turning to the next person to discuss a writing option (such as a choice of words) can be a way to facilitate greater student engagement. In any case, the teacher is recorder of ideas while the students are largely responsible for the content.
The students’ role in shared writing
Contributing ideas that the teacher can record is the main task of students in a shared writing session. In constructing a meaningful text, students at any age need to be considering why the text is being written and who will read it. This will assist them to make decisions about both the content of the written piece and its form.
Christie, F. (2005). Language education in the primary years. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.
Duke, N.K., Pearson, P.D., Strachan, S.L. & Billman, A.K. (2011). Essential elements of fostering and teaching reading comprehension. In S.J. Samuels & A.E. Farstrup (Eds.).
What research has to say about reading instruction. (4th ed.). (pp. 51-93). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
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.
Pearson, P. D., & Gallagher, M. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344.