Keys to Literacy Newsletter
Winter 2013
Volume 9

KTL Logo


Our newsletter provides guidance and resources about literacy and comprehension instruction in grades K-12.  We hope you find the tips helpful ... and feel free to forward to your friends and colleagues! 


In this issue:  
Teaching Writing to Learn

Teaching Tips:
Teaching Writing to Learn
Book with Bookmark  

A major tenet of the Common Core literacy standards is teaching students across grades and subjects to use writing as a tool to learn content, especially when writing answers to questions based on reading. Here are some tips from our new writing program, The Key Writing Routine: 

  • Teachers should be aware that there is a difference between "Learning to Write" (i.e., learning the craft of writing) and "Writing to Learn" (i.e., using writing to support the thinking process and writing about content reading). See our handout What is Content Writing?.
  • Writing to Learn activities can range from "quick writes" to longer tasks that take one class or more to complete. Here are suggestions for quick writes and for longer writing tasks.
  • Teachers need to be explicit when they assign writing tasks. Examples of scaffolds to support explicit instruction are providing "how to" steps and graphic organizers or templates for planning. Here are subject-specific examples.
  • Students need to learn the differences among text structures for narrative, informational, and argument types of writing. See our list for the three types of writing that are aligned with the Common Core.

Common Core Writing Standard #5 addresses the importance of teaching students there are stages of writing (Thinking, Planning, Writing, Revising) they need to follow for any writing task. These stages are often referred to as the "process" of writing. See our handout, The Process Writing Routine.


For students who struggle with writing, teachers may have to teach foundational skills first. Read this fascinating article (The Writing Revolution) by Peg Tyre about one high school that improved student writing achievement only after they focused on teaching basic sentence structure skills.


Here is an overview of Common Core Writing Standards related to Writing to Learn.

Recommended Resources for
Writing to Learn
Writing image  


Here are some resources related to teaching writing to learn content:



Click on these links to access the research reports Writing Next (2007), Writing to Read (2010), and Teaching Elementary School Students to be Effective Writers (2012).


A research report about Assessment of Writing.


The article What is Happening in the Teaching of Writing?


Here's a good resource book for learning about what the Common Core standards really mean in terms of classroom instruction: Pathways to the Common Core, by Lucy Calkins. 

What's New in  Literacy?
Four Books


Another major focus of the Common Core is teaching students how to deeply read complex text. This is sometimes referred to as "close reading".  Read this terrific article by Marilyn Adams about the challenge of teaching complex text (Advancing Our Students' Language and Literacy). 


Here is a link to an article in Educational Leadership - The Case for Slow Reading.


Here is a copy of The Challenge of Challenging Text by Shanahan, Fisher, and Frey.


A recent addition to information websites related to Common Core literacy standards is  You will find numerous helpful documents and PowerPoints.


While Keys to Literacy professional development focuses on comprehension, vocabulary, and writing instruction that is embedded in all subjects, we also recognize the important role that foundational literacy instruction (i.e., phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency) plays in teaching younger students to read and older students who struggle with decoding skills. Here is an excellent resource from the Center on Instruction with suggestions for teaching the Common Core foundational reading skills (Building the Foundation). 

Keys to Literacy News

This past fall, we launched our new professional development program: The Key Writing Routine. This is designed for grade 4-9 teachers of any subject that requires writing. There are three major training topics requiring one day of training each:

  • Part 1: Writing Foundations
  • Part 2: Writing to Learn Content
  • Part 3: Teaching Types of Writing

For more information about this program, visit our website at


Keys to Literacy just completed its fifth year as a literacy teacher training company - as we grow in years we are also growing in size! During the past year we hired new trainers (we are up to 15!) from across the country. We have big initiatives in Arizona, North Carolina, and Texas.


We also just recently updated our website - please visit our Resources Page where you will find many articles and instructional templates.

 A message from

Joan Sedita

Joan's picture 

Given the launch of our new Key Writing Routine program, I have spent the past 18 months immersed in the research on effective practices for writing instruction and in understanding the Common Core standards. There is much good, new information that will help teachers teach writing.


However, I am struck by how much is not new. Knowledge of "what works" to teach writing has been around for a long time. Somehow, many teachers forgot to use these practices along the way, or perhaps these practices never found their way into the mainstream to begin with. 


My teaching career started in 1975 when I began teaching students with literacy disabilities at the Landmark School. A major focus of my work as a teacher, department chair, and administrator was writing instruction. I was fortunate to have  to teach struggling writers.  I learned it is essential to provide explicit instruction for writing strategies, to teach students about text structure at the sentence, paragraph, and longer text levels, and to teach students to use writing as a tool for improving  comprehension and learning content.


I dusted off many of the templates and lesson plans that I used during the 1970's and 1980's and found that not much has changed in terms of how best to teach writing. It has been very rewarding to find that recent research confirms those old teaching practices!



Joan Sedita

Quick Links