Starting Strong: A Guide to Teaching Writing in Upper Elementary Classrooms (part 1)


Picture this: You are ready to start teaching writing!  It’s the first day of writing workshop, and you see your students sitting at their desks, pencils poised, faces full of anticipation—and a little bit of anxiety. You know that some of your students have struggled with writing in the past, and some of your new learners dread having to spend another year fighting to put their thoughts on paper. Friend, you understand it is up to you.

Classroom teacher teaching students the writing process in the upper elementary classroom.
You teach writing to 5th graders or 6th graders, and you choose to introduce them to the beautiful side of writing, where they can create their masterpieces and tell their own stories.

 You can help them see writing as an exciting journey or a painful experience they will need to continue struggling through. Of course, you choose to introduce them to the beautiful side of writing, where they can create their masterpieces and tell their own stories.

You are going to help them learn about the magic of writing. No matter what level your students are starting from, you will ignite that spark, however tiny, and start them on their writing journey. You will help them realize that writing isn’t just about putting words on paper—it is about crafting ideas, finding your voice, and creating something meaningful.

Writing is a powerful tool for students to express themselves and share their stories with the world.

Teaching writing to 6th graders while students write in their classroom.
Teach your 6th graders that writing is a powerful tool for students to express themselves and share their stories with the world.

All journeys start at a beginning:

So, let’s explore how to introduce the traits of writing. Then, make sure your students understand the writing process. We will embark on this journey together and help your students discover the magic of writing.

Introducing the Traits of Writing 

The traits of writing are what makes good writing, well…, “good.” So, teaching writing means you teach the traits.  Imagine you’re leading your students on an adventure, exploring the diverse landscape of writing. The landscape is up and down, sometimes hilly and sometimes flat. (If you are reading this and picturing yourself on a safari jeep pointing out good traits to your students – me too!). The traits of writing are the landmarks on this journey, helping students understand what makes writing effective.

You have:

1. Ideas: The heart of the message.

2. Organization: The internal structure.

3. Voice: The personal tone and flavor.

4. Word Choice: The vocabulary a writer chooses.

5. Sentence Fluency: The rhythm and flow of the language.

6. Conventions: The mechanical correctness.

Spend a day or two on each trait, using examples and interactive activities to help students recognize and appreciate each trait. Choose picture books with solid examples of each trait and read them aloud to the students. Make sure to discuss and find out what the students are feeling and thinking. Allow students time to work through and create short writing pieces that are examples of each trait.  

For example:
You choose to start by introducing the Ideas trait. Tell the students the trait and what it means. You create a worksheet that allows students to take notes to add to their writer’s notebook. The handout could have an example of ideas, and your students can read and discuss what they notice. Then, introduce a storybook to the class with great examples of Ideas (You pick Shark Nate-O, knowing the students will love this story of a shark-loving boy who is afraid to swim). You read the story, and the class discusses what they notice.
Then, you allow writing time for students to choose and write a paragraph showing great ideas. You allow students to discuss in groups, and then volunteers can share their writing with the whole group. (Check out this resource: The Traits of Writing. This incredible resource has an engaging activity for students to cut apart and create an organizer to display their learning and keep for reference AND examples and writing opportunities for each trait).
Continue this pattern of lessons for the next few weeks as you cover all six traits.
Students writing in the upper elementary classroom.
Make sure your students understand the writing process and the traits of good writing so then you will set the stage for your students to succeed in writing.

Understanding the Writing Process

Now that your students know the traits that guide them through the writing process, think of it as a roadmap that takes them from the initial idea to a finished piece of writing (seriously, did you envision crawling back into the jeep for this next journey?).

The steps include:

1. Prewriting: Brainstorming and organizing ideas.

2. Drafting: Getting ideas down on paper.

3. Revising: Improving content and structure.

4. Editing: Correcting grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

5. Publishing: Sharing the final product.

Spend a little time on each step step, demonstrating with examples and engaging students with practice.  

Think about working through a short piece together as a class and going through each step of the writing process.  

For example, write a paragraph about My Favorite Cake.
  1. Working together as a whole class on a short writing piece allows students to see how the process works. (Keep all your class work on chart paper for reference and to create a display for your classroom wall)  
  2. First, you introduce the prewriting stage. As a class, you brainstorm types of cake and vocabulary used to describe cake and quickly plan out a paragraph.  
  3. Then, you discuss drafting and write a rough draft paragraph of your favorite cake.
  4. Next, you review revision and find ways to improve your paragraph. You and your students switch out a couple of words for more robust word choices and add more descriptions, making sure to hit emotions or the five senses.
  5. You review the editing step and then look for spelling mistakes, missing capitals, and missing punctuation. When the students agree you have found all the errors, you continue.
  6. Finally, you discuss publishing and re-write your cake paragraph together. All of your students draw a picture of their favorite cake. You hang it together with the chart paper you used during each step. (Check out this Steps of the Writing Process resource – it is an interactive activity that students can cut apart, discuss, and create a visual organizer to show their understanding and then keep in their writing folder for future reference).

These lessons are just an introduction. When you are teaching writing in upper elementary levels, these introductory lessons are not taught to mastery.  At this point, the students need to understand the steps and know that every writer, in every type of writing, goes through this process. Students will grow to understand the writing process throughout the year as you give them various writing tasks and refer back to the steps.  

Quote over students writing in the classroom
Teach writing to your upper elementary students so they can learn about the magic of writing.

Also, remind your budding authors that the writing process is not necessarily linear. You don’t always have to go from one step to the next. Authors often switch between the various steps as they write.  


As a hero teacher, you’ve equipped your students with the knowledge and tools to become confident writers. By introducing the traits of writing and guiding them through the writing process, you’ve set the stage for success.

Remember, this is just the beginning of teaching writing in upper elementary.  In future posts, we’ll explore helping them identify good writing and creating their own writing rubric, in addition to providing you with even more strategies and resources. Stay tuned, and keep inspiring your students!


Hugs, Teacher Friend.
Thank you for sharing your sunshine with your students and helping them grow. Keep spreading your magic throughout the world. The world needs you.


Ready to take your teaching writing in upper elementary to the next level?  

Are you looking for writing prompts that encourage prewriting and provide vocabulary support, a writing process checklist, and a self-evaluation reflection page?

Check out these titles and take care of four months of creative writing lesson plans.

My Summer Adventure – the perfect prompt for back to school – students create their first published piece for the classroom library (and their portfolio) with a family adventure at the beach.


My State Fair Adventure – ties in the changing of the seasons with the busy setting of a state fair for a fall-themed adventure. What could be better than tying in the magic of carnival rides, popcorn, and an adventure?


The Spooky House is the perfect creative writing piece around October when students focus more on monsters and scary adventures. This adventure focuses on an adventure in an old, spooky house, complete with themed vocabulary. Because old houses are prevalent everywhere, this is the perfect assignment around Halloween but not Halloween-themed.


Thanksgiving Adventure Writing: A fun and engaging story that starts with the traditional visit to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving but with an unexpected twist when you discover aliens have kidnapped Grandma. Now, your students must go on a rescue mission to save Grandma before dinnertime.