Writing Development and Process

This web page is designed for teachers who are teaching PK-3 and want to improve their writing.  There will be descriptions of the four stages of writing development to start.  We will then move on to the skills the students develop at each stage.  There will be some activities as well.  


Let's get started!  



There are four stages of the development of writing.  These four stages would be the foundation of writing.  You as a write must go through each stage in order to become fluent.  The stages are pre-literate, emergent, transitional and fluent. Let's go through each stage so you have a better understanding.  


This is known as the scribble stage and within this stage there are four sub-stages.  The first sub-stage would simply as it states, scribbling.  There is no real starting point on the page as the student see this page as just that, the page.  When the student is scribbling they are usually in large circles and may have random lines that do not match any letter shape or form.  There is no visible message.

The symbolic stage is still no real starting point on the page but now there could be pictures alone or with random strokes but the student feels there is a message behind this scribble.

Directional Scribble now has taken place and the student is understanding when we read there is a direction of left to right.  They understand that writing now goes from left to right as well and that you also write below and so on.  

The final sub-stage is Symbolic or Mock letters.  Again, this is still scribble.  The lines now may resemble letter-like forms however, this is not intentional.  The letters are often interspersed with numbers and spacing is usually not present.


The second stage is labeled as emergent.  Among this stage there are again, four sub-stages.  This is the stage where the student starts to understand writing is a means of communication and that these letters are actually a message.

When we talk about a string of letters, it's the first sub-stage.  These strings of letters are usually always capital letters, in random order, and again, left to right.  The letters may appear to be in a sequence from their own name and writing the same letters in different ways.

The emergent stage is when groups of letters are now apparent.  These groups are just letters with spacing.  The letters only resemble words and don't mean anything.

Labeling pictures is the third sub-stage.  This is where the student now has the ability to match sounds with the first letter of a word and able to label a picture with the beginning sound.  

The final sub-stage in the emergent stage is the environmental-print.  The student is able to copy letters or words that may be posted in the classroom.  There is a big possibility that letters are reversed during this stage. 



During this stage the students are having a better understanding of letters and sounds.  The students are able to use their skills they have learned earlier in this stage.  In the transitional stage there are three sub-stages and we will go through them individually.

In this sub-stage the student is working on letter/word representation.  The student is able to figure out the first letter of the word and write it.  The can not put together the word, just the first letter.  

This stage leads to the first/last letter representation.  This sub-stage is exactly what it says- they are able write the first  and last letter of a word.  Many times during this stage the student draws a picture of the word for a letter.  

The final sub-stage is the medial letter sounds. The student at this point knows the beginning and end letter but isn't sure of the middle (BME).  This is where phonics comes in and the student can can put the sound to the letter and make a word.  Letter spacing can be represented correctly and their writing can be legible.



We are now at the final stage of the development of writing.  This stage is exciting for not only the student but for the teacher as well.  Being fluent in writing means that there is a natural flow and consistency.  Getting through this stage you must be able to complete the following three sub-stages.

Beginning phrase writing is when the student can use all the skills they have been taught during the  above four stages.  They are able to create a phrase(s) that sends a message to their drawing.  The student is writing sentences.  

Sentence writing is the next process and the student is able to construct a bunch of words into the correct form.  They are using the BME method correctly and should be writing multiple sentences.  Their writing is legible, most words are spelled correctly and they are even using punctuation.

The final stage of fluent writing is six traits of writing.  The six traits of fluent writing are conventions, organization, voice, ideas, word choice and sentence fluency.  When the student is a fluent writer they can write without stopping and thinking about the shape of the letter. The shape is automatically known and there is no hesitation when writing.  



The Development of Skills


During the scribbling/drawing stage the PK-3 are getting used to holding a pencil or crayon.  They are most likely still using large circles for people and other objects they draw are quite large.  They are able to draw a scene that you will be able to recognize but with very little detail.  it is obvious that they know what they are drawing and everything is on the same line.  For instance, a person is standing next to a tree on one side and a city could be on the other.  They all could be the same height.


Letter-Like Symbols

At this stage the student is practicing that they are aware of what they are writing/ drawing and that the symbols mean something.  It always starts with shapes, circles, and then moves to other figures or shapes.  They are very curious and want to be able to write.  They often will draw letters and ask you what it says, most times it's just shapes and there is no correlation to a word.

Letters and Strings of Letters

During this stage, the student has an understanding that the letters represent what they are trying to say.  In their own writing they are writing mostly consonants, they are capital and most likely in their own name.  The attention is not on the spacing of letters or even the direction.  Some items to have available for the students could be different types of paper, lined, memo pads, etc. Writing utensils can be smaller, not so wide.  For instance, smaller crayons, pencils and/ or markers. Having different types of letters available for them to put together is also helpful for them make words.



Students at this stage will be writing the first and last letters in a word using sounds.  They are able to write some of the sight (high frequency) words and will add vowels at times.  As they practice during this stage they write as how the word sounds.  Spelling is usually incorrect, however punctuation begins as they began to form their sentences.



This is when the student is focused on phonics and most words are spelled correctly. Punctuation is used correctly and the student is using capital and lower case letters where they are supposed to be.  The student is more confident in their writing and begin to explore.  It could simply be writing a letter to a friend or even a story.  This is the stage where the student is working on becoming fluent.


Stages PK-3 will go through

The most prominent stages for the PK-3 group would be the emergent and transitional stages.  The students are working hard to understand and comprehend not only the shape of the letter but what sound it makes and where it must go in a word.  The emergent stage is most likely where they will start at the school year and it is every teachers hope that they will be transitional within a semester.  Students that are within the emergent stage are understanding the simplicity of the lines that make letters. They are trying to figure out the spacing but understand they write from left to right. They can only write the letter in capitals as they do not even understand what a lower case letter is, let alone the shape.   The student is understanding that words need o be grouped and spaces belong in between them.  This takes lots of practice and once they have mastered the emergent stage the student moves to the transitional stage.  Not all students will enter this stage at the same time.  The skills these students will be mastering are what will help them become fluent in the writing.  But, before fluency, the student during this stage is working on letter and word recognition.  When it comes to the words the student uses the BME approach and most times is successful.   The student is using phonics to sound out the words.  Some cases the student will miss a letter due to a missed syllable.  Pictures during these stages are very much needed for the student to not only make the correlation but to associate the sounds with the letter.


Writing Activity and Process

One of my most favorite activity's is using the word wall.  The students actually look forward to this activity.  On the white board in the front of the classroom there are some words that they are familiar with.  There are also pictures, some pictures go with the words and some do not.  The students need to work together with the sounding out of the words.  They will then match the word with the picture, if they in fact match.  The left over words are new words to them.  They need to sound it out and understand what it means and then write it in a sentence.  The left over pictures, the students work on the first/last letter representation and then on to the medial letter sounds.  There are multiple parts to this activity.  They are introduced to new words, sound out the old words, match the pictures to the word and then write them and any unmatched picture the student practices how to spell by sounding out (phonics) and then write it.  As you can see this activity is on on-going and allows us to get through a lot of the letter/word representation and to be able to work on the letter sounds. 

Reading/ Literacy Specialist

We are very fortunate to have a wonderful reading specialist who comes in weekly to assist the classroom teacher.  The teacher and reading specialist need to collaborate before the lesson to be sure it goes smoothly.  The reading specialist has a plethora of strategies to not only make the activity fun for the students but to ensure the student is comprehending and practicing their writing skills and in most cases the students don't view it as work!   



Bloodgood, J. (1999). What's in a name? Children's name writing and literacy acquisition. Reading Research Quarterly, 34, 342-367.

Clay, M. (1975). What did I write? Exeter, NH: Heinemann.

Gentry, J. R. (1982). An Analysis of Developmental Spelling in GNYS AT WRK. The Reading Teacher, 36, 192-200.

Morrow, L. M. (2001). Literacy development in the early years: Helping children read and write (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.