Learning how language works - be it spoken, written or visual - begins when a child understands that an image, letter or word represents something in his/her world. For example, when a child learns that the word "dog" represents a four-legged furry animal or that "cookie" means a yummy treat, they have uncovered the word/image - reality connection!

Abigail Anderson

Learning how the whole system of written communication works is a developmental process that takes several years. No two children will progress at exactly the same speed or in exactly the same way. Within each of the stages of writing there will be strengths and understandings as writers move toward the next stage. For example, students may stay at the transitional stage for many years, but should continue to show development as they move toward becoming proficient writers across a wide variety of text types and genres.


Most children begin their journey through written language with visual images and scribble-like marks on a page. The drawing and scribbles stand for something and can be "read" by the child. This is an essential first step in the writing process and should be encouraged. Before long children come to understand that there is a difference between writing and drawing.

Role-play writers:

  • learn that writing has a purpose and can be enjoyable

  • begin to understand that print holds meaning

  • assign a message to their drawings and scribble writing


The student is developing a sense of purpose and audience. Actual letters have taken the place of scribble-writing and it may be possible for others to read the message. This stage of writing allows students to communicate their thoughts and messages while they are learning more about spelling patterns and sound-letter relationships. They write about personal experiences and familiar topics in a small range of texts, such as cards, lists and letters.

Experimental writers:

  • begin to use and recognize real letters

  • begin to develop one-to-one correspondence between the written and spoken word

  • words may consist of one, two or three letters

  • rely heavily on the most obvious sounds in a word

  • write more consistently from left-to-right

  • use simple language structures, e.g. I like, I see, etc.

  • are more aware of letter-sound relationships

  • are developing a sense of audience

  • attempt familiar forms of writing such as lists, messages, letters, stories


Writers in the ’Early Writing’ phase are able to produce a small range of familiar texts that exhibit some of the conventions of writing. They know how to spell a growing number of frequently used words. When writing unfamiliar words they still tend to rely on the sounds they hear. They generally write about topics which are personally significant. They are beginning to consider their audience and can tell you the purpose for their writing, e.g. a list for Santa, a note to grandpa.

Early Writers:

  • can explain the purpose of a piece of writing

  • imitate the use of simple devices they have noticed in texts, e.g. large font, colour, speech balloons

  • spell and use a small bank of words correctly

  • know simple letter patterns, e.g. sh, th, ee, ay

  • write simple sentences

  • attempt to use punctuation

  • create a text that is beginning to reflect its intended purpose, e.g. lists, recipes, picture books, personal experiences and memories


At this stage writers are consolidating the knowledge and skills they have been learning through their early interactions with print. They have greater control over the conventions of writing such as punctuation, spelling, and text organization. There is an increasing awareness that texts are designed to meet the needs and expectations of specific purposes audience. Transitional writers are moving away from a heavy reliance on sounding out and are beginning to integrate visual and meaning-based strategies to spell unknown words.

Transitional writers:

  • show an increasing awareness of audience and purpose

  • compose a greater variety of text types and genres but may not fully control all elements

  • begin to plan and organize ideas before writing, e.g. brainstroming, drawing

  • revise for clarity and edit own writing to the best of their ability when directed

  • use a variety of simple and compound sentence structures

  • demonstrate greater control over spelling and punctuation

  • plan for and create a published text that reflects the intended purpose and needs of the audience


Fluent writers demonstrate control over the conventions of writing and most components of the writing process. They take responsibility for adjusting the language and content to suit specific audiences and purposes. They write a variety of literary, popular and information-based texts. At this stage, writers use conventional spelling and select language from a wide vocabulary. They integrate a range of strategies to spell unknown words.

Fluent writers:

  • use a wide range of text types and genres for specific purposes

  • select language and ideas to suit their purpose and audience

  • use devices such as irony, humour, satire, etc. to strengthen the writing, or influence the intended audience

  • can talk about their choice of text and decisions made while crafting the text

  • write a variety of simple, compound and complex sentences using correct punctuation

  • use strategies for developing cohesive paragraphs

  • select appropriate strategies to use throughout the writing process

  • revise, edit and proofread their own writing

  • know and use strategies for spelling unknown words

  • select ways to publish writing so as to enhance readers’ understanding and impact


By the time writers reach this stage they have developed a personal style of writing and are able to craft and manipulate a wide variety of text types and genres to suit their purposes and audience. Proficient writers demonstrate control over all components of the writing process.

Proficient writers:

  • can convey complex and abstract ideas through writing

  • have control over spelling and punctuation

  • adapt the writing process to suit their unique style

  • have developed an extensive vocabulary

  • produce writing that is cohesive, coherent and satisfying

Adapted from First Steps Literacy and the work of Richard Gentry.


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