This method involves teaching students to evaluate sample writings (and later, their own writings) on six traits. Each trait is rated on a scale of one to five. (A one indicates that the writer is struggling, while a five indicates that the student can direct the writing and knows how to fine tune it.)

The six traits are:
Ideas and content: the paper is clear and focused on a central theme.

Organization: the writer presents information in a logical, compelling order which moves the reader through the text.

Voice: the writer is expressive and engages the reader.

Word choice: the writer uses words that are precise, interesting and free of clichés.

Sentence fluency: the paper has an easy flow and rhythm when it is read aloud.

Conventions: proper punctuation, grammar, spelling, and paragraphing are used.
The 6-trait writing program can be effectively integrated with other methods/philosophies of teaching writing including the Writing Workshop approach advocated by writing educators such as Lucy Calkins, Donald Graves and Ralph Fletcher.

Making the connection between six-trait writing and Writing Workshop:

The six traits are not a writing program, but a language for describing the quality of writing–a set of written criteria that attempt to define what makes good writing. We use six-trait language to talk about and to assess a piece of writing or literature An effective writing program combines six trait language within the structure of a Writing Workshop. Conferencing with students about their writing is an important part of a Writing Workshop. And when we tell students (and teach them to tell each other) what we liked about a piece of writing–and why–we are pointing out their effective use of the six traits.

Example: I loved your opening line– “I wonder how my dad knows so much..” It lets me know what you piece is going to be about (Ideas–Narrow, focused topic), and it captures my interest (Organization–Inviting introduction). It also sounds like you are writing TO someone (Voice).

When we ask questions about what we don’t understand or what we want to know more about (or wonder about), our aim is to help the writer improve the quality of their writing in one or more traits.

Example: You write about your brother, your friend Mary, and hating homework. I wonder which topic you want to write about most? (Ideas–Narrow, focused topic) OR How do these three topics link together? (Organization–Strong transitions link ideas).

Another example: Can you tell me more about what your dog looks like? I can’t quite picture him. (Ideas: Details you care about; Word Choice–words that create vivid images)

The best way to teach Six-Traits is to integrate it into your teaching whenever you are discussing or assessing the quality of writing:

For example:

1) When you are sharing literature and want to point out what makes a particular piece of writing good (or bad).

2) When you are sharing anonymous student papers and rating them.

3) When you are responding to a piece of writing (through a conference OR through written comments).

4) When you are assessing a piece of writing.

For more information go to the website of the NWREL (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.


From the Writing Curriculum Files of Children’s Author, Suzanne Williams www.suzanne-williams.com