Education Endowment Foundation:EEF blog: Combining reading with writing instruction: an integrated approach

EEF blog: Combining reading with writing instruction: an integrated approach

Supporting writing across the curriculum
Chloe Butlin
Chloe Butlin
Content Specialist for Literacy

Chloe Butlin, our literacy content specialist, explores how an integrated approach to reading and writing instruction can promote both the understanding of content and critical ways of thinking across the curriculum. 

Blog •3 minutes •

Zara has noticed that her year 8 students are struggling to write effectively in her biology class. She’s puzzled, as the students seem to have a good grasp of the content. She wonders, if students understand the material, then shouldn’t they be able to write about it effectively? To tackle this, Zara approaches the Head of English and asks them to provide a training session for the science team on how writing is taught in English.

  • Is Zara’s approach fit for purpose in improving students’ writing in science?
  • Just because students have knowledge of a topic, does this mean they will automatically be able to write about it? What further support might students need?
  • How might the demands of writing in science be different to those in the English classroom?

Writing instruction has been long been considered the exclusive remit of English teachers. But instruction in the rules of writing’, which will vary in each subject area, is now acknowledged as critical to deepening students’ understanding of discipline-specific ideas.

Define the rules of writing’ in your subject

If we want students to develop expertise across the curriculum, we need to teach them the role and purpose of writing in each subject.

This requires explicit instruction in how to write like an expert’ to communicate ideas within each discipline, which can be developed through exposure to reading high-quality texts.

Read high quality texts in every subject

Using style models of high-quality texts – ones that effectively illustrate the conventions of particular types of writing – gives students an opportunity to observe and internalise the discipline-specific aspects of writing in different domains.

Teachers can use the think aloud’ approach to guide students through the process of deconstructing the disciplinary aspects of a text and by then jointly constructing new texts using the features found. This can scaffold the writing process and enable students to independently construct their own texts.

Combine reading and writing instruction

Instead of training from the English team, Zara could use the suggestions from recommendation five in the Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools guidance report as a starting point to integrate reading and writing instruction in her subject.

Effective ways of combining reading and writing might include:

  • Write before reading. Ask students to bullet point what they currently know about a topic or questions they have that might be answered through reading the text.
  • Use annotations to identify information or explore key features of texts, for example by underlining information about the types of evidence being cited in a science textbook.
  • Ask students to write short summaries of texts they read.
  • Help students monitor and review their writing, for example by providing a checklist of features included in high quality answers, or using it as a self or peer-assessment tool.
  • Create checklists based on examples of good writing in each subject. For example, while reading a geography textbook, the teacher might ask students to highlight words related to cause and effect, such as Due to this…’; A contributory factor was…’. Students can the use checklists and examples in their own answers.
  • Anticipate common misconceptions or errors and highlight how writers avoid them in high quality texts.

While it’s not detrimental to spend some time teaching reading and writing separately, an awareness of their reciprocal relationship may be beneficial as part of an approach to disciplinary literacy.

An integrated approach – focused on high-quality texts, modelling and scaffolding writing to develop independent practice – is a key way that we can deepen students’ understanding of key concepts and ideas, and support them to communicate their understanding.