How Writing Can Improve Reading Skills

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Reading and writing are two of the infamous 'Three R's', so naturally we think of them as going hand-in-hand. But can specific writing instruction actually help reading? Turns out, yes. This lesson describes the connection between reading and writing and outlines strategies for using writing skills to boost reading.

The Three R's

We've all heard of the big 'Three R's' - reading, writing and arithmetic. Most education programs do a bang-up job of reading and math instruction, but tend to leave writing as an afterthought. Recent studies have shown this to be a major oversight; writing programs can actually increase reading comprehension. Why is this?

Katherine just landed her dream job as a writing consultant for a major school district. Her task is to convince administration and teachers that instruction in writing actually benefits students in more than the obvious ways. Let's take a peek into her notes.

The Reading and Writing Connection

Katherine has outlined some ideas she'll present to her new staff, as she shows them how reading and writing skills are connected. For starters, she'll explain that the processes behind the development of each skill are interwoven. When students are taught symbols that represent speech (what we call letters), it is in the written form. We see the letter /t/, recognizing that it refers to a specific sound. In this sense, reading is the act of decoding.

Children are also taught that in writing, or encoding, a word that has the /t/ sound, they use that same symbol. In fact, both decoding and encoding rely on the foundation of letter/sound relationships - a child's ability to hear individual sounds in speech.

These individual sounds are called phonemes. When a child is decoding (reading) a word on the page, it is necessary to be able to first visually recognize each letter, make the connection to the associated sound, then blend the letters together to read. When a student is encoding (writing), the process is similar but more heavily relies on the ability to identify sounds, or phonemes. When writing the word 'cat,' the child first has to be able to identify the three separate phonemes, c/a/t, remember the symbol for each, then use fine motor skills to write the word.

Katherine knows she'll need to spend time working with teachers to make sure they understand these important relationships. She knows that studies show children who write steadily are better readers, because they have a deeper understanding of the 'code' used to read and write. They are also more aware of grammar and spelling rules, and are using strong cognitive structures necessary for reading. In fact, teachers can use writing to assess a student's reading ability. These factors show how important a writing program is.

Strategies for Writing Programs

Katherine will help teachers outline strategies they can use in their writing instruction that will help develop reading skills, focusing on three areas:

  • Have students write about things they read. When a student writes about a topic, they are more likely to remember and have a deeper understanding of it. They can write using their personal ideas, analyses or reactions. They can also summarize, answer questions, or write opinions. Teachers can get more bang for their buck if they include writing instruction with the assignment. For example, if the assignment is to read about the Battle of Bighorn, the teacher should also instruct them on how to write an opinion piece about it.

Connecting learning in this way allows teachers to blend their instruction into more real-life contexts. In the real world, after school, our reading and writing lives are interwoven. A researcher reads data, conducts experiments, and then writes papers on his findings. A police officer reads policies and writes up reports based on them at the end of the day.

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