Six-Traits Writing Q&A

What is Six-Traits (6-Traits) Writing?

It’s an approach to writing instruction that uses the six traits of strong writing as the basis.

What are the six traits?

  1. Ideas – strong, clear, and compelling
  2. Organization – guides reader from beginning to end
  3. Voice – as unique as a fingerprint
  4. Word Choice – specific nouns and strong verbs
  5. Sentence Fluency – flow as if in a dance
  6. Conventions – grammar, etc.

What makes these six traits important?

If you examine writing that speaks to you, you will find that these traits are at work in that piece.

Are strong pieces of writing equally strong in all traits?

No. Sometimes one trait will be especially strong, but you will find that all are at work.

How do you teach the six traits?

I like to start by seeing where a child is at that moment by having him/her write a short piece (BCR/paragraph/hamburger) about something familiar to that child. It could be about his/her favorite animal, sport, or food. It could be a piece telling me about his/her family or self. The point is to make it something that is easy for the child to know the answer, leaving the expression of the answer the part that requires the most work.

Where do you go from there?

Most instructors will then introduce the idea of the six traits and give examples through student writing and/or picture books. I use both, but at first tend to focus on the picture books so that there is no one student without an example of at least one trait.

Why use picture books?

Picture books are little gems. They pack all of the traits into a short, very readable story. The older kids are insulted at first because they assume I think they can’t read. Once they understand that these picture books are examples for them to use to make their own writing stronger, they are right on board.

And then?

We move through the six traits, focusing on each in turn and using examples from the picture books and student writing to make it clearer and clearer. As the students realize the power in these traits, they become excited. We work in small groups sometimes. We work alone other times. Often we will all brainstorm at the whiteboard. The energy in the room is wonderful as the kids realize that strong writing is something they can achieve.

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