Strategies for Using Writing ‘Frames’ and ‘Structures’

This is an excerpt originally published in Edweek, Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo Blog

Mary Shea is professor emerita at SUNY Buffalo State and Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. She teaches courses in the graduate literacy MS programs. Previously, she worked for many years in western New York schools as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist, and language arts coordinator.

Nancy Roberts is a high-school literacy specialist in the Lockport City School District in New York and works with grades 9-12 in various content areas, weaving literacy skills and strategies into all curricular areas. Shea and Roberts are co-authors of Using FIVES for Writing.

Response From Mary Shea & Nancy Roberts

Writing as composition is a process of communicating ideas, feelings, information, opinions, and more. Just as rules of civility for behavior, speeches, and conversations guide oral expressions in a society, genre structures for written expressions provide a model for organization and inclusion of content to ensure an author’s intent has been well met. Writing structures such as those for narratives, poetry and exposition are expected by readers.

For students, writing frames and writing structures are not meant to restrict; rather, they establish format that facilitates communication and comprehension. - Mary Shea and Nancy Roberts Click To Tweet

For students, “writing frames” and “writing structures” are not meant to restrict; rather, they establish format that facilitates communication and comprehension. In fact, creativity within formats enhances the message delivered as well as listener/readers’ willingness to attend, consider, and be persuaded or informed. Right from the start, English/language arts instruction should teach from a stance of authenticity. That involves teaching language processes as they are expected to be used in the world and provide instruction, modeling, and guided practice that enhances meaningful ELA development.

I (Nancy Roberts) had a new student, Bobby, who struggled terribly with writing and reading. While he was very personable and had a good vocabulary, his teacher came to me with real concerns that he was not able to read or write anywhere near grade level. He soon joined one of my RTI Tier 2 groups along with four other students. His peers demonstrated/modeled decoding and the FIVES comprehension strategies. Soon realizing his struggle, his group members eagerly took it upon themselves to teach him the ABBBC strategy for writing . The next day, Bobby had written his first structured paragraph (about Friday lunch choices!) and was asking if he could write about his favorite football team the Philadelphia Eagles using ABBBC. He did this and was very proud to read it aloud just prior to their Super Bowl win. Bobby did not see the ABBBC writing structure as formulaic or restrictive. Rather, it allowed him to clearly express his ideas and thoughts.



Writing (and genre) structures are simply tools of the writing craft—one of many. The right tool for the intended outcome used interactively and efficiently with other tools increases the quality of the composition and comprehension by readers. Effective ELA teachers provide students with all the tools they need and the knowledge of when and how to use them as successful language learners and users in school and in the world.

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