Have a Few Extra Minutes? Use Interactive Writing to Teach Foundational Skills

By C.C. Bates, Ph.D.

Interactive Writing

As the first graders in Room 206 begin to write a list of facts about dental hygiene, they decide to start by labeling the chart Teeth Facts. It may be quicker for me as the teacher to act as a scribe and simply write the title of the chart and the facts learned, but it certainly would not be as powerful. Engaging in Interactive Writing (IW) ups the ante and turns the writing of a traditional chart or text into a multi-layered learning experience. Interactive writing is the evolution of language experience and shared writing. It capitalizes on students’ ideas to create readable texts, and through intentional decision making I can leverage the activity to teach a range of skills and concepts.


As teachers, we all have times in the day when we’ve finished up a few minutes early, and if you are like me, I want to make sure I dedicate every possible moment to teaching and learning. I have always referred to this extra time and how I use it as a “five-minute filler” or FmF for short. 

While setting aside a specific time for IW in a daily schedule is important, I also find using these FmFs to engage students in negotiating, creating, writing, and reading texts helps make the most of every minute of the day. Often, the texts I create with students during FmFs are an extension of a unit in science or social studies, either way focusing on IW gives me extra time across the day to integrate literacy into the curriculum. So, over the course of several days, the students in Room 206 will engage in a culminating discussion about a unit on dental health and we will use the FmFs that occur to add to our Teeth Facts chart.

Teaching Foundation Skills 

During IW my focus is on teaching foundational skills as we create an authentic and meaningful text. Through this effective literacy practice, children develop oral language and vocabulary while at the same time learning about concepts of print, engaging in phonological and phonemic analysis, and acquiring alphabetic and orthographic knowledge. Depending on my instructional goals and the opportunities presented as we create the text, I can readily emphasize these skills that contribute to successful reading and writing. 

For example, I can reinforce orthographic mapping. In a recent article by Nell Duke and Kelly Cartwright (2021), they state that the “links among phonology, orthography, and words’ meanings (i.e., vocabulary) are at the heart of orthographic mapping: the linking of words’ spellings, pronunciations, and meanings in memory” (p. S29). What better place to connect phonology, orthography, and words’ meanings than during IW? 

To illustrate orthographic mapping, l will use the dental health chart as an exampleOnce the students decided to title the chart Teeth Facts, we immediately began to write the word “teeth.” Most first graders’ vocabulary includes the word teeth but if not, I know the word teeth has been introduced and used on numerous occasions during the unit. My instructional goal during IW was to demonstrate how to link the phonological and orthographic information of a word the students could define. 

When we write, we work from sound to letter. Through a slow and natural articulation of the word, the students in Room 206 identified that “teeth” has three sounds or phonemes. Next, we focused on connecting each phoneme to its corresponding grapheme. A grapheme is a letter or letters that serve as a written representation of a phoneme, which means if a word has three phonemes /t//ee//th/ it will also have three graphemes t-ee-th. 

The many ways long e can be represented is certainly a skill being taught in first grade and IW provides an opportunity to apply these skills in connected text. As the word “teeth” was written, I quickly put the t down and then purposefully selected a student to add ee. Once the vowel combination representing long e was added to the chart, we blended /t//ee/ together and discussed the final sound in teeth, the digraph /th/. I chose another student to add th to the chart and then we reread the word as I slid my finger underneath emphasizing the sound/letter match. Having students participate in the writing of a text allows me to target my instruction based on student’s individual strengths and/or what I may be working on during small group instruction. 

In Closing

During the first FmF, we only got the title of the chart written, but by the end of the week I was able to capitalize on the extra time in our day and the students and I wrote five facts they learned about teeth and dental care. These short bursts of IW spread across the school week eventually produced a completed text. Each time we added to the chart the students reread what they had written which led to opportunities to practice phrased and fluent reading and to engage in comprehension monitoring. If you are interested in learning more about IW including ways to use the text as a teaching tool to support reading, I invite you to read my book Interactive Writing: Developing Readers through Writing

Duke, N. K., & Cartwright, K. B. (2021). The science of reading progresses: Communicating advances beyond the simple view of reading. Reading Research Quarterly56, S25-S44.

C.C. Bates, Ph.D., is a Professor of Literacy Education at Clemson University. Her work has been published in The Reading Teacher, Young Children, and The Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education. She is the author of Interactive Writing: Developing Readers Through Writing (Benchmark).

Author: CCIRAblog

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