Write to Read is an approach to learning literacy skills, based on the results of several studies in early literacy. They show that writing not only improves reading skills by building decoding skills, but also that reading and writing mutually reinforce one another. Until recently this has not been acknowledged in mainstream instruction where reading is normally the dominating activity and writing viewed only as an appendage of reading.
Contrarily, in Write to Read writing is considered to be a much more active contributor to learning to read. This is so, not only because of the child’s more active and personal engagement in writing his own text, but also because the child, by creating his/her own text in a slow process of constructing words, is afforded the opportunity to work with the relationship between letters and sounds in words whose meanings and pronunciations are familiar. This initial trial-and-error writing called invented spelling is a fruitful strategy on the way towards conventional writing because it allows the child to experiment freely and write texts without having to know the correct spelling of all the words. The spontaneous and functional expression of opinion or emotion for others to read, not only makes writing and reading a joyful and desirable activity, but also an easier way to break the alphabetical code – more easily, that is, than trying to read words of unknown meaning and pronunciation in a book. On the other hand Write to Read also shows that writing and reading will not develop satisfactorily if the child’s sight word vocabulary and knowledge of letters are not being gradually expanded through adult initiated reading and writing activities with the child.
But what if you are worried that your child may have problems copying the way you write? The younger the child, the bigger the letters. So, use a black felt-tip pen and write letters 1 inch high. Word cards of 2 x 6 inches have proven practical in many day care centres and private homes in Scandinavia. Children simply love to watch an adult write and say new words, so let your child watch you! To start, choose words your child is familiar with that will elicit a positive, emotional reaction such as names of family members, pets, toys etc. Later, depending on age and interest, more and more words from the child’s environment and activities will become part of its sight word vocabulary.
Nowadays handwriting is more or less being replaced by digital writing on computers, mobiles and other electronic gadgets. So, why not show the child how to write words on a screen? Many media products provide word processing audio-visually which enhance not only writing development in general but also phonological abilities and independent reading.
Further information and inspiration:
An interview with Swedish professor Ragnhild Söderbergh who explains how the use of word cards in early childhood, called Writing/Reading Joy, can encourage both written and spoken language:
In this recent study, conducted in school settings, students' reading was improved when they wrote about what they read: notes about the text, personal reactions, interpretations, summaries, answering questions:
How digital writing and word processing media effects enhance both writing and reading development:
Labbo, Linda D. and David Reinking: Computers in Early Literacy Education. In: Handbook of Early Childhood Literacy. Sage Publications. 2003/2006.
About the importance of young children learning literacy through active engagement, constructing their understanding of how written language works:
Teale, William H. and Elizabeth Sulzby: Emergent Literacy: New Perspectives. In: Strickland, Dorothy S. and Lesley Mandel Morrow (eds.): Emerging Literacy: Young Children Learn to Read and Write. International Reading Association. 1989.
Kjeld Kjertmann, Ph.D
Associate professor (retired)
Department of Curriculum Research
The Danish University of Education.