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9.2: Writing is Communicating

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    Illustration of a bird's nest
    Nest icon © Lucy La Croix is licensed under a CC BY (Attribution) license

    Children learn at a young age that people use writing to express their thoughts, share stories, communicate information, and convey opinions. Within their homes and in the community, young children have opportunities to observe the functions of writing in their day-to-day lives. For example, children might see family members write a grocery list and then observe their dad read the list and cross off items while walking down the aisles of the grocery store. Or perhaps, they notice their mom writing a note for an older sibling and then watch as the sibling later reads the note and takes fruit out of the refrigerator for a snack. Likewise, they may witness their sibling’s efforts to lobby for a new game by posting notes at strategic places around the home. As they sit on the couch next to an uncle, they could have an opportunity to watch him take out his phone, type in a text, and send the message to a friend. Out in the community, they might notice the server at a restaurant writing down their family’s order and then bringing the items requested to their table. Likewise, they could observe an auto mechanic writing down their family’s phone number and promising to give a call when the car is ready. These types of interactions in the home and community develop children’s conceptual knowledge of writing and their understanding of writing as a way to communicate.

    Learning about writing continues to take place as children engage in writing activities not only in the home but also in the classroom. For example, the children in Mr. Jenbere’s and Ms. Daryl’s classroom in the vignette above are developing their writing abilities and practicing their writing skills as they write their thank you notes. This activity provides an opportunity for children to draw pictures and talk about the story the assistant principal read as they write their thank you notes. Through their pictures, they record thoughts that are important to them with the understanding that these ideas can then be shared with others. At the same time, an activity like this allows children, like Arzu, to capture their thoughts through scribbles. Likewise, children like Hasan use their growing knowledge of letters and sounds to add words to their notes. This type of activity also enables children like Richelle to develop their understanding of the permanency of writing and to see themselves as writers with an audience. The children’s emerging understanding of writing is apparent in these efforts.

    The Framework for Developing Emergent Literacy presented above provides educators with a way to think about children’s writing development. This framework recognizes the interrelationship between reading and writing and organizes emergent writing into three dimensions: conceptual, procedural, and generative knowledge (Puranik & Lonigan, 2014). These dimensions are important to consider when assessing children’s writing and planning and implementing instruction.

    As writing is utilized in children’s everyday lives, their conceptual knowledge of writing develops and they gain insights into how print works. Puranik and Lonigan (2014) define conceptual knowledge as skills that “represent knowledge about the conventions and functions of writing” (p. 465). At a young age, children learn that writing is a means for communicating thoughts. They gain insights into the purposes or functions of writing and recognize that they can write to express ideas and feelings, tell a story, share information, and present an opinion or point of view. They also develop concepts of print specific to writing, such as writing in English occurs from left to right. In addition, they begin to understand writing as a symbolic representation of ideas as they recognize and assign meaning to logos, markings, and symbols they encounter (Byington & Kim, 2017).

    At the same time, young children develop procedural knowledge of print. Puranik and Lonigan (2014) define procedural knowledge as “knowledge of the specific symbols and conventions involved in the production of writing” (p. 456). These skills are important to children’s future ability to use predictable letter-sound relationships to read and write fluently. As children develop procedural knowledge, they gain an understanding of the alphabetic principle. As noted in Chapter 8, the alphabetic principle involves learning letter names and the sounds associated with them. Young children apply these principles as they begin to write letters and words, including names. As children gain an understanding of letter-sound relationships, they use this knowledge to help them spell words. Developing children’s fine motor skills and handwriting is also important in the early years (Byington & Kim, 2017).

    Children’s generative knowledge of writing develops as they apply their conceptual and procedural knowledge of writing. Puranik and Lonigan (2014) define generative knowledge as “children’s emerging ability to compose phrases and sentences in their writing” (p. 456). Initially, young children use inventive markings to express ideas and convey important messages. Often, when we ask children to “tell us what you wrote,” they will hold up their drawing and point to the markings and orally state the phrases and sometimes sentences they composed. Even though these children may not be able to form letters yet, they are still applying their understanding of how writing communicates a message that can be shared. Over time, children begin to use letters as symbolic representations that are organized to signify meaning (Bialystok, 1992). Experiences during the early years provide a foundation for children’s later ability to use particular strings of letters to represent specific words and to use these words to compose phrases and sentences that communicate meaning (Puranik & Lonigan, 2014). In the early years, a foundation for generating meaningful text is laid as children use oral language and writing, including drawing and scribbling, to communicate (Byington & Kim, 2017).

    Understanding how conceptual, procedural, and generative knowledge of writing develops in young children helps educators assess children’s writing and plan for differentiated instructional experiences that develop children’s emerging writing abilities. In the next section, we describe how emergent writers progress. Educators use this knowledge of writing progressions to inform the decisions they make when planning and implementing assessment and instruction.

    Pause and Connect: The Stages of Writing Development

    View this vodcast as an introduction to the sequence of early writing development and ways in which children can be supported in this development. There are some wonderful examples of emergent writing.

    What are the key points of this vodcast?

    This page titled 9.2: Writing is Communicating is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Sandra Carrie Garvey (Remixing Open Textbooks with an Equity Lens (ROTEL)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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