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(Role, Audience, Format, Topic)

9-12 Teacher Strategies to Increase Writing Skills



Writing to Learn

  • Plan activities to fit logically with content.

  • Include activities regularly.

  • Establish a clear purpose for each activity and a plan for how the writing will be used.

  • Model assignments students are asked to write (one effective strategy is for the teacher to write the model). Modeling may need to be repeated several times in order to capitalize on the benefits of this powerful strategy.

  • Invite students to experiment and try out ideas without correction or criticism.

  • Do not grade activities for grammar, usage, or mechanics.

  • Provide individualized positive feedback (e.g., make suggestions, raise questions, respond to students’ questions).

  • Award points for completion and extra points for exemplary work.


Writing Instruction


Essential Element Writing


Framework Refer to box below






W.5.9.8, W.5.10.8, W.5.11.8, W.5.12.8, W.5.9.9, W.5.10.9., W.5.11.9, W.5.12.9

Journals, learning logs, writer’s notebooks, exit and admit slips, inquiry logs, mathematics logs

SREB Literacy Across the Curriculum





Although neglected by both literacy and content area teachers, writing-to-learn is an important tool for several reasons. When writing-to-learn activities are used appropriately, students engage more fully; they develop critical thinking skills and they become more aware of their own learning processes. To be effective, learning must be active, and writing encourages students to become active learners. Writing-to-learn leads to deeper understanding and more permanent retention of information. It offers students a means to clarify their thinking, and it provides teachers a means for quick, informal assessments that can inform instruction.


Note: In order to meet the needs of diverse learners less complex materials can be employed to accommodate the needs of Tiers II through V students. (See ‘Strategies for Teaching Writing Skills to Tier III, IV, & V Students’). It should not be assumed that students who struggle with writing cannot use adapted materials with the graphic organizers and other ideas presented here.


Writing-to-learn activities are immense in variety and can be used effectively at the beginning, middle, and/or end of a lesson or unit of study. Because they are often short and can be quickly assessed, teachers are able to provide immediate personal and positive feedback. These activities also encourage frequent use, and writing frequently is more beneficial to learning than traditional long writing assignments given infrequently. When writing-to-learn activities are assessed without consideration of grammatical or mechanical concerns, students develop greater fluency and are more willing to take risks and experiment with new ideas. The purpose of this kind of writing is for students to capture ideas and to connect personally with what they read and study.






  • Short pieces of engaging text, informational or narrative. Tiers II through V students may need a tape recorded version of the text. Note: In several of the activities which follow, sample pieces of text have been included.

Writing-to-learn activities should be designed for use with the whole class

or with small groups. These activities may be implemented at the

beginning, middle, and/or end of instruction; some require as little as two

or three minutes; others may take more time, depending on how much of

the writing process is included. Writing-to-learn activities may usually be

assessed as rough drafts, but several may become the basis of more

extensive alternative assessment. Teachers can easily determine when

to introduce revising, editing, and publishing. All of the following activities

can be found in Tools for Teaching Content Literacy by Janet Allen or in

Smart Step/Next Step Strategies for the Content Areas produced by the

Arkansas Department of Education.


Direct Instruction

The teacher will explain and give examples of how writing helps students to clarify their thinking and remember what they have learned (grocery lists, e-mails, text messages, memos, class notes, etc.). S/he will emphasize that writing helps learners become more active and allows them to take more responsibility for their own learning. The teacher will explain how writing-to-learn allows the student to discover, organize and retrieve information more effectively and will illustrate a variety of tools that can be used for writing-to-learn (journals, learning logs, graphic organizers, etc.)



Many of the writing-to-learn activities that follow include samples of text, graphic organizers, and possible responses that can be used to model the strategy. Regardless of whether the activity is very short or more involved, the teacher should work through the activity so that students understand what quality responses should look like. Thinking should be made visible on chart paper, at the board or on the overhead projector. In some cases, the teacher should model the strategy several times with different pieces of short text.

Guided Practice

All of the writing-to-learn activities that follow allow students to practice what they have seen the teacher model. These activities encourage frequent writing, with the student rather than the teacher as the audience. Most can be done collaboratively or independently; all require teacher feedback so that students perceive the benefit and continue to engage fully. These guided practices afford the teacher the opportunity to assess understanding quickly without the necessity of evaluating grammar and mechanics.




Several of these activities lend themselves to more fully developed writing assignments that afford the opportunity for creative expression. As students become more secure with these strategies, they may then be able to design their own assignments. For example, when students initially use the RAFT activity, the teacher must supply the role, the audience, the format and the theme choices. As they become more confident, students may be able to originate their own options. Also, many of the strategies invite more extensive development through the writing process; what started as a quick response to learning may become a fully developed writing assignment that includes all aspects of the process.


Writing-to-Learn Activities Rationale

(from “Smart Step/Next Step Strategies for the Content Areas”)


These writing-to-learn activities may be appropriately used before, during, or after class. They offer a variety of benefits by:


  • Promoting engagement.

  • Enhancing understanding of concepts being studied.

  • Promoting thinking.

  • Encouraging writing daily.

  • Providing insight into students’ thinking processes.

  • Offering the opportunity for quick assessment and for personal, positive feedback.

Guided Practice

Choose appropriate times before, during, and/or after learning to include writing-to-learn activities.

  1. Plan to use the work produced in these activities in a meaningful way so that students perceive their benefit and value.

  2. Evaluate work as rough drafts and encourage students to take risks in their responses.

  3. Provide personal and positive feedback to all or to selected papers.

  4. Consider awarding points for satisfactory completion and rewarding exemplary work with extra credit.

Develop a systematic plan for offering feedback.




(Role, Audience, Format, Topic)

RAFT, an acronym for Role, Audience, Format, and Topic, is a writing-to-learn strategy that leads students to think critically and creatively about the content which they have studied. This strategy offers several benefits:


  • It is useful in any content area after students have read, viewed, or studied a concept or event.

  • It engages students who do not respond to typical academic assignments.

  • It provides support in critical areas of reading and writing.

  • It leads students to make personal connections to what they have studied.

  • It asks students to infer and to predict from text clues.

  • It promotes the synthesis of newly acquired information into an imaginative piece of writing.

  • It adapts easily to individual or to collaborative work.

  • It offers a means of alternative assessment.




  • Each student needs a copy of a passage of text (one that you provide or a passage selected from your textbook).

  • A list of options for their responses. (See “What Every Freshman’s Parents Should Know” and the “RAFT Options Grid” for samples to use as you model.)


Guided Practice
  1. Have students read the text.

  2. Determine whether students will work individually, in pairs or in small groups; then organize the class accordingly.

  3. Distribute the “RAFT Options Grid” that relates to the text and discuss the writing tasks. Lead students to understand that they will select/be assigned a role such as “12-year-old brother.” In the role of 12-year-old, the writer will be addressing “his friend,” who is the audience. Discuss how these boys would speak to each other, what vocabulary they would use, etc. Next, lead them to look at the format of the writing they will produce, for example, a short “two-character play,” and consider the conventions that are appropriate for this form. Finally, examine the theme that will be portrayed in the play—“no money for allowance or treats.” Consider how the theme affects the tone of the piece.





  1. Allow time for students to draft their responses. In this modeling activity, you may allow shorter responses in rough-draft form. If you use this activity for a more formal alternative assessment, you may lead students to craft, revise and edit more thorough responses.

  2. Provide in advance a rubric, you design, for assessing student work.



Discuss with students how variations in role, audience, format or theme affected their choices and the product which they created. Assign credit to completed work. Provide time for students to share their work either orally in small groups or more formally after they have opportunity to revise and edit. See rubric.



Tier II Additions

  • Arrange for student to work with a strong student peer or in small group.

  • Assign student a less complex writing example, such as an advertisement to represent the reading.

  • Allow student to respond to only 3 out of the 4 categories on the RAFT Guide.


Tier III Accommodations/Modifications

  • Arrange for student to work with a strong student peer or paraprofessional.

  • Assign student to write an e-mail message to explain the text.

  • Allow student to respond to only 2 out of 4 categories in the RAFT Guide.


Tier IV Modifications

  • Allow student to respond to only 1 out of 4 categories in the RAFT Guide and dictate answers to a student peer, teacher, or paraprofessional.


Tier V Modifications
  • Provide a tape recorder for student responses to the R category of the RAFT Guide with the help of a student peer, teacher, or paraprofessional. 


Writing To Learn RAFT + Worksheets


Copyright © 2006 Arkansas Department of Education. All rights reserved. School districts may reproduce these materials for in-school student use only. No resale. Materials may not be reproduced, distributed or sold for commercial use or profit. ADE employees are not authorized to waive these restrictions.

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