Write in the Service of Reading

Studies have shown that having students write about a text they are reading, or have read, is an important tool to improve reading outcomes. Not only can writing show a teacher how well a learner understands a text, it is often a way for students to discover themselves what they understand, where there are gaps in their understanding, and how students can read a text closely to build greater understanding.

Support Understanding through Writing


Writing about what we read is a proven strategy that promotes and increases understanding of text. Summarizing texts, answering questions about text, interacting and responding to text through written discussions are all associated with improved understanding and comprehension of text.

How you can support students’ writing about what they read to build reading comprehension

Provide a wide range of high interest stories that are relevant and engaging to middle school students. The high interest content encourages students to be motivated to share their interests, what they know, and what they have learned through writing. Writing about texts that students have chosen to read amplifies the impact of choice in the service of building reading comprehension.

Teaching tips
  1. Doing a project based on a reading is a great way to get students to dig deeper into what they have read. Journaling, selecting and writing about a character, creating a story quilt, writing your opinion and sending it to a community figure are all great ways to write about texts.
  2. Online discussions are possible by using programs such as VoiceThread or Google Docs. Allow students to engage in online discussions using some of these tools. Students may have a tendency to post individual comments without responding to comments posted by their peers. Encourage students to post their own thoughts and to comment on posts of their peers.
  3. Provide activities that encourage students to write about what they read. Make these activities relevant and authentic. As students write, check to ensure that, in addition to collecting and using information from the stories, students compose their own responses to include in these activities.
  4. Students who are challenged by writing may choose to draw their responses. Other students may benefit by first “talking” about what they will write. Treat these responses the same way you would a written response – look for evidence from the text and look for key or main ideas and supporting details.
Lesson: What happens to bullies in your Classroom? (Relates to teaching tips 1 and 2)


The goal of this lesson is to promote understanding and comprehension of texts through writing.


Provide students with an opportunity to write about what they have read and publish it to a wider audience.


  1. Introduction: Tell students that they have the opportunity to develop how bullying will be handled in this class. Ask them to read the story, “How Should Schools Prevent Bullying?” https://serpinstitute.box.com/shared/static/qw6j7t5b8ac9sgwh71hj3pw0qihbdkmx.pdf Then ask them to go complete one of the following activities: write a letter to the Principal stating their opinion OR write an opinion to post in a Google doc which they will share with peers asking for their opinions. In each case students will state their opinion and use evidence from the story to back it up.(Since you are not giving them a choice of which story to read, It is important that students have choice in their learning, here, choice of which activity they will use to write about this issue can support motivation.)
  2. Model: After students have had the opportunity to read the story, do a think aloud to demonstrate how to can select one way the story suggests handling bullies, (e.g.; “Some people think schools should teach victims to resolve the problem themselves, victims of bullying should make sure they are always with a friend.”
  3. Independent practice: Give students the choice to work independently or in small groups. Provide them a moment to select which activity they will use to write about how they think bullying should be handled in the classroom.
  4. Wrap-up: Class discussion – Ask students to share their ideas of how to prevent bullying should be handled in school. Collect those ideas and tabulate similar ideas to determine what the classroom policies will be. Post these where students can easily revisit them. Then send the letters to the principal and provide students with an opportunity to post their responses to those posted in the Google doc.

Graham, S., & Hebert, M. A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Graham, S., & Herbert, M. (2011). Writing to Read: A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Writing and Writing Instruction on Reading. Harvard Educational Re- view, 81(4), 710-744.

Common core standards

Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

…when I read, I read stuff and I usually don’t understand it, but when I am able to write about, I understand it a lot more.

~ Student