Evidence - What works in the classroom

Download a summary document of all 14 areas.
Download a summary document of all 14 areas.
Download a reflection sheet.

There are hundreds of studies that shed light on which teaching approaches and environmental factors are most beneficial for the development of writing.  In KS2, the 14 elements listed in the table above are significant contributing factors to pupil progress.

 You should ask yourself,

1. What do I already know about these 14 elements?  How can I strengthen my knowledge and understanding of high impact approaches and environmental factors?

2.  How could I use this knowledge to my advantage?  What tweaks or changes my teaching might improve outcomes for pupils?  What conversations with colleagues might help me to develop my practice?

When considering the balance of writing, we have already considered the importance of having the time and opportunity to write.  Quantity of writing - makes a difference to pupil progress.  They need lots of opportunities to write.  However, as previously discussed, it is not the only factor.  We considered the importance of balancing pre-writing, writing and post writing lessons and activities.  Most of the 14 areas above would fit into pre and/or post writing lessons.

Pupils planning before writing

This is particularly important for lower ability and SEN writers.  When we devote more time to planning we achieve a 21 percentile jump in the quality of writing produced!  Wow!  That should make us stop and think.  Planning comes in many shapes and sizes.  It can be anything to an intensive storyboard to a quick discussion with a partner.  It depends on what the writing task is, what elements the teacher is focusing on, the needs of the pupil and the current level skill level of the class.

Question : Why, if we know how much impact planning has on the quality of writing produced, do pupils and teachers spend such little time on this aspect?  When conducting book reviews, it is easy to see times when more planning and preparation would have led to better quality writing.  What are the difficulties? 

Why are teachers reluctant to devote time to planning?

  • It takes pupils quite a long time to plan, particularly if they have to complete detailed plans.

  • Pupils find it cognitively difficult to plan.  Planning is not an easy task, even for adults.  It requires thinking about the task and what you want to produce.

  • Many pupils lack planning skills.  They end up producing the actual piece of writing rather than producing plans.

  • Many pupils are excited about the prospect of producing writing and don't want to wait to get started.  Some pupils (and indeed some adults) find planning boring.  The pupils (and the adults) sometimes don't believe that planning will make a difference to the quality of the end product.

  • It can be hard to choose the right planning format for the task.  Too much or too little planning will cause problems.

What can teachers do to combat the problems?

  • Consider with other colleagues a range of planning formats.  Aim to broaden the range of planning formats you are familiar with.

  • Model how to plan.  Pupils need to see how someone else plans.  Explain your thought processes as you do this.

  • Explicitly teach pupils a few simple planning models that can be used for a variety of tasks and purposes.  Talk about which planning formats they like and which ones they think are the most effective.  Talk to the pupils about how planning formats might be adapted.  As pupils become more competent with planning, give them choices.

  • Share examples of good planning produced by pupils - explaining why.

  • Model how to use the planning to create sentences and paragraphs.  Often, pupils create plans and then never use them!  Show how sometimes you might deviate from the plan.

  • Consider non-writing methods of planning, e.g. drama, recording sentences on talking post-cards, paired discussions, whole class discussion, ordering images and key words, using a plan the teacher has already produced.  Consider methods that require limited writing, e.g. bullet points, spider diagrams, tables, use diagrams such as the 8 thinking maps designed by David Hyerle.

  • Offer opportunities for pupils to create plans together and then write their own texts. Plans might also be produced as a group or a whole class.  

Download planning examples


Having analysed hundreds of pupil exercise books, it is clear that a disproportionate percentage of lower ability writers have poor handwriting.  If handwriting was a highly cognitive function, then we might expect this.  Since it is not, we can start to explore the notion that having poor handwriting actually negatively impacts on pupil progress and attainment.


“Correlation studies have provided evidence that automaticity of letter writing is the single best predictor of length and quality of written composition in the primary years."

Graham, Beringer, Abbott, Abbot & Whitaker, 1997. Beringer at al 1997, Graham, Harris and Fink 2000, Graham et al 2015.

When handwriting is a limiting factor, teachers should do all they can to address the issue.

Reasons why handwriting impacts on pupil attainment and progress:

  • Poor handwriting means that pupils have to concentrate when writing, taking up working memory.  This is particularly an issue for younger writers.  Because so much of their attention is focused on letter formation they forget the sentence they are trying to construct or miss capital letters and full stops; composition falters.

  • Poor handwriting usually also means that text production is slow.  When pupils are given a set amount of time to complete a task, pupils with poor handwriting generally do not write as much as their peers.  As a result, they practise less than other children in the class. We know quantity of writing makes a difference to writing development.  

  • Pupils with poor handwriting often consider themselves to be 'poor writers'.  It impacts on their self-belief and confidence - which we know is a key factor in pupils making progress.  In addition, the pupils might find it hard to read back their own handwriting, making it difficult to share their work with others.

  • The teacher has less options for feedback as the pupil has not written very much.  When you are marking a set of books and come across one that is illegible, or every word is illegible, it can be difficult to decipher.  Pupils with poor handwriting are more likely to receive vague positive comments, such as 'nice try', 'good effort, 'good use of adjectives', or vague negative comments, such as 'I expect more' or 'please complete'.  Pupils with good handwriting are more likely to receive specific developmental feedback.

If you have identified pupils with a handwriting problem, try to ascertain the root cause.

  • If you can't visualise the letter, you can't write the letter.  This is often an issue for younger pupils.  If you say write the letter 'f' for 'fish', they can only do this if they can first picture in their mind the shape of the letter 'f'.  Sometimes pupils may use capital letters in the wrong place - this could be an indication that they are unsure of the lowercase letter shape.

  • Fine motor skills & finger strength.  Activities such as 'Disco Dough' and scrimbling activities can help with fine motor skill development.

  • Gross motor skills can also be an issue - check control of arm movements, wrist strength and sitting position.

  • Pencil grip and body position in relation to paper.

  • Knowledge of directionality when forming specific letters.

More ideas
Fine motor skills