The effectiveness of writing strategies in narrative production in 1st and 2nd graders

Christal Hatley

Eastern New Mexico University


Writing is an essential part in children’s educational foundation. A plethora of research has been conducted on the sequence of narrative development, but no examination has shown the most effective planning strategies for developing competent written narratives in elementary children. As stated by Kaderavek and Sulzby (2000), narrative ability is an important predictor of school success for school-aged children. Troia and Graham (2002) reported that there is little in current research below the third grade level in the area of writing. Literacy development begins long before children are in kindergarten; the lack of research on writing before the third grade is astonishing. McGregor (2000) stated that literacy skills, specifically writing, are prerequisite skills that feed into the complex process of reading. If writing and the process of planning for writing are neglected, it follows that reading proficiency may subsequently be affected.

Teachers, parents, speech-language pathologists, and many others are increasingly involved and concerned with the development of children’s written language skills. More and more interest has been focused on the expansion of writing skills as the connection between writing proficiency and reading is quite close (ASHA, 2010). To further the development of writing skills, a strategic writing plan is needed in order to manage the composing process (De La Paz & Graham, 2002). Children who struggle with the process of writing employ a different, less sophisticated approach to composing (De La Paz & Graham, 2002). This less sophisticated approach minimizes the role of planning and operates largely without meta-cognitive control (De La Paz & Graham, 2002). In today’s era of increasing information, teachers and parents alike recognize the need for more proficient writers and readers. This becomes particularly pertinent when viewed in light of the current standardized testing requirements for better writing skills (Moss, 2010). There is considerable concern that the majority of adolescents do not develop the competence in writing they need to be successful in school, the workplace, or their personal lives (Graham & Perin, 2007). It is obvious that writing skills are directly related to reading proficiency (ASHA, 2010), but the connection between specific planning techniques and improvement in writing is not clear.

Writing narratives is a difficult process for many children. This study was conducted to determine whether specific planning techniques (e.g., planning web, what-why-how chart, and four square writing strategies) will improve children’s narrative writing abilities. The planning strategies used for this research have been employed in many classrooms for teaching writing. Saddler, Moran, Graham, and Harris (2004) indicated that planning for narrative writing significantly ameliorates writing difficulties, and, improves the narrative composition.

Planning is a necessary component when writing any narrative. A child does not automatically know how to plan properly to produce a cohesive narrative; he or she must be taught. As mentioned previously, adolescents who do not learn to write well are at a disadvantage (ASHA, 2010). In school, weaker writers are less likely than their more skilled classmates to use writing to support and extend learning in content classrooms. Their grades are likely to suffer, especially in classes where writing is the primary means for assessing progress (Graham, 2006). Their chances of attending college are reduced, because universities increasingly use writing to evaluate applicants’ qualifications. To accomplish a well-thought out and compiled narrative, planning for writing is a crucial component of learning narratives that must be taught and practiced in a curricular context.

The purpose of this study is to determine the impact of specific planning techniques on narrative writing of children in first and second grades. A secondary goal of this research is to determine which planning strategy (e.g., planning web, what-why-how chart, four square writing) resulted in the most improvement. This research is necessary to determine if specific planning techniques will have increased and more meaningful success in developing written narratives. Gain scores will be assessed according to pre- and post-test data to determine if significant gain is noted when various planning techniques are used in writing. If there is a significant correlation between a certain planning strategy and improved written narratives, then teachers, parents, speech-language pathologists, and others should integrate this planning style in the teaching of narrative writing. The potential contribution of this research would be that teachers and speech-language pathologists would be able to use a specific planning strategy to teach literacy, particularly narrative writing with measureable success noted in student compositions.
This study will address:

• The impact of specific types of planning strategies on narrative writing in first and second grade compositions
• The efficacy of specific planning strategies on student narratives

Literature Review
Kaderavek and Sulzby (2000) reported that narrative writing abilities progress from a very young age. Writing, in general, is a complex process that combines both language and literacy skills which develop over a period of time. Children who are aware of the process of writing from an early age, are more apt to develop a better understand of the writing process, including planning (Bangert-Drown, Hurley, & Wilkinson, 2004).

Reading and Writing
Writing is a process that is closely correlated to reading abilities, comprehension abilities, and many more concepts. According to Agate (2005), a relationship exists between children’s abilities to write effectively and have a successful academic career. The more effectively a student is able to compose a written narrative, the more success the student will have in multiple areas of their education (Agate, 2005).

Writing and Academic Success
Writing abilities and the development of writing abilities has been shown to affect student proficiency in school settings. This subsequently affects a student’s future academics and career opportunities. Many children in early elementary grades begin learning the writing process, but are unaware of the strong prediction that proficiency in writing has on their future (Applebee, 2000). If a child is taught the process of writing at an early age, he or she is less likely to have a difficult time with writing in the future (Couzign & Rijlaarsdam, 2005). According to Graham and Harris (2005), children who do not read and write proficiently have a greater chance for future academic difficulties. Nagin (2003) stated that children who had better writing abilities and compositions showed an increase in language skills, articulation skills, and meta-cognitive abilities. Children who are able to compile well-written narratives are better able to fulfill academic requirements. Many literacy skills are interrelated, so improvement in one area should have an effect on other areas as well (ASHA, 2010). If children are able to compose a well planned written narrative, it is likely that they will be able to successfully achieve the expectations of their parents and teachers. Pritchard and Honeycutt (2006) noted a relationship between explaining the writing process (including planning) and improved narrative writing. If children are explicitly taught the process of planning a narrative, then improvement in their writing of that narrative should be noticeable.

Hooper, Roberts, Nelson, Zeisel, and Fannin (2010) conducted a study to determine what preschool predictors lead to better narrative writing later; however, it has not been studied if a specific planning technique will improve narrative writing. Hooper et al., (2010) studied the relationship of preschool predictors and narrative writing. This research involved measuring preschool predictors at Time (t1) and correlating this research with narrative writing at Time (t2). Results of this study showed that core language abilities, pre-reading skills, and maternal education assessed at kindergarten entry was a critical predictor of later narrative writing skills.
Olinghouse (2007) examined the student-level and instruction-level predictors of narrative writing. Student predictors included measures of reading, handwriting, spelling, IQ, grammatical understanding, and gender. Instructional predictors focused on the amount of time allocated to teaching basic writing and planning skills. Significant predictors of narrative writing abilities were found to be gender, IQ, and advanced planning ability.

Ellis and Yuan (2003) studied the relationship between the quality of narrative writing and the type of planning completed. Three types of planning were assessed. These included pre-task planning (planning before writing), unpressured on-line planning (planning while writing), and no planning. The study concluded that pre-task planning resulted in greater fluency and syntactic variety, but on-line planning resulted in greater grammatical complexity. When students did not plan, this caused the need to formulate, execute, and monitor under pressure, with negative consequences for the fluency, complexity, and accuracy of narrative writing seen.
Corden (2007) investigated the explicit instruction of literary devices during designated literacy sessions. The children were to be reflective authors, able to draft (plan) and redraft writing in response to feedback. Result of this year long study suggested that planning and discussing writing with students had a positive impact on the quality of children’s narrative writing. In a study by Lane, Harris, Graham, Weisenbach, Brindle, and Morphy (2008), writing and planning were examined for correlative relationships. Results of this research revealed lasting improvements in story completeness, length, and quality. This indicates that planning in narrative writing is crucial to the quality of the piece.

Normal Development
Dekemel (2003) investigated narrative development in children, and discernible patterns of acquisition. Most children are capable of producing an adult narrative by 6 to 7 years of age, while narrative form and content continue to be refined throughout later childhood and adolescence. The oral form of a narrative develops fairly early at approximately 27 months of age (Applebee, 2000); however, the written form of a narrative develops a little later. The written form of a narrative typically begins to develop by age six and continues through adolescence (Applebee, 2000). Conclusions given by Peterson (2009) showed that “when” information in narrative compositions was rare at first, and “where” information was more common at all ages. This study concluded that very young children can produce narratives in a no scaffolding (unaided) context to adults unfamiliar with their experiences.

Habermas, Ehlert-Lerche, and Silveira (2009) studied life narratives of an eight, twelve, sixteen, and twenty year old to determine how well-formed the written narratives would be at each age. By age 12, narratives began in the past, ended in the present, and followed a chronological order. In late adolescence and early adulthood, more elaborate narratives with retrospective evaluations of life and outlooks into the future were added.
Numerous studies document specific variable impact on narrative writing abilities (Nagin, 2003 Olinghouse, 2007, Ellis & Yuan, 2003). Many of the studies agree that, as children’s age increases, narrative writing competence should increase concurrently. Other studies indicate that the earlier the exposure to the process of writing a narrative (including the planning stage), the better the outcome for writing abilities (ASHA, 2010, Graham & Perkin, 2007, De la Paz, 2002). As previously stated, narrative writing skills not only improve academic areas, but also future academics, career opportunities, and overall life activities. Writing is such an integral part of activities of daily living that adults need to be aware of the potential positive effects of exposing children to the writing process, and teaching young children to become better writers. Children who are poor writers, as stated previously, will have a more difficult time in reading, career opportunities, and academic problems.

Narrative writing during first and second grade is critical to a child’s success for the rest of their academic career (Kaderavek and Sulzby, 2000). If a child is unaware or unable to complete the planning stage of the writing process, then proficient writing could potentially fall through the cracks. When a child is unable to compile a well-written narrative, their entire academic career is at risk for present and future problems.

Planning Strategies
Many different methods exist to facilitate the development of proficient narrative writing in children. Some teachers use daily journal writing. Others give a prompt for the children to write about. Lynch, Broek, Kremer, Kendeou, White, and Lorch (2008) analyzed narratives of children ages four through nine to determine the most appropriate way to develop narratives in children. The study concluded that the younger the children were exposed to the writing process (i.e., planning, drafting, finalizing), the more proficient their narratives were. No matter what type of instruction, as long as the instruction included development of the writing process during the time of narrative development in children, improvement in written narratives could be seen. The first and second grade children were included in this study to see if planning improved narrative writing, and if so, which type of planning strategy resulted in the most improvement in narrative composition.

The present study is being conducted to see if specific planning techniques will have an impact on narrative writing proficiency. The study will determine the efficacy of specific planning strategies by measuring gain scores after a thirteen week writing intervention using specific planning strategies. Gain scores will further be used to determine which planning strategy helped to improve writing narratives the most. If there is significant gain scores in a particular technique, this study will show that incorporation of that specific planning strategy may be an effective way to teach and develop narrative abilities in classroom situations.

Action research is a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams to improve the way they address issues and solve problems. This study was an alternating treatments design with action research in a quantitative small group. When determining exactly what type of experimental design should be utilized, it was necessary to determine how the groups would be established. The groups were non-randomized, pre- and post-tested with treatment to the experimental group; therefore, a nonequivalent control-group design was used for this study. A nonequivalent control group design (NEGD) is the most frequently used design in social research with pretest-posttest non-randomization. It is likely that the groups are not equivalent according to Trochim (2006). The independent variable, the treatment, was the exposure to the three different writing planning strategies. The dependent variable, the difference, was the difference in scores between pre- and post-test data.

The participants involved in this study were first and second grade students from an elementary school in Clovis, New Mexico using convenience sampling. According to Castillo (2009), convenience sampling is a non-probability sampling technique where subjects are selected because of their convenient accessibility and proximity to the researcher. The sample size included 45 children in first and second grades. Subject matching was not utilized in this study. The criterion for selection of participants was largely their age. The participant must fall between the grades of first and second. Parental variables were not a factor, since the sample was from public school classrooms. The researcher ensured that the teachers who were introducing the new techniques to their classrooms understood the techniques, how to implement them, implemented them the exact same way each time, offered the same help to each child, and never sent the writing samples to the home setting.

The materials needed to complete this study included 3-four square writing, 3-planning web, and 3-what-why-how worksheets for each child throughout the study. These were necessary in order to allow the children to plan their narratives without the teachers having the responsibility of copying the worksheets each week. In addition, two rubrics for each child (i.e., six point rubric and S-Map for Oral and Written Narratives) were used to score the children’s pre-test and post-test narratives.

Before the study was performed, the participants parents were contacted and given a child consent form. This consent form stated that they agreed to help the researcher and understood that they did not have to participate in the study, and were allowed to discontinue the study at any time. Participants were asked to sign the consent form and return it before the study began. Once all of the consent forms were signed and collected, the study began.

This study paid close attention to the correlation between planning and written narratives. The focus of the researcher was to identify if a specific planning technique would improve written narratives. The study was conducted for a total of thirteen weeks in order to return to baseline after each intervention when writing narratives in first and second grade. The first week, a pre-test of each student’s narrative was taken. For three consecutive weeks, a new narrative planning technique was utilized in the first and second grade classrooms when writing narratives. After the third week of intervention, the study returned to baseline. This schedule of intervention was utilized with the same three techniques being introduced, practiced, and mastered each time. Finally, each participant’s final narrative was post-tested immediately following the last return to baseline. Each narrative was then rated according to a six point rubric, as well as an S-Map for Oral and Written Narratives Rubric.

When scoring the participants, two rubrics were used to score each narrative, as stated previously. Consideration for dialect in scoring was accounted for because all of the participants were from the same region and spoke English as their primary language, so this was not an area of concern for the study.  Inter-observer reliability is the degree to which different raters/observers give consistent estimates of the same phenomenon (Trochim, 2006). Calculations of the percent of agreement between the raters were ascertained to maintain reliability throughout the study. Scoring procedures included administering the pre-test narrative and the post-test narrative to each first and second grade class on the same day. Any variation to the administration of the pre-test and post-test were not adequate unless it was performed with each participant in each class.
When designing this study, it became apparent that many confounding variables needed to be accounted for. The first confounding variable was absentees. If a child or children were absent from school on a pre-test, instruction day, or post-test, this may have hindered their ability to perform well on the narrative assessment or gain instruction. If the child missed a regular pre-test/ instruction/ post-test day about a specific planning strategy, then the teacher instructed the child the day they returned to school in order for the child to have the instruction necessary to complete the study and keep the results uniform. The second confounding variable was children’s different learning styles. The teachers employed instructional strategies in their everyday teaching that enabled every child to learn in the best possible way (i.e., kinesthetic, visual, auditory, written, etc.). Third, maturation did not affect the study because it was completed over a period of 13 weeks which was not an extended period of time. Next, the teachers employed motivational strategies in their everyday teaching that helped to motivate the children in completing the study to the best of their abilities (i.e., verbal praise, stickers, redirection, etc.). Holidays did not have a significant effect on the study because the amount of time spent on teaching and writing the narratives throughout the week was considerable (5 to 7 ½ hours per week). Any time that was lost during a holiday or break could be easily made up in the scheduled 1 ½ hour literacy block every day. Finally, weather was not be a concern during this study because all of the children were from the same school and area, and experienced the same type of weather and climate.

When conducting an experimental study, multiple variables are involved including statistics. Inferential statistics used in this study were a Two Way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and a Tukey’s Honestly Significant Difference Test (Tukey’s HSD). An ANOVA was used to compare the amount of between group variance with the amount of within group variance, and to determine pre- and post-test improvements. To determine exactly where the difference occurred in the data, a Tukey’s HSD was performed.

The research was conducted to determine whether the implementation of specific writing strategies improved the narrative writing of first and second grade students. Furthermore, this study intended to find whether one writing strategy improved writing more than the others, if specific writing strategies improved girls writing more than boys, and if one grade made greater gains than the other. The statistical results of improved overall narrative writing of first and second grade students were analyzed using a two-way ANOVA. The alpha level was set at .01 with a critical value of 6.99. Results of the two-way ANOVA reveal an F statistic of 40.82 which shows a significant difference between pre-test and post-test data. This indicates that specific writing strategies used in first and second grades may improve their writing significantly.
When considering whether one writing strategy improved narrative writing more than another strategy, a Tukey’s HSD was used. The alpha level at was set at .01 with a critical value of 1.23. Results of the Tukey’s HSD revealed no statistical significance between treatments. This indicates that the 3 writing strategies (4-square, planning web, and what-why-how) may not differ in the amount of improvement they provide. The most improvement appeared to be with the what-why-how strategy, but this could not be proven due to the sequencing effect. All of the treatments worked equally well.

Improvement between boys and girls was analyzed using the Tukey’s HSD, as well as improvement between first and second grade students. With the alpha set at .01 and a critical value of 1.23, results showed no statistical significance. The treatment affected first and second grade boys and girls equally with no significant difference between the groups.

The variance of this study revealed a statistic of .93 which means that 93% of the variability in the data is accounted for by the differences between treatments.

Results of the study showed that teaching specific writing strategies to first and second grade students improved their narrative writing skills significantly. The different writing strategies (4-square, planning web, what-why-how) taught did not vary significantly in the amount of improvement they offered, nor was the amount of variance between boys and girls or first and second grade significantly different. The amount of improvement between each of the three strategies could not be proven statistically significant due to the sequencing of treatment; therefore, each strategy worked equally well with boys and girls, as well as first and second grade.

Although significant gains were made during this study, a limitation was apparent. A sequencing effect influenced the amount of gain seen between each of the planning strategies. The presentation order of the strategies was implemented to ensure continuity and stability for the first and second grade students. The sequencing effect hindered the ability to determine which strategy helped to improve writing the most; however, a linear sequence was in the best interest of their learning, and was the most responsible choice for the children.

This study demonstrates how speech-language pathologists can be involved in the education of children in the general population indirectly, and have a significant impact on their learning. Typically, the thought is that the only way a speech-language pathologist can make a difference in children’s lives is to directly instruct them on different strategies and techniques. When looking at the results of this study, it is apparent that simply informing and instructing teachers on the implementation of evidence-based practice strategies can have just as much if not a greater impact on student’s learning.

Teachers, principles, and school officials can be informed of the significance in the teaching of specific writing strategies on children’s writing abilities. The results of this study prove that direct instruction of writing techniques to children can lead to great gains in narrative writing. When these professionals are informed and instructed on how to implement these practices in the schools and classrooms, narrative writing abilities of children will considerably increase.

This study showed significant difference in student’s pre- and post-test writing abilities; however, the researcher was unable to determine which strategy helped to improve writing the most due to the sequencing effect. A suggestion for further research includes implementing one writing strategy at a time to determine the amount of gain that each strategy has on narrative writing. Determining which strategy has the most effect on narrative writing will give speech-language pathologists and teachers the ability to use one writing strategy consistently to enhance children’s writing abilities.

Conclusions indicate that when specific writing strategies are implemented in first and second grade classrooms, great gains in narrative writing ability can be expected. Speech-language pathologists and teachers can work together to assure greater student success. When speech-language pathologists collaborate with elementary school teachers in the implementation of writing strategies, children’s writing abilities can be significantly improved.

I would like to express my gratitude to the two elementary school teachers who graciously participated in this study, Cynthia Millender and Marilyn Odom. Their cooperation in implementing the writing strategies, and instructing their children made this study possible. Furthermore, I would like to thank the children who wrote so wonderfully, and the parents for allowing their children to participate. Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Suzanne Swift for all of her advice and hard work throughout this process. My research would not have been as successful without her knowledge and abilities.

Agate, L. (2005). Investigation of primary grade writing instruction. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.
American Speech-Language Hearing Association. (2010). Reading and Writing. Retrieved from:

Applebee, A. (2000). Alternative models of writing development. Perspectives on writing: Research, theory, and practice. Newark: International Reading Association.

Bangert-Drowns, R., Hurley, M., & Wilkinson, B. (2004). The effects of school-based writing-to learn interventions on academic achievement: A meta-analysis. Review of educational research, 74, 29-58.

Castillo, J. (2009). Convenience sampling applied to research. Retrieved from:

Corden, R. (2007). Developing reading-writing connections: The impact of explicit instruction of literary devices on the quality of children’s narrative writing . Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 21(3), 269-289.

Couzign, M. & Rijlaarsdam, G. (2005). Learning to write instructive texts by reader observation and written feedback. Effective learning and teaching of writing: A handbook of writing in education. New York: Kluwer Academic.

DeKemel, K. (2003). Intervention in Language Arts: A practical guide for speech-language pathologists. Philadelphia: Elsevier.

De La Paz, S. & Graham, S. (2002). Explicitly teaching strategies, skills, and knowledge: Writing instruction in middle school classrooms. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 291-304.

Ellis, & Yuan, (2003). The effects of pre-task planning and on-line planning on fluency, complexity and accuracy in L2 monologic oral production. Applied Linguististics, 24(1), 1-27.

Graham, S. (2006). Writing: Handbook of education psychology. Mahwah:Erlbaum.

Graham, S. & Harris, K. (2005). Writing better. Baltimore: Brookes.

Graham, S. & Perin, D. (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Habermas, T., Ehlert-Lerche, S., & Silveira, C. (2009). The development of the temporal macrostructure of life narratives across adolescence: Beginnings, linear narrative form, and endings. Journal of Personality, 77(2), 527-560.

Hooper, S., Roberts, J., Nelson, L., Zeisel, S., & Fannin, D. (2010). Preschool predictors of narrative writing skills in elementary school children. School Psychology Quarterly, 25(1), 1-12.

Kaderavek, J. & Sulzby, E. (2000). Narrative Production by children with and without specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 43, 34-49.

Lane, K., Harris, K., Graham, S., Weisenbach, J., Brindle, M., & Morphy, P. (2008). The effects of self-regulated strategy development on the writing performance of second grade students. Journal of Special Education, 41(4), 234-253.

Lynch, J., van den Broek, P., Kremer, K., Kendeou, P., White, M., & Lorch, E. (2008). The development of narrative comprehension in its relation to other early reading skills. Reading Psychology, 29, 327-365.

McGregor, K. (2000). The development and enhancement of narrative skills in a preschool classroom. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 9, 55-71.

Moss, B. (2004). Teaching expository text structures through information trade book retellings. The reading teacher, 57.

Nagin, C. (2003). Because writing matters: Improving student writing in our schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Olinghouse, N. (2007). Student and instruction level predictors of narrative writing in third grade students. Journal of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Law, 21(1), 3-26.

Peterson, M. (2009). Narrative writing in adolescence. Linguistic Society of America, 85(3), 234 241.

Pritchard, R. & Honeycutt, J. (2006). Process writing: Handbook of writing research. New York: Guilford.

Saddler, B., Moran, S., Graham, S., & Harris, K. (2004). Preventing writing difficulties: The effects of planning strategy instruction on the writing performance of struggling writers. Journal of Special Education, 12(1), 3-17.

Troia, G. & Graham, S. (2002). The effectiveness of a highly explicit, teacher-directed strategy instruction routine:Changing the writing performance of students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 35, 290-305.

Trochim, W. (2006). The Nonequivalent Groups Design. Retrieved from

Trochim, W. (2006). The T-Test. Retrieved from

The Effectiveness of Writing Strategies PowerPoint