Why Writing Works

Disciplinary Approaches to Composing Texts

Preschool Teachers and Children's Emergent Writing

Early Childhood Educ J (2013) 41:439–446
DOI 10.1007/s10643-012-0563-4

Preschool Teachers and Children’s Emergent Writing: Supporting Diverse Learners


Lindsay R. Dennis • Nancy K. Votteler



Published online: 8 November 2012
©􀀁 Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Abstract Early literacy skill development is critical during the preschool years. Under that umbrella is emer-gent writing, a small but important component of overall literacy development. This article presents two writing strategies: (1) writers’ workshop and (2) dictation within the context of storybook reading that preschool teachers can utilize to target emergent writing development. Mod-ifications for diverse learners are also included throughout.

Keywords Emergent writing 􀀁 Preschool 􀀁 Disability 􀀁 Early childhood Mrs. Anderson teaches in a preschool classroom serving children and families from diverse backgrounds, including children who are learning English as a second language and children with identified disabilities. One morning a ram-bunctious Jose flies through the door, excited to share his weekend activities with Mrs. Anderson. As Jose narrates, Mrs. Anderson wonders how she could capture such a fantastic retelling of events. She provides opportunities for children to practice their early writing skills, but wonders if there are some other ideas she has not yet considered. Furthermore, she wants to ensure that she tailors her instruction to address the individual needs and interests of all the children in her classroom.

        Emergent literacy skills are a set of foundational abili-ties that are considered to be the developmental building blocks to skilled and fluent reading (Whitehurst and Lonigan 1998). These abilities are thought to develop in an interwoven manner and include oral language, phonologi-cal awareness, concepts about print, letter knowledge, and emergent writing (Yopp and Yopp 2009). Young children’s literacy skills are an important predictor of school success in reading achievement beginning in the early elementary grades (Denton et al. 2003) and continuing through high school (Cunningham and Stanovich 1997). Evidence sug-gests that writing supports children’s acquisition of pro-cedural knowledge (conventions of reading and writing) that is related to later reading, (Bloodgood 1999; Ukrainetz et al. 2000), as well as reported associations between young children’s understanding of graphemes and phonemes and their later reading competence (Dickinson et al. 2003; Storch and Whitehurst 2002). As such, emergent writing skills are a small, but important, component of overall literacy development. Particularly at the preschool age, teachers should not assume that, simply because most children cannot write conventionally they should not be encouraged to experiment with the writing process as they develop. Early childhood educators should also become familiar with and use research on emergent writing to become more effective, intentional teachers. Table 1 pro-vides the developmental stages of writing for young chil-dren, including facilitation techniques for teachers. Figures 1, 2, and 3 provide illustrative examples of chil-dren’s writing for each of the stages.

Table 1 Stages of emergent writing 

Stage How your can facilitate
Scribbling from left to right—may not have any discernible shape or structure. Encourage writing development through physical arrangement and types of materials readily available to students (e.g. markers, pens, pencils, crayons, chalk, and paint)
Make writing materials accessible for students in various parts of the classroom and outdoors to encourage children to write at different times (e.g. centers, signing in upon arrival, sidewalk chalk or outdoor paints on the playground)
Creating letter-like forms—may begin as ‘‘cursive-like’’ scribbles and then small letter-like shapes; may wobble or have a downhill slant across the page Encourage children to concentrate on the message and not on letter formation or spelling.
Provide stencils and other letter manipulatives for children to explore as they learn to form different letters
Creating random strings of letters—can include letter approximations and/or combinations of scribbles and letters (Perlmutter et al. 2009) Encourage children to write their names. Children’s names are very meaningful to them and thus, more motivating to write
Honor children’s conceptions of writing and allow them to self-select topics of interest to write about, for example daily journaling about a topic that is their favorite



Fig. 1 Stage 1—scribbling from left to right



Fig.2  Stage2—creatingletter-likeforms



Fig. 3  Stage 3—creating random strings of letters 


        The purpose of this article is to provide strategies for preschool teachers that can be used to support children’s emergent writing skills, and ultimately enhance their overall literacy development. The activities highlighted in this article are the use of a writers’ workshop and dictation during storybook reading, specifically what these activities look like at the preschool level and how they can be implemented. The information is presented such that teachers can easily envision how these activities can be embedded into their current routines. Suggestions for modifying activities to meet the needs of diverse learners will be included throughout.

Writers’ Workshop: Definition and Procedures 

        Writers’ workshop has a lengthy history in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms (Atwell 1998; Calkins 1994; Graves 1983; Jacobson 2010; Ray 2001); however more recently, this approach is increasingly being utilized in the early childhood classroom (Behymer 2003). At the preschool level, emergent writing has as much to do with help a child with autism create a drawing and type letters or words, with assistance from an adult or peer as needed, to his or her drawing. The word processing program could be set-up to capitalize all letters and increase the font to 24-point or larger to support a child with a visual impairment (Koppenhaver and Erickson 2003). 

        Reading books is an enjoyable activity that many preschool teachers utilize within their classrooms. Incorporating dictation into actual book reading sessions, as well as extension activities, is a great way to promote the development of children’s emergent writing skills.


        Emergent writing at the preschool age is a dynamic and fluid process. Writers’ workshop and dictation are presented here as two strategies that teachers can utilize as a means to support children as they move through the writing process. Children’s written work will vary depending on age and skill level; therefore, it is important to recognize strengths in children’s writing and encourage them to transition to the next level. Children with disabilities and who are ELLs can also be fully supported in their writing development when provided with intentional and thoughtful modifications on the part of the teacher. 



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