Research School Network: How Writing Enhances Reading Using writing as a tool to improve reading


How Writing Enhances Reading

Using writing as a tool to improve reading

by Bradford Research School
on the

Mark Miller is Director of Bradford Research School

Reading and writing have a reciprocal relationship, and a key recommendation from the EEF’s Improving Secondary Literacy guidance report is that we combine writing instruction with reading in every subject’.

Often, this can manifest as reading then writing. But we should also look for opportunities to use writing as a way to improve reading. This can happen before, during and after.

Writing can help us prepare for reading, make notes as we do it, and provides a purpose that enhances our understanding of a text.

Writing helps us comprehend texts

According to Graham and Herbert (2011) writing about text should facilitate comprehension in five ways:

  1. It fosters explicitness, as the writer must select which information in text is most important.
  2. It is integrative, as it encourages the writer to organize ideas from text into a coherent whole, establishing explicit relationships among the ideas.
  3. It facilitates reflection, as the permanence of writing makes it easier to review, reexamine, connect, critique, and construct new understandings of text ideas.
  4. It can foster a personal involvement with text, as it requires active decision making about what will be written and how it will be treated.
  5. It involves transforming or manipulating the language of text so that writers put ideas into their own words, making them think about what the ideas mean.

They also identified four types of writing activities which were particularly effective: extended writing, summary writing, note taking, and answering/​generating questions.

If I can go a little meta for a moment, the act of writing this blog has meant a more sophisticated reading of the source material. This starts with the reading of the guidance report. Once I have the idea for a blog exploring the ways we can combine reading and writing, I end up interrogating the text more. I go back to the subheading reading and writing are complementary skills’ and, even though I nod along because it feels right to me, I want to look at the basis for these claims. There is further detail: Reading has been shown to improve the quality of students’ writing, while writing about texts improves students’ reading comprehension and fluency.” Which takes me to some of the references. My decision to write the blog has enhanced my understanding of the original text.

As an English Literature teacher, I see how this works in the classroom, where writing an essay can enhance the understanding of a text. Rather than just an end point for assessment, the essay is a vehicle to promote more insightful reading and understanding. A question like How does Priestley present the character of Sheila and the ways in which she changes throughout the course of the play?’ requires pupils to develop a coherent argument and justify it. This then informs their reading of the text.

Writing before reading

Writing before reading can enhance the reading experience. An example from the EEF guidance is asking students to bullet what they currently know about a topic or generate questions they will later try to answer through reading’.

For pupils who might be struggling to write about the effect of metaphor in literature, asking them to write their own metaphors can help them to make a connection between language choice and effect.

They might be given the image of a helicopter moving around the Empire State building. Maybe it’s hovering like a bee around a flower. Maybe it’s a comet passing the sun. Then when we read the opening of Norman MacCaig’s Hotel Room, 12th Floor, we might have more insight into the writer’s choices.

This morning I watched from here
a helicopter skirting like a damaged insect
the Empire State Building, that
jumbo size dentist’s drill

Disciplinary thinking

McConachie (2010) states that disciplinary literacy involves the use of reading, reasoning, investigating, speaking, and writing required to learn and form complex content knowledge appropriate to a particular discipline.’

These disciplinary aspects are conveyed in writing and understood in reading. So it makes sense that helping pupils to understand the mechanics of disciplinary writing will help them to understand how these are used in texts they encounter.

A teacher might model writing an information text:

I’m going to use a sub-heading here, and this will give a little more information for the reader.

I’m going to write a complex scientific term here, but I will also explain it and include that information in brackets. This will help the reader to make sense of this.

By using the word therefore’, I’m signposting my argument for the reader to follow.

By modelling in this way, we improve the writing but enhance the reading too because knowing how the text is written for the reader helps the reader.

The next blog in this series will focus on how reading enhances writing.

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Graham, S. and Hebert, M. (2011). Writing to Read: A MetaAnalysis of the Impact of Writing and Writing Instruction on Reading.

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