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Interactive Writing: Don’t Close the Door


Interactive Writing? Yeah, I wasn’t a believer. I will admit this openly; I had kind of fought against it and did not see it working in my classroom until many years ago.

What is

interactive writing

Interactive writing is essentially when the teacher models reading and writing strategies while sharing the pen with students as they create the text together.

I remember trying it when I first began teaching. I think my mistake was trying to do too much with too many purposes in mind. Since it didn’t go well I assumed it was the idea but really it was me. I read books about how to use it and I think I was overwhelmed, so I just stopped. This is when I closed the door on the idea of using interactive writing in my classroom. That was a mistake.

The books went in a cupboard and I went on doing whatever I was doing back then. I thought I would never look back and no one was making me look back so I saw that as permission. When I began taking a literacy class about five years into my teaching career it never came up. When I took a writing class and learned more about how to model writing for students, it never came up. Again, I saw this as permission, but it sort of lingered in the back of my mind. I should have listened to that little voice and tried again.

I realized I had it all wrong when I read the book, Talking Drawing, and Writing by Giacobbe and Horn. Yes, the book I have been keeping at my bedside, hip side, and desk side since reading it back in 2011! Since it is a good idea to have kids label pictures in their drawings as a means of beginning to show print carries a message, one of their suggestions was to use interactive writing to label your classroom, write rules, or other information for the classroom. I had always liked labeling my classroom with lots of print but always did it for the students. Then one day I using interactive writing to label a cabinet. What a perfect word, one of my students picked it, and it could not have gone better. We then began to label one item in the room each day while I demonstrated how this reinforced our understanding of labeling our pictures in our drawing and writing notebook!

When I sat in a session this past June with Martha Horn she talked about interactive writing and took the labeling idea to a new level for me. She suggested writing an entire sentence for a classroom label. Instead of just labeling “cabinet” you would interactively write, “This is a cabinet,” or the phrase “The cabinet.” I think this is a great way to expose students to a full sentence, more letter sounds and high frequency words all in one minilesson.

In a few weeks I will feature an interview with Martha Horn, the co-author of Talking, Drawing, Writing. What questions would you ask about interactive writing or the writing workshop? Leave your questions in the comment section.

Betsy Hubbard View All

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.

20 thoughts on “Interactive Writing: Don’t Close the Door Leave a comment

  1. My struggle is how to keep the other children engaged while one child is writing . Whether I have the writer write one word or one a letter, the other children often start twirling around and losing attention. One way I have found to deal with this, is to give each child a white board and a marker and the children sitting on the rug write what they think the person will write and/ or they write along with us.


  2. Oh I love how Erika took this work to the 5th grade. I do think this could be powerful not just for the youngest of writers. Grammar makes sense but I wonder what else might work.


  3. Yes…. The final product should be error free. Use the white correction tape to cover the mistakes. Use this time to teach the accepted spelling. The teacher can quickly write words or letters that the children already know or that are beyond the edge of their learning. This is an important teaching and learning opportunity. 🙂


    • I use this method all the time in K. My goal is for them to feel like successful writers, so I don’t usually correct inventive spelling. However, if it is a sight word that I want them to remember to spell correctly I remind them that it is one of our sight words. (We do arm spelling of all our sight words, so I remind them to do that first, then write the word.)
      And I think it’s also perfectly fine to model some correct spelling during that lesson, or another lesson soon afterward. I think you need to think about whether your goal is to help them to become better writers, or spellers.


      • When I do interactive writing with my students I usually try to pick words or portions of words that they will be successful with. If I am leaving the work up for the class I want the spelling to be correct. That being said, in their own writing, during workshop time I encourage them to write with inventive spelling as suggested above.


  4. Great technique for early grades. I particularly like it for first grade. It could be adapted for use in other grades as well, esp. for minilessons during writer’s workshop. BTW – “The cabinet” is not a sentence.


  5. I am loving your blog-! As a kindergarten teacher in engage in interactive writing regularly. I think it is a strong teaching skill! L

    “I’m living the dream!”



  6. Hi Betsy, great post! Labeling items in the classroom is a great way to begin interactive writing. I used interactive writing in my classroom every day, but for more than just labeling. We wrote a daily class news report. I will be sharing details of this in the near future on my blog. I haven’t read the book you mention ‘Talking Drawing and Writing’ but it sounds like a valuable resource.


    • I want to know this as well. I have a class of second graders who are reading and writing above grade level. I mainly use shared writing but would love some more ideas for those higher functioning kids!!


      • A first thought is some collaborative writing, but you probably already do that. I’ll give it some deeper thought! I’m sure you are doing a great job extending their learning. 🙂


  7. What does interactive writing look like with students who have mastered some early literacy skills? ( I.e. “High readers” in the early grades). Thank you for this post. My mind is swirling with ideas and thoughts on Interactive writing. Thanks!


    • I teach K, so I am by no means an expert. But I think you could use this to help kids in a mini-lesson learn how to write stronger leads, add more details, structure their writing, focus on the purpose for their writing, etc. It’s just a scaffold to help them build their own confidence and abilities before they try it on their own. Hope that made sense.


  8. Once again, a super teaching tip. I envision using interactive writing to label my cabinet, too (in a 5th grade classroom), but I bet we could infuse grammar lessons in it (like types of sentences, compound sentences, clauses)…throughout the year, and it could stay up there (my cabinet is one of those BIG ones) all year long for reference (like my anchor charts all around the room). Thank you for your almost daily wisdom. You go with the first cup of coffee and start my teaching day off with a BANG!


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