community · grammar · interactive writing · phonics · spelling · vocabulary · writing workshop

Step Up Interactive Writing (…And Sneak In More Spelling, Vocabulary, and Grammar)

People often laugh when I share that I have a Top 5 list for writing teaching methods. They are also surprised to hear that interactive writing is my number one. Truth be told, I get googly-eyed over interactive writing. Interactive writing shows students how ideas get from heads to pages. I love that it helps me sneak in more spelling, vocabulary, and grammar- three critically important areas that get pushed aside far too often. In just a few (joyful!) minutes, I’m able to authentically model how and when to transfer spelling and grammar smarts while writing. It’s also my secret way of integrating skills and concepts from multiple subject areas, enabling me to use each teaching minute as efficiently as possible. If you are someone who has previously questioned the vitality of interactive writing, you might want to check out this post. This flexible teaching method makes sense for learners across all grades and settings.

Here are the basics: during a session of interactive writing, the class collaboratively plans and composes a text. The teacher does most of the writing. However, at intentionally planned spots, the teacher passes the pen, marker, or keyboard and student volunteers do small pieces of the writing. These carefully chosen “dip in points” enable teachers to spotlight what it looks like to remember and apply spelling and grammar smarts. Whether you are new to interactive writing or an old pro, here are three tips to extend the benefits.


During interactive writing, common dip-in points include the spelling of high-frequency words, the spelling of words containing a studied sound, letter, pattern, or part, the spelling of prioritized vocabulary words, or the application of taught grammar concepts. It is important to keep all students engaged throughout the process. Here are a few examples of how to makeover interactive writing- with this goal in mind.


Traditional spelling and grammar assessments have a reputation for providing little insight into what we need to know: Can students use taught concepts where and when it matters? Move past spelling tests, written sorts, and surface-level grammar assessments. Step up your game with interactive writing. When teachers use this assessment method, they are able to figure out if students understand the taught concept and can transfer this knowledge as they write. Often, students don’t even realize it is an assessment. From their perspective, the experience is low-stakes, playful, and fun. Start as usual: invite students to turn and talk to share ideas that include the featured instructional concept. When you get to a prioritized letter, sound, pattern, part, or convention, pause and ask students to use their learning. Here’s where there is a small tweak: Students all stop & jot attempts (for spelling the word, deciding which punctuation mark to use, etc). The teacher watches and records quick observational notes. Finally, return to the traditional structure where the teacher invites a class member to come up and add that word or convention to the class piece


  • LOW TECH: Students can stop & jot on paper or on mini dry-erase boards/slates.
  • HIGH TECH: Students can stop & jot using digital whiteboards like Aww app, Jamboard, or Whiteboard. Teachers can also choose to elicit individual student responses through digital platforms like Mentimeter, Nearpod, or Socrative.
  • BONUS BENEFIT: This “unassessment” can take place during word study, grammar, or writing.
This chart shows how a class lifted the level of the assessment by color-coding the target words (ex: er words written in blue). Notice the key at the top of the chart. 
 Click here to access downloadable “mini-charts” for using interactive writing as a spelling assessment (Koutrakos, 2019).


We speak, listen, read, and write throughout the entire day. In math, students are asked to explain their thinking, strategies, and processes. Scientists keep journals, complete lab reports, and research. In social studies, students write about their connections, interpretations, and understandings. Teachers can use interactive writing to scaffold content area writing while also continuing to foster the transfer of spelling and grammar knowledge to all subjects. 


  • During content-themed interactive writing sessions, ask students to “dip in” to write Tier III/content-specific vocabulary.
  • In social studies and science, chat about the topic in partnerships, small groups, or as a class before beginning to compose the shared piece. 
  • In math, start with a few number talks to hear the strategies employed by different classroom mathematicians. This will provide the content for the reflective math writing. 
  • At any point in the day, invite students to jump in to apply and transfer recent word study or grammar learning. By doing so, this learning becomes less isolated. Across-the-day application is modeled and practiced.

Interactive writing is a powerful tool that helps us lift the level of classroom writing. As teachers, we know that writers can better focus on their ideas when they encode with ease. Interactive writing is the perfect setting to build this competency. Moreover, it also provides the opportunity for the class community to discuss ideas, laugh together, and create. In just a few, efficient minutes, so much is accomplished!

2 thoughts on “Step Up Interactive Writing (…And Sneak In More Spelling, Vocabulary, and Grammar)

  1. Was there a post on how to use interactive writing with older students? I remember reading something about it, but not sure if it was here or not. So many great posts, by the way, love this site and the podcast!


Comments are closed.