From Unit Plan: Writing Traits Instruction

With these books, you will never run out of writing lessons for students in any grade level.

Professional Resources:

6 + 1 Traits of Writing by Ruth Culham
For anyone who has ever wondered about the traits: this is the book that explains it all. I keep going back and finding new ideas that work in a variety of grade levels. 

Classroom Tip: The basis for trait-based writing lessons. I recommend all teachers begin with this great book to study with your colleagues.

40 Reproducible Forms for the Writing Traits Classroom by Ruth Culham and Amanda Wheeler
A collection rubrics, scoring sheets, checklists, and other tools help teachers spend their time with lessons, instead of creating forms.

Classroom Tip: Page 18 has a wonderful scoring grid I use when students practice assessing sample papers. It "forces" them to commit a score on paper and not just vote with the majority as we discuss each score.

Using Picture Books to Teach Writing With the Traits  by Ruth Culham
Wow - a "must-have" resource full of lessons for each trait. Just leafing through it will make you lament, "So many books, so little time."

Classroom Tip: My favorite trait book. I use many of these lessons and also use the booklist suggestions to create new or adapted lessons specifically for my students. Each time I open it, I want more picture books in my classroom.

Writing to Prompts In the Trait-Based Classroom:  Content Areas by Ruth Culham and Amanda Wheeler
A book with RAFTS (Role, Audience, Format, Topic, and Strong verb prompts) for math, social studies, and science that encourages every teacher to rethink standard writing assignments.

Classroom Tip: I recommend this to content teachers looking to create writing assignments that go beyond a 5-paragraph essay.

Writing to Prompts In the Trait-Based Classroom:  Literature Response by Ruth Culham and Amanda Wheeler
This book of RAFTS is designed for responses to literature and features many of the Newbery Award and Honor books.

Classroom Tip: If your students are reading these books, great. If not, you can still use this book and adapt the RAFTS to match other pieces of literature. I used the prompt on The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis and later adapted the RAFT to use with the characters of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald after the car accident.

Picture Books for Teaching Each Trait: (although many can be used for instruction in several traits)


So Far From the Sea by Eve Bunting
A family looks back on the grandfather's time in a Japanese internment camp. The story within a story is a touching history lesson and the family's reaction brings a wonderful discussion about forgiveness.

Classroom Tip: This wonderful picture book is my favorite pick for a lesson on Ideas.

Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
An incredible story about a father and son who are homeless and stay in an airport trying to remain "invisible."

Classroom Tip: Try reading this aloud, if you can get rid of that lump in your throat. This book always is one that deeply touches my students and promotes deep thinking about the theme.


Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges
The story of her experiences in breaking the color barrier at school, Bridges tells it in such a moving way.

Classroom Tip: I've used this several times to enrich my students' study of the civil rights era, but now I recommend it to study the writer's craft of arranging details for impact.

Courage by Bernard Waber
This book is organized around various descriptive definitions of the word, courage.

Classroom Tip: I use this book as a writing pattern prompt with other words like peace, dream, or inspire. Students journal about the word application to their lives and sometimes create descriptive definition pieces or use the lesson on language in other writing pieces.


The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
Features children that find friendship on the fence, despite a time of racial separation.

Classroom Tip: Although I use this for voice, we discuss the trait of ideas as well.

Sweet Dream Pie by Audrey Wood
Talk about voice! This makes you feel that you personally know the characters.

Classroom Tip: I ask students to find another analogy to use when trying out the style of this author. Sometimes they write in their own voice and other times experiment with creating a fictional voice.

Word Choice

More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby
Showcases the importance of literacy in an almost poetic way. It focuses on a time when African-Americans were not allowed to read and how reading can set us free.

Classroom Tip: I first bought this book for teaching Core Democratic Values, but it works even better as a writing lesson on choosing the perfect word to convey a writer's thoughts.

Raising Sweetness by Diane Stanley
A beautiful story about learning to write.

Classroom Tip: As is true of most on this list, this book demands to be read aloud. Ask your students their opinions on the value of reading and writing in their lives. The answers may surprise you.

Sentence Fluency

Oh, The Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss
This classic high school graduation gift has a place in your writing instruction for the way Seuss plays with language.

Classroom Tip: Perfect for a lesson on varying sentence lengths and working with the cadence of language.

Tough Cookie by David Wisniewski
My high school students love this book that reads like a detective story about a cookie's life in the cookie jar.

Classroom Tip: Even if my students did not learn all they do about fluency and voice from this story, I'd still read it to them just for fun.