Six Traits of Writing: Create Really Awesome Writers

The Six Traits of Writing framework is flexible and student-friendly.

Officially known as the 6+1 Traits® Writing Model, this framework identifies six qualities of good writing: IDEAS (main message), ORGANIZATION (layout), WORD CHOICE (vocabulary use), SENTENCE FLUENCY (flow of thoughts), VOICE (perspective of writer), and CONVENTIONS (grammar & mechanics).

Within this model, teachers choose various mini lessons and activities to teach each of the six qualities (traits) to students during writer’s workshop.

The Six Traits of Writing model is unique because it’s not a “canned” curriculum”; it’s a framework.

It nicely wraps all of the components of good writing into one package, and many of the contents seamlessly pair or integrate with other writing programs.

Six Traits of Writing Step-By-Step

Visualize a house.

6 traits of writing house conventions

1. Ideas

Ideas is one of the six traits of writing. 

Ideas represent the “big idea” that the writer is trying to send to the reader.

Thinking about the house, “ideas” represent the foundation. 

If a house doesn’t have a strong foundation, it’s not going to be very stable and will have a negative effect on the rest of the construction of the house.

To help the reader visualize and understand the message, authors use lots of details that show and not tell. 

Details add substance and imagery to the writer’s message.  Details strengthen the foundation. The more details, the stronger the foundation of the writing.

A writer can demonstrate good use of the other traits in his or her writing, but if the ideas present are not strong nor clear, he or she will have failed to do the very thing that writing is meant to do – communicate a message.

2. Organization

Organization is another component of the six traits of writing model.

It refers to the structure of a writing piece. 

This trait represents the floor plan of the house. A good floor plan helps someone move from one part of the house to another with ease.

In writing, organization does the same thing; it helps the reader transition from one part of the selection to another without much hassle.

When teachers model the organization trait to students, some of the skills they teach include…

  • how to write a great lead (opening)
  • constructing a good ending
  • appropriate use of transitions
  • genre elements
  • general layout

When authors write for others, they have to remember to keep their writing organized so that the reader can follow along effortlessly.

3. Voice

Voice is another piece of the six traits of writing puzzle. It is the personal tone or personality of the piece.

A writer’s voice should shine through the selection.

The message that the author is trying to send to the reader will determine the tone that the he/she uses.

Referring to the house visual, voice represents the people who live in the house. People give a home personality and a unique vibe.

Individuals use their own unique voices to address various audiences. Because of that, we need to sometimes alter our voice.

Students need to know that the voice they use within their writing will change depending on the purpose and to whom is their intended audience.

Writing a letter to a teacher will have a different voice compared to one to a friend.

4. Word Choice

The six traits of writing also includes word choice.

Word choice is the specific vocabulary that a writer chooses to use. Those words add pizazz and flavor.

Doing so reduces monotony and repetition of “boring” and overused terms.

Instead of using the word “happy” repeatedly, teachers can encourage learners to use similar but “spicer” words such as “excited”, “elated”, “over the moon”, etc.

Variety in word choice is especially helpful when using verbs. Stronger verbs help to clarity the author’s message.

For example, if a student writes, “The girl said…”, he/she can instead use a synonym for “said” which will help to clarify how the girl said whatever she said.

“The girl screamed.” or “The girl whispered.” or “The girl joked.

Helping students dig a little deeper to find alternative words will made their writing more flavorful.

Furthermore, word choice is a great time to teach using a thesaurus.

In the six traits of writing house model, word choice is represented by the sun. 

The sun adds sunshine to our lives. Great word choice makes our writing brighter and much clearer for the reader to understand.

5. Sentence Fluency

Sentence fluency is the rhythm and flow of the language.

Within the six traits of writing framework, teaching sentence fluency involves showing students how to write a variety of sentence structures that flow well together.

A combination of simple sentences, complex sentences, commands, onomatopoeia, etc. add style and variety to writing.

Genre, audience, and intended purpose of the writing will determine in what quantities each type of structure is used.

Referencing the six traits house, the clouds represent sentence fluency. Clouds float among each other smoothly.

A variety of sentence structures within a piece of writing should flow together very nicely and to their own rhythm; one thought should smoothly lead to another.

6. Conventions

Conventions is usually thought of as grammar. While important, take note that they are only one piece of the puzzle.

The roof of the house represents conventions.

Conventions signal readers when to stop, pause, change the sound of their voice, etc.

Strong conventions complete the overall feel of a piece of writing just like a roof completes a house.

7. Presentation, the + 1

Although the six traits of writing represent the core areas of the model, you’ll sometimes hear the +1 used (e.g. 6+1 writing model).

The plus one stands for presentation. Presentation is the overall look of the writing.  It is essentially the publishing stage.

After the writing is done

  • How are students going to present their work to their audience?
  • How will everything be packaged and put together?

Referring to the house visual…

When someone drives up to a house, presentation is everything they see first: the colors of the house, the landscaping, decorations, etc.

Presentation is the overall look of the writing. This is where students can really get creative with displaying their work.

The Six Traits of Writing Framework Creates Proficient Writers

The six traits of writing model is versatile, flexible, and great for differentiation. Used consistently and well, your students will become better writers.

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