Six Traits of Writing: The Secret to Really Great 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.

Teaching the Six Traits of Writing

six traits of writing

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.

Ideas are the foundation of a piece of writing.

Like a house, if the writing 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.

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. Plus, they strengthen the foundation.

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.

Ideas for Teaching Ideas Trait:

1. Give students an object, and ask them to describe it. They should focus on the details.

2. Have students focus on themselves. They’ll list all the things they love. This list gives them ideas for writing because personal experiences make some of the best stories.

3. Read books that help students generate ideas.

  • All the Places to Love (Patricia McLaughlin)
  • Pictures from Our Vacation (Lynne Rae Perkins)
  • Thank You, Mr. Falker (Patricia Polacco)

4. Incorporate daily journaling prompts into your instruction. This helps students to generate ideas.

5. Students keep an “Ideas Sheet” in their writer’s notebook to jot down ideas anytime they have one.

2. Organization

Organization is another component of the six traits. It refers to the structure of a writing piece. 

Organization helps the reader transition from one part of the writing to another without much hassle.

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

Ideas for Teaching Organization Trait:

1. Do a sequencing activity. Take a common event such as brushing one’s teeth. Write each step on a notecard. Then as a class, put them in order discussing the importance of logical order. Ask students to place transition words on each card, explaining the importance of having signal words to help sequence flow.

2. Utilize graphic organizers to plan writing content.

3. Read to observe the structure of books.

  • First Day Jitters (Julie Danneberg) – endings
  • The Paperboy (Dav Pilkey)
  • The Paper Crane (Molly Bang) – beginnings
  • Roller Coaster (Marla Frazee)
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle) – beginnings

4. Model how to write a great lead (opening).

5. Show how to construct a good ending.

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.

Ideas for Teaching Voice Trait:

1. Practice letter writing to family, friends, teachers, etc.

2. Use point of view writing prompts.

3. Read books that show this trait.

  • Amelia’s Notebook (Marissa Moss)
  • Diary of a Worm (Doreen Cronin)
  • How Are You Peeling? (Saxton Freymann) 
  • The Math Curse (Jon Scieszka)
  • The Recess Queen (Alexis O’Neill)
  • Voices in the Park (Anthony Browne)

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.

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 make their writing more flavorful.

Great word choice makes our writing brighter and much clearer for the reader to understand.

Ideas for Teaching Word Choice Trait:

1. Instead of using the word “happy” repeatedly, teachers can encourage students to use similar but “spicer” words such as “excited”, “elated”, “over the moon”, etc. Do a thesaurus dig looking for synonyms of words are too often used and replace them with “spicy words”.

2. Have students edit their own pieces of writing, changing some of the verbs that are used too often.

3. Read books to observe this trait in action.

  • Cotton Candy Skies and French Fries (Theresa Del Vecchio)
  • Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra (Andrea Pinkney)
  • I’m Dirty (Kate & Jim McMullan)
  • Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster (Debra Frasier)
  • Thesaurus Rex (Laya Steinberg)

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.

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.

Ideas for Teaching Sentence Fluency Trait:

1. Have students perform a reader’s theater play. These short plays are great for getting students to practice pausing, espression, etc.

2. Read poetry and books with lots of play on words. Doing so helps students develop sensitivity to rhythm and patterns in words.

3. Read books to observe this trait in action.

  • Crab Moon (Ruth. Horowitz)
  • Five Little Monkeys Go Shopping (Eileen Christelow)
  • The Important Book (Margaret Wise Brown)
  • Roller Coaster (Marla Frazee)
  • Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp (Carol Diggory Shields)

6. Conventions

Conventions is usually thought of as grammar, but its only one piece of the puzzle.

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.

Ideas for Teaching Conventions Trait:

1. Using editing checklists, have students edit pieces of writing as a class or individually.

2. Practice Daily Oral Language.

3. Read books to the students that teach this trait.

  • Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Why Commas Really Do Make a Difference (Lynne Truss)
  • Lazily, Crazily, Just a Bit Nasally: More About Adverbs (Brian Cleary)
  • Our Librarian Won’t Tell Us Anything! (Toni Buzzeo)
  • Punctuation Celebration (Elsa Bruno)
  • Punctuation Takes a Vacation (Robin Pulver) 

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?

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

Final Thoughts

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

Related: Download six traits of writing rubric PDF