Composition Strands of the Writing Rope

Joan Sedita’s Writing Rope, based on Harris Scarborough’s Reading Rope, provides an excellent visual for how kids learn to write. Just like the Reading Rope, the Writing Rope consists of strands that represent the key components of writing. These strands intertwine and work together to build strong writers. Four of the five strands of the Writing Rope have to do with writing skills that relate to composition. These four strands, critical thinking, syntax, text structure, and writing craft, all have to do with the content of the writing, as opposed to the mechanics.

The Focus on Composition

American classrooms have historically focused on teaching writing skills that have more to do with the technical aspects of writing than the art of it. Classrooms taught handwriting and grammar instead of plot structure and character development. This was simply because the former is much easier to teach, and because people viewed it as being more important. It’s easy to see if a child’s handwriting is legible or not and to assess their spelling.

There are also tangible rules of sentence structure and it’s easy to see when one has or hasn’t followed those rules. But teaching students how to write a great story or a compelling argument isn’t quite as straightforward. And that’s the reason modern classrooms focus more on those aspects of writing, so that students gain the skills and confidence to become great writers. The mechanics of it are important, too, of course. They have their place in writing instruction as well.

Composition Strands

This relatively recent inclusion of composition skills in writing relates to the four categories above: critical thinking, syntax, text structure, and writing craft. Students need to develop these areas in order to gain confidence in their ability to produce strong writing that is organized, compelling, and easy to follow. Sentence-level and even paragraph-level work aren’t enough to give students this confidence. 

How to Teach Composition

So we recognize the need for writing classrooms to focus more on these somewhat abstract strands— but how? The best way to help students develop these skills is through explicit modeling. While they are more “art” and less “science,” there are plenty of ways to get students to begin working on these skills by simply showing them how. Here are some ways you can get started:

Critical Thinking:

  • Show students how to brainstorm ideas for writing through mind maps, graphic organizers, and creating lists.

  • Provide editing and revision checklists for students to use with their own writing.

  • Provide plenty of guided practice through editing and revising “class texts.”


Text Structure:

  • Start with analyzing text structure through reading before attempting to utilize text structure in students’ writing.

  • Introduce graphic organizers that go along with each text structure (narrative, descriptive, compare and contrast, cause/effect, etc.)

  • Have students use pre-written texts as models to guide their own use of specific text structures in their writing.

Writing Craft:

  • Show students how to use tools like a thesaurus to step up their vocab game.

  • Explore the author’s purpose by having students analyze and identify author moves for different text purposes.

  • Give students opportunities to use literary devices, first in isolation, and eventually in the context of their own writing.

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