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Teaching the Writing Process

Beyond the Traditional 5-Step Writing Process

Traditionally, writing has been taught as a linear process—something involving distinct steps like brainstorming, drafting, revising, and finalizing. In the classroom, this sequence might involve one round of feedback, usually from a teacher, with the ultimate goal of turning in an assignment—again, to the teacher—for a grade.


Though this approach feels packageable, moving chronologically through a set of instructions almost like a math problem, it doesn’t reflect the processes that real-world writers undertake, whether publishing a news article, writing a business memo, or polishing a sales pitch. Neither does it align with how the brain learns best to write. 

To make writing instruction more relevant and teach writing in a way that supports students’ cognition, writing should instead be taught as a cyclical process—one that involves distinct strategies, as above, but strategies that are iterative, that students can return to again and again as they create and polish their prose. 

Here’s how to reframe tried-and-true approaches in a cyclical framework.


The Cyclical Writing Process

Writing is cyclical, iterative, and dynamic, meaning writing instruction must also account for the natural fluidity of a multifaceted process.

When students understand that their ideas may change during the course of writing, they may explore their ideas more fully and completely, focusing on creativity and flexibility rather than compliance to the prescribed process. 

Write the World’s Cyclical Model for Writing Instruction involves seven key actions, taking place within a pedagogical and instructional ecosystem that centers social-emotional learning, innovative technology, and equity-centered learning. These actions comprise brainstorming; drafting/writing; producing a writing product; giving and receiving feedback; reflecting; revising; and sharing.



Brainstorming is an active process designed to draw upon the “funds of knowledge”

(Moll et al., 1992) that students bring into the classroom through guided and unguided freewriting; prompts that connect students’ personal lives to curricular topics; thinking routines that activate prior learning; and interactive classroom activities that spark generative discourse. In the cyclical model, students may return to these strategies, this “step” of brainstorming, as many times as they need to throughout their compositional process.

Brainstorming Ideas:

  • Freewriting: set a timer and just keep the pen moving.
  • Guided Freewriting: in response to a prompt or topic.
  • Word Wall: use sticky notes to jot down ideas related to your topic, then move them to group or make connections between them.
  • Half-formed Thoughts: make a bulleted list of questions and statements, even if you’re unsure about them.

-> Students having trouble getting started? Here’s our big guide to overcoming writer’s block



Students funnel their idea-building into the first of several writing iterations, engaging with substantive prompts that are themselves vehicles for instruction. A well-developed prompt connects students’ background knowledge to curricular content, then leverages content knowledge for authentic inquiry and the production of new ideas.

This positions students as contributors to the field of each subject, rather than consumers of it—true to a constructivist model of education (University at Buffalo Curriculum, Assessment, and Teaching Transformation, 2023). 

Prompts themselves provide asynchronous “teaching” by way of embedded genre guides, descriptions of compositional tools and techniques, excerpted works of literature, student-authored model or “mentor” texts—sample responses that spark students’ writing—or multimedia that complements and extends students’ thinking. 

Students are asked to do more than simply regurgitate factual knowledge from a textbook in essay form, or demonstrate basic reading comprehension, and instead are invited to move toward greater levels of cognitive rigor—in alignment with Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Colorado College, 2022) and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge framework (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2021). 


-> See our big list of creative writing prompts for high school


Sharing a Writing Product

Once students have moved between brainstorming and drafting, they develop a writing product—this may not mean a complete draft but instead something that is complete enough, at a certain point in their cyclical process, to warrant and benefit from a fresh perspective by way of feedback. 


Providing and Receiving Feedback

Peer and teacher review supports collaboration. By acting as reviewers and writers, students cultivate separate sets of skills: composition and the giving of respectful, helpful feedback. 

They also integrate these skills into a deeper understanding of writing conventions. By thinking simultaneously as reader and writer, they internalize elements such as flow, organization, argumentation, use of evidence, and varying sentence structures as they better grasp the impacts of writing techniques on the content of a piece. By teaching others through peer review, they in turn teach themselves. Having multiple opportunities to receive peers’ and teachers’ perspectives on a work during its nascency allows students to revisit the brainstorming and writing stages, iterating and deepening thinking along the way.

-> See more about creating peer review guidelines for the classroom



Writing involves multiple executive functions and social-emotional skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and responsible decision-making, among others. Built into the writing process are explicit opportunities for students to learn about and practice metacognitive thinking by:

  • Setting writing goals
  • Creating a plan and tracking their progress toward those goals
  • Changing their approach in the face of challenges
  • Adjusting or setting new writing goals
  • Incorporating feedback
  • Considering their growth and learning

All of these practices necessitate intentional reflection, meaning teachers and students need time and space to not only practice—but consider how best to practice each competency during and across compositional processes, validating the utilization of self-assessment before, during, and after writing.



Once students have received multiple perspectives on their work, formative feedback not attached to a grade, they are ready to synthesize different—and sometimes contradictory—ideas, funneling suggestions through their author filter, choosing to integrate what feels most salient for their envisioned piece and intended audience. 

This negotiation and implementation of perspectives galvanizes revision: both developmental edits addressing the bigger picture of the piece—content, organization, voice and tone, research—and copyedits addressing its details (grammar, mechanics, sentence structure). 

The revision process necessarily implicates a return to brainstorming, a return to the prompt—its ask, its embedded resources, its model texts. Each time students revisit these materials, they bring different understandings and sets of knowledge to the piece, expanding and deepening it through each draft, paragraph, and sentence.



Publication is the goal that orients the writing process as a social activity. Whether the interim goal (draft) or end goal (final piece), publication motivates writers to write for their intended audience—and to make choices aligned with that purpose. This focus on audience deepens students’ connections with one another, with readers, and with their work, simultaneously fostering community.


Sharing Work with Authentic Audiences

“Although the words purpose and audience (sic) often show up in U.S. state standards (e.g., Common Core State Standards: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010; Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills: Texas Education Agency, 2010, 2017), closer analyses of those standards reveal that they promote prescriptive instruction and ‘focus… on mastering particular types of texts rather than why students are writing them, for whom, and to what ends (Woodard & Kline, 2016, p. 209’”). - Land (2022)

This is often true across standards and standardized curricula, so these terms, despite their rich traditions across writing studies research and theory, have too often lost their meaning for teachers and students, meaning there are lost opportunities for deep learning.

amy-vann-zUq203o--EI-unsplash-1Interactions between writers and readers can incentivize the learning process and imbue students’ writing with real-world relevance, especially when taken beyond peer review to authentic exchanges with audiences at or beyond school. Such an exchange aligns with project-based learning (PBL) pedagogies that emphasize the importance of authentic assessment and knowledge production; the seven tenets of “gold standard” project-based learning, as defined by PBL Works of the Buck Institute for Education, are: a challenging problem or question; sustained inquiry; authenticity; student voice and choice; reflection; critique and revision; and production of a public product (2023). 

Ideas for sharing work:

  • Sharing student work with classmates via digital or printed collections or readings
  • Showcasing work on posterboards for the school, parents, and/or community
  • Private or public readings to school or parents and community members
  • Student-created portfolios (digital or printed)

When this exchange is framed as a writing celebration at the start of a writing unit in any subject, literacy becomes the vehicle through which to forge real connections—driving the engagement of all involved.

-> See more resources and ideas for publishing student works


How Does AI fit in?

Teachers and students can use AI as a tool to support the writing process. Instead of prompting an AI chat tool to write a draft (in which it paraphrases language that already exists), more sophisticated prompts have the potential to provide feedback, offer suggestions, rewrite complex sections, and much more.

When feedback isn’t readily available from other humans, AI can provide feedback that is immediately usable. We encourage students and teachers to balance both human and AI feedback to get the most comprehensive feedback loops to improve the writing process.

-> See more AI writing resources.


Writing as a Cyclical Process

Through this model, no piece of writing (read: thinking) is ever “complete” but rather complete enough for submission, marking the culmination of a thought in what could be a lifelong exploration of an inquiry or discourse. Even published texts sitting on the classroom bookshelf are, in this way, both “complete” and ever-changing, marking one person’s thinking in a given time and context that is a marker along a broader continuum of knowledge production.

Framing writing in this way aligns with Carol Dweck’s conception of a growth mindset, or the idea that intelligence—indeed, knowledge—is not a fixed, set trait but something attainable and ever-expanding, within reach with continued practice and application (2017). Introducing students to each stage in this cyclical process through the frame of growth and iteration, modeling with and for them the validity and importance of returning to each stage multiple times across the development of a writing product, disrupts the industrialized linear approach and welcomes originality and innovation. 

References and Further Reading

-> Looking for more books with practical applications? Check out our list of the best books for teaching high school writing

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