What’s a quick, easy way to understand the six traits of good writing?

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Teaching the six traits of good writing to seventh graders is a challenging feat. For one thing, some of my students are still fairly concrete-operational learners. So what does a vague concept like “fluency” mean to a concrete-operational learner? Not much!

So for the sake of those kids who need very literal definitions for the six traits, this is how I define them. As students edit and critique one another, they ask themselves the following questions about each trait:

  • Conventions – How does the paper look, as far as grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Do they have very many grammar errors?
  • Ideas and Content – Is the topic of this paper unlike anyone else’s in the whole class? Or is the approach to the topic unlike anyone else’s? Did the writer stick to the assignment, or did he/she go off-topic?
  • Organization – If it’s a letter you’re looking at, are the addresses in the right spots? How about the greeting and closing? If it’s a poem, does each line make sense by itself? If it’s an essay you’re looking at, can you find the topic sentence or thesis? Is there a title at the top? Is it double-spaced? Do they use paragraph breaks frequently and correctly? Do they use the margins correctly? If it’s a story, does it have a beginning, middle, and end?
  • Sentence Fluency – Try to read the paper out loud. Where do you stumble? That’s a fluency glitch.
  • Voice – Does the paper make you laugh out loud? Cry? Gasp in awe? Do you find yourself talking about the paper after you’ve read it? That’s good voice!
  • Word Choice – Did the writer choose advanced vocabulary words that sound challenging?

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