In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Learning to Write

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Background on Writing Systems
  • Young Children’s Knowledge about Writing
  • Invented Spelling and Phonology
  • Information Children Use for Spelling Other than Phonology
  • Letter Production
  • Composing
  • Grammar, Punctuation, and Word Segmentation
  • Relations Between Reading and Writing
  • Comparisons of Children Who Speak Different Languages and Dialects
  • Bilingualism, Second-Language Learning, and Writing
  • Writing Difficulties
  • Instruction

Childhood Studies Learning to Write
Lan Zhang, Rebecca Treiman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0175


Learning to write, at both the levels of single words and sentences, is an important objective of literacy instruction. Although more research has examined reading development than writing development, experts are gaining an increased knowledge of the development of spelling and composition. Children in literate societies start to learn about characteristics of their writing system long before they receive formal schooling. Young children’s early attempts at writing and their responses in other tasks often reveal some knowledge about the appearance of writing. As literacy instruction begins, children’s increasing appreciation of the relation between print and speech helps facilitate their spelling acquisition. Spelling is a challenging task, serving as a crucial foundation for higher-order writing, or composing. In making decisions about how to spell words, children use different sources of information, including phonological, morphological, and graphotactic (i.e., information about the arrangement and order of letters) patterns. Building on lower-level skills such as spelling and letter production, children develop composing skills and strategies to communicate ideas in writing. Cognitive factors, including working memory, are thought to constrain the development of composing skill. Research on special populations, such as children with language impairments or hearing loss, has been useful for revealing the processes underlying spelling and writing development. This research, as well as research with typically developing children, can help inform educational practice.

General Overviews

The edited volume by Beard, et al. 2009 provides a comprehensive overview of writing development. Treiman and Kessler 2014 review how children learn about different aspects of their writing system and discuss the findings in relation to theories of literacy development. Providing a cross-linguistic perspective, Perfetti, et al. 1997 reviews research and theories of spelling acquisition in children who speak different languages.

  • Beard, Roger, Debra Myhill, Jeni Riley, and Martin Nystrand, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Writing Development. London: SAGE, 2009.

    The chapters in this edited volume cover a wide range of topics related to the development of writing, from spelling and punctuation to composition. The populations discussed range from preschool children to college students.

  • Perfetti, Charles A., Laurence Rieben, and Michel Fayol, eds. Learning to Spell: Research, Theory, and Practice across Languages. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1997.

    A selection of chapters from researchers studying spelling in different languages from the perspectives of cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. Chapters cover the acquisition of spelling, the relations between reading and spelling, and related topics.

  • Treiman, Rebecca, and Brett Kessler. How Children Learn to Write Words. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199907977.001.0001

    A well-structured book on children’s learning of their writing system. Reviews and discusses how children learn about different aspects of writing including graphic forms, letter names, and complex spelling patterns. Theoretical and educational implications are discussed throughout the chapters.

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