Preschool-Second Grade

Students need to be able to use language appropriately for a broad range of functions and perceive the functions for which others use language.

"Learning to write well is important for all American students. Even though students have varied backgrounds and experiences, the expectation for high performance in writing applies to all." (NAEP) Encouraging written language in the classroom and at home is a process. It is not something that can be accomplished in a few months or even a year. Proficiency in written language requires time and patience to reap the desired harvest. Writing skills develop and become more sophisticated as students use them for meaningful purposes and varied audiences.

The purpose of the Written Language Developmental Continuum for preschool-second grade is to provide helpful information for parents, teachers, and other significant adults as they work with young children to advance and refine written language (writing) competence. This brochure is a useful tool for assessing children's development along a continuum of written language growth as well as a source of information about the competencies/descriptors that children are expected to learn in preschool through second grades. The descriptors in the continuum list specific behaviors that are typical of children's development at particular ages or grades. The competencies list specific behaviors that children are expected to learn in kindergarten to second grade according to the 1999 NC Standard Course of Study for English Language Arts. To ensure that students are able to demonstrate the descriptors/competencies, teachers must provide opportunities for writing and reflection across the curriculum. "Writing is a powerful instrument of thought. In the act of composing, writers learn about themselves and their world and communicate their insights to others. Writing confers the power to grow personally and to effect change in the world." (Commission on Composition, National Council for the Teachers of English)

Preschool 3-4 years

  • Begin to use writing materials.
  • Repeat the same marks over and over.
  • Scribble and attempt to write.
  • Scribble and tell what was written.
  • Write a few letters of the alphabet, perhaps own name.
  • Contribute to group dictation.


Preschool 4-5 years

  • Try to copy words.
  • Begin to have a sense of directionality.
  • Dictate captions, words, stories.
  • Use letter-like forms or random letters to write messages.
  • Realize that marks look different and can have different meanings.
  • Write name and few letters.
  • "Read" own writing.


Kindergarten 5-6 years

  • Use new vocabulary in own speech and writing.
  • Use words that name and words that tell action in a variety of simple texts.
  • Use words that describe color, size, and location in a variety of texts: (e.g., oral retelling, written stories, lists, journal entries of personal experiences).
  • Use a variety of sentence patterns such as interrogative requests (Can you go with me?) and sentence fragments that convey emotion (Me, too!).
  • Write and/or participate in writing behaviors by using authors' models of language.
  • Develop spelling strategies and skills by:
    • representing spoken language with temporary and/or conventional spelling.
    • writing most letters of the alphabet.
    • analyzing sounds in a word and writing dominant
  • consonant letters.
  • Use capital letters to write the word I and the first letter in own name.


  • Write and/or participate in writing behaviors.
  • Draw and write signs, labels, and notes.
  • Copy environmental print.
  • Compose for different functions/purposes.
  • Dictate a story/information.
  • Understand writing conveys meaning.
  • Perceive self as writer.

First Grade 6-7 years

  • Select and use new vocabulary and language structures in both speech and writing contexts (e.g., oral retelling using exclamatory phrases to accent an idea or event).
  • Use words that name characters and settings (who, where) and words that tell action and events (what happened, what did ____ do) in simple texts.
  • Use specific words to name and tell action in oral and written language (e.g., using words such as frog and toad when discussing an expository text).
  • Extend skills in using oral and written language:
    • clarifying purposes for engaging in communication.
    • using clear and precise language to paraphrase messages.
    • producing written products.
  • Write and/or participate in writing by using an author's model of language and extending the model (e.g., writing different ending for a story, composing an innovation of a poem).
  • Compose a variety of products (e.g., stories, journal entries, letters, response logs, simple poems, oral retellings).
  • Use phonic knowledge and basic patterns (e.g., an, ee, ake) to spell correctly three- and four-letter words.
  • Apply phonics to write independently, using temporary and/or conventional spelling.
  • Write all upper and lower case letters of the alphabet, using correct letter formation.
  • Use complete sentences to write simple texts.
  • Use basic capitalization and punctuation:
    • first word in a sentence.
    • proper names.
    • period to end declarative sentence.
    • question mark to end interrogative sentence.
  • Self-monitor composition by using one or two strategies (e.g., rereading, peer conferences).


  • Use prewriting strategies such as drawing, brainstorming, or storyboarding with support.
  • Express complete thoughts.
  • Write multiple sentences about the same topic.
  • Begin to use detail (descriptive words).
  • Add on to writing in response to questions.
  • Write for a variety of purposes.
  • Publish with teacher support.

Second Grade 7-8 years

  • Begin to use formal language and/or literary language in place of oral language patterns, as appropriate.
  • Use expanded vocabulary to generate synonyms for commonly over-used words to increase clarity of written and oral communication.
  • Plan and make judgments about what to include in written products (e.g., narratives of personal experiences, creative stories, skits based on familiar stories and/or experiences).
  • Compose first drafts using an appropriate writing process:
    • planning and drafting.
    • rereading for meaning.
    • revising to clarify and refine writing with guided discussion.
  • Write structured, informative presentations and narratives when given help with organization.
  • Spell correctly using:
    • previously studied words.
    • spelling patterns.
    • analysis of sounds to represent all the sounds in a word in one's own writing.
  • Attend to spelling, mechanics, and format for final products in one's own writing.
  • Use capitalization, punctuation, and paragraphs in own writing.
  • Use the following parts of the sentence:
    • subject.
    • predicate.
    • modifier.
  • Use editing to check and confirm correct use of conventions:
    • complete sentences.
    • correct word order in sentences.
  • Use correctly in written products:
    • letter formation, lines, and spaces to create readable documents.
    • plural forms of commonly used nouns.
    • common, age-appropriate contractions.


  • Expand use of prewriting strategies.
  • Write for clear purpose/audience.
  • Use substantive detail in writing.
  • Check written work by reading aloud.
  • Revise/edit to improve text content.
  • Use a variety of sources for spelling (charts, peers, dictionaries, computer spell-check).
  • Produce writing and artwork to reflect personal response.
  • Incorporate characters, settings, and events from own experiences into writing.
  • Maintain journal, learning log, and response log.
  • Reflect personal response to text through meaningful extensions (writing, music, art, drama, etc.).


Functions of Written Language
People use written language for different purposes. Parents and teachers can use this chart to encourage students in their written language development.






  • Language to get what we want
  • Asserting personal rights/needs
  • Requesting an opinion
  • Incidental expressions
  • Language to represent the world to others
  • Language to impart what one knows
  • Labeling, noting details
  • Noting incidents, sequences
  • Making generalizations
  • Comparing
  • Language to develop and maintain one's own unique identity


  • sign-up sheets
  • grocery lists
  • wish lists
  • planning lists
  • catalog orders
  • messages
  • warnings
  • letters
  • notes
  • want ads
  • "to do" lists
  • logs
  • journals
  • directions
  • posters
  • maps
  • webs (upper primary)
  • recipes
  • research (K-W-L) notes
  • charts
  • brochures
  • instructions
  • directions
  • graphs
  • surveys
  • tables
  • math & science journals
  • weather reports
  • certificates
  • reports
  • family histories
  • journals
  • diaries
  • autobiographies
  • show-and-tell
  • travel logs
  • eyewitness accounts
  • interviews
  • classroom newspapers
  • scrapbooks







  • Language to speculate and predict what will happen
  • Noting cause/effect relationships
  • Noting an event
  • Drawing conclusions
  • Requesting a reason
  • Problem solving
  • Language to control others and the world around us
  • Requesting directions
  • Requesting others' attention
  • Controlling self
  • Language to establish and maintain relationships with others


  • fantasy/science fiction
  • graphs
  • surveys
  • forecasts
  • question charts
  • hypotheses
  • estimations
  • cause/effect diagrams
  • inquiry projects
  • tables
  • directions
  • labels
  • rules for games
  • signs
  • procedures
  • class rules
  • warnings
  • advertisements
  • dialogue journals
  • response journals
  • notes
  • K-W-L charts
  • invitations & greeting cards
  • jokes & riddles
  • letters to pen pals
  • message boards
  • classroom mailboxes


Anderson, Carl. (2000). How's It Going? A Practical Guide to Conferencing with Students. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Calkins, Lucy. (1994). The Art of Teaching Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Gambrell, Linda B. and Almasi, Janice, F. (Eds.). (1996). Lively Discussions! Fostering Engaged Reading. Newark, Delaware: International Reading Association.

Heibert, E.H., Pearson, P.D., Taylor, B.M., Richardson, V., and Paris, S.G. (1998). Every Child a Reader. Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement.

Fletcher, Ralph. (1993). What a Writer Needs. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fletcher, Ralph and Portalupi, Joann. (1998). Craft Lessons: Teaching Writing

K-8. York, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Fountas, Irene C. and Pinnell, Gay Su. (2001). Guiding Readers and Writers Grades 3-6: Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Lane, Barry. (1993). After the End: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Lenski, Susan Davis and Johns, Jerry L. (2000). Improving Writing: Resources, Strategies, and Assessments. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.

McCarrier, Andrea;, Pinnell, Gay Su; and Fountas, Irene. (2000). Interactive Writing: How Language and Literacy Come Together, K-2. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

North Carolina English Language Arts Standard Course of Study. (December, 1999). Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Ray, Katie Wood. (2000). Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary School. Urbana, Illinois: National Council for the Teachers of English.

For additional information, contact:
Mary R. Rose at 919.807.3829 or mrose@dpi.state.nc.us
Shirley L. Staten at 919.807.3830 or sstaten@dpi.state.nc.us