My first grader came to the last section of his “Halloween word problems” math worksheet yesterday and let out a giant groan. The instruction was, “Now write a Halloween word problem of your own.” It was challenging enough for him to read and then solve the problems. Now he had to write one, too? “But writing takes forever!” he complained.

I felt his pain. I often feel like writing takes forever, and I’m highly practiced at it! Many Read Naturally students have felt his pain, too. They want to dig into the story—but first they need to write a prediction. They complete the story and want to move onto the next one—but first they need to write a retell. Why must they spend their time doing this?

As you know, it’s all about the ultimate goal: comprehension. Requiring students to make a prediction reminds them, from the beginning, that we read for meaning. Requiring students to retell the story at the end reminds them they must work, every step of the way, to understand it. And requiring students to write out the prediction and the retelling helps solidify the literacy skills they are working to develop.

To write a word, a student first needs to hear it in his brain. Then, he must associate the sound he hears with a letter or grouping of letters. In the act of writing just one word, the student must break a word into parts to hear the different sounds and then make sound/symbol connections to figure out which letters probably form the word. These segmenting and blending skills are essential to achieving literacy, and writing is a key way to practice them.

Not to mention the fact that, when students are required to actually write about what they’ve read, their comprehension improves significantly. Research shows that reading and writing together are more effective in solidifying comprehension than reading alone, reading and rereading, or reading and discussing. We wrote more extensively about the connection between reading and writing here, and literacy expert Tim Shanahan also has a great post about the topic.

So, it’s clear why the prediction and the retell steps are important, and why students should take the time to write them out. But still, writing is hard! Perhaps you have Read Live students whose keyboarding skills are painfully slow. Maybe you have Encore students whose fine motor skills present a barrier to writing. Or maybe you simply have students who, like my son, complain about the time and effort it takes to write. How should you handle these issues?

First of all, set reasonable expectations for the Prediction and Retell steps based on the student’s grade level and writing skills. For example, a student working in a lower level may retell the story in just a couple short sentences. As the student progresses in reading, she will work her way up to writing a higher quality summary. For very young or special education students with limited writing skills, you may want to require only a few words or a phrase as a prediction—encouraging the use of the key words.

If the task of writing out predictions and retells still takes too large a portion of the time allotted for fluency practice, consider making additional modifications. Read Live students who are slow keyboarders can write their predictions and/or retellings in a notebook instead of typing in the program. Click here for information on how to disable the Prediction and/or Retell steps in the software. You may also set a time limit for predictions and retellings. Click here for information about how to set a time limit in Read Live.

At your discretion, it might sometimes make sense to allow certain students to give oral predictions and/or retellings for a stretch of time. Be sure to provide ample writing opportunities for these students in other contexts, and work toward the goal of requiring theses students to write as part of their Read Naturally intervention.

When it comes to those students who are complaining, your supportive communication is key. Help them understand why they are writing. Remind them of their long-term goal to read fluently and to comprehend, and explain how writing will help them achieve this. On a broader level, offer insights into the joy that comes from being able to document what we observe. When we are able to express on paper the things we notice and feel, it can enrich our experiences in so many ways. This practice can, and should, be incorporated into many aspects of their school experience. 

Finally, assure your students that writing won’t always feel like it takes forever. Yes, it is a time-consuming task—for everybody—but it does get significantly easier as literacy skills develop. As with everything, it just takes practice.