Age-by-age learning skills

Writing Skills: What to Expect at Different Ages

By Amanda Morin

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Learning to write involves more skills than knowing what makes a good story or using correct grammar and punctuation. Writing also requires physical skills to hold a pencil and make letters and the thinking skills to use language to express ideas. Find out what writing skills to expect at different ages.

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Writing Skills: What to Expect at Different Ages

Kids develop at different rates, but there are milestones that they generally meet. Here are typical ages for the development of writing skills.

• Hold a pencil straight up and down in a clenched fist
• Begin to understand that text goes from left to right
• Attempt to write letters and words by making “scribbles”

• Move from scribbles to “squiggles,” which stand for something very specific, such as a list to recite or a story to tell
• Try to make some letters of the alphabet and copy some words
• Draw repeated lines across a page that look like waves with high and low points, like letters
• May be able to spell own name
• Dictate stories, watch adults write down the sentences, and begin to recognize some of the words they dictated

Kids Ages 5-7
• Learn to hold a pencil correctly, which makes it easier to write letters
• Use letters and sight words to tell stories or explain drawings
• Start recognizing and reproducing the shape of sight words (common words children remember by their shape)
• Leave out words they don’t know or use inventive spelling to fill in the blank

Kids Ages 7–9
• Develop improved handwriting
• Group sentences about one idea together to make paragraphs
• Start adding spaces between words, capital letters at the beginning of sentences and punctuation at the end
• Learn how to write contractions (such as “don’t” for “do not”), make compound sentences and use adjectives and adverbs to be more descriptive

Kids Ages 9-11
• Learn how to use different types of writing (such as narrative and expository writing) for different purposes
• Practice writing stories, persuasive letters and informative reports
• Start to use the writing process: writing, proofreading, correcting and writing a final draft

• Continue to sharpen grammar skills and the writing process
• Write reports individually or in groups, summarizing information read or learned through lectures
• Start creating more complex sentences, using words like “however” and “because” to link ideas together
• May be expected to write multi-paragraph essays

• Have a good grasp of the mechanics of writing, which they continue to refine as they add words to their vocabulary
• Start jumping between different styles of writing as they write for everyday purposes (such as essay writing for school and informal text via email or social media)
• Take notes in class
Graphic of Writing skills: what to expect at different ages
Graphic of Writing skills: what to expect at different ages

About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin is a parent advocate, a former teacher and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

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Portrait of Bob Cunningham

Bob Cunningham, Ed.M., serves as advisor-in-residence on learning and attention issues for Understood.

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