Fostering Proficient Writers Through the Building Blocks of Organization

By Phil Kitchel posted 06-14-2022 06:00 AM


Education is an integral component of students’ lives, dedicated to instilling the respective skills needed to read proficiently, think critically, and write with clarity, all of which are essential with today’s complex and rigorous academic standards. The saying, “a mile of a roadway will take you a mile, but a mile of runway will take you anywhere,” accurately depicts how students gain literacy. Through their experiences and attention to their surroundings, literacy begins to form. Through educators’ instructional approaches, students begin to acquire academic and cultural fluency.

Proficient reading and writing are two skills that not only prepare students for their years in academia, but in the workforce that follows. You may think that most students master these skills, but researchers argue that many students have difficulty with reading and writing. Data from the “National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that 74% of Grade 8 and 73% of Grade 12 [students] were unable to provide adequate support for their positions” (Wissinger & De La Paz, 2016, p. 43). Without adequate reading and writing skills, students’ critical thinking, communication, and organizational skills are also greatly impaired.

As students begin to dig deeper and critically analyze a text, their understanding of the basic meaning through during-reading strategies will promote greater comprehension and engagement. Some content may be more tedious than others, but becoming skilled writers requires first mastering their literal, interpretive, and critical comprehension skills. As Roe et al. (2014) argues, literal comprehension, a strong understanding of what is explicitly stated in the text, will allow students to build upon interpretive and critical comprehension, both of which are essential in good writing. Interpretive comprehension teaches students how to synthesize information from multiple sources, and critical comprehension enables them to assess the validity of the information presented to them.

Adopting the FIRST-Letter Mnemonic Strategy, “STOP” and “DARE,” helps expand and grow students’ own writing proficiency. Mnemonic devices are memory tools that help you remember something. The first letter in each word stands for a specific term needed to comprehend the topic of discussion (Nagel et al., 2003), helping students recall key terminology. With the heavy reading and writing emphasis on, for example, New York’s English Regents exam, students are expected to read several passages, answer multiple choice questions, and then construct two essays that require synthesizing passages, finding common themes, and composing a claim that is supported with sufficient evidence. This exam can be easy with unlimited time, but many students struggle to finish due to time constraints and the amount of content that is covered.

As educators, we share successful writing approaches rooted in higher-level writing, all of which they learn to remember through the FIRST-Letter Mnemonic Strategy. “STOP” and “DARE” foster proficient written responses on the exam. STOP encourages students to:

Suspend judgment.

Take a side.

Organize ideas.

Plan as they write.

Students take a moment to look at what is presented to them, annotate frequently, and choose a side based on the readings. After this foundational approach, students are taught to:

Develop a topic sentence.

Add supporting ideas.

Reject the other side.

End with a conclusion.

All of these are essential components of a well-written and cohesive essay. Furthermore, rather than memorize each component of the annotating and writing process, students remember STOP and DARE when it comes to reading and constructing a written response. These two mnemonic devices are instilled in students so that when they’re given the exam, students know what to do to complete each task.

With rigorous, high-level, next-generation learning standards on the way, teachers need to look for new and innovative ways to strengthen students’ reading and writing skills. Having proficient skills in both reading and writing will help students succeed in a complex, fast-paced society. The FIRST-Letter Mnemonic devices not only foster comprehension of text, but also mold proficient writers and help them develop additional skills, such as critical thinking, analyzing, and evaluating the validity of text, all of which can help the students excel. Students also strengthen their literal, interpretive, and comprehension skills, which allow them to further engage and dig deeper with the text. Students learn how to assess information as they receive it and identify for themselves valid arguments over biased ones.

By Lucijan Jovic

Mr. Jović M.S.ED, is an English and Special Education Educator who looks for new and innovative pedagogical approaches to meet the needs of the diverse learning community. Mr. Jović believes that to best support students’ development, we must first learn their strengths, weaknesses, and interests. By doing so, we can foster critically literate individuals who think, speak, read, and write with proficiency. Mr. Jović teaches 7th and 8th grade English & Special Education during the week, and also teaches 6th grade to students with limited English proficiency on the weekends. In addition to teaching, Mr. Jović serves as a KDP representative to the United Nations in New York City. Through this role, Mr. Jović meets with delegates and leaders from across the globe and engages in discourse rooted in creating a sustainable future for generations to come.


Nagel, D., Schumaker, J., & Deschler, D. (2003). FIRST-Letter mnemonic strategy: Instructor’s manual. Edge Enterprises, Inc.

Roe, B., Kolodziej, N., Stoodt-Hill, B., & Burns, P. (2014). Secondary school literacy instruction. Wadsworth.

Wissinger, D., & De La Paz, S. (2016). Effects of critical discussions on middle school students’ written historical arguments. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(1), 43–59.