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Writers Lab - a Writing Strategy to Support Students with Disabilities

Structuring Writing Activity Will Lead To Student Success


Writers Lab - a Writing Strategy to Support Students with Disabilities

An Editing Chart


Students with disabilities across the spectrum, for the most to the least disabled, are challenged by writing. The emphasis in writing is increasing as the emphasis in accountability is toward being "college and career ready." Much of the challenge comes not because students with disabilities have nothing to say or write about, but because they have difficulty with "executive function," the intellectual ability to visualize all the stuff and steps that go into writing, and then visualizing the path they need to proceed down before they have a product (story, article, essay.)

The Writing Process

Lucy Calkins, a professor at Columbia University's Teacher's College, introduced the "Writer's Workshop" as a means to help students become lifelong writers. It was used extensively in Michigan when I lived there, and provided a structure that generated lots and lots of authentic student writing. I was substituting in elementary schools then, and found that it created enthusiastic and fluent writers. I have adapted much of the structure for Writer's Lab, with the understanding that children with disabilities will benefit from additional supports and structure. Remember, success for a child with a disability looks different from success for a general education child.

The process includes:

  • Topic Brainstorming
  • Planning
  • Rough Draft
  • Conferencing: peer and teacher
  • Editing
  • Rewriting
  • Publishing
  • Tool Kit


Brainstorming: Before you can write, you need a topic. It really helps children if they are asked to write about something they have chosen (choice is always a powerful motivator.) A couple times a year you need to review and create new topics. My brainstorming form focuses on each of the kinds of writing that the Common Core State Standards begin to require by 6th grade, which are formats that will be required in future grades as well.

Idea Web: This graphic organizer is really designed to guide a beginner through the process. Hopefully organization format. It is possible to write a complete essay/written assignment using an idea web as an organizing tool.

Paragraph Outline

This form is great for students who have just begun writing longer than a single sentence. The form I have created for you provides space for four detail sentences. It could be cropped to three, but I wouldn't go lower than that, myself.

Narrative Sequence

This tool is good for first person narratives and fiction. As students expand their writing skills past a single paragraph, and have stories to tell, this form will help them lay out the sequence for their own writing efforts. This tool is best for personal narratives of fictional articles. You could also write an accompanying rubric that would give maximum points for filling all six events, fewer for say 5 and still give some points for 2 events.

Rough Draft

If enough or the most appropriate graph organizers are in place to support your students as they prepare to write, they should write with some fluency. If there are issues with holding a pencil or legibility, this may be a good time to let disabled writers dictate. You can either let the writing process in this case be purely transcription, as a tool for the student to examine his or her own work once it is recorded, or you can help the student dictate from the outline that they already created.


The Conferencing and editing tasks can be elided, but it's important, for the sake of content, that the notion of conferencing is not eliminated in favor of spelling or capitalization, but also discussing plot and character development. This skill will grow as your model conversing about a story to both proofread and editing each others papers.


The editing process is concerned with recognizing spelling and usage mistakes. You will find this Editing Marks Chart invaluable as a tool both to help your students edit each others' work and to recognize editing marks when you edit their work.


When you have reviewed the final product with your young authors. When their stories or writing is complete, it's a good time to typeset it (Isn't Microsoft Word a fantastic publishing tool!?) You can have final work comb bound, or have students add illustrations and create colorful covers. Knock yourself out -- or at least let your students knock themselves out.

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