4 Stages of Writing Development

We take for granted how much time it took to develop our writing abilities.

You may not remember your first attempts at writing. 

Initially, you were very likely to be scribbling on paper because it was new and fun. 

Soon after, these markings began to take shape.

With learning and experience, you reached a point where those markings made enough sense that someone reading it could recite its intent back to you.

These early stages are critical for writing development, and they can be broken down into four stages.

Preliterate Stage

The preliterate stage is defined by markings that aren’t clear as a thought or idea. These markings may be exploratory or an attempt to recreate images seen in life, such as a face or a toy.

As development progresses, the scribbles may more closely resemble letters and numbers, and include images of something familiar, like an animal or face. 

The preliterate stage can be broken down into four parts.

  • Scribble Stage – No clear starting or ending point; markings comprise of lines and circles.
  • Symbolic Stage – Markings may resemble a face, animal, or other concepts.
  • Directional Scribble – Markings start from the left and have an intentional idea or message.
  • Symbolic Letters – The markings begin to resemble letters and numbers mixed with symbols and have some inklings of intent.

Early Emergent Writing

In early emergent writing, the writing can be thought of as being “pretend.” In this stage, an attempt is made to replicate what as already been written, or to copy the motions of other writers. 

There may also be an attempt to write words they have seen, like those on boxes or logos on stores. While doing this, sounds may be used to connect with the letters.

The early emergent writing stage can be broken down into four parts. 

  • String of letters – Letters are written in a line, sometimes repeated, and mirrored or upside down; they may attempt to spell their own name.
  • Groups of letters – Letters are grouped to resemble words.
  • Labeling pictures – Letters are matched to the beginning word of a sound – “C” for cat.
  • Environmental Print – A form of copying letters or words from a resource; may be written incorrectly.

Transitional Writing

In transitional writing, there is a clearer understanding of the relationship between letters and sounds. However, the spelling may be wrong due to a lack of development around the rules od a language, such as silent letters.

Reading skills will also be improved at this stage, as well as an early understanding of punctuation.

The transitional writing stage can be broken down into three parts. 

  • Word representation – Able to form a sentence using the first letter of a word being sounded out – “I H A D” (I have a dog).
  • First and last letter representation – Word is written with the sound of the first and last letter.
  • Medial letter sounds – Words are readable with known words appearing correctly; vowels may appear as a single letter and include spacing between words.

Fluent Writing

Fluent writing is the longest stage of development, spanning several years, as the specific rules and irregularities of a written language are better understood.  

Additionally, sounding out letters or words is no longer needed. Most words are spelled accurately, and guidance is used to fix mistakes and encourage punctuation when needed.

The fluent writing stage can be broken down into four parts. 

  • Beginning phrase writing – Combines all available skills in writing to convey an idea or message.
  • Sentence writing – Uses words to form sentences related to a focused topic, with punctuation and correct spelling.
  • Traits writing – Can write with convention, organization, voice, idea, word choice, and sentence fluency.

Final Thoughts

Experienced writers get to enjoy the act of writing that can feel so effortless and satisfying. But reaching that point takes a lot of time and practice. 

If you are working with someone who is just now learning to write, whether they are an infant or adult, each stage is important in developing good writing skills that will last a lifetime.