Writing to Read: Evidence for how Writing Can Improve Reading

This report identifies effective practices for strengthening reading through writing, based on a meta-analysis of 29 norm-referenced test studies and 55 researcher-designed test studies.

Steve Graham
Michael Hebert
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Alliance for Excellent Education and Carnegie Corporation of New York
Publication Year
Resource Type
Informational Material
Number of Pages
Product Type

This report identifies effective practices for strengthening reading through writing, based on a meta-analysis of 29 norm-referenced test studies and 55 researcher-designed test studies. The meta-analysis was used to investigate the effectiveness of writing about text, the effectiveness of teaching writing, and the effectiveness of having students write more. The authors describe and assign effect sizes for each of the areas and sub-areas and discuss each of the practices and sub-topics.

The recommendations from the meta-analysis include:

  1. Have students write about the texts they read in the content areas, specifically
    • Respond to text in writing (personal reflection, analysis and interpretation of the text)
    • Write summaries of a text
    • Write notes about a text
    • Answer questions about a text in writing or create and answer written questions about a text
  2. Teach students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text
    • Teach the process of writing, text structures for writing, paragraph or sentence constructions skills (Improves reading comprehension)
    • Teach spelling and sentence construction skills (improves reading fluency)
    • Teach spelling skills (improves word reading skills)
  3. Increase how much students write

The evidence indicates that having students write about the material they read does enhance their reading abilities. In addition to noting the studies and their findings, the authors often provide examples of how to teach the recommended practice.

Although this meta-analysis looked at effective reading-writing practices for adolescents, this resource is of value to adult educators who work to improve both the writing and reading skills of their students. “Our evidence shows that these writing activities improved students’ comprehension of text over and above the improvements gained from traditional reading activities such as reading text, reading and rereading text, reading and discussing text, and receiving explicit reading instruction.” (p. 29). This important study supports the need for adult educators to teach reading and writing for the mutual support they provide to learners.

This resource is an excellent companion piece to Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High School and Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy, both also from the Alliance for Excellent Education and The Carnegie Corp. of New York.

Required Training


What the experts say

Reading Expert:
The resource reports a meta-analysis of experimental and quasi-experimental studies from the 1930s to the present across a variety of disciplines that used different types of texts, with different types of students in various contexts. Although the meta-analysis included only studies of school-aged children, most of them involved older children studying texts from various disciplines that would be comparable to the reading that would occur in a GED classroom. Different effect sizes were obtained, but all studies showed the positive effect of writing and writing instruction on reading achievement.

The resource is of value to adult educators who are practitioners, professional developers, or researchers. The latter will find the research agenda, the large reference list, and Appendix B in which the individual studies are briefly described very useful. (Because the number of research studies of the impact of writing on reading has been declining, the authors are encouraging others to conduct this type of research by suggesting a research agenda. It should be noted that no studies in which reading and writing instruction were integrated were included in the meta-analysis.)

Practitioners and professional developers will find the writing strategies and the examples of implementing these strategies (shown in blue boxes next to the text) very useful. Further information on a strategy can be obtained by going back to the original source that is cited underneath the example. Students should benefit by improving both their reading and writing abilities by being given explicit instruction in writing and increased time devoted to writing as a means of improving reading. It is possible that many of these strategies can also be applied on a computer so that students also attain proficiency in using technology.

Writing Expert:
Although this resource focuses on K-12 writing research that has examined the impact of writing instruction on reading performance (reading comprehension, reading fluency, and word reading), current literature on adult learners is not in conflict with the recommended practices and thus the evidence-based practices should prove effective with adults. Educators who work with adults will find the report accessible and clear and the recommended practices readily interpretable. The examples of the practices are very concrete and an excellent guide to implementation is provided.

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