Getting writing instruction right

Have you heard of SRSD instruction? SRSD stands for self-regulation strategy development. Sounds quite posh and complicated doesn’t it? It’s actually incredibly grounded and easy to understand. SRSD instruction is about teaching children strategies which enable them to be independent writers by using for themselves what they’ve been taught. It’s one of the most validated and effective practices a teacher of writing can employ in their classroom (Harris et al. 2006; Graham et al. 2011; McQuitty, 2014; Koster et al. 2015; Sun et al. 2022). That’s why it appears as one of our 14 principles of world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a, 2022a, 2022b).

All children, but particularly struggling or less experienced writers, need high-quality teaching and explicit instruction if they are to fulfil their potential as writers. This is why SRSD instruction works so well. The concept is simple. Teach your class one writerly technique, process or strategy (what we call a craft move) before inviting them to use the move for themselves in their writing that day. Case studies show that the most effective writing teachers deliver instruction in keeping with SRSD when teaching ‘craft knowledge’ (Young et al. 2021), ‘sentence-level strategies’ (Young & Ferguson 2022c) and ‘functional grammar lessons’ (Young & Ferguson 2021b). 

Their writing instruction typically goes something like this:

Step One: Orientate
Remind the children of the class writing project you are currently working on. This includes checking they know what they are writing and who they are writing it for.
Step Two: Discuss
– Introduce the craft move you want the children to try out in writing time today. Give the craft move a name. For example ‘show don’t tell’.

– Then be a salesperson. Tell your class why this craft move is so fantastic and how its use could transform their writing.

– Link the craft move to the class’ success criteria for the writing project (Young & Hayden 2022). For example: ‘show don’t tell’ is going to help us achieve ‘share your characters’ feelings’, which is on our success criteria.
Step Three: Share Models or Model Live
Share models. Show children examples of where other writers have used this craft move in their writing. There should certainly be an example of where you’ve used the craft move in your own writing. You should also show examples from other recreational or commercial authors and/or from other students’ writing. Invite children to ask you questions.


Model using the craft move live in front of your class. Share some of the writing you are currently working on and show how you’re going to use the craft move to enhance your writing. Invite children to ask you questions.
Step Four: Provide Information 
We always recommend turning your instruction into a poster or resource which the children can refer to throughout writing time. This helps them memorise the craft move and any conventions it might involve. For example, you might make a poster to accompany a lesson on punctuating speech. The poster can almost always be pre-prepared to save time and can remain up in the classroom over many days, weeks or even months. Children will be showing independent, self-regulating behaviour every time they consult the poster.
Step Five: Invite
– Invite children to use the technique during that day’s writing time.

– Monitor children’s use of the craft move during your daily pupil-conferencing (Ferguson & Young 2021).

– Sometimes you might feel you want your children to practise the strategy prior to using it in their own writing. However, in all honesty, we find this is rarely necessary.
Step Six: Evaluate
You can invite children to share how they used the craft move in their writing during class sharing and Author’s Chair (Young & Ferguson 2020). If you have noticed a student who has used the craft move in a particularly powerful, innovative or sophisticated way during your pupil-conferencing, you should invite that child to share their writing with the class. The class can then discuss their friend’s writing and its impact.

If your teaching of these craft moves is well planned and, above all, responsive to what your pupils need instruction in most, then, over time, children will internalise these strategies for themselves and so become confident, agentic, personally responsible and independent writers (Young & Ferguson 2020; Young et al. 2021).

It’s important to remember that the stages shared above constitute a good guide. However, teachers should also feel free to experiment with them if they want to. The professional judgement made by a particular teacher might be that a certain stage could be omitted altogether and that another stage might need more time devoted to it. For example, some teachers like children to practise the craft move prior to using it in their own writing, while others find this an unnecessary distraction. Some like to model the craft move live, and create their poster in front of their class, while others like to have made their poster prior to the lesson, or to share writing they have already crafted.

Finally, it’s essential to recognise that this is only one of the principles of world-class writing teaching. The reality is that it works best when interconnected with the other principles (Young & Ferguson 2021a). In particular:

  • Pursue purposeful and authentic class writing projects (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022)
  • Set writing goals (Young & Hayden 2022)
  • Teach the writing processes (Young et al. 2021)
  • Balance composition and transcription (Young et al. 2021)
  • Be reassuringly consistent (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021c, 2021d)
  • Be a writer-teacher (UKLA 2022)
  • Pupil-conference: meet children where they are (Ferguson & Young 2021)

You can find out more about any of these principles by using this link or by downloading, for free, our Handbook Of Research On Teaching Young Writers (2022a).

Finally, if you’d like to read, see and use real classroom examples of SRSD instruction, you may wish to purchase any of the following publications:


  • Ferguson, F., Young, R. (2021) A Guide To Pupil-conferencing With 3-11 Year Olds: Powerful Feedback & Responsive Teaching That Changes Writers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Mason, L. (2011) Self-regulated strategy development for students with writing difficulties, Theory Into Practice, 50(1), 20–27
  • Harris, K.R., Graham, S., Mason, L. (2006) Improving the writing, knowledge, and motivation of struggling young writers: Effects of self-regulated strategy development with and without peer support, American Educational Research Journal, 43, 295–337
  • Koster, M., Tribushinina, E., De Jong, P.F., Van de Bergh, B. (2015) Teaching children to write: A meta-analysis of writing intervention research, Journal of Writing Research, 7(2), 249–274
  • McQuitty, V. (2014) Process-oriented writing instruction in elementary classrooms: Evidence of effective practices from the research literature, Writing & Pedagogy, 6(3), 467–495
  • Sun, T., Wang, C., Wang, Y. (2022) The effectiveness of self-regulated strategy development on improving English writing: Evidence from the last decade, Reading & Writing
  • UKLA. (2022) Teachers’ Writing Project Questionnaire UKLA: Leicester [Online:]
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2020) Real-World Writers London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021a) Writing For Pleasure: Theory, Research & Practice London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021b) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Grammar Mini-Lessons For 5-11 Year Olds Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021c) A Quick Guide To Teaching Writing In The EYFS Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021d) A Quick Guide To Teaching Writing In KS1 Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. Hayden, T., Vasques, M. (2021) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Big Book Of Mini-Lessons: Lessons That Teach Powerful Craft Knowledge For 3-11 Year Olds Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022a) Handbook Of Research On Teaching Young Writers Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022b) The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2022c) The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Sentence-Level Instruction: Lessons That Help Children Find Their Style And Voice Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre
  • Young, R., Hayden, T. (2022) Getting Success Criteria Right For Writing: Helping 3-11 Year Olds Write Their Best Texts Brighton: The Writing For Pleasure Centre

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