What does the research say about reading in writing lessons?

Really, I do one thing. I read books. I write books. I think about books. It’s one job. – Toni Morrison 

Writing is the most cognitively demanding activity we ask our pupils to undertake while they are at school. It requires them to draw on at least thirteen different cognitive resources simultaneously. Cognitive psychology has revealed the amazing complexity of what children need, and need to know, in order to learn how to write competently (Young & Ferguson 2022a). It is therefore necessary for teachers to have a pedagogy for writing which takes account of all the many different elements involved in helping children not just to write, but to write well.

Research has shown that there is a profound connection between effective writing instruction and reading (Kim et al. 2023). For example: reading, studying and discussing mentor texts, texts which match the kind of writing children are being invited to make for themselves, can yield a positive effect of +0.76 (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2023a). For children with SEND, it can be +0.94 (Young & Ferguson 2023b). To put those numbers in context, anything above a +0.4 is generally considered to have a significant positive impact on children’s writing development.

The table above shares what we currently know about the connection between reading and effective writing teaching.

In addition:

  • Having children write about their reading in reading lessons can yield an effect size of +0.5 (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021).
  • Establishing product goals for a class writing project in response to studying a variety of mentor texts can yield an effect size of +2.03 (Young & Hayden 2022).
  • Sharing and modelling how to use certain craft moves taken from literature before inviting children to use these craft moves for themselves in that day’s writing time can yield an effect size of +1.75. For children with SEND, this can be anything up to +2.09 (Young et al. 2021).
  • A major part of reading in the writing classroom is children having an opportunity to read, discuss and hear about how you crafted your own writing. Modelling how you use your reading to support your writing, providing pupils with mentor texts you’ve written, and writing alongside your pupils can yield an effect size of 0.54. For children with SEND, this can be anything up to +2.48 (Young & Ferguson 2023b).
  • Inviting children to generate and plan their own ideas for their writing (including how they can take ideas from their favourite reading) can yield an effect size of 0.54. For children with SEND, this can be +1.55 (Young & Ferguson 2022b).


In our eBook Reading In The Writing Classroom: A Guide To Finding, Writing And Using Mentor Texts With Your Class, we shine the spotlight on these particular aspects of research-based instructional practice and show how it can help young writers to write effectively, successfully and engagingly. We explain how teachers and students should come together to share, discuss and study mentor texts as part of a class writing project (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2023). Writing For Pleasure teachers refuse to allow writing to remain a mystery to their pupils. Instead, through a combination of mentor texts and high-quality literature, they make writing techniques utterly explicit for their young writers. We emphasise that all children need mentor texts, from the EYFS to Year 6 and beyond.

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