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Author Ruth Culham and the Traits of Writing
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Frequently Asked Questions

Which traits do you teach first?

Doesn’t it just make sense to begin with ideas and figuring out what you have to say? But not the whole trait of ideas--that's way too much to take on at one time. Now that the traits are broken down into four key qualities, why not begin with "finding a topic" for a week or so, and then moving on to one of the key qualities in organization such as "creating a lead," then to one in voice and so on.  See?  That makes sense, right?  But, treat conventions the same way.  You need to be teaching conventions all the time.  You can create a little mini-spiral of them: spelling, capitalization, punctuation, grammar, and back to spelling, but I suspect you'll want more work in spelling and grammar than once every four weeks or so.  We have a nice model to accomplish all this in Traits Plus, but until then, try spiraling and keeping conventions hot and on the table all the time.

How do you grade using a scoring guide?

Using scoring guides presents new grading challenges.  So we decided to make these handy CHARTS (one using a 5-POINT SCALE, and one using a 6-POINT SCALE)  that will take the number of points earned out of the total possible and give you a percentage. Whether it's a simple assignment when you grade for only one trait, or a bigger piece when you grade for all the traits, use this chart to help come up with the final grade.  At last, a simple solution that can work for everyone!  

If you are teaching about one trait, do you score for the others, too?

It depends. If it is a short, quick write type of task, score it for what you just taught and what matters most to you and leave the rest alone. But if it’s a big paper, one that has had a chance to go through the entire writing process with you, then it’s a good idea to score it in all the traits, whether they have been covered or not. Remember, we’re assessing writing here, not traiting. And writing is made up of all the traits all the time.

How much time should you spend teaching for each trait?

There is no right answer here. I recommend a week’s focus on each key quality of the trait, or 20 focus weeks on the first five traits, spiraled throughout the years. Conventions should be taught all the time.

How do the traits work with writer's workshop?

We recommend you begin your day with a focus lesson, or mini lesson designed to teach students about one of the key qualities of the trait. We suggest they apply what they learned in a piece of their own writing and then return to their longer, more extended piece that develops over time. Sounds like writing workshop to me.

What writing program do you recommend?

Ours. Ours is the first totally comprehensive writing program that covers all the bases and more. You can always start with the DVDs series for K-2 and 3-5 along with the Theory and Practice book that goes with each and do a monthly training session with teachers as outlined in the handbook that goes with each.

I don't feel comfortable with the voice trait; can I just leave it out?

No, you can’t leave out voice; it’s the soul of the writing. But, if you are squeamish about teaching it, read to students, emphasize word choice, find riveting topics...then voice will show up. Donald Murray used to say that voice was a primary trait in writing. I agree. It’s what makes each piece unique, like the fingerprint of the writer. Students who become comfortable with writing use strong voice whether it is for fiction or nonfiction Use lots of models - let the great writers teach students the power of voice.

What if I have a different scoring guide, can I use it instead?

Whatever you use, be sure it is consistent in your school. Don’t confuse students with different language or different scoring guides. I think the ones we give you are the best out there. They reflect 25 years of study to get just the right wording for every line and have been used with hundreds of thousands of papers with high reliability. Why not use them? Spend your time working on the lessons to help students learn, not reinventing the scoring guides.

What should I do to get started?

Read the Theory and Practice book for your grade, score about 30 papers on your own, and jump in. Your students will show you the way. They want to improve and since you’ll know where their strengths and weaknesses are, you can begin instructing them in the areas they need help with most.

What if our state rubric uses a different number of points?  Can I still use the traits and the six-point scoring guide?

Of course. Whatever the format of your state rubric, it is designed for large-scale assessment. The traits of writing model is intended for classroom use so it makes perfect sense the documents would not be the same. When you help students learn to write well using the classroom scoring guide, they will do well on the state assessment. All evidence proves this over and over.

What is the origin of the model?  Is it research-based? 

Absolutely. Beginning in 1985 with the original of the model and continuing today there have been several large, federally funded studies that document the success of the model to improve student writing. Write Education Northwest for the latest research summary. Or contact us for districts that have documented success with the model.

Who Is Ruth Culham?

culham writing company
 Teach Writing Well by Ruth Culham
 Teach Writing Well by Ruth Culham IT'S HERE!