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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Secondary literacy exemplars teaching and learning responses

These notes provide assistance in supporting students to develop their writing.

What literacy and language knowledge and skills are demanded by the curriculum?  

Each learning area has its own language or languages.  As students discover how to use them, they find they are able to think in different ways, access new areas of knowledge, and see the world from new perspectives.  For each area, students need specific help from their teachers as they learn:

  • the specialist vocabulary associated with that area
  • how to read and understand its texts
  • how to communicate knowledge and ideas in appropriate ways
  • how to listen and read critically, assessing the value of what they hear and read. 

(page 16 New Zealand Curriculum)

Students experience the curriculum through the lens of each subject, and each subject and/or learning area has specific ways of processing and communicating knowledge.  Developing literacy and language skills in the context of each subject builds an understanding of how knowledge is constructed and produced.  Literacy learning continues throughout all levels of secondary schooling as students engage with the curriculum at increasing levels of complexity and specialisation in each subject area. All subject teachers need to scaffold student learning to develop the independent knowledge and skills that students require at each level to communicate their knowledge effectively and in appropriate ways.

The texts students write

During years 9 -13, students continue to develop their writing in order to think about, record, and communicate experiences, and increasingly complex ideas and specialised information on a wide range of topics and themes in each subject area. They are required to write (increasingly using electronic media) a wide range of texts, such as essays, reports, narratives, blogs, feature articles, character profiles, responses to literature, briefs, and short answers or explanations.

What knowledge and skills will my senior students need when writing?

Students will:

  • comprehend the requirements of the writing task; understanding the purpose for writing and the intended audience
  • select from their repertoire of planning strategies according to their purpose
  • determine relevant ideas, key information, and supporting evidence gained from reading, viewing, listening and engaging in learning experiences
  • plan an appropriate written response relevant to the curriculum task
  • use academic and subject-specific language appropriately in order to analyse, explain, discuss and evaluate ideas and information (specific to each subject area and task)
  • structure their written response in order to meet task requirements
  • review their text to ensure that it meets its purpose (for example, by identifying and addressing problems, adding detail, or modifying tone)
  • use a range of strategies for editing and proofreading their text to check meaning, coherence, accuracy, legibility, and conformity to any expected standards.

What knowledge and skills do your students have in writing?  Where do you need to focus teaching and learning?

Use this to ascertain your students’ strengths and needs in writing.

 Teaching and Learning – supporting students to develop written responses

 Audience and purpose

This involves students connecting relevant content knowledge to the requirements of a question or task, and making decisions about appropriate structure, language use, and media.  Teachers can support students by:

  • modelling for students how to identify key words in the question or task, and then supporting independent practice
  • modelling for students (think aloud) ‘What is this question asking me to do (purpose)?’ ‘Who is my audience?' 'What is the best way to respond (style/language/structure)?' then supporting students in independent practice of this skill
  • sharing and developing examples of language that links back to questions, for example, ‘the significance of ... one effect of... an important idea is...

Allowing students opportunities to practise matching existing knowledge to task requirements, for example:

  • constructing a concept map of ideas in relation to question
  • holding pair or group discussions about how to respond to a task/question
  • planning a structure for writing that is appropriate for audience and purpose, for example, sequential steps in a process, chronological, development of ideas, compare and contrast.


  • Investigate – What types of writing will students need to engage with in this subject at this level? (Explanation, Description, Analysis)
  • What are appropriate text forms for writing in this subject? For example, essay, report, brief, paragraphs...  What does an essay/report/brief/personal response, and so on, look like in this subject?
  • Deconstruct exemplars from a ‘structural/organisational’ viewpoint.  How is this piece of writing organised? For example, a report with headings/sub-headings and separate paragraphs for each main point.
  • Model and support students to identify linking words and phrases in exemplars.
  • Develop lists of useful linking words and phrases for the kinds of writing students need to do. (See below – Explanation writing)
  • Do your students need support to structure paragraphs? Sometimes mnemonics are used to guide student writing, for example, LEER (Lead sentence, Explanation, Evidence, Relevance).

Planning to write

  • Show students examples of ‘planning before writing’, for example, brainstorms, lists, webs.
  • Co-construct plans in response to sample questions or tasks, then support students towards independent practice.  Students may not need to write a whole response, just practice the planning.

Ideas and information

  • Make connections between practical work, oral, reading, and writing – students using the language of content in their discussions about experiences, developing ideas by sharing orally, hearing other students’ ideas, and practising writing using appropriate language immediately after discussion.
  • If students need additional support, provide grids/templates/scaffolds to support the recording of their ideas.  These are a temporary measure and students should be supported into independent writing.


  • Model the use of formal language in writing for academic purposes (there are some exceptions, for example, in some forms of creative writing).
  • Provide frequent opportunities to use subject-specific vocabulary, for example, in small group tasks, quickwrites, presentations.
  • Develop lists/charts of key words and phrases to use when writing, for example, when explaining, describing, evaluating (see supporting material for Explanation writing and further material is available on text forms).


  • Proof-reading skills.  Students are often reluctant to review their written work.  Model how you would review a piece of your own written work to check for errors and fluency.
  • Allow opportunities for students to share written work and give feedback.
  • Provide feedback and Next Steps/Feedforward or support students to identify the next steps in their writing and refer to this on the next written task.

Explanation writing 


The writer's purpose is to explain how something works or state reasons for some phenomenon. Explanations answer the questions "how" or "why".

Types of explanation

There are two basic types of explanation which focus on:

  • "How" (e.g. Explain how meaning is conveyed; explain how this element was used)
  • "Why" (e.g. Explain why the element was significant; explain why you chose this approach)

Some features

  • often have a logical sequence
  • use cause/effect relationships (then, as a consequence, so, if)
  • use time relationships (first, then, following, finally)
  • written in the 'timeless' present tense (are, turns, happens)
  • use of action verbs (falls, rises, changes)
  • use of conjunctions (therefore, consequently, so that, similarly, hence)
  • some passives (is saturated, are changed)
  • use of nouns tends to be general rather than specific (schools, actors, performers)
  • use of pronouns (their, they, them)
  • When...this led to...
  • The effect of ....was that...
  • ...shows that....
  • Firstly...   this was followed by...
  • In order to...
  • ...is because of...
  • The reason for...is that...
  • As a result of...
  • Because...the audience was able to see that…
  • ...is significant because...
  • After considering...I chose...  because...
  • The decision to...led to...
  • The relationship between...and...was shown by...
  • The selection of...implies…

Explanations -  use linking words and phrases such as:

As revealed by, since, because, as a result of, due to, therefore, consequently, so that, this led to, this shows that, in the case of, as shown by, similarly, equally, this relates to, this led to, unlike, on the other hand.

Evaluate  - uses phrases such as:

  • … was /were the most positive, significant, important, lasting, transforming, encouraging, … effects on the way the team worked, performed, achieved, …
  • … made/ensured, produced, guaranteed, made sure, made certain, …
  • By … this meant that … and so … could …
  • The aim was … and so … and when …
  • … not only … but also …
  • We had … but when … then …
  • This meant that …
  • As a result  …
  • The consequence was …
  • Because … then …
  • What do I recommend? … Why?
  • How do I rate …?
  • What would I select?
  • How would I prioritize?
  • Why did I choose …?
  • Can I assess the value or importance of …?
  • What data was used to make the conclusion …?
  • How would I justify …?
  • Why was it better that …?
  • What future influence does this have?

Published on: 09 May 2016