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Writing Can Improve Reading Skill, Study Finds

Specific writing strategies can play an important role in boosting reading comprehension. That's the bottom-line finding of a new analysis of research.

The report, out today from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, says that teachers can improve students' reading skills by having them write about what they are reading, teaching them writing skills, and increasing how much they write.

The analysis of research is one in an ongoing series of literacy studies funded by the philanthropy. (You might recall that it released its capstone report on adolescent literacy just last year. Click here for our story about it.) The new report builds on findings in the organization's 2004 study "Reading Next," which examined ways to improve adolescents' literacy skills, and its 2007 report "Writing Next," which looked at ways to improve adolescents' writing skills. The new report focuses on how the teaching of writing can improve reading.

Co-authors Steve Graham and Michael Hebert of Vanderbilt University examined the research on writing strategies that improve reading and found three areas of promise. One is to have students write about the texts they are reading, by summarizing, writing notes, or creating and answering questions about them.

Such techniques were shown to improve students' comprehension of science, social studies, and language arts. They were more effective in improving comprehension than just reading the text, re-reading it, reading and studying it, reading and discussing it, or receiving reading instruction, the study found.

Students also improve comprehension when they are taught writing skills and processes that go into creating text, such as paragraph and sentence construction or text structures. Increasing how much students write was also found to help their comprehension.

The authors conclude that more content-area teachers should use writing to promote better understanding, including in mathematics, science, social studies, and the arts.

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