The reciprocal relationship of reading and writing

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Early literacy instruction is a complex process. There is no doubt that this process is a valuable part of a student’s learning and helps create a strong foundation for future growth. There are countless strategies and methods to help children read and write. As such, each teacher will approach literacy instruction differently. Many people believe that a student should learn to read first and then learn to write. From this perspective, reading is a stepping stone to writing. This assumes that literacy develops in a very linear progression.

An alternative understanding of helping children read and write is based on understanding reading and writing as reciprocal. The reciprocal perspective holds that learning to read and learning to write are complementary processes. Marie Clay has championed this concept, producing research to support the benefits of identifying reading and writing as reciprocal. Teachers who subscribe to this methodology teach reading and writing at the same time, removing any limits that separate these skills. This path to literacy instruction requires a fluid school schedule rather than one that separates online reading and writing courses into different blocks during the school day.

Once you have done your research, you can present the information to your child in a number of ways. You could approach homework as you would “reading time” with your child and read from your sources. Alternatively, you can set up a study space in your home where you can sit and learn with your children. Regardless of how you present or share the information with your children, it is important that you give them the opportunity to create a little of their own.

Based on this point of view, young children will remember the text they have found when they begin to write. They also test their spelling skills as they read. Here’s an example: Imagine a teacher asks a child to spell the word “bone.” When probing it, write “good”. At this point, the teacher adds the “e” at the end. The child then exclaims, “Oh yeah! This is how I remember seeing it in the science center!”

In short, helping children to read and write go hand in hand. Therefore, it is valuable to treat reading and writing as complementary skills, rather than separate ones. Early literacy instructors see great benefits when they employ reciprocal instruction. For more information on Clay’s work on the reciprocal of reading and writing, see this reference:

Clay, MM (1998). The power of writing in early literacy. At MM Clay, down different paths to common results (pp. 130-161). York, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

For more information on early literacy instruction and academic support, contact Ruth Rumack’s Learning Space at 416.925.1225 or visit

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