readilearn: Writing in the lower primary classroom – a guest post by Marsha Ingrao

  • Published on March 2, 2018

Marsha Ingrao writing in the lower primary classroom

Providing children with fun and purposeful activities for writing is one of the best ways to encourage a love of writing, to replace the drear with enthusiasm.

In this post, I introduce guest author Marsha Ingrao who shares suggestions for bringing joy to your writing lessons through the Language Experience Approach.

“The Language Experience Approach (LEA) is a literacy development method that has long been used for early reading development with first language learners…It combines all four language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.”

Professional Learning Board

Although Marsha retired from public education in 2012, her passion for education remains and she continues to educate through blogging, speaking engagements and volunteering for Kiwanis and the Chamber of Commerce. Her classroom experience ranged from teaching kindergarten to fourth grade. She left the classroom to work as a consultant for the county office of education first in math, working with migrant education, then in history and language arts. She is author of Images of America Woodlake, a history of her local Woodlake area, published by Arcadia Press.

quote about writing by Marsha Ingrao

 Welcome to readilearn, Marsha. Over to you.

Because LEA employs all four branches of language arts, listening, speaking, reading and writing, it is perfect for teaching writing to pre-school and primary students as well. With the thrust in the United States for non-fiction reading, the language experience approach becomes the perfect avenue for teaching writing to young children.

To make the language experience approach applicable to all young students, adult assistance is required.

The “How To” Essay

Beginning in pre-school, we tackled one of the hardest types of writing, the “how to” essay. Holiday traditions are the perfect avenue for this technique. At our school, we started in the fall with “How to Fix a Turkey Dinner.”

How to fix a turkey dinner by Marsha Ingrao

The school published their explanations and drawings in a hilarious book for the parents. They wrote stories like, “Catch the turkey, put it in the bathtub. Cook it in the oven at five degrees for ten minutes. Take it out and eat it.”

Parents, aides, and teachers all scribed the students’ dictated stories directly on their pictures. Then the children practiced reading their stories.

Children can write their own stories easily by first grade using inventive spelling. Adults can help them with editing and spelling words they can then add to their personal dictionaries. Some are able to do this in kindergarten.

Making Language Experience Accessible to All Students

Language Experience Approach can be used for any activity the children have experienced, either inside or outside the classroom.

Many children do not have the same backgrounds or home experiences, so this kind of writing experience works well with a shared experience the students have at school.

In fourth grade, our English learner students took flutophone lessons for a year. Near the end of the year, I assigned them the essay, “How to Play a Flutophone.”

How to play a flutophone - a first attempt at writing

What I learned was that you have to make the assignment specific.

After discussing what the real topic should be, the class decided that it should be, “How to Play the C Scale.” Then they took their journal entries and worked in a group to compose a group essay that was more specific. The results were not much different than they had been on the broader topic.

How to play a flutophone - a second attempt at writing

Next, I brought in high school students who hadn’t learned to play the flutophone in fourth grade. The high school student for each group read the group essay and then attempted to play the C scale on the flutophone, strictly from the group’s written instructions. The fourth graders got very frustrated with them, but the high schoolers were instructed to play only what was written in the instructions. Most of them did not play one note.

Next, the fourth graders were allowed to teach the high school student in their group how to play the C scale and perform it to perfection. Then they talked through the steps with the older student. Finally, the group wrote a second group essay with the assistance of the high school student. The results were sometimes shorter than their first efforts but more accurate. This time they accomplished their goal of writing a successful “How To” essay.

How to play a flutophone - a third attempt at writing

The LEA process can be adapted to any grade in primary school. We wrote about field trips, even lessons. We raised guinea pigs and silkworms from eggs. Both science and math lend themselves well to writing.

Finishing Proverbial Phrases

Another quick essay that works well as presents from young children is finishing a familiar proverb.

Make a list of familiar phrases like “A stitch in time saves nine.” Write the first part of the phrase for them and then have them fill in their thoughts for the second part, then illustrate it.

When I taught first grade, the students created one proverb per week and made a book. We also compiled all the students’ work for one phrase into a book for open house.  The teacher can couple the creative writing with the non-fiction instruction of the origins of the phrase.

Wikipedia has an extensive alphabetized list of proverbial phrases.  Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases might also be an interesting resource for this activity.

Using proverbs as a stimulus to writing in lower primary classrooms

Young children love to write and draw. With just a bit of assistance they can make something memorable for family and friends. They will enjoy the experience of creating language and create something of lasting value.

Thank you guest author

Marsha, thank you for your wonderful suggestions. I have always been a proponent of the Language Experience Approach, but your ideas have stretched my thinking. I haven’t tried writing proverbs with children and think it would be such a fun learning activity, for everyone.

Thank you for having me.


Marsha Ingrao

Secretary/Social Media for Kiwanis & Sequoia Tourism Council

Temporary Director of Operations Woodlake Botanical Gardens

Board of Directors Woodlake Chamber of Commerce


Find out more about Marsha on her blogs:

Always Write

Traveling and Blogging Near and Far


Connect with Marsha on social media:




Remember to check out the readilearn suite of writing resources, including

teaching writing through class news based on the show and tell experience

Class news – Transforming Show and tell into a writing and reading experience

suggestions for teaching writing in the lower primary years

Let’s get them writing – Five suggestions for teaching writing in the early years

Teaching writing in lower primary classroom using Humpty Dumpty as stimulus

Humpty Dumpty – a story in five sittings

Poetry writing in the first three years of school - writing "I love" poems

Write your own “I love” poem

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    Informative post for all teachers. Nicely done, Marsha. Love the turkey story! Your suggestions would make for fun learning experiences. ???? Nice to we Marsha here, Norah. Hope all is going well for you with your blog. Hugs

    Hi Janice. I’m pleased you enjoyed Marsha’s post. She has some wonderful ideas, doesn’t she. I thought the turkey story was good too. I’m sure there’d be many fun responses. Thank you for your kind words. Appreciated. 🙂

    What a fun post, Norah and Marsha! I was fascinated by the LEA teaching and how it progressed over the grades. “How to” is one of the most difficult subjects to write. I chuckled over the pre-schooler’s example of placing a turkey in the bathtub! And then to allow fourth graders the practical experience of their instructions followed but not resulting in the expected. Marsha has a zest for teaching as you do, Norah.

    Thank you, Charli. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. I loved the turkey example too. If only it was that easy, we could have turkey every day. 🙂 The fourth grade example was great too, and a good lesson on clarity for all of us. I’ve learned a lot from Marsha.

    So fantastic to read Marsha here! Some really fabulous teaching ideas and of course, Marsha always has a fun and entertaining style of writing! 🙂

    Thank you, Debby. It was great to have Marsha here to share some ideas about teaching writing to children. I agree with you about her fun and entertaining style of writing.

    Thank you for writing such a fantastic post with great ideas for teachers, Marsha. I’m certain that your ideas will inspire many wonderful writing sessions with classes of happy writers.

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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