Literacy Instruction for
Students with Significant Disabilities

“…early writing can be a challenging and frequently overlooked activity for students with significant disabilities including
complex communication and physical needs. Beginning with emergent literacy development, writing plays a central role
in supporting typical children’s understandings about print.”

Hanser, 2009


What is predictable chart writing?

Predictable chart writing is a type of modeled writing initially developed by Dr. Patricia Cunningham as a technique for helping all students, irrespective of their language skills, to be successful in the writing process.

Predictable chart writing is a fun and easy, shared group writing experience where teachers write with students over the course of one week. It is a way of providing some structure, while allowing students to generate their own ideas.

In the predictable chart writing process, the teacher provides a model sentence or sentence starter to which the students contribute one or two (or more) words.  Each student makes the sentence as complex or as simple as their writing development allows.

Predictable chart writing can easily be differentiated to support individual student learning needs. For example, some students will learn that what they say can be written in words. Other students will learn that writing goes from left to right, starting at the top of the page and working to the bottom. Other students will learn how to structure sentences using capital letters at the beginning and punctuation at the end. Teachers can focus on a specific skill to demonstrate as dictated sentences are being written down.

Which students would benefit from predictable chart writing?

Modeled writing supports both emergent and conventional writers and readers, but is especially important for students who:
  • need to understand the concept of translating thoughts to paper
  • use alternative pencils such as communication devices, Alphabet Flip Charts, and alphabet eye gaze sets
  • are nonspeaking so have not been able to ‘drite’ (dictate for someone else to write)
  • use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to help them to understand sentence structure and language selection in writing, and support them in using their existing vocabulary (example: favorite foods, favorite places, verb/adjective dictionaries or pages).

How can students benefit from predictable chart writing?

Predictable chart writing helps students build:
  • the concept of translating thoughts to paper
  • concepts about print and word identification skills
  • spelling and grammar skills
  • communication and interaction skills
  • writing skills
  • self-confidence and a view of themselves as a writer.

How can we teach predictable chart writing?

Many different activities can occur around predictable chart writing over a 5-day period. At the end of the 5-day process, the result is a student written book for the class library.

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Where can I learn more?

Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) – Predictable Chart Writing
This module focuses on what predictable chart writing is and why it is important for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Participants will examine student and teacher roles and ways predictable chart writing can be adapted to meet the needs of students.
Online Self-directed Module
Facilitated Module Materials for Groups

Predictable Chart Writing – Adapted by Hanser, 2005, from Cunningham, 2001, Hall & Williams, 2001