Robert J. Marzano
Art & Science of Teaching
Writing to Learn
beneficial for English language learners, who
might struggle with expressing their ideas in
writing, and for students in the primary grades.
The concept of writing across the cur- riculum is commonly credited to James Britton (1970, 1972). The logic behind
the assumption that writing should be integral
to instruction in all subject areas is that writing
is fundamentally a constructive process of
encoding new information. The act of translating experience into a personalized account
aids and extends learning.
One manifestation of this approach is writing
to learn (see Applebee, 1984; Beutlier, 1988;
Beyer, 1980; Murray, 1984).
Writing to learn focuses on
and improving retention
of content. The writing
activities, which typically
are short and informal,
resemble an advanced form
of note taking.
Phase 2: Compare
In this phase, students share what they’ve
recorded with a partner, noting what’s similar
and different between their two recordings.
Similar content indicates that both students
have identified the same information. Different
content indicates either that one student noticed
important content that the
other did not or that one
or both students were con-
fused about some aspects of
During this phase, the
teacher walks around the
classroom answering ques-
tions from student pairs
and clearing up confusion
and misconceptions. If
the teacher notices that a
number of students are con-
fused about specific topics,
he or she addresses the
issue with the whole class before passing on to
the next phase.
As a result of observing
teachers employing writing-to-learn activities, I’ve identified five phases that can improve students’
understanding and retention of content.
Robert J. Marzano
is cofounder and
CEO of Marzano
in Denver, Colorado.
He is the author of
The Art and Science
of Teaching (ASCD,
2007) and coauthor,
with Tony Frontier and
David Livingston, of
Supporting the Art and
Science of Teaching
Phase 1: Record
Here, students record their understanding of
the content. For example, immediately after
showing students a video clip on heredity, a
middle school teacher would ask the students
to record what they’ve learned in their notebooks (or using an electronic device, if students
take their notes that way). This phase is geared
toward summarization. Although students are
asked to write in complete sentences, there’s no
emphasis on punctuation, spelling, or grammar.
Students produce a rough first draft.
Teachers can enhance the recording phase
by encouraging students to include graphic
representations or sketches. This is particularly
Phase 3: Revise
This phase occurs right after the comparison
phase, although a teacher might assign it as
homework instead. Here, students create a more
complete and polished version of what they
wrote during the recording phase. This version
is more complete because students have had
the benefit of conferring with a partner and
having the teacher clear up confusion and misconceptions. This version is also more polished
because as students revise their initial draft, they
are asked to pay more attention to punctuation,
spelling, and grammar.
The record–compare–revise (R–C–R) cycle
can occur several times during a unit or related