Explicit Intervention in Writing – Foundation Skills/Transcription

Intervention Overview

Every student will acquire fundamental writing skills and transcription abilities early in their education. If not, compositional writing, especially in the third grade and beyond, becomes increasingly more difficult and motivation decreases significantly. If students are not proficient in writing foundation skills/transcription, intervention will be needed. Explicit instruction in handwriting (manuscript, cursive), keyboarding, and spelling, following a scope and sequence of skills that aligns to the explicit phonics instruction.

Why are Writing Foundation Skills/Transcription Important?

Writing is an essential part of life in today’s society. Students will need to write to be successful in their personal lives, academic journeys, and professional careers. Furthermore, writing is important because it benefits reading. Countless times in a student’s education, the student will need to write about what they read which, in turn, benefits reading comprehension. Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement (2020, p.30) states, “During the early and conventional language and literacy phases, handwriting instruction positively influences developing reading and spelling skills by improving learners’ perceptions of letters and further developing the networks in the brain involved in letter processing (Wolf, et al., 2018; Berninger, 2012; James, et al., 2016).” As you can see, writing matters for so many reasons. 

Explicit Intervention in Writing - Foundation Skills/Transcription

Foundation/transcription writing skills are the bedrock of skilled writing. As students progress through the grades, there becomes a growing emphasis on writing compositional skills. A student who intensively labors in the act of handwriting/keyboarding will drain mental resources and motivation that is needed to attend to higher-level compositional writing tasks (Kim & Schatschneider, 2017, as cited in Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement, 2020, p.31). In fact, a student who struggles with foundation/transcription skills may: 

  • Take more time than peers to write a sentence, paragraph, or discourse
  • Use short, one-syllable words in their writing, even though they have more descriptive word choices in their vocabulary due to struggles with handwriting and spelling
  • Consistently demonstrate avoidant behaviors during writing activities (e.g., complaining of illness, asking to use the restroom, etc.)
  • Shut down and refuse to write completely

It is pertinent that educators provide students with strong, evidence-based foundation/transcription writing instruction, and intervention when necessary. All in all, a strong command of foundation/transcription skills is essential for success in writing, education, and life.

Young girl writing
What to Teach:

There are certain skills that must be included in an effective intervention for writing foundation skills/transcription, including:

Letter Formation

Teach manuscript and cursive letters (if applicable). When teaching cursive, teach letters in isolation and linked together with other letters.


Teaching spelling can include: sound-symbol recall, spelling patterns, sight recall (after the word has been orthographically mapped in the brain), and capitalization.


Teach the different end marks and their purposes in sentence writing.

kid pointing right
Word/Sentence Spatial Organizations

Teach students about the spaces between words and sentences and their purposes.

Handwriting Fluency

After students learn to explicitly and correctly form letters, the goal is building handwriting fluency so that letters are written at an appropriate pace. Fluency with handwriting will allow students to use mental capacities to encode words and compose text.

Keyboarding Fluency

Students will begin learning to type on a keyboard in 1st grade. They will need practice to gain fluency in proper hand placement and typing accuracy to build keyboarding fluency.

To Keyboard or Not to Keyboard?

Learning how to type fluently and automatically without looking is an essential skill in the world today. Furthermore, students as early as third grade in Ohio are expected to show their mastery of writing through the means of keyboarding on state tests. By third grade, students have spent the last three years becoming fluent in handwriting, and should also be receiving simultaneous instruction in keyboarding. It is recommended that students begin typing in first grade, and that by third grade they should be able to type as fast as they can write. In fact, one first grade standard (W.1.6) listed in the Ohio English Language Arts Learning Standards states, “With guidance and support from adults, use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.” Practicing keyboarding beginning in first grade will allow students to be prepared to meet standards like this one and build keyboarding fluency to be successful in meeting later standards.


Transcription Skills Expectations by Grade

The transcription skills expectations by grade are according to the Keys to Early Writing program (2020). Click the plus (+) symbol on the accordion feature to view the expectations or see them on the Keys to Literacy webpage.

  • Know that writing differs from drawing, has distinct letter forms, and can be read back
  • Know how to write at least some letter forms 
  • Know that spaces are between words
  • Know that writing goes from left to right and is organized from top to bottom of the page
  • May or may not know the alphabetic principle and produce early phonetic spellings of some sounds in words
1st Grade
  • Know the alphabetic principle and spell by sound using alphabet letter names and sound-symbol correspondences
  • Remember the spellings of commonly used high frequency words
  • Begin to write words in sequence with word spaces, capitalize the first word, and use punctuation at the ends of sentences
2nd Grade
  • Spelling and handwriting are becoming more sufficient to focus more on the demands of composing
  • Students apply basic capitalization rules and begin using more punctuation (e.g., commas in letter greetings, apostrophe for contraction and possessives)
3rd Grade
  • Spelling and handwriting are sufficiently fluent to focus on the demands of composing
  • Students use more complex punctuation (e.g., commas and quotation marks in dialogue)

How to Teach

Instructionally, the best place to include spelling instruction is to pair it with phonics instruction that includes decoding and encoding. Whichever phonics pattern or skill students are learning to decode (e.g., r-controlled vowels), teachers should also be teaching how to spell using that same phonics pattern. Research has shown that integrated encoding opportunities in phonics instruction show larger gains in phonemic awareness, spelling, and reading for children at risk of literacy failure (Møller et al., 2022).

Follow a scope and sequence aligned with phonics instruction

Explicit, systematic instruction

Plentiful modeling


Guided Practice

Follow a scope and sequence aligned with phonics instruction

This task is most easily done when encoding instruction becomes a part of phonics instruction. Whichever skill is being taught in phonics should also have corresponding encoding instruction.

Explicit, systematic instruction

Multiple, short instructional lessons that systematically introduce transcription/foundational writing skills. Practice letter writing in isolation and through authentic writing activities.

Plentiful modeling

Model pencil grip at the beginning of each lesson. Explicitly model letter formation, letter formation, word/sentence spatial organization, and other foundational writing skills. Model fluency in handwriting and keyboarding demonstrating a proper, perky pace. Model sentence construction following language conventions like punctuation, capitalization, and other elements of sentence writing.


Handwriting practice diagrams (with arrows) are helpful in showing students how to form letters. This is helpful for both manuscript and cursive writing. Provide examples of sentences with appropriate word/sentence spatial organization (spaces between words and between sentences) and punctuation.

Guided Practice

Teachers should write with students, discussing the process and content of foundational writing. Provide plentiful opportunities for students to practice foundation/transcription writing skills with affirmative and constructive feedback to support learning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is manuscript or cursive handwriting more beneficial?

There is little evidence to prove that either cursive or manuscript handwriting is superior over the other. Students should be able to legibly and almost effortlessly produce a written form that leads to proficient transcription skills, and instruction should reflect that intended goal (Spear-Swerling, n.d.).

How many minutes a day should I spend on a handwriting intervention?

Relatively modest investments of instructional time devoted to handwriting — perhaps the equivalent of ten or fifteen minutes daily — may pay off in preventing later writing problems, including difficulties with higher-level composition skills” (Spear-Swerling, n.d.).

Do I need a separate spelling curriculum to support writing foundation skills?

No. Best practice is to align spelling (encoding) instruction within explicit phonics instruction. Teach students to spell the phonics pattern you are teaching them to decode. This type of instruction highlights the reading-writing connection and is found to be the most effective in promoting positive literacy outcomes.

Featured Resources

Class looking at girl gesturing to communicate

In this recorded webinar session, Joan Sedita digs into her book, The Writing Rope, to share about transcription and foundational writing skills. NOTE: Joan will also share about writing craft.


This article, by Louise Spear-Swerling , shares why handwriting is important and how to teach it in an elementary classroom.

pexels-olia-danilevich-5088179 (1)

In this article, Van Cleave shares the importance of handwriting in a modern technological society and what to do about teaching it.

Girl typing on computer

Typing Club is a website/app that allows teachers to have a free class account to register students for free typing lessons to encourage keyboarding proficiency.

Additional Learning Opportunities


In this podcast, learn how handwriting supports the Science of Reading and how to incorporate handwriting instruction into your everyday teaching.

Learning Course

Access the Ohio Literacy Academy’s Writing: Transcription course to learn more about how transcription is best taught, the processes associated with transcription, and reflect on your current teaching practices.

Ohio Literacy Academy Video

Watch this 2020 Ohio Literacy Academy video featuring William Van Cleave to delve into more information about handwriting in today’s modern technological era.