Assessment Alley: Third Grade Literacy Profile

Writing Conventions and Handwriting

Literacy Profile
What Third Graders Should Know
Phonological Awareness and Oral Language Development
Concepts of Print, Letter Identification, and Text Features
Decoding Skills and Word Analysis
Reading Strategies, Processes, and Dispositions
Reading Accuracy and Fluency at Increasing Text Levels
Comprehension and Reading Response
Writing Strategies, Processes, and Dispositions
Writing Effectiveness
Writing Conventions and Handwriting
Related Resources
Meet the Author


Writing conventions and handwriting includes how well students use acceptable conventions of grammar, usage, and mechanics in their written work.  This includes: parts of speech, sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, verb tense agreement, pronoun use, homophones, punctuation, and capitalization.  At third grade, handwriting transitions to cursive.

At third grade, these skills include:

         using uppercase letters for proper nouns

         using commas for lists

         using a variety of expanded sentences

         using contractions with apostrophes

         using accurate end punctuation

         writing in cursive with support


Cursive Rubric

Most third grade students are expected to write legibly and fluidly in cursive. For many students, the transition to cursive actually makes writing easier because of cursive's continuous flow as opposed to manuscript's stops and spacing.  Writing samples from daily work should be collected routinely to monitor students' cursive development.  Rubrics can be used to monitor students' progress for shape, size, proportion, slant, and spacing.  I make notes within the rubric of specific letter or letter combination errors or other mistakes to use for later intervention.


View my cursive rubric here.


Conventions Checklists

Writing conventions are defined as customary practices, rules, and methods that can be thought of as "audience courtesy" to make writing more accessible.  It is important to note that conventions are always changing and may vary slightly across different settings.  However, accurately assessing students' use of writing conventions is important in order to deliver individualized instruction based on students' needs. Finally, these audience courtesies have been summarized with the acronym GUM: grammar, usage, and mechanics.


Checklists are one way to assess writing conventions.  Benchmark papers (random classroom samples) can be used for this purpose.  Teachers examine student writing for mastery and check either "Yes" or "No" for each item (sometimes this is expanded to include degrees such as "Most of the time").  Students may be grouped for intervention based on common "No" responses.  Finally, the teacher records the total number of "Yes" responses to use for comparison over time. 


View a sample Conventions Checklist here.


Writing conventions can be taught through meaningful writing experiences, but you will not be able to rely on proofreading conferences alone... Explicit instructional opportunities can enrich children's knowledge base, and with practice, children will develop the skills to apply this knowledge in their writing (Biggam 258).  For this reason, individual students must be targeted for intervention based on their assessed needs; whole class minilessons are simply not enough for struggling students.

Proofreading Lists

English writing conventions can be very complicated for all students, but those who have scored poorly on benchmarks or checklists will need additional interventions.  One simple intervention that makes a big difference is providing these students with individualized proofreading lists based on their assessed zone of proximal development.


For example, a student has mastered beginning and end punctuation because she uses it 90% of the time.  The same student correctly uses capital letters for proper nouns part of the time (near 50%), rarely uses apostrophes for contractions (25%), and never uses commas for lists.  This student's proofreading list would include end punctuation, capital letters for proper nouns, and apostrophes for contractions.  The teacher would have an editing session with this student to review the rules for proper nouns and reteach the rules for contractions by reading through a piece of the student's writing together looking only for end punctuation.  Then, they would start at the beginning of the piece and reread/scan for capitalized proper nouns.  This process would be repeated for all items on the proofreading list for this individual student.  Gradually, the student would be expected to master all items. As items are mastered, new skills (such as commas for lists) would be added.


View a sample Proofreading List.


Small-Group Sessions

For students who show limited progress with cursive writing, intervention is essential before incorrect habits become permanent.  Using the cursive rubrics and anecdotal notes of errors, the teacher forms small groups (or meets individually if needed) around similar needs.  The teacher reteaches only the letters or combinations needed (or perhaps size or slant).  With practice, proper formation will become a habit.  As always, consistency is important from grade to grade so be sure to follow your school's program carefully.


Create handwriting practice pages with Zaner-Bloser.

Last updated: April 16, 2009