K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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In assessing students’ responses to writing prompts on the grade 4, 7, and 10 North Carolina writing assessments, five features are considered: focus, organization, support and elaboration, style, and conventions. These five features are a good foundation for all effective writing, and DPI and LEARN NC now recommend that K–12 writing instruction take them into account.

For each of the five features of effective writing, we have provided a brief explanation from NCDPI, below. Articles and lesson plans developed with NCDPI are also available below.


Teaching the features of effective writing
By organizing your instruction around focus, organization, support and elaboration, style, and conventions, you can help students become more effective writers and make your own job easier.


Focus is the topic or subject established by the writer in response to the writing task. The writer must clearly establish a focus as he/she fulfills the assignment of the prompt.

If the writer retreats from the subject matter presented in the prompt or addresses it too broadly, the focus is weakened. The writer may effectively use an inductive organizational plan which does not actually identify the subject matter at the beginning and may not literally identify the subject matter at all. The presence, therefore, of a focus must be determined in light of the method of development chosen by the writer. If the reader is confused about the subject matter, the writer has not effectively established a focus. If the reader is engaged and not confused, the writer probably has been effective in establishing a focus.

Lesson plans

Find lesson plans for teaching focus.


Organization is the progression, relatedness, and completeness of ideas. The writer establishes for the reader a well-organized composition, which exhibits a constancy of purpose through the development of elements forming an effective beginning, middle, and end. The response demonstrates a clear progression of related ideas and /or events and is unified and complete.

Lesson plans

Find lesson plans for teaching organization.

Support and Elaboration

Support and Elaboration is the extension and development of the topic or subject. The writer provides sufficient elaboration to present the ideas and/or events clearly. Supporting details should be relevant and clear. The writer must present his/her ideas with enough power and clarity to cause the support to be sufficient. Effective use of concrete, specific details strengthens the power of the response.

Two important concepts in determining whether details are supportive are the concepts of relatedness and sufficiency. To be supportive of the subject matter, details must be related to the focus of the response. Relatedness has to do with the directness of the relationship that the writer establishes between the information and the subject matter. Sufficiency has less to do with amount than with the weight or power of the information that is provided. Insufficiency is often characterized by undeveloped details, redundancy, and the repetitious paraphrasing of the same point.

Lesson plans

Find lesson plans for teaching support and elaboration.


Style is the control of language that is appropriate to the purpose, audience, and context of the writing task. The writer’s style is evident through word choice and sentence fluency. Skillful use of precise, purposeful vocabulary enhances the effectiveness of the composition through the use of appropriate words, phrases and descriptions that engage the audience. Sentence fluency involves using a variety of sentence styles to establish effective relationships between and among ideas, causes, and/or statements appropriate to the task.

Lesson plans

Find lesson plans for teaching style.


Conventions include sentence formation, usage, and mechanics. The writer has control of grammatical conventions that are appropriate to the writing task. Errors, if present, do not impede the reader’s understanding of the ideas conveyed.

Lesson plans

Find lesson plans for teaching conventions.