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The Double Helix of Reading and Writing: Fostering Integrated Literacy

Wes Ford
 | Apr 28, 2024

JoyBackInWriting_w680I was reading the text of one of our upcoming webinars, and the description mentioned something called the double helix of reading and writing. In all my time at ILA, I couldn't recall having heard this term before. My curiosity piqued, I followed the one course of action that would satisfy my roused intellectual hunger: I did some research. This is what I discovered.

The double helix of reading and writing offers a framework for educators seeking to cultivate comprehensive literacy instruction across all grade levels. This metaphor, inspired by the intertwined strands of DNA, underscores the reciprocal and interdependent nature of reading and writing skills.

By moving away from a compartmentalized approach that treats reading and writing as isolated entities, the double-helix model emphasizes the following:

  • Reading as a foundation for writing. Exposure to a rich tapestry of texts, diverse vocabulary, varied sentence structures, and various writing styles equips students with the tools to build their own written expression. By internalizing these techniques through reading, students develop a repertoire of strategies to enhance their compositions.
  • Writing as a catalyst for reading comprehension. The process of writing compels students to engage in critical thinking about language, organization, and clarity. This translates to a more analytical approach when reading the works of others, fostering deeper text comprehension and interpretation.

Implications for instruction

The double-helix model writing has significant implications for instructional design and practice across all educational settings. Educators can leverage this model by integrating mentor texts into lessons. Close analysis of high-quality texts, such as short passages, picture books, or even young adult novels, can serve as models of effective writing techniques. Students can utilize these works as inspiration for writing tasks that emulate the mentor text's style or specific language features.

If you are interested in learning more about double helix of reading and writing, join our upcoming ILA Webinar: A New Model for Teaching Phonics, Reading, and Writing on April 30, 2024, at 5:00 p.m. ET.


Furthermore, educators should encourage meaningful reading responses that go beyond traditional comprehension questions. Writing-based responses encourage a deeper level of engagement and could include tasks like composing alternative endings, creating journal entries from a character's perspective, or crafting summaries that demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the text.

Finally, implementing peer review cycles is crucial–guiding students through the drafting process and incorporating structured peer review activities allows students to actively apply a reader's perspective to examine clarity, word choice, and the overall effectiveness of their classmates' work.

Outcomes and benefits

Adopting a double-helix approach to literacy instruction can lead to several positive outcomes. Integrating reading and writing activities fosters a sense of purpose and relevance, leading to higher student motivation and investment in the learning process. Additionally, by strengthening skills in one domain, students experience positive impacts in the other, creating a cycle of continuous improvement in both reading and writing abilities.

Ultimately, the double-helix model aims to produce students who are adept at both deciphering texts and expressing their ideas with clarity and confidence in written form. That certainly seems a worthwhile goal in my book.

Wes Ford has worked at ILA for 16 year in a variety of capacities across a multitude of projects.
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