Four Square Writing Unit

Writing Unit Plan:  Four Square Writing 


Writing Introduction

Upon diving into my student teaching experience, I was perhaps most excited about teaching writing.  I had heard rumors that writing is one of the most difficult areas for students, particularly first grade students, to develop and become comfortable with.  I wanted to give my students the opportunity to explore writing in a way that was enjoyable.  I wanted them to be creative in their writing, but also to learn and use the organizational tools that they would need in first grade writing and beyond. 

It was much to my surprise that there was no designated writing curriculum for my students in my particular district and grade-level.  While this was exciting due to the freedom that I was given, it was also daunting, as it forced me to make important decisions about how and what my students would write.  I feel fortunate that I was able to teach many small writing units to my students, including a letter-writing unit and a poetry unit inspired by Regie Routman’s “Kids Poems: Teaching First Graders to Love Writing Poetry.”  However, I was also glad to create a larger Four Square Writing Unit in which I adopted many ideas and techniques from the Teaching and Learning Company, while coming up with many of my own to make a complete first grade writing unit.

Four Square Writing Overview

You might ask, “What is Four Square Writing?”  On a basic level, Four Square Writing is a method of teaching basic writing skills that is applicable across grade levels and curriculum areas.  It can be applied to narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive forms of writing.  Students learn prewriting and organizational skills using a graphic organizer consisting of four outside squares.  This visual and kinesthetic aid helps students focus their writing, provide details, and enhance word choice.  Writing through the use of a graphic organizer also empowers students to write with more confidence, as they become familiar and comfortable with the writing process.

This is a sample of a Four Square Organizer that I used for a writing lesson.  The topic or topic sentence goes into the center of the organizer, while three supporting ideas or sentences go into three of the outside squares.  Finally, a wrap-up sentence concludes the final box of the organizer.

Goals and Objectives

As loosely stated above, my own personal goals and objectives for my students in writing include:

  1. Students will be given the opportunity to explore writing that is enjoyable.
  2. Students will be creative in their writing.
  3. Students will learn and use organizational writing tools and skills.

In addition, it was important for me to connect my personal goals and objectives with those mandated by the state of Washington.  These Essential Academic Learning Requirements (EALRs) include:


1.  The student writes clearly and effectively.To meet this standard, the student will:

1.1 develop concept and design
develop a topic or theme; organize written thoughts with a clear beginning, middle, and end; use transitional sentences and phrases to connect related ideas; write coherently and effectively

1.2 use style appropriate to the audience and purpose
use voice, word choice, and sentence fluency for intended style and audience

1.3 apply writing conventions
know and apply correct spelling, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and capitalization

2. The student writes in a variety of forms for different audiences and purposes.

To meet this standard, the student will:

2.1 write for different audiences

2.2 write for different purposes
such as telling stories, presenting analytical responses to literature, persuading, conveying technical information, completing a team project, explaining concepts and procedures

2.3 write in a variety of forms
including narratives, journals, poems, essays, stories, research reports, and technical writing

2.4 write for career applications

3. The student understands and uses the steps of the writing process.

To meet this standard, the student will:

3.1 prewrite
generate ideas and gather information

3.2 draft
elaborate on a topic and supporting ideas

3.3 revise
collect input and enhance text and style

3.4 edit
use resources to correct spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage

3.5 publish
select a publishing form and produce a completed writing project to share with chosen audience

4. The student analyzes and evaluates the effectiveness of written work.

To meet this standard, the student will:

4.1 assess own strengths and needs for improvement
analyze effectiveness of own writing and set goals for improvement

4.2 seek and offer feedback

 Lesson Plans

The Four Square Writing Unit spanned about five weeks and consisted of many lessons taught sequentially, as each lesson built upon the previous lesson.  When I began teaching, the students had been familiarized with Four Square Writing and were comfortable with the basic notion that the topic or topic sentence goes into the center of the organizer, while four supporting ideas and details went into the surrounding squares.  I was able to take this previous knowledge and expand their knowledge of Four Square Writing.

I created and taught lessons with the following titles:

Writing Complete Sentences

Adding Details

Writing Wrap-Up Sentences

Transferring to Paragraph Writing

The students wrote on various topics throughout the unit, some chosen for them and others that they chose for themselves.  Some of these writing topics (and topic sentences) included:  Halloween, Snacks, Winter, My family, School is a great place, Rainy weather is fun, My friends are great, and Healthy foods are good.

I have attached two lesson plans from the Unit.

Click here to view a writing lesson plan.

Click here to view a lesson plan that revisits wrap-up sentences.


8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cindy  |  January 27, 2010 at 3:24 am

    I have been searching for ways to help my son organize his writing. He is in 7th grade and has had excellent grammar instruction, but has problems in all types of writing with collecting his thoughts. This extends to math also.

    The Four-Square method was strongly recommended, and the google search brought up your work. Your explanations have been extremely helpful as examples of how to use the method as well as a thorough explanation of the process. I was unable to find a copy of the book to review, and really wanted to see it before purchasing.


  • 2. Jean Turney  |  June 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    I enjoyed reading your summary of the four square method. I am teaching third grade writing and would like ideas about classroom organization for writing. Do you have pictures of your classroom or just tips for organization? I will be teaching five groups of third graders at a variety of levels. Thank you!

  • 3. online jigsaw puzzles  |  February 10, 2011 at 3:08 am

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  • 8. kim  |  August 23, 2014 at 4:14 pm

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