Text structure as an indicator of the writing development of descriptive text quality



Text Structure, Descriptive Texts, Text Quality, Literacy, Writing Development


Composing a well-written text is a prolonged and challenging process. The present study explored the incipient stages in descriptive texts written (pen and paper) or dictated by 283 Hebrew-speaking Israeli children in second to fifth grades. This study aims to better understand the interplay between age, literacy-related abilities, and descriptive text quality by exploring developmental aspects across grade levels regarding text structural quality, length of text and literacy related abilities, and by analyzing the relation between text structural quality and literacy related abilities (cognitive, transcriptional, linguistic, and reading), beyond length of text and grade level. Regarding the developmental aspects, the results indicate that text structure quality becomes more sophisticated and complete with age, attaining high-quality descriptive text structure from third grade on in the production of autonomous texts with genre-driven elaborate features. Length of text and literacy related abilities also increase with age. Regarding the relation between text structural quality and literacy related abilities, we found in 2nd grade, for P&P text, a significant total effect of syntactic lexical ability on text structure rank, partially mediated by length of text, and a weaker but still significant direct effect of syntactic lexical ability on TS rank, when controlling for length of text. We also found in 5th grade, for DICT text, a significant total effect of reading high ability on TS rank, not mediated by length of text.

Author Biographies

Anat Stavans, Beit Berl College, Israel

Anat Stavans (PhD) is Associate Professor in the English Department at Beit Berl Academic College and Full Professor in the Doctoral School at the University of Pannonia. Her fields of research are related to language development in multilinguals (psycholinguistic and sociolinguist), multilingual education (at school and at home), language and literacy development in multilingual and monolingual populations, and writing development in elementary school. Her current research projects are about predictors of written expository texts in elementary school children, the interface between multilingualism and literacy, and pragmatics of bi- and tri-lingual adults.

Sara Zadunaisky-Ehrlich, Beit Berl College, Israel

Sara Zadunaisky Ehrlich (PhD) is Senior Lecturer at Beit Berl Academic College and Associate Lecturer at Haifa University in the Department of Language and Communication Disorders. Her fields of interest and research are related to language in interaction (as peer talk), language in education (as children–teacher talk) and language and literacy development in typical and atypical populations. Her current research projects are about predictors of written expository texts in elementary school children, and about attitudes towards literacy in special populations.



Abbott, R. D., & Berninger, V. W. (1993). Structural equation modeling of relationships among developmental skills and writing skills in elementary and intermediate writers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 85, 478-508. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.85.3.478

Arfé, B., Dockrell, J. E., & De Bernardi, B. (2016). The effect of language specific factors on early written composition: The role of spelling, oral language and text generation skills in a shallow orthography. Reading and Writing, 29(3), 501-527. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-015-9617-5.

Avivi Ben-Zvi, G. (2010). Morpho-lexical development across the school years (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel. (In Hebrew)

Babayiğit, S., & Stainthorp, R. (2011). Modeling the relationships between cognitive-linguistic skills and literacy skills: new insights from a transparent orthography. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 169-189. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021671

Beauvais, C., Olive, T., & Passerault, J. M. (2011). Why are some texts good and others not? Relationship between text quality and management of the writing processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(2), 415. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022545

Berman, R. A. (2008). The psycholinguistics of developing text construction. Journal of Child Language, 35, 735-771. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0305000908008787

Berman, R. A., & Nir-Sagiv, B. (2007). Comparing narrative and expository text construction across adolescence: A developmental paradox. Discourse Processes, 43, 79-120. https://doi.org/10.1080/01638530709336894

Berman, R. A., & Slobin, D. I. (1994). Relating events in narrative: A crosslinguistic developmental study. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Berninger, V. W., Nagy, W., & Beers, S. (2011). Child writers' construction and reconstruction of single sentences and construction of multi-sentence texts: contributions of syntax and transcription to translation. Reading and writing, 24(2), 151–182. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-010-9262-y

Berninger, V. W., & Winn, W. D. (2006). Implications of advancements in brain research and technology for writing development, writing instruction, and educational evolution. In C. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 96-114). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Bourdin, B., & Fayol, M. (1994). Is written language production more difficult than oral language production? A working memory approach. International Journal of Psychology, 29, 591-620. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207599408248175

Brandão, A. C. P., & Oakhill, J. (2005). "How do you know this answer?" - Children's use of text data and general knowledge in story comprehension. Reading and Writing, 18, 687-713. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-005-5600-x

Castillo, C., & Tolchinsky, L. (2017). The contribution of vocabulary knowledge and semantic orthographic fluency to text quality through elementary school in Catalan. Reading and Writing, 31, 293-323. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-017-9786-5

Chanquoy, L., & Alamargot, D. (2002). Working memory and writing: Model evolution and research assessment. L'Annee psychologique, 102, 363-398. https://doi.org/10.3406/psy.2002.29596

Christie, F., & Derewianka, B. (2008). School discourse. Learning to write across the years of schooling. London: Continuum

Coker, D. (2006). Impact of first- factors on the growth and outcomes of urban schoolchildren's primary- writing. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(3), 471. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.98.3.471

Coker, D. L. (2012). Descriptive writing. Handbook of writing: A mosaic of new perspectives, 159-172.

Coker Jr, D. L., Ritchey, K. D., Uribe-Zarain, X., & Jennings, A. S. (2018). An analysis of first- writing profiles and their relationship to compositional quality. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 51(4), 336-350. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219417708171

De Temple, J. M., Wu, H. F., & Snow, C. E. (1991). Papa Pig just left for Pigtown: Children's oral and written picture descriptions under varying instructions. Discourse Processes, 14(4), 469-495. https://doi.org/10.1080/01638539109544797

Donovan, C. A., & Smolkin, L. B. (2002). Children's genre knowledge: An examination of K‐5 students' performance on multiple tasks providing differing levels of scaffolding. Reading Research Quarterly, 37(4), 428-465. https://doi.org/10.1598/RRQ.37.4.5

Glanz, J. (1989). Chemed: A comprehensive testing battery. Ramat Gan, Israel: Barak. (In Hebrew).

Graham, S. (1990). The role of production factors in learning disabled students’ compositions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 781–791. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-0663.82.4.781

Hasan, R. (1985): Language, context and text: Aspects of language in a social-semiotic perspective, Part B. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hemphill, L., Feldman, H., Camp, L., Griffin, T., Miranda, A. E. & Wolf, D. P. (1994). Developmental changes in narrative and non-narrative discourse in children with and without brain injury. Journal of Communication Disorders, 27, 107-133. https://doi.org/10.1016/0021-9924(94)90037-X

Hildyard, A., & Hidi, S. (1985). Oral - written differences in the production and recall of narratives. In D. R. Olson, N. Torrance & A. Hildyard (Eds.) Literacy, language, and learning (pp. 285–306).

Iparraguirre, M. S. (2014). Elementary school students as authors of a description: stages in the learning of writing and linguistic-discursive styles/Alumnos de tercer y séptimo grado de nivel primario como autores de una descripción: etapas en el aprendizaje de la escritura y estilos lingüístico-discursivos. Infancia y Aprendizaje, 37(4), 740-784. https://doi.org/10.1080/02103702.2014.977107

Kellogg, R. T. (1994). The psychology of writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kintsch, W. (2004). The construction-integration model of text comprehension and its implications for Instruction. In R. Ruddell, & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 1270-1328). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. https://doi.org/10.1598/0872075028.46

Kress, G. (1994). Learning to write (2nd ed.). London, England: Routledge. (Original work published 1982) 334 Journal of Literacy Research, 51(3)

Martin, J., & Christie, F. (1984). Language, register and genre in children’s writing. Geelong, Australia: Deaking UP.

McCutchen, D. (2006). Cognitive factors in the development of children's writing. In C. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 115- 130). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Ministry of Education (2002). The curriculum in linguistic education: Hebrew - language, literature, and culture – a program, for state and state-religious elementary schools (in Hebrew). Retrieved in: https://meyda.education.gov.il/files/Curriculum/hebrew-1-6.pdf

Montrul, S. (2010). Current issues in heritage language acquisition. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 30, 3-23. https://doi:10.1017/S0267190510000103

Olinghouse, N. G. (2008). Student- and instruction-level predictors of narrative writing in third students. Reading and Writing, 21, 3-26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-007-9062-1

Olinghouse, N. G., & Wilson, J. (2013). The relationship between vocabulary and writing quality in three genres. Reading and Writing, 26, 45-65. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-012-9392-5

Puranik, C. S., & Al Otaiba, S. (2012). Examining the contribution of handwriting and spelling to written expression in kindergarten children. Reading and Writing, 25, 1523-1546. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-011-9331-x

Purcell-Gates, V. (1988). Lexical and syntactic knowledge of written narrative held by well-readto kindergartners and second graders. Research in the Teaching of English, 22, 128-160.

Qin, W., & Uccelli, P. (2019). Metadiscourse: Variation across communicative contexts. Journal of Pragmatics, 139, 22-39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pragma.2018.10.004

Raven, J. C., Court, J. H., & Raven, J. C. (1990). Manual for Raven's Progressive Matrices and Vocabulary Scales-Section 2: Coloured progressive matrices. Oxford, UK: Oxford Psychologists Press.

Ravid, D., & Berman, R. A. (2006). Information density in the development of spoken and written narratives in English and Hebrew. Discourse Processes, 41(2), 117-149. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15326950dp4102_2

Reeder, K., & Shapiro, J. (1997). Children's attributions of pragmatic intentions and early literacy. Language Awareness, 6(1), 17-31.


Salas, N., & Tolchinsky, L. (2017). Hunting for the links between word-level writing skills and text quality. In E. Segers & P. van den Broek, (Eds.), Developmental perspectives in written language and literacy: In honor of Ludo Verhoeven (pp. 103–118). John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Sanders, T. J. M. and Schilperoord, J. (2006). Text structure as a window on the cognition of writing; How text analysis provides insights in writing products and writing processes. In C. MacArthur; S. Graham, and J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of Writing Research. (pp. 3386-402). New York: Guilford Press.

Scardamalia, M., Bereiter, C., & Goleman, H. (1982). The role of production factors in writing ability. In M. Nystrand (Ed.), What writers know: The language, process, and structure of written discourse (pp. 173–210). New York: Academic Press

Schleppegrell, M. J. (1998). Grammar as resource: Writing a description. Research in the Teaching of English, 182-211.

Schleppegrell, M. J. (2004). The language of schooling: A functional linguistics perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781410610317

Seroussi, B. (2011). The morphology-meaning interface in the mental lexicon: The case of Hebrew. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University [doctoral dissertation].

Seroussi, B., Stavans, A., & Ehrlich, S. Z. (2021). Relations between literacy-related abilities and the lexical quality of expository texts of Hebrew-speaking children. Journal for the Study of Education and Development, Infancia y Aprendizaje, 44(1), 47-81. https://doi.org/10.1080/02103702.2020.1848088

Shanahan, T., MacArthur, C. A., Graham, S., & Fitzgerald, J. (2006). Relations among oral language, reading, and writing development. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 171-183). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Shany, M., Bahat, A., Lachman, D., Shalem, Z., & Zeiger, T. (2006). "Aleph-Taph": An assessment system for reading and writing disabilities. Tel Aviv, Israel: Yesod.

Silverman, R. D., Coker, D., Proctor, C. P., Harring, J., Piantedosi, K. W., & Hartranft, A. M. (2015). The relationship between language skills and writing outcomes for linguistically diverse students in upper elementary school. The Elementary School Journal, 116(1), 103-125. https://doi.org/10.1086/683135

Stavans, A., Seroussi, B., & Zadunaisky Ehrlich, S. (2019). Literacy-related abilities' effects on argumentative text quality structure. Journal of Literacy Research, 51(3), 315-335. https://doi.org/10.1177/1086296X19859515

Stavans, A., Seroussi, B., Rigbi, A., & Zadunaisky-Ehrlich, S. (2020). The contribution of reading abilities to the writing quality of expository text structure in Hebrew speaking elementary school children. In Reading-writing connections (pp. 123-145). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-38811-9_8

Strömqvist, S., Johansson, V., Kriz, S., Ragnarsdóttir, H., Aisenman, R., & Ravid, D. (2002). Toward a cross-linguistic comparison of lexical quanta in speech and writing. Written Language & Literacy, 5(1), 45-67. https://doi.org/10.1075/wll.5.1.03str

Tolchinsky, L. (2016). From text to language and back: The emergence of written language. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (2nd ed., pp. 144-159). New York, NY: Guilford Press

Tolchinsky, L. (2019). Evolving structure of descriptive texts and learners' abilities. Journal of Literacy Research, 51(3), 293-314. https://doi.org/10.1177/1086296X19858354

Tolchinsky, L. (2020). Text Writing at the Core of Literacy Discourse. In Reading-Writing Connections (pp. 163-168). Springer, Cham.

Tower, C. (2003). Genre development and elementary students' informational writing: A review of the literature. Literacy Research and Instruction, 42, 14-39. https://doi.org/10.1080/19388070309558394

Turcotte, C., Berthiaume, R., & Caron, P. O. (2018). Description and interactions of informative text structure knowledge and skills of French-speaking students. Reading and Writing, 31(9), 2147-2164. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-018-9875-0

Uccelli, P., Demir‐Lira, Ö. E., Rowe, M. L., Levine, S., & Goldin‐Meadow, S. (2019). Children's early decontextualized talk predicts academic language proficiency in midadolescence. Child development, 90(5), 1650-1663. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13034

Wagner, R., Puranik, C., Foorman, B., Foster, E., Tschinkel, E., & Kantor, P. (2011). Modeling the development of written language. Reading and Writing, 24, 203-220. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-010-9266-7

Williams, J. P., & Pao, L. S. (2014). Developing a new intervention to teach text structure at the elementary level. In H. L. Swanson, K. R. Harris, & S. Graham (Eds.), Handbook of reading disabilities (2nd Ed., pp. 361–374). New York: Guilford Press

Zadunaisky-Ehrlich, S., Seroussi, B., & Stavans, A. (2021). Predictors of spelling errors in expository texts written by Hebrew-speaking elementary school children (Predictores de errores ortográficos en textos expositivos escritos por alumnos de habla hebrea en escuela primaria). Journal for the Study of Education and Development, 44(1) 1-33. https://doi.org/10.1080/02103702.2020.1848089



How to Cite

Stavans, A., & Zadunaisky-Ehrlich, S. (2023). Text structure as an indicator of the writing development of descriptive text quality. Journal of Writing Research. Retrieved from https://www.jowr.org/pkp/ojs/index.php/jowr/article/view/935