How to Teach Writing with Success Criteria


Teaching children how to write and get their ideas onto paper can be challenging, but it is also very rewarding. There are a lot of fun ways to teach this essential skill. Using success criteria and clear examples help guide children as they learn.

Below is an activity that I use every year in my classroom with young children. It is always incredibly effective and I see the results of the learning immediately with my students. Also, they always love the activity and are engaged throughout!

I always talk to my students about all of the great things that they include in their writing.

However, as a teacher we also talk a lot about things that can be done to improve their work, the success criteria, and aiming for their best.

I truly believe that all kids want to do well, however, they often don’t know or fully understand what they need to do to improve their work and marks. This activity helps with this!

That’s where cupcakes come in!

Cupcakes may seem like an unusual thing to include in a writing activity, but I feel strongly that any time you can add a hands-on and engaging element to an activity then it will benefit all children.

As children begin writing and improving their spelling, try some Hands-on spelling activities to support this part of their writing.

success criteria pinterest pin.

Once you’ve tried the activity below to demonstrate to children some writing strategies, and understanding of ways to make their writing better, check out these Tips for a Child Who Hates Writing.

How to Write Success Criteria Materials

I created a set of leveled writing examples for children to read and tell what is well done in the writing and what can be improved upon. I have included a link to the examples at the bottom of this post. You can use these examples, or your own.

  • Leveled Writing Examples (Level 1,2,3,4 – or A, B, C, D)
  • 4 Cupcakes
  • Icing
  • Sprinkles and Other Decorations for the Cupcakes
success criteria shows four plain cupcakes.

For a lot of children, being able to see what a level 1 writing (or a mark of a D) looks like in comparison to a level 2 (a C mark) can be eye opening for them.

They may notice that it is small things, like adding a period to the end of their sentences that can bump them up a level.

We teach kids how to read and write and lots of other important skills, I also need to teach what a level 4 (or an A) looks like in order for children to strive for it.

success criteria shows a printable page for the cupcake levels.

Teaching Success Criteria with Cupcakes

Using cupcakes teaches writing in an engaging way that kids understand, and pay attention to.

Each marking level is represented by a cupcake.

Before showing each cupcake, I started by showing an example of each level of writing. We started with level 1 and then I showed my level 1 cupcake.

Level 1

We talked about what was well done in the level 1 writing and what it lacked.

I then showed the plain cupcake. Nothing on it. No icing. No sprinkles. Nothing.

success criteria shows a plain cupcake.

The level 1 cupcake is incomplete, just like the writing example. The plain cupcake is a visual representation of the writing.

teach writing to kids shows a printable page with four cupcakes each with more icing and decorations.
Leveled Cupcakes Descriptions (Included in Writing Product. Link below).

Level 2

As a class, we went though each grading level. For each level, I added something to our cupcake. We talked about how adding a capital to the beginning of each sentence improves their writing.

I added icing to the cupcake just like capitals were added to the writing.

success criteria shows a cupcake with white icing.

The level 2 cupcake is a bit better than the level 1. It includes a bit more and looks a bit better, but there is still lots that we can do to improve it.

Level 3

Our level 3 cupcake included some candy hearts and some sprinkles. The level 3 is an average piece of writing. It looks good and includes everything that was asked for the writing.

teach writing shows one cupcake with icing and sprinkles.

Children were pretty excited about our level 3 (a B grade) cupcake. They thought that it looked pretty appealing and certainly felt that it represented the level 3 writing.

The cupcake modeled that a level 3 piece of work is good. The work is complete and it included what was assigned. It looks good too!

Level 4

Finally, we got to our level 4 cupcake. A level 4 is the equivalent mark of an A. This cupcake includes everything you could possibly want in a cupcake. It has everything that the level 3 cupcake had, but then even more was added.

There’s a huge chocolate, some orange gel icing and even a candle. (I didn’t light the candle in class and would avoid using fire in a classroom.) However, all of the extras on this cupcake certainly looked impressive.

success criteria shows a cupcake with sprinkles and a candle.

This cupcake (and a level 4 piece of work) goes above and beyond just like the level 4 piece of writing.

The level 4 piece of writing has everything that was required for the assignment, but it also goes above and beyond. The spelling and technical parts, such as periods, are all included and done properly.

Another big part of the level 4 work is the extra details that are added to it. Often simply writing more and putting all of their thoughts down on paper improves their writing.

I represented this attention to detail by slowing adding the extra cupcake toppings. I carefully put the orange icing into the right spots to show that the details matter.

success criteria shows four different cupcakes with more decorations on each.

Teach Writing Success Criteria

Once we had gone through all of the levels, we weren’t done yet. I gave each child a cupcake and I posted our cupcake pictures in the classroom to remind students the differences between the levels.

After modeling the grade levels in this way, my students all completed amazing pieces of writing. They clearly understood the success criteria that I was looking for.

Although I used the cupcakes for a writing example, the idea can be used for any subject area and for any project.

In class, we constantly talked about our “Level 4 Cupcake” when completing work and children visualize our cupcakes and they remember how adding a few things can make a huge difference.

Success Criteria Leveled Writing Examples

The leveled writing examples that I used with my class are available below. They include an example for each level as well as explanations for the marking.

success criteria teach writing leveled examples.

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