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Three Essential Elements to Fluent Writing

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

Writing seems to be difficult for most students whether the student is in second grade or in college.  This struggle could be a result of ineffective teaching, or because writing is simply a complex skill.  In this article, I will address three classes of behavior that are needed to be a fluent writer: expressive language, sequencing, and grammar.

Expressive language is the ability to freely talk about things and events.  A common “symptom” of a weakness in expressive language is when a student sits and stares at the paper with pencil in hand.  It is likely that he/she struggles with forming the language needed for the writing sample.  Examples of strong expressive language include using descriptive words, making comparisons, and talking abstractly about things and events. This skill is essential for brainstorming.  One common strategy to use when brainstorming is to freely write as many ideas about the topic as possible. Another indispensable feature in expressive language is the use of anaphoras, or using different words to refer to one thing.  Interesting writing does not consist of repeating the same word over and over again. 

After the student freely writes ideas about the topic, he/she needs to order those thoughts so they make sense.  Sequencing involves organizing events or thoughts in temporal and logical order.  It is important to have order in writing so that the reader can easily follow and understand what is being described.  Readers like to anticipate what is coming next in a passage and have that expectation validated.  You will know if your student needs assistance with sequencing when thoughts and events are randomly presented with no logical or temporal order, resulting in a confusing writing sample.

Finally, after the student’s thoughts are on the paper in logical and temporal order, the student needs to write with grammatical accuracy.  Sometimes students will struggle with writing if they are distracted by thinking about comma placement, what version of its/it’s to use, what perspective or tense to use, etc.  However, students cannot simply practice grammatical exercises apart from “real world” examples to improve their grammar.  Students must learn how to correct an error-filled story and edit their own work when learning new grammatical concepts.

If your student is an excellent reader and speller, but still struggles with writing, it is likely he/she struggles in expressive language, sequencing events, and/or grammar.  At Precision Teaching Learning Center in the Tampa Bay area, our in-house, curricular assessment will allow us to identify the specific weakness.  We then custom build curriculum to fit your student’s needs in those areas in need of help.   Visit our website ( or call us (813-778-5201) to learn more about our services and how we can assist your child in writing or other academic areas using the precision of science!