What Is Functional Writing?

This guide explores the answer to the question: what is functional writing? It also explores how it impacts students both in the classroom and in their adult lives.

What is functional writing? Functional writing is a type of writing that teaches real-life writing skills, such as resume writing and making lists. It occurs in real-life scenarios.

Functional writing skills taught in the classroom relate to activities and actions students will need to take as adults in their daily lives. These skills go beyond the essay and report writing common in school lesson plans and focus on the life skills that require writing. They might include writing reports, creating lists, sending letters, and even texting friends. 

Understanding What Is Functional Writing in the Classroom

What is functional writing?

Writing instruction often teaches kids how to write reports, stories, poems, and essays. This instruction will focus on organizing thoughts with topic sentences and a clear, logical flow, creating a believable fictional world, or conveying feelings and emotions. While this type of writing instruction is important, it does not cover other areas of writing that happen in real life, such as resume writing, writing lists, and letter writing.

Functional writing should be part of any creative writing curriculum. These are the writing skills students need to be successful and confident in written communication as an adult. Teaching functional writing needs to be woven into standard writing practice and instruction. Hence, children finish school with a clear knowledge and understanding of how to tackle these important and practical writing processes.

Functional writing is also something that teachers should assess. Just like reports and essays, these need to have correction and feedback. These are the writing skills students need as adults, so feedback is vital.

Characteristics of Functional Writing

Functional writing has specific characteristics that differentiate it from other writing styles. These include:

  • Fixed format: These writing activities follow a fixed structure, such as the formatting for a formal letter.
  • Economy: Writers need to present just the necessary information without flowery, excessive words.
  • Abbreviations: Many abbreviations work well in functional writing, whereas abbreviations are not ideal in formal academic writing.
  • Conventional language: Depending on the type of activity, functional writing activities tend to have a specific register or voice. For example, writing instructions requires imperative language, while an informal letter requires informal conversational language.

Examples of Functional Writing

What is functional writing?
Resumes include personal information, education history, and job history

Many writing tasks fall under the heading of functional writing. Any type of writing that children will need in the real world as adults can fit into this category. A teacher can explore many of these as they work on writing instruction.

Some examples include:

  • Shopping lists: These require some level of organization and thought but very little writing.
  • To-do lists: Students should learn to write effective to-do lists to keep themselves on track.
  • Formal letters: Formal letters with proper headings, openers, and signature lines are important in the classroom.
  • Informal letters: Informal letters have formatting, but they are less stringent and more conversational.
  • Memos: Memos send information within an organization to announce or explain something.
  • Resume writing: Resumes include personal information, education history, and job history.
  • Text messages and email: Some writing rules apply even within these informal communication types.
  • Writing greetings in cards: Learning how to say “thank you” or “congratulations” in a meaningful way is an important life skill.
  • Signing your name: Many students do not learn cursive, so signatures are part of functional writing.
  • Job applications: Learning what information is often required on a job application and how to properly format and enter it helps students when they enter the workforce.
  • Study guide writing: Students who can create their own study guides will be better able to prepare for tests and assessments.
  • Process/direction writing: Step-by-step instructions, such as recipe instructions, have specific tone and formatting requirements.

The list is endless, as people need to communicate in writing throughout their lives. Taking some of these practical scenarios and transforming them into instructional content will help teachers prepare their students for practical life events where writing is essential.

Lessons must include grammar and word choice instruction and the various types of functional writing situations.

The Proper Age to Teach Functional Writing

Children should start learning functional writing when they begin to learn to write. Even young learners can be taught how to sign their names or make a shopping list.

Functional writing activities should be age-appropriate and fit the students’ abilities. For example, 3rd-grade students are probably not ready to learn how to write a resume, but they may be able to write a short book review for a book report.

On the other hand, middle school students are ready to use writing prompts to write something more in-depth. For example, these students might be able to learn how to write a formal business letter or write a meaningful thank-you card.

Functional writing tasks often focus on job applications and resumes at the high school level to prepare students for college and the workforce.

Regardless of age, one way to teach functional writing is by writing prompt flashcards. The flashcards should give the students enough information to complete the assignment. Still, they should leave enough information for the student to do some work to complete the assignment.

Functional Writing in Special Education

The special education classroom is where functional writing prompts, and tasks are vital. Students who have learning differences often struggle significantly with writing. This struggle can lead to setbacks in adulthood when they cannot make lists or write answers on job applications.

In the special education classroom, students often appreciate practical education. Since functional writing is differentiated from creative writing, many students feel more motivated to learn these skills because they see the practical application.

The goal of the special education classroom is to help students rise to their best potential and prepare them for adult life. For this reason, functional writing is a vital part of their instruction.

Assessing Functional Writing

An assessment is an important part of the process when teaching any writing skill. Writing rubrics work well to assess functional writing. Giving students a rubric that outlines what the teacher requires will help them understand what they need to do to learn the skill.

Assessment of functional writing involves assessing the type of writing, like letters or resumes, and basic grammar skills. This assessment will include:

  • Content
  • Organization
  • Word choice
  • Grammar
  • Sentence structure
  • Punctuation
  • Spelling
  • Capitalization

Functional writing activities give teachers and students another way to assess whether grammar instruction has been effective.

Finally, when assessing these activities, teachers should look at whether or not the tone matches the writing activity. For example, if the students are asked to write a formal letter, they should use standard business language, not conversational. If they are asked to write directions to play their favorite game, they should use imperative, step-by-step instructional language, not narrative writing.

You may find this article on how to revise sentences helpful for the teaching and assessment process. 

The Difference Between Functional Writing and Creative Writing

Much writing instruction focuses on prompts and activities that encourage creative writing and informative writing. These skills are an important part of the writing world, but they are different from functional writing.

In creative writing, the goal is usually to tell a story or convey an emotion. It is also to entertain and share the human experience. You need plot development, character development, setting, narration, and conflict to do this well. You also need a healthy dose of creativity. If you are interested in creative writing, have a look at these creative writing ideas.

The goal of functional writing is to transmit information or organize thoughts. This type of writing is for personal reasons, such as notes or texts between people. It has fewer adjectives and adverbs because the goal is to convey a specific and clear message to one particular audience.

Both types of writing have merit. Both types of writing need to be part of the education experience. However, functional writing has far more practicality than creative writing, yet it is often not emphasized enough in the school curriculum.

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