USD Division of Continuing Education Scenes of USD
Page name Scenes of USD

Register for courses in this series now through June 30, 2013!

Learn a Systematic Approach to Assessing and Teaching Writing

The Teaching the Traits of Writing Certificate Program is a systematic approach to assessing and teaching writing. The writing traits are identified as Ideas, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, and Conventions. By systematically focusing on each of the specific traits of writing, both the instructor and the students have a common understanding of how to assess and improve writing. This approach helps make the teaching of writing easier and more manageable.

This certificate program begins with Assessing the Traits of Writing, EDU X749A, the prerequisite which not only focuses on Assessment, but also lays the foundation for the other courses. After completing, EDU X749A, the other four courses may be taken in any order. Two traits, Ideas and Organization, are combined in EDU X750A, while Voice, Word Choice and Sentence Fluency are taught in separate courses (EDU X751A, EDU X752A and EDU X753A). Conventions is woven throughout the courses.

You will learn to …

  • Define each of the six traits of writing
  • Understand both large scale and classroom assessment
  • Understand how to assess student writing for all six traits
  • Create strategies for assessing student writing
  • Develop and utilize a rubric, or scoring guide, to assess student writing
  • Write a description of an assessment program
  • Create student-based activities for teaching each trait
  • Develop a standards-aligned lesson plan for each trait

Instructor: Mary Lou Varni, B.A. Social Science/Language Arts, has over 30 years of experience in the field of education as a teacher, master teacher and mentor.  She wrote multi-subject writing curriculum, which covers K through community college.  This curriculum has been taken by 100's of educators in the USA and around the world.  In 2009 she was invited to the International School in Munich, Germany, where she gave an in-service on teaching writing to over 30 instructors at the school.  In the last 10 years, she has taught over 100 classes to teachers on the development of standards based teaching, best practices and strategies.

For further course content information, contact USD Professional and Continuing Education at

Required Materials: Creating Writers Through Six-Trait Writing Assessment and Instruction, by Vicki Spandel, Pearson Allyn & Bacon, 5th edition, 2008 which must be purchased separately and is available at major book outlets or at

Certificate:  The University of San Diego's Division of Professional and Continuing Education will award a Teaching the Traits of Writing certificate to participants who successfully complete all five courses in this program. Enroll as a certificate candidate with a $100 non-refundable fee, see certificate program information. Add the Teaching the Traits of Writing Certificate Enrollment, EDU C748A, to your cart and then also enroll in courses. Complete all five courses to earn a professional certificate. Assessing the Traits of Writing, EDU X749A, is a prerequisite for the remaining four courses. After completing that course, we recommend that the courses be taken in order, but not required. The remaining four courses can be taken in any order and/or concurrently after the first course has been completed. 

Who Should Attend: Grades 4-12 teachers that want to develop strategies that will significantly improve their ability to improve the writing skills of their students.

Course Format: All five courses are delivered in the independent self-paced format.

Course # Course Title # of Units Tuition Typically Offered Next Sessions Offered
EDU C748A Certificate Enrollment Fee 0.0 $100    
Assessing the Traits of Writing
3.0 $335 FA WI SP SU
Ideas and Organization
2.0 $211 FA WI SP SU
1.0 $115 FA WI SP SU Anytime
Word Choice
1.0 $115 FA WI SP SU
Sentence Fluency
1.0 $115 FA WI SP SU

Get started and enroll for a course today!