How to Effectively Use the Four Square Writing Method in Elementary

Students often struggle to come up with writing ideas let alone organize them. In this post, I share tips on how using the Four Square Writing Method can help your students organize their ideas and develop well written papers. Check it out to learn more.

Do you enjoy solving puzzles? Four Square Writing is similar to putting together a puzzle. Whether you’re working a math problem, trying to understand a concept in science, or trying to solve a mystery, your brain sort of works in the same way. We use equations, graphic organizers, and even drawings to make sense of the information we’re looking at, right? The Four Square Writing Method is a great way for students in the primary and intermediate grades to lay out and plan their writing. Just like other graphic organizers and drawings help us clarify concepts, the Four Square Organizer does too. Today, I thought I’d share how I’ve used the four-square writing method to help my kids improve their writing.


Before you can use Four Square with your students, they have to learn how the framework works. With my students, I’ve used a gradual release model through writer’s workshop to demonstrate the format in action before having my kids use it themselves. There are really great powerpoint presentations that other teachers have shared on the web. THIS LINK is to one I’ve used often to introduce how four square works. I love the simple examples for writing just a paragraph and the more elaborate examples for writing informational essays. THIS PRESENTATION shows an essay example for various writing formats including:

  • descriptive
  • informational
  • persuasive
  • and narrative


The first step I take when I’m using four square writing is to build background on the assigned topic. Students are much more able to write freely if they have a word bank, a list of ideas or related topics, and a model to imitate. One of the biggest complaints from kids who struggle with writing is the dreaded “I don’t know what to write about!” I would argue that we hear this more if/when students haven’t had adequate “think” time. Simple things that can alleviate writing stress are examples to follow and a word bank of related words to support spelling.

Prewriting ideas for Brave Irene

With this example, I use the book, Brave Irene by William Steig as the mentor text. It is very descriptive, and William Steig’s carefully mapped out plot helps students get a sense of story structure first before beginning their own stories.

When I’m ready to begin writing, I use this organizer to build ideas. Each student comes up with four examples of times when they had to be brave. The four examples here are getting shots, going through a car accident, riding a rollercoaster, or going through a bad storm. Other topics could include seeing a snake, going in a dark room, riding a bike the first time, flying, or being the new kid.

Once topic ideas are chosen, then I have my kids think of related words. This helps the kids think of ideas as well as words they may want to include.


Once students are ready with ideas, then it’s time to dig out the four square maps. When your students are new to Four Square, it takes close monitoring to insure that they have a complete plan before they move to drafting. If your students are like mine, they’ll try shortcuts. Once the routine is established though, they will see how much it helps them.

When you’re ready to get your kids started, you might give your kids a list of connecting words as a support. I’ve created THIS LIST to share with you. I organized it to follow the four square plan, and even kids in upper elementary may find it helpful. Additionally, little ones may need the boxes numbered to help them organize their thinking.

Connecting Words Anchor Chart

Usage for Paragraph Writing

Brave Moments 4 Square Example

For students in first and second, the teacher may use the plan for outlining just one paragraph versus a full story with more detail. The example to the left is a primary example (in my words). When modeling, I’d suggest projecting the four square form or printing the form as a poster. You can see how I filled this one in. This would be about what I’d expect from brainstorming with this age group.

Get your copy of my four square writing organizer

In upper elementary, we move from writing paragraphs to writing papers. Instead of each block being used for a sentence, we look at each block as a paragraph. We want students to continue using connecting words, but we want more variety in the word choice. We also want elaboration on each event or paragraph topic.

As students in upper elementary make use of the Four Square plan, it’s important to use bulleted lists versus full sentences. Another key point to share with your students is that a complete plan leads to better writing. I do not let my students move to the drafting stage until I’ve seen a complete writing plan. As they work on them, I float and confer with the kids to help them talk out their ideas. If writing blocks happen, talking it out makes a huge difference. 

four square writing in action

To see how I used Four Square with Brave Irene for upper elementary, check out the Facebook Live below:


Books with a Courage Theme for Brave Moments Writing

Brave Irene really is a must have mentor text.  It’s important for teachers to help students make the reading-writing connection, and using great literature as exemplars helps you do this. With mentor texts like this one, I begin by using it to teach comprehension skills such as characterization, plot development, and author’s craft. As we work on comprehension skills, kids notice things like word choice and organization. These books all have themes of courage like Brave Irene if you wish to substitute another title.

In addition to Brave Irene, you might pull in other books where the main character shows bravery or courage. Some of my favorites with this theme include Wilma Unlimited, Bully, Henry’s Freedom Box, Scaredy Squirrel, Sheila Rae, The Brave, Thunder Cake, The Story of Ruby Bridges, Amazing Grace, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. You might share some of these and have your students come up with challenges or situations where courage is needed.

Professional Reading about the Four Square model

If you like the organization of this unit, you might check out two book titles. The first is this book by Judith Gould. It that explains using Four Square Writing with primary students.

Another wonderful book is Writers are Readers by Lester Laminack. It explains the reading-writing connection. Last spring, our literacy coaching team did a book study on it, and I loved how Laminack tied reading and writing together for better instruction.

Students often struggle to come up with writing ideas let alone organize them. In this post, I share tips on how using the Four Square Writing Method can help your students organize their ideas and develop well written papers. Check it out to learn more.

If you found this post helpful, check out these posts about writing:

Because writing takes time to develop, it seems we short change it. What we fail to realize is that looking at texts from a writer’s lens helps us deepen reading comprehension too.


Grab the resource included here:


Carla is a licensed reading specialist with 27 years of experience in the regular classroom (grades 1, 4, and 5), in Title 1 reading, as a tech specialists, and a literacy coach. She has a passion for literacy instruction and meeting the needs of the individual learner.