Formative vs Summative Writing

by | Jul 17, 2018 | Social Studies, Writing | 0 comments

Please also make sure to check out the rest of the “Writing in Social Studies” series.

  1. How to Integrate Writing into Social Studies
  2. Formative vs Summative Writing
  3. How to Use Summative Writing
  4. How to Use Formative Writing

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When organizing a social sciences unit that includes writing, teachers may use both formative writing and summative writing tasks. Each has a specific purpose within the unit plan that should be taken into careful consideration. Formative writing should be used throughout the unit for a variety of purposes. Summative writing is used to determine students’ mastery of the goals that were taught.

Formative Writing

Formative writing takes place during the learning and practicing stages of the unit. This writing builds understanding of ideas, concepts, and themes over the course of the unit. Formative writing is scored for completeness, not graded for mastery. (See the blog posts on Mastery Grading for more information.)

It is more important that students complete the formative writing than have perfect responses. Completing these writing tasks builds students’ understanding and comprehension of the targeted material. Therefore, it is important that the class be set up to encourage participation in these activities rather than discourage with a low grade caused by a lack of mastery.

Remember, the purpose of formative assessments is to build and check students’ comprehension.

Although students should be encouraged to write in sentences and paragraphs and effectively use spelling and vocabulary, formative writing assessment is more concerned with the completeness of the idea(s) expressed than the correctness of the writing.

Formative writing can be easily scored as 2 points for complete, 1 point for partially complete or late, and 0 for missing. This method of scoring of formative assessments encourages students to attempt the tasks and to learn from mistakes they make during the review of the task.


Formative writing may include, but is not limited to:

  • Summaries
  • Reflections
  • Essential question responses
  • Comparisons
  • Inferences
  • Conclusions


Formative writing should occur at regular intervals within the unit plan and serve as checks on understanding before advancing to the next topic. These activities should be brief – no more than 5 – 15 minutes of class time, plus 5 – 10 minutes to check and review them.

Detailed response keys should be available either for whole group or collaborative group reviews. Students should have the opportunity to compare their responses to their peers’ and to the key before asking for feedback on their responses by the teacher.

Summative Writing

Summative writing is produced after the instruction of all other elements in the unit plan. It is a mastery assessment, just like a unit test would assess students’ mastery. Therefore, it should have a clearly defined purpose, writing style, and grading rubric. These should be given to students at the beginning of the unit and referred to frequently throughout the unit.

Because summative writing demonstrates students’ mastery of the standard being assessed, it should be graded by the teacher.

Summative writing may include, but is not limited to:

  • Formal essays.
  • Research papers.
  • Journals and logs.
  • Investigative reporting.
  • Speeches.

Summative writing is more concerned with the quality of the writing, whereas formative writing is more concerned about the quantity.

As summative writing is evidence of student mastery, it should progress through each stage of the writing process. Unit plans should include grade level appropriate time for drafting, revising, and editing of summative writing assessments, or the accumulation of the required writing elements if the task is journal writing or investigative reporting.

Unit plans should include direct instruction and/or modeling of the drafting, revising, and editing stages of the writing process. Also, sufficient time for peer review and feedback is needed during the revising and editing stages to identify writing weaknesses such as correct content and grammatical or spelling errors.

Each of the stages of the writing process should be scored on completeness or timeliness. However, only the final draft submitted to the teacher will be graded.

Summative writing demonstrates students’ ability to express what they have learned. An appropriate amount of time must be in the unit plan for its completion in order to gain a true assessment of students’ mastery.

For many students, this may be their first experience with writing for a purpose instead of simply having their writing abilities assessed. This is why there needs to be an established expectation for the quality of writing as well as the timeliness in its completion.


Formative Writing

  • Part of the learning process
  • Allows student to know what they’ve learned and what they still need to learn
  • Occurs on a regular/frequent basis within the Unit Plan
  • Complete in brief (5-15-minute) allotments of time
  • Is scored for completeness instead of graded for mastery
  • Is a compilation of information needed to complete formal summative writing

Summative Writing

  • Mastery assessment
  • One of the concluding activities in a Unit Plan
  • Graded on content proficiency and mastery
  • Requires the entire writing process
  • Involves collaborative peer revisions, edits
  • Is not corrected and regraded following Final Draft submission

Please also make sure to check out the rest of the “Writing in Social Studies” series.

  1. How to Integrate Writing into Social Studies
  2. Formative vs Summative Writing
  3. How to Use Summative Writing
  4. How to Use Formative Writing

Over twenty plus years, my educational career has spanned four continents and two states, as well as eight grade levels!

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