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Improve Student Writing with the ICED Teaching Strategies

Janelle Cox

Oftentimes, young writers have a difficult time fully expanding their ideas into paragraphs that make sense and that are seamlessly interconnected with one another. In order to improve the quality of students’ writing assignments, many teachers opt to use the ICED teaching strategies. Abbreviated for Idea, Citation, Explanation, and Defense of Thesis, these teaching strategies helps students strengthen their writing skills. Here we will take a quick look at what these teaching strategies are, why they are used, and how you can use them in your classroom.

What Are the ICED Teaching Strategies?

The ICED writing strategy has four main elements that help students to expand each paragraph in their writing piece while keeping it connected to the main topic. The four elements are as follows:

Idea – This is the topic sentence for each paragraph. This sentence should help connect or support the main idea.

Citation – This is the evidence that relates to your idea. This can be a direct quote or personal example. It can also be paraphrased information either from a text or event. This “Evidence” should provide the reader with additional supportive ideas. Words such as, for example, or for instance are typically used here.

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Explanation – This is the expansion of the citation or evidence from above. This expands on your main idea and supports your claim. The writer cannot assume that the reader knows everything about the topic that they are writing (which young writers usually do), so detailed explanations are the goal here.

Defense of Thesis – The last step in the ICED strategy connects the whole paragraph back to the main idea or thesis statement. This is often the most difficult for students, because they tend to forget or have a hard time wrapping their writing piece up at the end.

A great way for students to learn each of these elements is to have them search for them in text. Teach students that authors will often say “For instance” or “To illustrate” before they introduce a citation or example. Show them how to look for the main idea in each opening paragraph, as well as how to connect the main idea to the defense of the thesis at the end of the text. Once students become familiar with the main elements, they will be able to use them in their own writing.

Why Use the ICED Strategy in the Classroom?

The main goal of essay writing is to see a student’s comprehension of a topic. However, many young writers fail to demonstrate their understanding of a topic when writing. Many students tend to lack examples and evidence, and forget to connect their ideas with the main topic of the writing piece. The ICED strategy helps students who struggle with things because it provides them with a framework or reference to follow.

How Can I Use it in My Classroom?

The first thing that you need to do is print out an ICED Strategy handout. You can either print out enough to give each child or give them a template where they can fill in a brief description of each element of the strategy. Many teachers opt to scaffold this strategy with their students, because they find it to be the most effective way for the students to learn the information because it helps to increase the students’ understanding.

Once you have gone over each of the elements of the ICED strategy, then assign students into small groups or with a partner and give them a sample text to read through. Challenge groups to read through the text and identify each element of the strategy. An easy way for students to do this is to use a different-colored ink for each key element, and underline as well as jot down information in the columns next to the text when they find them.

Once students are able to identify each key component of the strategy in the text, next you can help to guide students in using the ICED strategy to write a paragraph. The key is to have students use their handout as a reference when writing their paragraphs and essays.

When you are looking to improve your students’ writing skills, the ICED strategy is a great tool to use. Make sure that your students use this handy strategy when preparing their writing assignments or as a reference to use before they hand an assignment in. 

Have you ever used the ICED teaching strategies in your classroom? If so, do you like it? Please share your responses in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you. 


Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds Masters of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com, TeachHUB Magazine, and Hey Teach. She was also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com for five years. You can follow her on Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators, or contact her at Janellecox78@yahoo.com.