10 Tips for Building Writing Skills
By Dr. Elanna Yalow, Ph.D.
Skilled writing is important not only from elementary school through college, but throughout adulthood. Good writing skills help your child do well in school, enjoy self-expression, and become more self-reliant.
Unfortunately, research consistently shows that many students have difficulty writing with clarity, coherence, or organization. Surprisingly few students can write persuasive essays or competent business letters. As many as one out of four students have serious writing difficulties, and the number of students who report that they enjoy writing decreases the older they get.
You can make a big difference in helping your child learn to write well and to enjoy doing it!
1. Provide appropriate tools and space.
Provide plenty of paper—lined and unlined—and different kinds of writing utensils including pencils, pens, markers, and crayons. Allowing your child to choose a special pen or journal will help promote a willingness to write. Make sure the lighting is adequate and that the writing surface and chair are comfortable for your child.
2. Allow time.
Help your child spend time planning a writing project or exercise. You may even want to set aside a daily writing time at home. Writing for twenty minutes per day is equally as important as reading the same amount of time.
Respond to the ideas your child expresses. Focus first on what your child has written, not how it was written. In the beginning, you can ignore minor errors while your child is just getting ideas together. After you acknowledge and respond to the content of your child's writing, go back and correct errors or misspelled words.
Always say something good about your child's writing. Is it accurate? Descriptive? Thoughtful? Interesting?
5. Write together.
Have your child help you with writing, even such routine ones as to-do lists and thank-you notes. This helps the child see a variety of ways in everyday life that writing is important.
6. Make it real.
Your child needs to do real writing. Encourage your child to write letters or send e-mail to relatives and friends or to help with shopping lists.
7. Suggest notes and postcards.
Encourage your child to take notes on trips or outings. Store-bought or handcrafted postcards can provide an additional impetus for your child to write about the experience.
Talk with your child as much as possible about his impressions. Encourage your child to describe people and events in detail.
9. Encourage keeping a journal.
This is excellent writing practice as well as a good outlet for venting feelings. Encourage your child to write about things that happen at home and school, or about special friends. Encourage your child to write about personal feelings—pleasures as well as disappointments. A personalized journal—one your child selects—will encourage journal keeping.
10. Practice creative writing.
Ever read a story and have your child disagree with the ending? Did he side with the villain? Did he complain that a character's decision was foolish, or a plot twist seemed unfair? Encourage your child to try writing a different version. Maybe one of the ugly stepsisters nabs the prince instead of Cinderella. Maybe Beth from Little Women can be resurrected. Or perhaps your child can insert himself inside the tale to talk sense into the characters and put the story to right.
Don't worry if writing is too advanced for your child. Let him dictate to you, while he illustrates each page. Punch holes in the paper and tie together with string for a finished book. Before long he'll be trying to sell the movie rights!
Flip's Fantastic Journal
By Angelo Decesare
Puffin (Ages 7–10)
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾
By Sue Townsend
Avon (Ages 10 and up)
Dr. Yalow is President and COO of Knowledge Learning Corporation (www.knowledgebeginnings.com).
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