How to Help Your Child Become a Better Writer

During my years as a writing teacher, I often encountered parents who wanted to help their children write better.  A normal course of action for them was to get too involved.  The student who struggled with writing would often turn in a well-written paper that was obviously not his own.  I sympathized with parents’  frustration and need to help their children get a good grade.  However, the disparity between a piece of writing done in class and a piece done at home was often striking, and the grade given was more the parent’s grade on the assignment than the student’s.  This was a serious problem in preparing students to pass state writing exams.  No parent would be sitting by the side of the student when it was necessary to write under pressure at a level that was at or above state requirements.  I frequently made available to parents the following list of suggestions so they could work with their children at home in a way that would improve their writing skills and build confidence in them.  I hope this list will continue to be of use to parents even though I am no longer in the classroom.  Good luck!

  1. Make sure your child has understood the writing assignment.  A student should not leave the classroom until he has a clear understanding of the directions.  At home have your child explain to you the teacher’s requirements for the assignment.
  2. To get started, just get words on paper.  The student should just start writing.  It does not have to be the first paragraph.  Just get down some main ideas. If no words come at first, tell her  to just talk to you about the subject.  Do not write down the sentences for her.  After a few sentences, the student should start writing herself.
  3. Have the student read the rough draft out loud to you.  Do not read it yourself yet.  Many times a writer catches his own mistakes or awkward phrasing just by hearing the words spoken.
  4. After a first reading, make some general comments.  What did you like about the paper?  What more would you like to know?  What is the best part?  What details are still needed?  Work first on content.  Have the student add in details.
  5. Now work on sentence structure and awkward phrasing, still without reading it yourself.  The student should read it again and this time stop him when a sentence seems awkward.  Help him rephrase it, but do not write it for him.
  6. Revision is the hardest part.  Every writer needs to do the following:  change a word or words, add details, delete unnecessary words and details, move ideas to a better place.  Work especially on the introduction and conclusion.  Think of a snappy title.  Students should make all changes directly on the rough draft.
  7. Now comes the editing part.  This time read the paper yourself.  Take a pencil and put a check mark in the margin before any line with an error.  Look for misspelled words and punctuation errors.  Find fragments and run-ons. The student should try to find the errors herself, but you can provide guidance.  Have a dictionary handy. Try not to spell for her.  This is a learning process.  You can also have her start a spelling list of her own to use as a reference in future papers.  After the writer has tried to fix all the errors herself, provide any additional assistance.
  8. Now have your child read the paper out loud again.   It should sound a lot better!
  9. Remember your role is to encourage, praise, assist, support without doing all the work for him.  Also remember there will be additional support at school from classroom peers and the teacher.
  10. Writing is a hard task for many students.  Encourage your son or daughter to write frequently in a journal.  Just free write on any topic.  This writing does not have to be read or revised.  Just get words on paper.  It helps.
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