Given that this is a blog (which involves writing), and Candy and I are both home educators, it almost seems a no-brainer that one of the first subjects we’re tackling head-on relates to teaching writing, right?
So…How DOES One Teach Writing?
Well, let’s break it down:
- Why is writing important?
- When should I start teaching writing?
- What strategies can/should I use?
- What do I do about the reluctant writer?
- How can I make it fun?
Candy and I have taught our kids since they were wee little ones, and I don’t know about her, but writing was the very first subject that I was
challenged scared to teach.
I mean, I couldn’t even remember how I learned to write (and we’re not talking penmanship here, we’re talking how to write a good sentence and then string a bunch of those babies together…) – so how was I supposed to teach it?
I have to admit that in my early years of homeschooling, I just muddled along…pretty badly. Luckily, my two older kids had plenty of patience with me, and somehow (miraculously!) my daughter even got bitten by the writing bug!
Why is writing important?
Especially because we find ourselves in the age of communication, clear, effective writing is a necessary skill. Your children may be texting or relying heavily on photos and graphics to communicate (think Instagram and iFunny), but they will still be using their computers for report writing and perhaps writing to grandma, and most certainly creating resumes or cv’s and applying for jobs. So they still need to be able to clearly express their thoughts and feelings.
Also, whether or not you like it or agree with it, people will make judgements based on how well they do just that! Aw, be honest now, you probably do it too, don’t you? I mean, what do you think when you come across a blog post or an article that has bad grammar or punctuation, or run on sentences, or any other permutation of poor writing skills? Just sayin’…
When should I start teaching writing?
Good writing is essentially effective communication, and you can start teaching that one as soon as your child is starting to speak. As you read together, even as toddlers, introduce new words and vocabulary to them, and then encourage them to make it their own. During the time they are physically learning to write, keep assignments VERY short and don’t focus on content…yet.
Around the time 3rd or 4th grade rolls around, the mechanics of writing and/or keyboard skills are usually mastered to the extent that longer projects can be assigned. These are just guidelines, however, and you really have to adjust up or down depending on your own student’s skills and abilities.
What strategies can/should I use?
Writing strategies can be as varied as individuals, but there are a few basics from which to build. First of all, I’d strongly suggest you work through and determine your child’s learning style. No matter what you are teaching your child ~ whether it’s a subject or a life skill ~ this will help you know how to best approach the subject. So, go ahead and do that, and then come back here…
OK, now moving on…here are some strategies you can use, always keeping in mind learning style:
- Take a look at this article from The Guardian – Creative Writing in the Classroom: 5 Top Tips for Teachers
- Enjoy “31 Days to Raising Writers” by ClassesByBeth, for activities, methods, lessons, and articles on said topic
- Ditch the “writing class” approach altogether and write across the curriculum. That means assign a research paper in history, or a report on a famous scientist’s life in chemistry or the circumstances behind the discovery of a mathematical principle, and teach writing principles in the context of putting that paper together.
- If you are going the curriculum route, this is the one I used that finally enabled me to teach the art and craft of writing with confidence. The Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) is a stellar program. They have quality training resources for the teachers, and yet the amount of notes and information in the teacher’s guide allows you to go it on your own. It’s also very flexible, although I would recommend that you teach/read straight through it once to get more comfortable with the contents and get a vision of how you could adapt it to your kiddos.
What do I do about the reluctant writer?
Encourage them to read
- And just in case you need the reminder that good writers are avid readers, read 😉 and share this article by Lisa over at TheMeaningofMe.com…
Look for unique writing prompts
- How ’bout Days of the Year – designated unique celebrations for every day of the year!
- And this list of month-by-month writing prompts from The Teachers’ Corner
- These are writing prompts for bloggers, but I found not only appropriate but some interesting ideas here, especially for teens
Give them a reason to write
- Become a pen pal
- Write thank you letters to a relative or teacher
- Have them compose a family newsletter around the holidays
- Sign them up for the yearbook committee
- Read the local paper together during the week, and have them compose a letter to the editor about an issue written about inside
Let them play the role of editor/teacher. Nothing ensures you’ve mastered material more than having to teach it to someone else! Have them edit something you’ve written – write something well…and then something poorly…and ask them to tell YOU what is good and/or needs to be improved in each case.
Let them dictate to you…and you write it out for them. Sometimes a child is reluctant to write because they have not mastered the mechanics of writing. But if they’re older (upper elementary/middle school) and this is still the case, seek the advice of an occupational therapist to correct possible practical issues.
How can I make it fun?
One of the easiest ways to make writing fun is to enter contests. And luckily for you, there are LOTS of them available!
- Recently my 11 yr old daughter (whom I would classify as your reluctant writer…) entered one sponsored by HSLDA. They sponsor 1 each fall for homeschooled students, divided by age groups, on different topics. Bonus incentive: There are money prizes for this one!
- We also wrote about the annual #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where students from all across the US (and even students and adults worldwide) take the entire month of November to churn out a novel of at least 50,000 words. You can read more about the youth-dedicated program here. which includes lesson plans, challenges and pep talks to help kids get started and stay on track.
And unit studies can shake things up a bit! Writing can be super hard in a vacuum, and unit studies provide cross-curricular activities that can seque into writing prompts…
- Consider this literature-based unit study, created by Leah at AsWeWalkAlongtheRoad. Remembering that good writers are avid readers, there are some quality reads here, with some writing-based activities included in the studies.
At the end of the day, it’s imperative for us to remember that not all of us were born to write, but all of us need to communicate clearly. So your child may not be the next Hemingway, but that’s not what’s important, anyway, right?
As long as they’re getting their point across, perhaps we can choose to lighten up, have some fun together, and tackle some real life issues as a family.
Have any questions about teaching writing? Tips or advice to share? Resources or stories to pass on? Sign up to receive updates on this page, and share your own wisdom with us via email!