Monday, April 5, 2010

What Should My Child Be Writing and When?

Part 1: Elementary School
I receive this question so often, and not only from home school parents. Even those who have children attending private and public schools wonder if their children are on target with writing at any particular time. As a writing teacher, my recommendations, based on my years of experience, are as follows. Please note that these are general guidelines, not taking into account learning disabilities, gifted children or individual child develop which should never be overlooked.

PreK – Kindergarten: READ, READ, READ! The best writers tend to also be readers. Exposing your child from a very early age to well written children’s books promotes stronger future writers. Discuss how writers use words to create mental pictures and emphasize the importance of how words are used.
1st – 2nd grades: When I first started teaching first grade in a private school, writing “books” with children was a new trend. After spending time with this age group, I realized that they didn’t truly understand the purpose of such writing. At this age, limited life experience can truly frustrate a child who is asked to come up with a story idea. Many of them don’t remember the details from their last birthday, let alone have the ability to put such thoughts into complete sentences. Copy work from well written children’s literature is the best type of writing exercise for this age group. If your child demonstrates eagerness toward writing, you could have him dictate their thoughts to you and then have your child copy what you have written, in part or in whole. The focus during reading and copy work should be on basic skills such as capitalization, punctuation, simple parts of speech and how words work together to create a complete thought.

3rd – 5th grades: These years make up some of the most influential writing experiences for a child. Their exposure to interesting writing activities and development of essential skills greatly determine their ability and attitude toward writing later. Think of these years as a time to build up confidence and skills allowing your child to later enjoy writing and researching. Some specific areas that should be addressed include:
·        Review of any previous punctuation, grammar and capitalization rules, as well as additional rules that have not been introduced - Strategy: point out punctuation, grammar and capitalization rules in literature and other reading materials. This offers your child a relevant example of the rules.
·        Parts of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb, etc) - Strategy: create a lap book or other graphic organizer for the parts of speech. With a lap book, your child can use it as a resource as he/she writes.
·        Solid sentence structure - this is so often overlooked by parents…they jump from parts of speech to writing complete paragraphs. Sentence development requires significant time and paragraphs will come more easily if writing different types of sentences has been practiced consistently. Strategy: use note cards with various words (a variety of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs – don’t forget articles such as a, the, etc) on them to allow your child a hands-on activity for creating interesting sentences. Have him/her copy the sentences he/she creates.
·        Individual paragraph development including topic sentence and supporting sentences - Strategy: Again, refer back to material your child is reading. Copy work should continue through elementary school and your child can highlight or underline topic sentences. Identification should always come before implementation. Once your child can identify topic and supporting sentences in literature and other books, writing them will be easier.
·        Combined paragraph development (start with two and add on as your child develops confidence and demonstrates skill) including transition sentences between paragraphs - Transition sentences are another commonly overlooked skill in later elementary grades. Strategy: Before asking your child to write transition sentences, brainstorm a list of common transitional phrases (finally, as, for instance, first, second, etc)
·        Beginning outlining - A student who can outline most often turns out to be a well organized writer. You can’t spend too much time with this skill! Strategy: consider using a web outline rather than a traditional outline as it offers a more concrete picture for an early writer.
·        Beginning report writing and note taking - Train your child from early on to rewrite all report content in his/her own words. Also, make sure your child has a firm grasp on paragraph writing and transitions before asking him to write a report.  Strategy: begin with one paragraph at a time, reading it aloud or silently, and have your child verbally explain what was read. You can write this for your child initially and have him copy it. Later, have your child verbalize it and write it himself.
·        Book reports – this writing activity provides an excellent introduction to the literary parts of a story (plot, characters, etc) while working on organization skills at the same time. Strategy – a lap book or oral report (written first, then spoken) provide appropriate formats for book reports while allowing for creativity and additional skills.
·        Creative writing focusing on description and sequencing. Commonly, parents jump right into creative writing because it sounds fun. Realistically, it’s a challenging type of writing for children. Be sure to model and give plenty of examples before expecting your child to write creatively.  Stories can be very difficult for younger writers and in most cases, are not the best place to start for creative writing. Strategy: Fun poetry such as alliteration, acrostic, haikus, etc offer great opportunities for kids to express themselves with some structure, but not too much. Be sure to read plenty of it together before having your child write.
It has been my experience that children who truly dislike writing didn’t have a positive start with it. Writing skills seem daunting to some parents because they are not writers or they don’t feel confident evaluating their children’s written work. If you are one of those parents, consider my Hands-On Elementary writing class where your child will learn how to write and enjoy the process! If you would like assistance evaluating your child’s work, I do offer evaluation services for a fee. Please email me for more information.

Watch for What Should My Child Be Writing and When? Part 2: Middle and High School coming soon!

God bless you as you endeavor to teach your children to write!

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