Writing…yuck. When my daughter takes the writing STAAR this year, all I can do is hope she applies the same enthusiasm that she does when she’s writing her own imaginative stories about mythical fighting cats. It’s that dreaded prompt that gets them. Being given a specific topic to write about, especially if it’s not something of interest, can make writing difficulty for anyone. Whether your child is prepping for a state writing assessment or working on a class writing assignment, here are some ideas for practicing and modeling writing at home to help beef up their skills:
Encourage your child to keep a journal. Writing is a learned skill; free writing is a way to practice writing everyday (or at least a few times a week!) as well as learn about the process of writing without always having to think about the outcome.
Did you ever play that game as a child where you say a portion of a story and then the next person takes over? Try that but in writing. Have your child start the story and then each family member adds to it, one paragraph at a time. With this writing activity, they are able to see how you express yourself in writing, as well as practice writing on a topic that they may not be too keen on.
Knowing what is required for the finished product can often help children get started writing. Teachers usually have some type of rubric they use when it comes to grading essays. Ask the teacher for a copy of the rubric to help your child organize their thoughts and ideas. If there isn’t one, ask the teacher what they are looking for in the finished product.
Brain Dump – family style. No, this isn’t a fun Halloween party trick :-). Start by having everyone in the family get a sheet of paper, and within a certain length of time, write down everything you each know about the given topic. Once the dump is complete, talk through all the info you each came up with and compile a list of applicable information. Obviously, you won’t all be there when your child is required to write an essay at school; doing it together a few times is a fun way to model the process. Come test day, they just may use Brain Dump as a strategy to get those creative brain juices flowing. That could totally be the fun Halloween party trick!
For children that have difficulty getting their thoughts onto paper, use a recorder to let them “talk out” their ideas first. Then rewind and jot down everything they’ve said. You can sort through the good and bad later.
If your child is a visual learner, try a writing web (see picture below). Using a spooky, spider theme to introduce the writing web may help catch their interest by adding some entertainment value. The middle circle is the topic. Spiders are the centerpiece of the web and are the reason it exists, just like the topic. Each extending circle is an idea/reason/detail about the topic. Think of these as the spider’s tasty meals, wrapped up tightly in silk. Without them, the topic dies and the story goes nowhere. Side note: if your child gets accommodations on writing assignments, this writing web may be an allowable accommodation for them to use during writing assessments.
While secondary students may be past the web, there are still visual supports for them. Think outline. Just like a writing web, outlines can be thought of as a map for writing; information is organized visually with roman numerals for paragraph organization, upper case letters for topic sentences and bullet points for details and elaborations.
Regardless of whether or not your child is a visual learner, writing an outline can be a great way to see if the topic and all the information generated actually match. We all know that feeling of starting to write and then ending up in left-field by the end! Maybe all our English teachers were right; sticking to an outline keeps the essay on track and gets the important points across.
If your child doesn’t like outlines, that’s ok. Have them create a list with all the information generated and organize it into applicable sections, like information goes together. This can also help spot weaknesses in information (maybe it’s something that actually doesn’t need to be in the essay) as well as show where more information is needed.
What are the ways you get your kids writing? We’d love to hear what writing looks like at your house or in your classroom. Stay tuned for the next installment of writing help! We’ll share ideas for the dreaded…dun, dun dun…. revising and editing process!