Writing is an important skill, not only while in school but also in life. If your middle or high school aged child is struggling with writing, there are strategies that you can use to help him. We are not suggesting that you act as a teacher, but as a coach, and as a patient listener.
Below are ideas to consider if your child is having trouble with a school assignment:
1. Have him explain the assignment to you, in detail. If he is not able to do so, it will be hard for him to get started or stay on track. If he can’t explain the assignment to you, have him call a classmate or e-mail the teacher for details.
2. Have your child tell you the main point of his essay. Explaining his ideas to you will have him thinking ahead to the assignment as a whole and will make writing that much easier. The more detail he’s able to articulate, the more thought out his plan will be before the actual writing begins.
3. If your child is having trouble supporting the main idea in his paper, help him to switch gears and think about those “Five W’s” that are so important in journalism: who, what, where, when, and why. By answering those five questions, he will be laying out the details he needs to get across in his writing.
4. Listen. Ask how you can help, and then listen. You can be a sounding board so that your child can talk about his ideas. This will help him organize his thoughts and flesh out his writing. You can also help him to lay out these ideas into an organized sequence with smooth transitions.
5. Have your child proofread out loud to you. He’s likely to notice any obvious mistakes he’s made but be aware that interrupting him will break his chain of thought. Let him finish and then talk over together what changes he might make to his piece. Be sure to point out the positive, strong points in his writing. Offer encouragement and enthusiasm.
6. Ask questions. Tell him if there’s something you’d like to hear more about. Don’t give him the answers but guide him to find out those answers for himself.
7. Don’t sweat the grammar or spelling mistakes in the rough drafts. Chances are, he’ll correct his own errors as his piece is revised. It’s in the final draft that you can encourage your child to edit his own work.
8. Finally, an important piece of advice: respect your child as a creator and writer. How the final copy should look, how it’s revised, the story he tells, these aspects should be your child’s decision, not yours. Do not do the writing for your child and do not act as the teacher. That’s not your job. Your job is to guide, to offer suggestions, to support, to encourage, and to listen.
The best strategy for becoming a better writer is to practice each and every day. Whether it’s in a private journal, a blog, or with short, fun assignments, daily writing is an important key. Writing doesn’t have to be a chore; it can be a fun experience. Let your child see you writing too!