What do a school essay, a resume, an e-mail to a friend and a cover letter to a potential employer have in common? All require good writing skills, a key to high achievement in school and in the workplace.
Writing develops critical-thinking skills and helps students learn and excel in other subjects. The more students write and receive positive feedback, the more their writing improves, according to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
Here are five ways you can help your child improve his writing skills:
Reading and writing are closely linked. You can’t be a good writer without being a good reader first. Parents should encourage their children to read as much as possible.
“They have to be reading all the time,” says author Susan Straight, mother of three teen daughters and a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside. “You have to give them the books they love ...”
Experiment with writing for different audiences
The NCTE suggests that parents help children expand their range and abilities by encouraging them to write for different purposes and for different audiences. Children can write short stories, notes to the Tooth Fairy, letters to the editor, vacation journals, thank-you notes, a business letter to a company about a broken product or letters to grandparents.
“One of the best things we can teach kids is that there are many multiple genres for writing,” says Cathy Fleischer, a professor in the English Language and Literature Department at Eastern Michigan University and a member of the NCTE editorial board. She is also a co-director of the National Writing Project’s Family Literacy Initiative and hosts writing workshops for parents. “Always respond positively to your child’s writing. Be excited about your kids’ writing.”
“Anything dealing with audience and purpose will really help as they get older,” adds Dara Mosher, instructional services specialist, grades 7-12, for the Riverside Unified School District. “Letter writing and paying close attention to audience and purpose will be helpful. Those particular skills are part of the standards through high school. Have them write a recipe for their favorite food so they are getting the sense of sequencing in their writing.”
Make writing fun
Experts suggest that parents allow their children to write phone messages, fill in the invitations for their birthday parties, write a list of things they want for their birthday and write letters to friends. Children might have fun writing a short story on how they would spend $100. Don’t forget to have the kids write a list of gifts they would like from Santa.
Parents can also write to their child; in fact, it sets a good example for kids to see their parents writing at home. “Drop them a note in their lunch box or write them a congratulations note if they do well,” Fleischer says. “I travel for my job, so I always write a note that goes under my kids’ pillows for the first night that I’m gone.”
UC Riverside’s Straight adds, “One good way to get kids to write is (to give) them some poetry, because they like things that rhyme. For older kids, they can go outside and describe something, so they get used to the ideas of metaphors and images. You could say, ‘Why don’t you write a paragraph describing that bush?’ You could say, ‘It’s as red as Kool-Aid or a cherry.’”
Embrace literacy and technology
Writing no longer means scratching words on paper. Students must learn to evaluate and navigate Internet resources and publish texts online. Parents, in turn, must acknowledge that young people like to communicate electronically and need guidance to do it well. The Internet offers children many opportunities to write and be published.
Parents can help their kids find and read a newspaper online, then write a comment about a story to post in the comments section. Or, help your child write e-mail messages to friends, relatives and teachers. Even Kindergartners can fire off e-mails to Grandma.
Encourage your children to show off their skills by writing clearly and concisely, using correct punctuation and full sentences and avoiding ubiquitous Internet slang like “lol” and other abbreviations, as well as clichés. Teach the children that using sentence fragments, abbreviations and computer slang is fine for e-mails to friends, but it’s not appropriate for their written schoolwork, says Fleischer.
Give your children gifts associated with writing
Make sure the kids have plenty of pens of different types and colors, sharpened pencils, erasers or Liquid Paper, stationery, envelopes and stamps for letter writing. They should also have an age-appropriate dictionary. Ideally children should have a desk or space of their own at home where they can write and keep their supplies.
Finally, don’t forget that writing is a process of developing and organizing ideas, then revising and editing for grammar, word usage and spelling. Don’t let your kids just hit the “print” button when they’re done writing!
Amy Bentley is a regular contributor.
Online Writing Resources
> Visit the Purdue University online writing lab at owl.english.purdue.edu for writing help.
> Readwritethink.org has a link for parents called Learning Beyond the Classroom, which provides ideas for activities you can do with your children outside of their school day.
> Visit Dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com to expand your child’s vocabulary.
> Rhymezone.com has rhymes, synonyms and more.