Writing is a skill that, perhaps surprisingly, gets very little attention today. With so much of our communication happening over email, text, and social media, humans today are writing nearly all the time (but not nearly enough handwriting). Our voice and perspectives literally come down to the words we write: when we are concise, articulate, persuasive, and clear we are trusted; when our sentences are awkward, poorly punctuated, and missing basic grammar conventions, we are easily criticized or dismissed.
Despite the importance of good writing, language arts classrooms across Canada have largely abandoned grammar lessons in favour of more engaging activities like journal writing or media creation. Grammar is seen as boring, long-winded, and archaic; subordinate conjunctions, adverbial clauses, and subjunctive moods are better left in the textbooks of the past. Students are encouraged to use apps and tools to check and enhance writing, and let one’s writing evolve holistically and naturally. Without any attention to grammar and punctuation or one’s writing style, however, our kids may be doomed to being pegged as a struggling writer.
While modern thinking about writing and language arts can hardly be seen as a negative thing - kids should look forward to writing instead of agonizing over the fine points of grammar - there is still plenty of value in learning the more formal elements of the English language. Good writing takes work, and the writer’s process must be valued in order to produce a polished piece. Without any balance between creativity and craft, however, we probably expect that many students need to improve their writing.
This article focuses on why good writing is important, and what parents can do to ensure that their kids improve their writing no matter what their skill level is. Even the most accomplished writer will admit that their writing needs work and revision from one draft to the next; our kids our no different! Let’s start by taking a look at why we need to help our kids become better writers, and some strategies we can use to help them become more self-aware about their written communication.
Have you got a reluctant reader in your home? Learn how to help your child in our latest article.
Why Being a Good Writer is Important
Writing is part of everyday life, and becoming a good writer is now fundamental to making a strong impression on others. We take classes online, often relying on conveying messages in the chat or completing writing tasks to show learning. When we apply for jobs, we email our resumes and show our experience and education on a LinkedIn account. Even online dating starts with a written message - our words must represent who we are, and when we communicate confidently, it gives others a sense of who we are. Write poorly and you may get written off: in a world often mediated by virtual spaces, writing has become more important than ever.
In school, good writing becomes an asset that students can apply across most subjects. We write papers for history, reports for science, and explain our thinking for math problems. Older students write constantly in college and university, creating presentations and papers from which a significant part of a grade is determined. When we are articulate, concise, and structured in our writing, we are rewarded no matter what the subject is. We write better when we focus on developing strong ideas for writing and editing thoroughly, by honouring a writing process, and creating a first-draft that evolves into something more polished.
Many workplaces will value strong communicators whose writing is clear and direct. When we get an email with typos, those mistakes will unfortunately outshine the messaging; a strong cover letter will almost always stand out in the crowd.
Read all of our tips for helping your child develop digital media literacy at home.
Does Your Child Struggle with Writing?
When you have a struggling writer in your home, it’s important to intervene and support them as soon as possible, since they will be using written communication skills increasingly as they move through the grades. Does your child avoid writing assignments? Are they rushing through their homework? Do they engage in writing practice, free writing, and creative writing? Are they following the writing process, including revising and editing? Are their English Language Arts marks low?
If any of those questions resonated with you, then it might be time to help your child with their writing. Here are our top ways for helping your child improve their writing.
Ways to Help your Child Improve Their Writing
1. Find out what the issues are
The first step to helping your kids with their writing is to find out exactly what their writing actually looks like. Ask your child to show you their writing assignments - you’ll be able to see right away what they need help with. Run-on sentences, missing supporting detail, unnecessary capital letters, grammar, or a lack of writing altogether might be a few things you’ll see. While you look at their work, you might want to ask them: do you brainstorm ideas for writing first? Use an outline or check a rubric for success criteria? Write several drafts? Use an online dictionary or thesaurus?
If you have a hard time getting into your kids’ notebooks or Google drives, simply ask their language arts or English teacher. When you know what their issues are, you can target appropriately: grammar books and digital games for the student that’s missing punctuation, specific instructions for a student that doesn’t provide enough writing, or simply more conversations about homework so you can help them with the brainstorming process.
2. Support Creative and Unstructured Writing Activities
If your child is having a hard time producing a sufficient amount of basic writing, give them opportunities to be creative and have fun with words. Story writing can be one way to do it: provide a journal, provide writing prompts, or templates for making a comic strip, and let them have fun with it. If your child is struggling with an assignment, tell them to write without worrying about any spelling or punctuation, and see what they come up with. Another option is to get them to use voice-to-text software to produce a base draft, rewrite, and edit it after.
Writing is always easier when you are starting with a draft, so just get your child to focus on getting words on a document - once they have something to edit, it becomes much easier to write a larger piece.
Want to help your child with their speaking and listening skills? Check out our post.
3. Use Workbooks and Apps
Thanks to technology, students have so many different platforms and writing resources to learn how to write and get writing practice. Plenty of grammar games exist for kids online, where students can have fun while identifying appropriate punctuation or finishing a sentence. Sites like Grammarly can provide valuable feedback on writing, and you can find grammar games and activities on sites like Sumdog, IXL, and No Red Ink.
If you’d prefer to get your kids off the screen, go old school and grab a grammar workbook they can use to practice skills. Set specific goals such as 1-2 pages a day, and check their work after so they stay accountable. Of course, reward your kids for a job well done - how about their favourite takeout meal for finishing half a workbook, or giving them some time to play video games after doing extra homework.
4. Encourage Regular Reading
Good readers become good writers: when students see strong writing modeled for them, they build vocabulary and develop a better sense of syntax and sentence structure. So give your kids time to read, and provide them with books that reflect their personal interests. The more they see good writing, the more likely they will be to emulate it.
5. Find a private tutor for your child
One of the best ways to help your child improve their writing is to get them a private tutor. A private tutor understands writing and will help your child to enhance their work through regular feedback and tips. They can develop research organizers for your kids, push them through grammar activities, and help them correct their work. They focus on your child’s greatest areas of need, and can provide valuable one-to-one support that is much needed in today’s crowded classrooms. They can practice different types of writing with your child, provide an engaging creative writing activity, teach foundational writing skills, or simply focus on how to write well.
Are you wondering how to help your kids improve their literacy? Read our article.
A private tutor can meet with your child at a time that is convenient for your family, and even work with your child online. It takes stress off the parent, and may even give you time to get some things done!
To find a great tutor, check out sites like Superprof that have listings of tutors near you. You can find one that specializes in writing, or a generalist who understands the elementary school curriculum. Check out Superprof to find your child’s tutor today!
The platform that connects tutors and students