Writing can be one of the biggest challenges for kids in school, and yet it’s one of the most important skills they will take into their postsecondary years. It doesn’t help that the subject can seem dry and tedious: the thought of identifying subjects, verbs, independent clauses, adverbs, or writing a 1000 word essay doesn’t exactly spark excitement. So what can you do to get your kids interested in writing? What is the best way to help them learn grammar? Let’s take a closer look at why learning writing is important, and how you can help your child improve with their writing homework.
Why Writing Skills are Important
Your child’s writing skills are among some of the most important your child will learn from elementary to high school. Why? First and foremost, writing and communication skills are essential to being competitive in today's global economy. Writing is also used in nearly every subject: math, science, social studies, and English Language Arts. In math, your child needs to communicate the results of their problem solving, and explain the mathematical processes they used. Science and Social Studies classes like History and Geography involve report and essay writing, which generally requires a lot of writing. Of course, writing is at the very core of English Language Arts classes: most kids are expected to produce stories, poems, reflections, and more. For older students in secondary school, Academic English is often a prerequisite for any university program, so having strong writing and literacy skills established in the younger years are critical for success.
Let’s take a closer examination on the forms of writing your child may have to produce in school so we can get a better understanding of the skills they will need to learn.
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Journal writing is typically part of daily school life for kids from the primary grades. Journaling is typically a casual form of writing that happens in a single draft, so kids don’t have to worry about revising and editing. Typically, the teacher gives a topic or a prompt, and your child responds using the knowledge they already have about the topic. Younger kids may have a space to draw pictures or doodle.
Journal writing is important because it gives kids an opportunity to write freely. There is also evidence that journaling supports kids' mental health. Research is not usually part of the journaling process, making the process more free-flowing. This is not to say that journaling has no structure - kids should use journal writing as a chance to practice punctuation and paragraph writing skills, adding detail and organising as they write.
Story writing is a typical assignment your child may have, and requires your child to have an understanding of basic narrative techniques. Unlike journal writing, story writing will typically require students to brainstorm and plan. Part of the writing process may include developing characters and creating a plot map. Illustrations might also be part of the project, especially for younger kids in the junior grades.
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Report Writing and Inquiry
Students often have to write reports for non-fiction, content based subjects like Science, History, or Geography. Reports typically consist of a title and subheadings, with information shared at each part. The main goal of report writing is to get students to organize the most relevant parts of their research clearly and effectively.
Inquiry is another area that may require writing, though not always in report form. Sometimes the results of an inquiry may be shared through a poster presentation or even a website. Notes may be recorded on a graphic organizer, to be formatted in a way that is appropriate for the final project.
The most important skills for report and inquiry writing are the ability to summarize, synthesize and attribute ideas to different authors. In many cases, students will be connecting their writing to visuals, or possibly creating visuals of their own.
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Presentation and Speech Writing
Older students in the intermediate and senior grades will often be asked to create an oral presentation in their classes. In these cases, students will have to write notes and slides to accompany a presentation they will deliver orally. Writing of this nature is different, as the purpose is to communicate ideas clearly to an audience. Usually, writing will be less dense and capture attention through vocal inflection and questions. The writing on the slides will often be short and supported with visuals, with more detail coming from the speaker and their cue cards or speaker notes.
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Essay writing is a typical assignment for older students, and usually follows a specific structure: introduction, 3 or more body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The writing is often persuasive and takes a strong stance on an issue or subject. Essays may vary in length, but it is usually assumed that the writing is a longer format. Transition words and academic language are fundamental, and the writing takes place over a number of drafts.
While often dreaded, essay writing is a skill that becomes increasingly important as students enter older grades and university.
Media writing is becoming more and more popular for teachers as the internet has influenced the way we read and write. For media pieces, structure and convention are important, as format tends to be a guiding principle. For example, teachers may ask your child to write a news article, where the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why) determine the content. Other popular assignments include writing scripts, storyboards, and blogs.
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Tips for Supporting Your Child With Writing
Now that we know the kinds of writing your child will do in school, we can discuss how you can help them succeed in their assignments.
Start With Reading
It may surprise many parents and guardians to know that reading is tied to success in writing. When we read, we get used to seeing good writing: sentence variations, storytelling techniques, organisation, voice, transitions, just to name a few things you’ll see in the work of a strong writer. For kids, age appropriate books, articles, and websites model good writing and the conventions of different genres. Kids build their vocabulary, get used to seeing punctuation in action, and find inspiration for their own writing.
Get your child into a habit of reading regularly in topics they are passionate about. Whether it’s gaming, cars, science fiction, or animals, the point is to get your child hooked on reading so they can be in a literacy-rich environment. Take them to the library for a browse, find a book app with a selection of books, or hit the bookstore for a bit of retail therapy - as long as they keep on reading, they will likely become better communicators.
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Make a Time and Place for Writing
Writing is something that you get better at with practice, so it’s important to set aside some time for writing during the week. Be aware of the writing assignments your child has in school, and schedule time for your child to write in a quiet space where they can focus. Writing takes time and focus, so intentionally setting a time and place for writing will help them to see what working conditions they will need to flourish.
If your kid doesn’t have a writing assignment, get a Language Arts or grammar workbook and ask them to complete a certain amount of pages on a regular basis. Writing takes practice, and when it is built into your schedule your child will be a better writer in no time.
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Support the Writing Process
Good writing seldom comes in a first draft, so support your child’s writing process by reminding them that they need to brainstorm, write, revise, and re-write for every major assignment. It’s not uncommon for kids to submit a first draft - teach them to avoid that folly by checking their work before submission. Remind your kids to start their writing assignments early, and sit with them to read the feedback their teacher gives them every time. Talk to them about their assignments, and help them brainstorm ideas they can use in their writing.
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Technology has changed many things in our lives, and writing is certainly one of them. Use grammar and writing games and apps to help your child learn the more technical aspects of writing. A quick search will find games that will help your child learn everything from capitalisation to colons, and of course the gamification of grammar will make it far more interesting.
Apps like Google docs also offer plenty of tools like dictionaries, grammar check, spell check, and easy ways to make comments and suggest edits. Use all the tools provided and you will help your child build a skill set they will use long into their adult life.
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Get a Writing Tutor
Let’s face it - we all have busy lives and it’s hard to find the energy to run a writing workshop in your home every week. Sometimes we have busy times in our careers and it can be impossible to check your child’s homework. For this reason, getting a writing tutor to help can be a lifesaver.
A writing tutor will provide feedback to your child on their writing assignments, and explicitly teach the fine points of style and grammar. A tutor can help struggling writers find their voice, and it can be refreshing for your child to work with someone new. Tutors can design lessons based on your child’s specific needs, and design organisers and sentence starters to get even the longest writing assignments off the ground.
Tutors are also incredibly convenient and reasonably priced. They can meet your child at your home, a local library, or a cafe, making it easy to plan especially if your child has a lot of extracurriculars. You can find a fantastic tutor near you by checking out sites like Superprof.
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