Teaching an Older Child to Write

Question:

I have a 9th grade daughter that really struggles in writing. She does not like writing so it has always been a battle and I have not pushed it nearly enough. Now I find she is really behind in writing and I am feeling panicked because writing is so important to every other subject. Do you have any suggestions of how to help an older student learn to be a better writer? I really feel like I have failed her.

I do have your Journal and Language Arts program and will be using that with my 4th grade son soon. Should I use that to get my daughter started too?

Answer:

Yes, I would start your daughter on the Journal program too.  It is a great way to learn to write!  You can use a notebook with wide ruled paper (or have her type it on the computer, teaching her how to use the spell check feature).  Every day, have her write a journal entry of at least 3 paragraphs.  At first, do not comment on grammar, spelling, neatness, correctness. Just get her writing. She can write about anything she wants—no restrictions on topic or use of slang, etc.  You are just trying to get her writing.

So, for the first week, have her write her 3 daily paragraphs.  If this is too overwhelming, start with sentences—such as 5 sentences, and then move up your requirement every few days or week, until she is writing 3 paragraphs per day.  If she is totally stumped, get Kids Talk and have her choose a card to write about each day.  Note: this is not her private journal, which she will keep on her own. This is her “School Journal”.  She can choose any subject, but you have to be able to read it.

Once she is writing daily and it is going smoothly, then it is time to ease her into self-correcting. Start by teaching her the spell check feature on your computer—misspelled words are visible as the underlined words.  Teach her how to check the word using the spell check feature.  Have her copy and paste the corrected word onto a spelling list document. This spelling list should be studied daily, along with the new words being added to it daily from her writing.  On Friday, give her a spelling quiz.  Any misspelled words from the quiz go onto next week’s spelling document.  Have her print the corrected version, hole punch it, and store it in a binder.

If she is doing her writing by hand in a journal,  have her write in either pencil or erasable pen so it can be corrected, and when you check her work, put a little erasable tick mark in pencil at the beginning of the sentence that has a misspelled word, and let her try to figure which word it is.  Often she will say, “Oh, I thought that was misspelled” and identify the word.  Have her correct the word and add it to the spelling list as described above, and study for the Friday quiz.  A book I really recommend is How to Spell it, because no matter how the word is spelled, she will be able to find it in this handy book, and correct the spelling.

Keep working on having her identify and correct her spelling for a few weeks.  If she is misspelling a large number of words, then just choose the most common words to correct.  Work at it gradually until she learns those words and can spell them correctly in her writing, and then move on to correcting more words.  Don’t overwhelm her. Nobody wants to write if they have to go back and correct every third word! Ten spelling words per week is plenty.

As soon as she adjusts to having her spelling corrected and to working on looking things up (before she misspells them), you can move on to the next step, which is getting her punctuation correct, and making sure she capitalizes words properly.  You can find the rules for punctuation in my Journal and Language Arts program.  I also recommend Writing in Style as a good overview.

Keep going with this, working through the mechanics of good writing, all via her daily writing (on her choice of topics).  Don’t worry about topic. My son spend an entire year writing about knights and medieval times and how to build catapults, and his writing still improved dramatically!  The topic doesn’t matter, and allowing them total freedom to choose a topic keeps their interest high.

When she is accustomed to daily writing, and is able to correct any errors you note when you check her daily writing, she is ready for a good writing program.   I like the Wordsmith series, starting with Wordsmith Apprentice.

Just ease into it, step by step, and you’ll soon see her writing improve dramatically, and maybe she’ll really enjoy it and want to write stories, poems and more.

You’re on your way!


 

Is it a "b" or a "d"?

Question:

My kids are having a hard time in reading and writing  lower case “b” and “d” and are always mixing them up.  How do you help kids keep this straight?

Answer:

I teach them “b”.  Leave “d” alone—it will take care of itself once they learn “b”.

Have your child say the word “ball” with you—and then you write a “b” so they see it and make the connection.  Pronounce “buh” (the phonic sounds of “b”) over and over.  Now, have your child reach up and touch your mouth when you dramatically enunciate “buh”.  You start with your lips tucked way into your mouth.  Run your child’s finger across the line your lips make when you are ready to say “buh”.  It is a definite line.  Write the line on the chalkboard in front of him.  Do it again, having him touch your mouth. Now have him write that line vertically on the chalkboard or paper.   That is the way a “b” always starts: with a line at the lips, and a line on paper.  (A “d” is written with the ball portion first, but don’t explain that—it just gets them confused. Just teach “b”).

When I taught “b”, I would watch my children silently writing and see them tucking their lips in to pronounce the ‘b” sound, and trace their finger over the line their lips make, and then write the stick line first on their paper. The rest comes more easily.  Saying “start at the top, down to the line, now up and around” can help walk a child through writing the letter “b”.   But knowing that memory clue of the line first, that matches the line on their mouths, seemed to help mine the most.

Once they totally master “b”, “d’ takes care of itself.  It’s just the opposite of “b”!

 

 

Teaching Children to Write the Natural Way

My daughter Louisa has kept her school journals since she was 4 years old. What a treasure they are now! A whole childhood recorded.

I would like to share with you some of the things we’ve done in our homeschool that have really worked so well over the years. Teaching my children to write  has been a joy to teach, and any mother can easily do it without any expensive program.

I start when a child is very young—before he can even write his name—and we begin keeping a journal. I like the idea of this habit because it will help your child develop into an articulate thinker and writer.  And it is important, creating a history for generations to come.

I start by having my little child stand beside me while I type on the computer. I ask him to tell me about something, some event that has happened recently. It can be seeing a butterfly, or getting a bloody toe, or any thing significant or insignificant. At first, the going can be a bit rough, but as you practice this habit of writing as your child dictates to you, he will be on the lookout for ideas and will come to you and ask you to “write in his journal”.

So, you type while he talks. Keep it short (children can go on forever). I say something like, we are going to fill the page halfway, or set some other limit. I leave a blank half page at the top so he can illustrate his story when it is printed out. Of course, you don’t have to type it, you can write it out in handwriting (printed neatly, not cursive).

When you are able to teach your child to write his name (about age 4), he will have the motor skills to advance to the next step, which is tracing. Using very wide lined paper (5/8” spacing), have your child dictate one sentence that he’d like to tell about. You write the words in yellow marker (highlighters work well) or light colored pencil. It should be clear to see. Then you give him the job of tracing your very neatly lettered sentence using a dark colored marker or fat crayon or pencil. With this exercise comes the awareness that thoughts are put into words on paper using letters that he can make himself. At first, this is slow going, and if my child has a lot to say, I type out the rest, or write it in dark letters that he won’t have to trace. A sentence is plenty for the first while.

As you child advances in learning phonics—recognizing the letters and their sounds—and in his ability to write letters, you can leave some very easy words blank. For example, if you child dictates to you, “We have a cat.”, you could write in yellow marker, “We have a —.” leaving space for the word “cat”. As your child traces his sentence, he can sound out the word and fill in the easy word “cat”. Naturally, during this period of learning, he is going to be held back from long journal entries by the fact that the going is slow when you are learning to trace or write the letters yourself.

The next step, after the “fill-in-your-own-word” thing, is to sit down with your child and ask him to write as much as he can of his sentence. This is where you teach him that every sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a period. When he comes to a stumper, you write that word on a separate piece of paper so he can copy it. I never make my children look up words in a dictionary to discover their spelling at this point. We are trying to teach them how to write without too much discouragement. The slicker the process, the better for all.

Your child will stay at this level of writing until he is 6 or 7 years old, lengthening his journal entries from a few sentences to the front side of a page. At this point, I introduce a Spelling Dictionary and help him learn how to use it. If he comes to me needing the spelling of a word, I flip to it in the Spelling Dictionary for him and underline it. It doesn’t take long for a child to become independent in using it before asking for word spellings. But, there will still be some words you will need to write down for him to copy. Common ones can be written into his Spelling Dictionary.

The reason I don’t let my children “guess-spell” is that it forms a first impression of the spelling of the word, and if it is wrong, it can be hard to undo. I tell them that I would rather write the word for them to copy, then have them have to write it onto their spelling list because it is misspelled. We use pencil, or erasable pen, for journal writing. When their entry of the day is done, I go back with them and check over it, and have my student correct his errors. Misspelled words go on a spelling list, that they practice daily and test on Friday.

These journals they are creating will be the record they pass on to their children and grandchildren. They are a keepsake, a personal history, a book of remembrance, a treasure. We want them to be perfect. Each year, at the end of December, we take that year’s journal entries and have them spiral bound at the printer. This only costs $1 or so, and it creates a treasured book that my children are proud of. This makes their writing meaningful and makes them eager to do their best, day by day, year round. I give them 2 pieces of colored cardstock to make the front and back cover for their journal, and then the whole thing is bound together. You can add their photo to the cover and have it laminated or have a protective plastic overlay page put on the front cover. These are so precious that the printer admitted to me that he had to just pause and read a few entries!

All the while, the children are illustrating every journal entry. I encourage the use of crayon or colored pencils rather than markers, as they tend to disappear in a matter of years, particularly the washable ones. We have even used oil pastel chalks and watercolors for their journal illustrations. By the time a child is 8 years old, he has experimented in many art mediums and made hundreds of original creative drawings.

About 7 or 8 years old, I introduce the concept that each separate thought or idea gets a paragraph to itself. I teach them to indent each paragraph with 2 finger spaces. This is the beginning of paragraph writing. As I teach it, I remind my child to stop and think, “Is this a new idea? If it is, remember to indent!”. It is best to keep a close watch as this concept sinks it. Nobody likes to go back and erase and rewrite a whole sentence just to indent!

Around 8 years old, or whenever they express an interest and their manuscript printing is nice and neat, I teach them cursive. Then journal entries must contain at least one cursive sentence. As their skills improve, I require longer entries, and more of the writing to be done in cursive.

This process continues, writing daily in personal journals, until they hit the teen years and want a private journal. At this point, they often want a topic to write on, as their daily doings will be recorded in their own private journals. The book my daughter Julianna created called, All About Me, is a good writing tool for this age. This is a write-in workbook that gives interesting personal topics to write about. When the book is finished, your teenager will have their personal history written! Another useful resource is the card deck called Kids Talk. Each card presents a concept or incident along with thought questions. These can be just the flash of writing inspiration that your student might need.

As long as my children are writing, I continue to check spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. Research has proven that children learn best in the context of their own writing. Rather than do workbook pages, I want them to learn to edit and correct their own work, learning in the process! If you are rusty on these skills, and fear that you cannot correct their work, there are good English handbooks such as Everything You Need to Know About English or Writer’s Express, that can help you out.

It has been amazing to me how this daily plugging away at journal writing accomplishes so many things: neat penmanship, English skills, mechanics of writing, plus drawing skills while recording a personal history, and making a treasured keepsake for now and for future generations. I’d say this is one of the best things we’ve done in our homeschool!
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Note: I organized this process into a program called K-5 Journal and Language Arts Program .