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Tackling Formal Writing Instruction


Once your kids are old enough for formal writing instruction, it helps to have some framework in place in YOUR mind for how you want to approach this subject.

There are plenty of options as far as curriculum goes for teaching writing. Some are very formal and formulized--follow this step, then this one, then this. Some are loosely structured. Some are directed toward the students, allowing you to remain mostly a sounding board for ideas and suggestions and a proofreader or final grader. Others require much more direct involvement on the part of the parent. There are even online classes which remove the burden from you entirely! Knowing how comfortable you are with teaching this subject and how receptive your child is to learning it will shape which one you choose.

Overall, I feel a good writing program (even if it's just one you make up) should help students:

  1. Organize their thoughts. This is a skill that is learned it does not come naturally. This organizing process includes: choosing a topic, narrowing it down to a manageable thesis, selecting effective supporting evidence as well as the right kinds of sources. Most students cannot do this on their own at first. They need some guidance through the process more than once with you offering increasingly less assistance until they are adept at this on their own.

  2. Express their ideas in a logical flow. This builds off of the previous skill, and it too must be learned. Anyone who has had a child tell them about their favorite movie or video game knows this! They will ramble on and on with little regard for YOUR understanding of the subject. An effective program will help them evaluate all the options and synthesize them into a cohesive whole that flows naturally from subtopic to subtopic. (This is why narration in the early years can be so valuable. It's developing this skill early.)

  3. Capture readers attention! When you write something, you want your readers interested enough that they'll keep reading. It's one thing to have the correct form and mechanics, it's quite another to find one's "voice." When critics refer to a writers voice, it's their style they are talking about. Is it formal, coming across an an educated expert on the topic? Is it casual and chatty, as if your friend were just telling you something over the back fence? No style is the correct style; each has its benefits. But consistency in tone and style (at least within a single piece) IS important.

  4. Use correct form, spelling, grammar, and punctuation. These are called the mechanics of a paper, and though they need not be the focus of a writing program at first, they DO need to be addressed. Whether we like it or not, people judge us by the correctness of our speech/writing. You'll do your child a disservice by allowing these things to slide. That being said, I ALWAYS focus on the content first! Once your child can present their thoughts in an logical and interesting way, then you can delve into the nitty-gritty details of mechanics. Of course, some forms of mechanics can be taught simultaneously in a gentle and non-threatening manner. Basically, I require one or two basic steps (for example, capitalize correctly--beginning of sentences and proper nouns--and indent the first sentence in each paragraph). Once the student is doing that consistently, I add the next step. Despite what some of the expensive programs out their want you to believe, there are really only 12 rules your child need to know in order to master college level writing mechanics! I include these in the appendix of my writing program Wonderful Writing Prompts.

Speaking of Wonderful Writing Prompts, it is a fun and gentle approach to writing that focuses more on learning to LIKE writing than it does on the do's and don'ts of the writing process. It's the perfect introduction to formal writing. I recommend starting it between 4th and 6th grades. Pair it with my other creative writing volume Stupendous Story Starters and you've got a comprehensive yet fun and gentle introductory writing course that will last you 2-3 years. A no tears, cost effective approach to teaching or remediating writing! This duo has also been used and loved by kids who ENJOY writing and aspire to be authors! Why? Because it focuses on the details of each genre (what makes a mystery a mystery or a science fiction sci-fi), and it gives students the tools to think through effective storytelling. So whether your kids HATE writing or LOVE it, I would encourage you to check my writing program out!

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