Stumbling block #2 – Weak writing skills and tools
Welcome back to our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing! Last week we looked at Stumbling Block #1 and ways to increase your student’s confidence. What’s today’s hurdle?
Stumbling Block #2
Problem: Kids don’t have the writing skills and tools they need to make stories, essays, or reports fresh and interesting.
Solution: Introduce prewriting exercises, brainstorming worksheets, and checklists.
Whether you’re sewing, gardening, working with wood, or fixing an engine, you can’t do the job properly without certain skills and tools. The same can be said for writing—and I’m not just talking about paper, pens, and a laptop. Let’s look at some practical principles you can apply to begin equipping your children for success!
One of the easiest ways to build writing skills is to have some fun! Pre-writing exercises and writing games act as enjoyable warm-ups to get creative juices flowing, build vocabulary, and strengthen sentence development. Games you make up, like sentence-building or concrete writing games, make perfect pre-writing exercises.
And don’t discount the value of purchased word games. Scattergories and Apples to Apples come to mind as two great writing warm-up games our family loves to play. Along with old friends like Scrabble and Boggle, they make ideal family Christmas gifts. Your kids will have no idea they’re learning!
Before your student writes the first word of her composition, she’ll improve her chances for success by brainstorming. Like pre-writing, brainstorming is a skill that stimulates thinking in general. However, it also acts as a springboard for writing about a particular subject. When a student brainstorms:
- It gets her ideas flowing so she has something to say.
- It helps her overcome writer’s block.
- It prepares her for writing as she develops a plan and gains direction.
- It helps her organize her thoughts.
To further promote thinking skills, you’ll want to teach a variety of brainstorming techniques. Whatever the topic, suggest a brainstorming method—mind map, list, or outline, for instance—that’s best for the kind of composition your student is writing. For example:
- She might brainstorm for a how-to composition by listing the steps of the process.
- If she’s writing a descriptive paragraph, she should carefully study the subject for interesting details and record her observations.
- For a narrative, she’ll want to sequence the events.
- A Venn diagram is especially useful for compare/contrast essay.
There are many ways to brainstorm, but worksheets and graphic organizers are tools that often smooth the way for reluctant writers. If you are using a program like WriteShop I or II, you’ll find brainstorming worksheets already prepared for each writing assignment (see an example here). Alternatively, a quick Google search will yield a variety of brainstorming tools available on the web.
But brainstorming isn’t just for your junior high or high schooler! You can begin teaching this skill in kindergarten, either on your own or with a helpful curriculum like WriteShop Primary. Starting your children when they’re young can help prevent the debilitating case of writer’s block that often plagues older students.
A good checklist serves as a guide to help your student identify her own errors in content, style, and mechanics so she can improve and enliven her writing. For instance, if the checklist reminds her to use synonyms instead of repeating main words, she’ll be forced to find more interesting words. This simple tool can help her hone a valuable skill she’ll use all her life. (In a few weeks I’ll be talking about checklists in greater detail when we take a look at Stumbling Block #6: Laziness.)
Other Skills and Tools
In addition to checklists and brainstorming sheets, there are other tools that help breathe new life into writing. For example, skill-building exercises can give a student instruction and practice in new writing skills like choosing titles, writing topic sentences, citing sources, or using sentence variations.
I’m sure grammar is part of your language arts curriculum, but how it can revive writing may be a complete mystery to you. I’d like to suggest that when you require your student to use newly learned grammar concepts in her compositions, the grammar actually makes more sense. So rather than teach grammar in a vacuum, teach it as it applies to writing. That’s where the rubber meets the road!
Writing isn’t an exact science, but you can certainly apply proven principles to promote stronger writers in your home. It’s my prayer that you’ll begin to notice a difference in both attitude and output as you put some of these tips into practice.
Next week we’ll look at Stumbling Block #3: Lack of motivation. You won’t want to miss that one!
2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
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Do you wish your writing curriculum offered more pre-writing activities and brainstorming ideas? Then take a look at WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th grader. You’ll love the writing games and brainstorming worksheets that equip and inspire successful writers!