As promised…the final installment in our three-part series called Teaching Writing.
- In Part 1, we talked about the struggles and the anguish common to reluctant writers and to parents who feel insecure about teaching writing.
- Part 2 introduced some simple writing ideas that can make writing more enjoyable for everyone.
Today you’ll learn how the steps of the writing process can free your struggling or reluctant writer from his self-imposed torture.
And of course, reluctant writers aren’t the only ones who benefit. Make sure your eager, motivated writers take their compositions through these steps as well to ensure a well-written final draft.
Small Steps Ensure Greater Success
Provide Structure. Though it may sound freeing, writing about “whatever you want” can actually frustrate struggling writers, so start by recommending concrete topics they can choose from. Instead of saying “write about a food,” suggest they use their five senses to describe a taco, a cinnamon roll, or an ice cream sundae.
Set Limits. Position kids for success by setting boundaries for the composition. For example, put a cap on length. This helps your struggling 12-year-old son relax a bit (“You only have to write five to seven sentences.”) But it also helps your wordy, rabbit-trailing 15-year-old daughter write more concisely (“You may only write ONE paragraph using five to seven sentences.”)
See how this works to the advantage of both kinds of writers? You’re offering the writing-phobic child safe boundaries while establishing clear limits for the rambler.
Introduce the Writing Process. Teach your kids that writing is a process, not a one-time event. If they’re trained in the process of writing, they’ll learn to view the final draft as simply one of several steps in an evolving work. And when the steps seem doable, even the most intimidated writer stands a chance at accomplishment.
Make a Plan. As you take your kids through the steps of the writing process, provide a schedule to follow. Don’t allow your procrastinators to do all the steps in one day; there’s wisdom in letting a composition rest between revisions.
Also, don’t impose the demands of the writing process on every single composition—it’s enough for one writing project at a time to go through several revisions. Break up such assignments into these five manageable steps:
Brainstorming gets ideas flowing so your student has something to say. He might brainstorm for a how-to composition by listing the steps of the process. If he’s writing a descriptive paragraph, he must carefully study the subject for interesting details. For a narrative, he’ll want to list events in order. Whatever the topic, suggest a brainstorming method—mind map, list, or outline, for instance—that’s best for the kind of composition he’s writing.
2. Sloppy Copy
This is the just-get-it-on-paper rough draft. Perfection is not the goal. As the student writes, he’ll draw from the many ideas gathered during brainstorming. If he still can’t think of things to say, he may need to brainstorm even more. Have him skip lines so there’s room to edit later.
3. Self-Editing and Revising
- They’re too lazy to edit their own work carefully,
- They really believe there’s nothing they need to change; or
- They simply assume you’ll point out their errors, so why should they bother self-editing at all?
Yet your suggestions for improvement make them feel picked on!
Self-editing is one of the most important steps of the writing process and shouldn’t be neglected. Why? It helps the student take more responsibility for his own progress.
Provide some sort of checklist as a guide to help him identify errors in content, style, and mechanics. As he compares his rough draft to the checklist, he makes corrections and improvements. The rewritten paper he turns in to you—his first revision—will then be ready for your inspection.
4. Parent Editing
Every paper benefits from a second opinion. Only after your child has had a chance to self-edit and rewrite should you offer your own advice. Don’t let this scare you! The more you edit and revise your kids’ papers, the easier it will become. You’ll soon become skilled at spotting things like repeated words, passive writing, and awkward sentence structure.
Using your own checklist helps you be objective and lets you comment on the work without squashing your child. Not only that, it takes the pressure and guesswork out of editing. And because he knows what you expect, he’ll usually respond more positively to your suggestions.
Along with tips, include plenty of positive feedback. Find ways to bless his efforts; then make gentle suggestions that encourage growth without crushing his spirit.
5. Final Draft
Now for the last step in the process—the final draft—where the student makes corrections based on your comments and puts the finishing touches on his paper. When he compares this polished version to his very first draft, what a difference he’ll see! And though he may never love the process that has brought him to this point, at least he’ll learn to respect it.
Inch by Inch, It’s a Cinch
Teaching writing doesn’t have to be hard. But as you’ve surely discovered, if you feel inadequate and insecure, writing may not be happening in your home. Recognize the need to seek out a program that offers strong parent support. Clear lesson instructions and checklists, as well as editing and grading tips, will help you feel more prepared to teach and evaluate this subject—and when you feel confident, your kids will definitely pick up on it!
If you’re looking for a just such a curriculum to help you teach the steps of the writing process in an incremental way, take a look at WriteShop. Because it’s ungraded, your kids can begin WriteShop I any time between 6th and 10th grades. For younger children, WriteShop Primary (grades K-3) and WriteShop Junior (grades 3-6) introduce the steps of the writing process in fun and memorable ways!
Sign up for the WriteShop list to get your free 33 printable word bank prompts.