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Friday, March 20, 2009

Why is teaching writing so hard?

Beyond the infamous "January burn-out", the second most common complaint I hear from homeschool moms is how difficult it is to teach good creative writing. Either they struggled with writing themselves as a student, and have no idea how to teach it so their children will have a better experience ... or writing comes naturally to them, but they have no idea how to teach it to their children because they just "do it".

Obviously there are a wide variety of resources and curriculum materials available for purchase for teaching this difficult subject. Homeschool publishers did their research well and pounced on this potential money maker years ago. In a moment I'll list a few with which I have experience, but I thought I would share just a few of the tips that I have found to be helpful over the years.

**The simplest, yet most difficult advice I can offer is that the best way to teach writing is to have your kids write and write and write and write. The more they write and re-write, the better (and more confident) they will become at it. Have them write letters to grandma, journal their thoughts, write newspaper articles, write stories, interview a friend and write an article, and on and on the list goes. And to make this approach even more effective, you need to write with your kids. Don't worry that your kids will be discouraged when comparing their written work to your masterpieces ... instead, look at it as a joint venture. Point out the areas where their ideas were "different" from yours and praise their original thinking. Let them read your writing and pick up some good ideas.

**Second ... look for a set of simple writing rubrics and use them consistently. You can find some online, or create your own. Bottom line, a simple set of grading guidelines, used consistently, will greatly benefit your student (who will know what your expectations are) and you as the teacher (who won't have to re-create the wheel with every assignment).

**Finally ... before your student begins any formal writing, teach them to "map" their thoughts. One of the most difficult concepts for a young writer to conquer is the ability to brainstorm ideas, and then put them in some sort of coherent, logical order. You can bypass this frustration by utilizing specialized software such as Inspiration, or give them your own visual format to work within. For example, a friend of mine used to use a "dresser" visualization with her kids. The dresser was the topic at hand (maybe baseball). Each of the five drawers in the dresser were the five main points the student wished to address in their paper. Maybe the top drawer was "history of baseball", second drawer was "rules of the game", third drawer was "legendary baseballs players", and so on. You get the idea. Finally, each drawer contained a variety of items. Just like the top drawer of the dresser in their bedroom might contain socks, t-shirts and shorts ... the top drawer of their outline might contain three "sub-topics". Once they were finished "outlining" their dresser, they were set to move on to writing their first draft. Either approach works ... one simply has more "bells and whistles" than the other!
As promised ... here are a few products I've found helpful in our homeschool:
  • Diamond Notes - an inexpensive, easy approach for teaching young writers. This worked well with our youngest.
  • Writing Strands was very popular when our oldest was learning to write. We had some limited success with this workbook approach (our oldest loved workbooks).
  • Bravewriter has received lots of great press over the years. We used them for one year with good success, but they are pricey.
  • WriteatHome is my current favorite. This is our second year and I have found that having a writing coach for each of my students has been a great idea. Their feedback is always chock full of good pointers, but they're also incredibly encouraging. A real winner in our household and now we can integrate with our Sonlight-based writing assignments.

So don't delay ... today is as good a time as any to begin! Have your kids write that dreaded annual Christmas letter ... or better yet, have them create what could become an annual Christmas newsletter.

Blessings ...
~Judy

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