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Curricula and Learning Links - Language Arts

Tips for Parents of Reluctant Writers

by the Message Board Participants

Deborah: I have VERY reluctant writers! I am teaching a 4th,6th, and 11th grade. When it is time for the writing assignment I get all kinds of "eeeews and aaaahs". Then when I grade them, and show them their mistakes,it is even worse! What do I do? They have to do writing, and I have to show them their mistakes. How do I do this without making them HATE it?

Julie in WA: I'm not an expert, but I do teach composition classes. Unless you have a very mature 4th grader, I would suggest copy work at this age. Let her (him?) copy a paragraph or a page from a well-written text. That lets her see and get used to proper grammar, syntax, and style. It's also nice for penmanship ;-). She is likely at a stage where information in is more important than information out.

For your 6th and 11th graders, their final papers should have NO corrections on it. Teach them to compose a story or essay, then let them write you a FIRST DRAFT. Make ALL the necessary corrections on that first draft, and have them revise it. If they have made all the corrections you've pointed out, you can simply grade the second draft (hopefully the final) on content and style.

Their graded papers will be excellent, and something to be proud of. They will make fewer and fewer mistakes on the first draft, as they see consistent errors and know they will have to correct them.

Some texts we have found useful are Strunk and White's Elements of Style, and Kate Turabian's Manual for Writers. These are useful for building a foundation from which your children's creativity will blossom.

Cindy in NM: A blank sheet of paper can strike terror in the heart of a reluctant writer. I started out this year handing my 4th grader a lined index card for her writing, asking her to fill it. Pretty soon she was writing one paragraph per index card, using a total of three or four cards. Now, at last, we have eased into notebook paper and she is undaunted.

Mary Leggewie: Letters and journals. I got this idea of a shared journal from a friend locally. Get a nice journal and write a note to your child. Then the child has to write back to you. I did this with Yvette when she was twelve, and it brought us even closer to each other. She would be so excited about writing to me, knowing that I'd write her back. She would share very private thoughts and concerns with me. She never did this during "school hours." She'd write it, almost secretly, and then whisper in my ear that she'd finished. She'd check back with me shortly afterwards to see if I'd read it yet, or if I'd written a response yet. She really was interested in this. I never corrected her journal, but her spelling errors would show up later on her spelling work! I can't recommend this enough--it really brought us close.

Martha Robinson: Try this free and easy idea! Start with a fairy tale. Have her read it and then narrate it to you. Now ask her to think about how she could change it to make it different -- funny, strange, etc. Brainstorm with her on this if necessary. Then have her tell you the new story and YOU write it down. Then let her copy it the next day. It is really difficult for many children to think and write at the same time, so if YOU do the writing, their stories become much more rich and interesting. Besides all that, you should be able to spell and punctuate better so when she copies it, it will require less correction. Also, try working on outlining skills.

SoCalPam: My children would rather do something with their hands than sit and write about it. Sound familiar? For study on constellations, we read legends about the stars written by Native Americans and Romans. It was difficult for the kids to understand how five stars could represent a woman sitting on a chair! We took tiny shells (gummed stars work even better) and sprinkled them across a sheet of black construction paper. After careful study, we connected our shells (stars) with metallic pens and glued down the pertinent shells, scooping off the rest. Then the kids wrote a legend for their constellation.

My older son (9) made a "weather vane" which I thought was a little strange, but he wrote his legend about the North and South Winds and how one blew the other into the sky where it became a constellation. Interesting! My other son (5) wrote about his "snail" constellation, and how it comes out at night, just like the snails in the garden. I was surprised at the way they were able to make detailed concepts. Both had conflicts that had to be resolved. I certainly would have assigned them something much more low-key. I've found that when I give them some rope they go for it!

For my older son, we then took his legend and corrected it for paragraph structure, spelling, etc. and he copied it over.

Sue: My second grader is just won't write!

Allie: Have your child record a story into a tape recorder. Let him make up stories that he can dictate into it. Then you could write them down, and he could see how well he's doing!

I only have mine doing copy work ...not making things up, although they do enough of that on their own. Both my boys are into making comic books.

Laurajean: With a boy that young, I wouldn't worry too much. I would let him copy a couple of sentences or a short paragraph every day (they are using those fine motor muscles, seeing good grammar and punctuation, etc).

I have my youngest copy a paragraph or 2 (remember, he's 10!) into a spiral bound notebook. I have him copy a chapter (this could take a month) out of whatever book he is currently reading.

Also, let him tell a story to you. You write it down, then let him copy it into a special notebook and even let him illustrate his story. My youngest loves doing this. He really enjoys reading his last year's stories!

Do something simple and don't worry right now about the "creativeness." You want him to build good writing and communication skills and that does not happen overnight. Select a topic that interests him such as dinosaurs. Have him write 3 sentences about dinosaurs...Name 3 different kinds of dinosaurs. How big was the brontosaurus? Verrrrrrrry simple and basic. Then you can move on to more descriptive and detailed sentences as he masters the basics.

Jamie: Do you have him keep a journal? That's what I would do at this age and that's all I'd do at this age for creative writing, especially.

We still do journal. Here's how I do it:

I cut pictures out of magazines and newspaper and put them in a big manilla envelope. Every day, my son pulls out one picture. We work together to come up with a beginning of a story and then he finishes it.

For example, yesterday was a picture of a guy on a motorcycle driving past an official looking building. My son came up with this starting sentence: Frank, the biker, drove past the school quickly because....

I give him about 20 min to write (less sometimes) and he came up with a story about not wanting to put his kids in public school so he was driving really fast...and so on.

He can do it more on his own now. But I have to give him prompts like: what's the man's name? what is he doing? why is he doing that? Eventually I think he'll be able to do these things on his own.

I do not grade journal other than to circle spelling mistakes. It's just something to help him learn to enjoy writing. Keep in mind that he's in 5th grade now, so this has been a long process. I think boys, especially, have to be taught how to do this. It doesn't come naturally.

Now we also cut out the parts of speech from magazines and newspapers: nouns
and so on.

They all go into envelopes and then we start by picking a noun. Then a verb. Then we add articles, prepositions, more nouns (think direct objects, etc) and whatever else we need to make a funny sentence and he uses this for a story starter. The only rule is you're not allowed to put any words back. You keep working until you have a sentence of some sort. You might have to tweak the verb forms or stuff, but it's funny.

Sometimes we do both: a picture and a silly sentence and I can't even tell you the hilarious writings we've gotten out of that!

It takes a while to accumulate enough words to have a good variety, but this is also good practice at the parts of speech as you search the newspaper together. Even a 1st or 2nd grader can do nouns (person, place, thing) or verbs (action words) and you can make it more sophisticated as they grow up.

I just made this up, but it's a good use of the daily newspaper if you subscribe to it - helps to recycle. I reuse my words (and should laminate them, probably) but my pictures I staple on the left side of the notebook page, and the story goes on the right so at the end of the year, we have a nicely "illustrated" storybook that Wes is so proud of. I love English!

Mary Leggewie: I had Yvette dictate a story to me while I typed! Then I'd have her re-write it in her own handwriting. Letters seemed to work the best for her, and if she could draw a picture in the letter, so much the better!

Samatha in NC: Please give me some tips for a 10 year old who just HATES to write!

Norma: Let the "topic" be funny or weird, like my list of the most gross foods and why, things that make me crack up, wouldn't it be funny if...., If I could be..... then I'd....., I hate writing because......, My favorite thing to do is........., I guess, let her come up with something that interests her or is part of her life or something that she has strong feelings about, even if it's kind of negative.

Lorraine in BC: To start, try 'free writing' for awhile until she gains confidence. Just ask her to write about ANYTHING she likes for 10 or 15 min. and then DON'T CORRECT IT, JUST PRAISE IT. After she gains confidence over a few weeks, you can start integrating little corrections amidst your praises.

SoCalPam: Here's a creative idea! My son has been very interested in my dad's life as a boy and has been asking him questions, so I'm going to have him write my dad either each week or every other week and note one of his own memories. Then my dad will write back with a memory of his own from HIS life. It can be associative or something completely random, but they'll be sharing their lives and putting pen to paper for a lasting keepsake.