TRT Podcast#12: How to teach writing at home
Teaching writing isn’t easy for anyone – not even for trained teachers! But it’s so important … and these tips will help!
Get answers to these questions:
- How often should your child write?
- How should you handle spelling?
- Should you teach your child the writing process?
- How can you help your child write for authentic purposes?
Grab these free guides for teaching writing at home in PreK-grade 3. I kept them simple and easy to follow for busy parents like you!
Full episode transcript
You are listening to episode 12, How to Teach Writing at Home. Hello, Anna here. You are listening to Triple R teaching, the podcast where I typically share tips and strategies for full time classroom teachers and home-schoolers. I've taken a pivot, though, since many of us find ourselves at home with our children during the global pandemic. This episode is for you, the instant homeschooler, and today is all about writing.
I'll be honest, I dragged my feet a little bit as I thought about creating this episode and that's because I teach the writing workshop approach, which I believe is hands down the best way to teach writing in kindergarten and up. The trick, though, is that writing workshop is rather involved and somewhat complicated to learn. That's why I created a full online course about teaching writing with my colleague Becky Spence. It's called Teaching Every Writer, and it's a six-week course.
Well, this podcast is typically 15 to 20 minutes long, so I'm not even going to try to teach you everything there is to know about the writing workshop in this podcast episode. Instead, I have two goals for you today. I want to help you learn to encourage a positive attitude toward writing and provide frequent opportunities for writing practice that will help your child grow as a writer.
My first tip may feel a little bit out of place, but here it is: To support writing at home, read to your child. The best writers are avid readers. Read to your child every day if you can. If your child's a bit older, like third grade and up, and may not be totally excited about listening to you read, find some exciting, engaging books for older listeners and perhaps fit this into your schedule several times a week.
I totally understand that we all have great ideas and aspirations right now, but that real life gets in the way. Even though you're all home, your house is getting messier, you have more meals to cook, and you may be working full time from home too. So I don't want this to stress you out, but I just want you to know that this is a really positive thing you can do and it's going to support your child as a writer as well as a reader, so you get double results for this fun part of your day.
My next tip is to give your child authentic writing experiences. What that means is have them write for real purposes, not just to put something on paper. So writing prompts, you can certainly use them once in a while, but even during this situation, I would not make them be the bulk of the writing that your child does. By writing prompt, I mean you have your child sit down and write about what you tell them to write for half a page or so. For example, write about what you did this weekend.
I just don't recommend that for a lot of reasons and one of them is that children often don't do their best work when writing to prompts. They are writing to get it done, not to communicate something or write something that's important to them. Yes, your child will get practice with spelling and writing complete sentences, those are good things, and that's why if all you have right now is writing prompts, it's not the end of the world, but it is far from the best thing that you can do with your child to help develop that positive attitude toward writing and build writing skills.
Giving them authentic writing experiences is important because it helps them see that writing matters. We write for a purpose. And if there was ever a better time to teach children letter writing, I don't know when it would be. This is such an ideal time to help your child learn to write letters, particularly to people who might be feeling especially lonely and separate right now. Go ahead and have your kids write letters to residents of your local nursing home. They do not need to be to people that you know. They can start the letter, "Dear friend." Before you do this, please make sure that you show your child how. So if you sit down and give your child a piece of paper and say, "Okay, we're going to write letters to the people at the nursing home because they're feeling sad because no one can come and visit them," and you tell them to write "Dear friend," and then write a letter, I can almost promise you this is not going to go well even if you have an older child. Particularly younger children for example, K to three, are probably going to get extremely frustrated. There may be tears because they have no idea what you want them to do. They don't know what to say. It can be a stressful situation. So I'll tell you the same thing I always tell classroom teachers ... and that is model, model, model.
So don't expect your child to do some kind of writing without watching you do it first. So you sit down and you say, "I'm going to write a letter to someone at the nursing home because I've been reading that it's a very lonely time for nursing home residents. Their regular visitors can't come see them. So I'd like to cheer up their day by sending them a letter. Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to take this piece of paper and I'm going to write, 'Dear friend,' at the top and I'm going to think to myself, what are some things I could tell this person? Well first I'm going to tell them more about myself. 'My name is ...'" And so on.
So model the whole process, the whole letter, before asking your child to write one themselves. They can certainly also write to grandparents, they can even write little letters to neighbors. There are lots of things that you can do to make writing authentic.
My next tip is to schedule quality writing time into your week. And I'm going to be right up front with you right now and tell you I have not done this yet. I haven't. I'm standing here telling you, you need to do it and I haven't done it and that's because I am working to learn our new routine. Yep, after a month, I'm still working on it. I'm trying to keep up with all the assignments that my kindergartner and second grader have received from their teachers in packets, while assisting my older kids as they work on their Chromebooks in Google classroom as needed.
So yes, there's a lot going on. However, I know that I can certainly sit down and make this a priority. I can. I just have to do it and I'm going to do that and I want to encourage you to do that as well. What I don't recommend is having writing time be the time that you give your child a writing prompt and walk away. So I don't recommend saying, "Okay, today I want you to write about the time that we went to the Grand Canyon." So don't tell them exactly what to write about and then expect them to do it. Instead, show them how to find an idea and to write about that idea. So they might be writing about their real life, they might be writing a pretend story, some kids might even be writing a poem. The point is, try to help them come up with their own ideas for writing.
The best tip I can tell you is to have your writing time be as consistent as possible and as long as possible. So I think it would be best to have your child write three times a week for about 20 minutes or so, instead of five days a week for seven minutes. The longer period of time is better because it can take a long time to get those writing juices flowing. It's just the nature of writing, whether you're seven years old or 37 years old. So building in extra time so we don't have to feel stressed or quickly frustrated because we can't think of what to write about is ideal.
I like to use the analogy of a train. When a train gets going, it takes some time for it to gain momentum, but then once it's going, you want it to keep going. You don't want to have to stop it and start it and stop it and start it because it takes lots of oomph to get going again. Writing is the same way. We don't want to keep stopping our kids, starting, stopping, starting. We want to give them time to let that writing train move smoothly. When you have your kids write in short bursts of time every day, it's kind of like stopping and starting and stopping and starting the train. Instead, give them a few days of longer writing time, ideally three days or more and you're going to get better results.
I think one tricky thing here for you as a parent is knowing what to teach your child as they're writing. Now I have lots of mini lesson ideas for teachers. I have them available on my website and certainly lots of them inside Teaching Every Write. In fact, we have over 200 done-for-you mini-lessons in Teaching Every Writer. But that's not what you need right now. I know that what you need is a very simple list of things you can teach your child by grade level.
So because this podcast is for educators of learners in pre K through grade three, in your show notes, you're going to find a very simple list of writing ideas, things you can teach writers in pre K through grade three. And I am aiming this at you, the parent, so it's not going to be super complicated. If you were a regular classroom teacher or homeschooler, I would make it longer, but because we are working in a short window of time, I'm going to keep this simple and just share what I think are some of the most important things that you could teach your children as writers, things that I think are totally doable even if you don't have a degree in education. So I highly recommend that you head to the show notes, themeasuredmom.com/episode12, when you finish listening so you can grab that freebie.
My next tip is to teach the writing process. The problem with having your child only do journal prompts is that that's a one and done. You answer the question and you're finished. Kids rarely even read over their writing to check for mistakes. Let's move past journal prompts every day and show our students that writers do more than throw something on paper. They follow a process.
Now, before I get into that process, hear me on this. Do not, I repeat, do not expect your child to follow the writing process for every piece of writing. I do not recommend that. It's going to sour your child on writing and it isn't necessary. Many times we start a piece of writing, get a little bit through and think, eh, I'm not crazy about this. I'm going to start a different piece. Professional writers do this all the time, and we need to give our children that freedom as well.
So as I go through the steps of the writing process, think to yourself, having my child go through this process every two weeks or so, is good. First, we may think or talk about what we're going to write, going through some kind of brainstorming, and this is true even if you don't go through the whole writing process. So even if you don't have plans for a child to take this all the way through revising, editing, and publishing, they can still do some kind of pre-writing. Again, that may just be talking out loud about what they're going to write about.
And then as they write, you really want to help your child see that it doesn't have to be perfect.This can be a real challenge. I know there are lots of kids who don't want to write anything they can't spell. Here's the problem with that. If your child thinks you have to be there to spell every single word, you are very much slowing down their creative process and you're not teaching them much of anything because you're not letting them puzzle through the spelling by themselves. If they're just getting all their spellings from you, they're not learning anything about phonics, they're basically doing dictation and that's not what we're going for. Can you help with spelling? Absolutely. And you should, especially when what you're teaching your child is something they can remember, but you don't want to be your child's little spelling dictionary. You don't want to set up a situation where you have to be sitting next to your child during the whole writing because they're going to need you to spell every third word for them. And that's a very easy trap to fall into.
What you can teach them is that if they don't know how to spell a word, they write it anyway and they circle it lightly with a pencil and you'll come help them with it later. If you have a child who is extremely frustrated by this and is constantly erasing and making a mess on their paper because they want everything to be perfect, take the eraser off the pencil and tell them that, "During writing, we write without erasers and we cross out when we want to change something." This can help them develop that attitude of accepting something that looks less than perfect.
That was a little bit about the drafting stage. Let's move on to revising, editing, and publishing.
The biggest thing that your kids can learn about revising is they should always read over their writing. And this is whether or not they're going to bring it all the way through the publishing stage. This is so important because whether you're in first grade or you're 45 years old, you make little errors as you write without realizing it, and we can quickly catch those when we read our writing out loud. So I actually recommend having your child do this. At the beginning of every writing period, they can take the writing they were working on last time and read it out loud before they continue. I do this all the time as a professional, as I'm writing things for my podcast or for blog posts or for my membership, I'm constantly reading back what I've written before. Not only does it help me catch mistakes, it helps me consider what I might want to change or what direction I want to go in next.
So you can see that revising is not just something that comes at the end, it's something that happens all through the writing process. So the writing process is not linear, it's recursive. We move in and out of the phases and that's normal.
If you're going to move it all the way through, you're going to help your child with editing. You might have them just do a certain number of things like fix three spellings or if this is something that you want to type up, you could have them pick a few and then you type the rest for them fixing all the other errors.
For publishing, this can be sending it to a friend. This can be emailing it. My second grader loves to write and like I said, we have not done focused writing time during the day, although I'm going to remedy that very soon, but he just writes on his own just because he likes to. He recently wrote a story about a robbery. So he and his little sister (who's in kindergarten) were the heroes of the story. They were detectives and they caught some bank robbers who were hiding in a cave. It was a very clever and creative story, and so we took that and we scanned it and emailed it to our neighbor who was celebrating her 11th birthday as a present. We also emailed it to grandparents. And so he got a lot of positive feedback on his story when he got emails back from his grandparents. That would be an example of something where we jumped right to publishing. We did not go through the rest of the writing process; that can certainly be okay too. Celebrating the writing that your child does by sharing it with others is very important.
My next tip is to have realistic expectations about spelling and grammar, and this is going to depend on your child's age. Spelling and grammar are absolutely important, but not all at once. Focusing too much on them will squelch creativity in young writers and destroy enthusiasm in older ones. As your child's literacy grows and you spend time with them, you will see what they're capable of and what they're ready to learn next. You'll know what you can hold them accountable for, but you'll only know this when you write with them several times a week.
Put spelling in the proper perspective. I am not going to insist that my six-year old-kindergartner spells every word correctly. Like I said before, I don't want to be her spelling dictionary, and it doesn't really teach her anything to sit there and basically take dictation. I want her to have some level of independence as a writer.
On the other hand, my next tip is don't forget about spelling and grammar. Some teachers and parents become so concerned about not overdoing it, that they adopt a hands-off approach and their child's writing becomes very careless and sloppy. It's not what their child is capable of. If we don't hold our kids accountable for what they can do and teach them new things as they are ready, they will continue to produce sloppy work that they can't take pride in. Remember that words, sentences and ideas come first, but spelling and grammar are a definite second.
My next tip is something I've been talking about all the way through this episode, and that's to give support and encouragement when your child is writing. Be as helpful as you can. I highly recommend scheduling the writing time early in the day or whenever you have the most patience and the fewest distractions because it does require an extra level of patience from you. Talk through ideas, supply help with spelling and punctuation when you feel it will be useful and when you're not creating this level of dependence on you. Think of yourself not as a critic, but as a helper and encourager.
So those were some of my quick tips for teaching writing at home. Let's review them really quick. They were to read to your children, remember at least three days a week. Give your kids authentic writing experiences such as writing letters to residents of nursing homes. Schedule quality writing time into your week, I recommend scheduling it for a time that you are the most patient. And remember, we're going for longer blocks rather than short frequent blocks. So three days a week for 20 minutes is much better than five days a week for seven minutes. Teach the writing process, pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing, remembering that kids can move out of those phases. They don't have to go in order, and we don't expect them to go through all the phases for every piece of writing.
Have realistic expectations about spelling and grammar, but also don't forget about spelling and grammar. So certainly hold your children accountable for what they can do, challenge them to do new things, but don't expect perfection or something beyond their current level of development.
And finally, give support and encouragement. All of these things can help your child develop a love for writing and build writing skills at the same time.
Remember to head to the show notes at themeasuredmom.com/episode12. And there you can grab that free printable with ideas for what exactly to teach your child as a writer.
Thanks so much for listening, and I'll talk to you again soon.
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