Reading and writing are beautifully interconnected. The relationship between them is similar to that of the chicken and the egg. Without one the other can’t exist.
To read well, a student must decode text, understand vocabulary, and use background knowledge to determine meaning. Writing requires all the skills of reading, plus numerous others.
He must research, formulate ideas and distill them into concrete and easily understood sentences and paragraphs. He has to worry about proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. He must then create interesting beginnings and endings. Then he has to structure all that so it’s intelligible, which requires numerous revisions. No wonder my kids find it so difficult!
I have a confession: I also dislike teaching my kids writing! It’s the subject I find to be the VERY most challenging to teach.
I don’t mind teaching grammar and I’ve never once had to ‘teach’ literature, just because we’re such huge bookworms over here that I have trouble keeping our library stocked. If I want my kids to read something, all I have to do is buy a copy and leave it lying around.
And I absolutely love teaching math and science. But writing? Yikes! I’d rather clean toilets.
Because my kids put up such a fight! And maybe because I’m a little bit lazy and just don’t want to fight them.
My little ones think that writing an entire paragraph is tantamount to summiting Mount Everest. And they complain proportionately. My older kids will argue until they’re blue in the face that my corrections and suggestions for improvement are just my opinion.
We’ve tried writing prompts, journals and various curricula, basically to no avail. So I just do my best to integrate writing with our reading and to sneak in a few little things here and there until they are about high school age, when I gladly turn them over to a professional for writing instruction.
Surprise, surprise, this method has actually worked very well! It turns out proficient writers, who understand and can apply proper mechanics and also coherently communicate their ideas through writing. My two oldest aced their college entrance tests, including the writing portion, along with several AP tests, and have been very successful so far at University.
Over the last 16 years of homeschooling my eight kids (two are in college, the other six are still in the works at ages 5-16, but they all read and write well above grade level) I’ve learned a few ways to implement this minimal but effective writing instruction.
I hope that these suggestions can help other homeschool moms who might also be struggling with reluctant (or rebellious!) writers:
1. Start young — teach letters through writing.
Many new writers confuse letters like b and d, p and q, and have a hard time remembering which direction they all go.
When my oldest was 4-years-old, almost 5, and we started homeschooling, she could already read a bit but had no experience with writing. I jumped into phonics with her, teaching her exactly what my mother-in-law, a former elementary school teacher, told me to.
My mother-in-law had given us some letter worksheets that started with cutting and pasting and progressed to writing. I noticed that my daughter would write many of her letters backward, so we’d just correct them.
I wasn’t alarmed until later, when she began writing entire sentences backward — perfectly mirrored. The letters were reversed, and so were the words. It was all written right to left. She could easily correct it when I showed her, but then she’d go right back to it.
I started having my daughter talk herself through letter formation, and we created rhythmic verbal cues for her, to help her differentiate difficult letters.
For example, to write the letter b she would say out loud while drawing, “Start at the top, go down, bounce back up and around.” Whereas, for the letter d, the child starts the letter where the top of the circle and the vertical line meet and says while drawing, “Around, around, around, up, down.”
She memorized each of her verbal cues easily and it totally corrected her problem. And because she was able to get them all straight, through writing, she no longer confused them when reading.
Strangely, my fifth and eighth daughters also had this problem, and we corrected it the same way. I think that writing the letters added a kinesthetic component, along with the verbal/auditory component of the prompts, that was just enough to reinforce the letters, making them much easier to differentiate and remember.
2. Teach phonemic awareness through writing.
Phonics and phonemic awareness (the ability of readers to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes, or ‘chunks of sound’) are two of the pillars of reading. Without understanding the connection between sounds and letters, a person cannot read. The connection between reading and writing can help solidify these skills in young readers.
When young children are encouraged to write, and to sound out words as they spell them, two valuable things happen. The first is that they develop phonemic awareness naturally and easily.
The second is that the whole phonics idea becomes more ingrained and deeply-rooted, just because spelling is more multi-sensory and slower than reading. Writing slows things down, making language available for examination in ways that oral language doesn’t.
3. Nurture his love of reading.
Literacy research has documented synergistic links between reading and writing. Langer and Flihan note, “ Writers incorporate what they have learned about language, structure and style from the texts they have encountered as readers”. The key word here is encounter. If students don’t read plentifully, their writing will suffer.
Whenever we experience a text as a reader, we receive a writing lesson: how to spell, punctuate, use proper grammar, structure sentences and organize texts.
Reading also inspires students and introduces them to great ideas beyond their own, limited, personal experience. It gives them something to write about.
4. Give your child authentic, daily writing experiences.
Let him help write the grocery list. Ask him to add a note at the end of the letter you’re writing to Grandma. Teach him to write thank-notes for gifts. Let him write the Christmas cards for the neighbors. He might even enjoy planning out the menu or writing the packing list for vacation.
5. Expose him to great literature.
Introduce him to truly skillful writing, which will model excellent organization, syntax, language and other elements of good writing. Beginning readers, and even more advanced chapter-book series for children (e. g. The Boxcar Children, Magic Treehouse, Cam Jensen, The Littles, etc…) are fun, but typically aren’t great literature.
Your child may not pick up classics on his own at first, so start by reading them aloud to him, pointing our particularly delicious phrases and descriptions, and laughing together over the funny parts. This is how I trick my kids into reading Huckleberry Finn as young as 6-years-old. We get to the part about the robber gang, which is hilarious, then I put the book down on the table. By morning it’s always gone!
Children should be given a say in literature choices, too. We’re all more motivated by things we enjoy and have chosen than by things that are forced on us. In order to encourage ownership over their reading and writing, children should be given chances to read and write what is interesting and important to them.
6. Teach your child to read like a writer.
I like to think of this particular method as a long conversation, rather than an assignment. Reading really is about communication between the reader and the author.
Have your child underline or highlight verbiage that strikes his fancy and even take notes in the margin, if he wants to. Teach him that he should be asking questions of the author, examining the underlying structure of the book and questioning the author’s choices.
Teach your young reader that the climax of the book is the most important part to scrutinize and that he should question the why, what, how, when, where of everything associated with it. The most critical question to ask is how the protagonist has been transformed by the events surrounding the climax. Then your child should think about what the author wanted the reader to learn from the protagonist.
Saul Bellows’ definition of a writer is “a reader moved to emulation.” All great writers started out as readers.
7. Integrate reading and writing with other subjects as much as possible.
This technique is my BFF. Because I am trying to teach my child effective writing skills without causing my children extra writing and therefore tears, I try to integrate it into other subjects as much as possible.
For example, we use delta science kits extensively. The kits consist of a journal for each student and all of the materials needed to learn about a particular branch of science. My kids read the instructions, perform the experiment and then write about the outcome.
I would ask them to use complete sentences and remind them that a complete sentence would start with a capital letter, end with a period, and have a subject and a verb. We would look over the journal together after completion and make corrections to grammar and punctuation, but only spend a couple of minutes on it, and (ta-da!) writing is complete — without tears.
I can’t think of a single subject that doesn’t integrate well with writing.
8. And finally, as they develop maturity and need more formal writing instruction, hire outside help.
During the elementary grades, I use the above techniques, which are pretty minimal, to expose my kids to writing in ways they don’t object to. We also play grammar and punctuation games together, but we don’t study spelling or vocabulary or use a formal writing curriculum.
Around 12-years-old, I plunk this huge, Easy Grammar book down and let them chip away at it, a lesson per day. It’s comprehensive and simple to use. And did I mention that it’s comprehensive? It takes each child about a year to complete and thoroughly prepares them for college-entrance tests. And it’s well-organized and interesting so that my kids quite enjoy it.
Each of my kids so far has wanted to join our local homeschool debate league at about this point. In addition to helping them develop critical thinking and reasoning skills, debate helps them learn to research, analyze, and use evidence. They write constantly and learn to structure and organize their thoughts.
And the very best part about debate is that someone else is critiquing their work. They write oratories, extemporaneous speeches, arguments for Lincoln-Douglas debate, and lots more. Their teacher provides feedback, which my children value, because they know that each portion of class culminates in a debate tournament, where their work (the oratories, speeches and arguments) is on display for hundreds of their peers as well as judges.
As situations have required, I’ve also signed my children up for the occasional Excellence in Writing (IEW) class at our homeschool co-op or online, and one year I even hired my brother-in-law to teach them.
I’ve seen homeschool classes for creative writing, poetry and novel-in-a-year classes. Your child might be more interested in technical writing. Whatever their particular interest, it is really helpful to find outside instruction for older (and more prideful and argumentative) children.
These are just a few effective techniques you can use to teach writing without frustration and tears. As busy homeschool moms, we need to take advantage of the inherent connections between reading and writing, and look for ways to integrate writing into other subjects, instead of isolating writing as a separate subject. It will make our lives easier, and it will make learning more enjoyable for our children.
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In addition to the tips, encouragement and resources that I’ve shared to help your teach your child to read, I’ve joined an amazing group of talented bloggers who have each created their own 10-day helpful homeschooling series for you to enjoy! Be sure to visit them all below!