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Tips for teaching writing

Teaching writing is important, and it is also difficult. If you give learners the chance to write often, and the chance to revise and refine their writing, you will be building the foundation for successful writing. Above all . . .

Make writing meaningful. Young writers can express themselves about topics that are important to them. These can include their families, special events in the community, topics in social studies, and many more.

The key is to provide students with a balance of guidance and choice; the goal of this balance is to guide them toward interesting and important ideas, and to enable them to find their way to meaningful materials within these topics.

Here are a few other tips:

Invite young writers to write freely, without worrying about correctness. Children who are just learning to write can build language structures and expression, even if they use imaginary spellings and strange punctuation.

You can teach young children to spell in many ways, including spelling out loud, spelling games, and crossword puzzles. However, when they write and are too concerned about correct spelling and punctuation, they have difficulty building a deeper, more intuitive (and more fundamentally important) relationship to language.

The central goal of writing at all levels should be effective communication of an idea.

The central rule for teachers of writing should be to create the chance for meaningful communication.

Invite young learners to dictate stories to a "scribe," who could be you, the teacher, a volunteer from the community, or an older student. (Remind the learner to be patient and speak slowly.) The young storytellers can then illustrate their stories. This exercise builds a bridge between speaking and writing.

Ask young learners to write about their own lives and experiences. Whether it's a holiday, or their experience with their grandparents, or any other experience outside the classroom, young writers write best when they write about something they know well.

Engage young writers in short bursts of writing. For children under the ages of 8 or 9, it's very tiring to hold the pencil or chalk, make the letters, and remain focused on the message to be communicated. Writing often, for brief periods, is much more effective than trying to write for a long period of time.

Encourage writers to keep journals or diaries. Writing is one way of structuring thought. Journal writing is important because it's not public. It can represent, for the writer, a chance to write in the most free way. For this reason, if you are planning to collect and review their journals, you should let students know this in advance.

Give writers the chance to revise. Professional writers may spend up to 85 percent of their time revising their first drafts. In classroom writing assignments, it's vitally important to encourage students to write freely, in their own words, and to try to cover all their thoughts on a topic. (Revision is more important for students over the ages of 8 or 9, who have begun to write more naturally to express themselves.)

(When learners can write and revise with computers, using word processing applications, revision is both easier and more effective.

Make opportunities for every imaginable kind of writing. When older learners write about how they considered a mathematics problem, about the way the weather affects the lives of their family members, or about objects and processes that they encounter in science, they are using writing as an effective tool.

Publish writing to make it meaningful. Learners' writing can be "published" on the walls of the classroom. It can also be shared with learners in other classes, with families and the community, and with others. When learners write letters to a community leader or a resource expert, whether to ask questions, offer opinions, or simply express appreciation for a visit, they have the chance to write about things that are important to them.

When their work is going to be published in some way, students are writing with a purpose.

Journal activity: Writing and review

Write in your journal every day for a week, for at least 20 minutes. Try to write at the same time of day. Complete at least one other journal activity that is described in this web site.

At the end of the week, review what you have written. Which topics that you addressed were most important? Try to analyse how your writing changes from the first day's entry to the last.

Discuss with another teacher how you guide children to write more, and more often, in your class. Post your ideas to the web site, and read what others have to say.

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Last revised April, 1999
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