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Monday 15 April 2013

Don't forget to teach writing!

A homeschooling mum once asked me, "What do I teach my child after I have taught him how to read?" She had no idea what to teach after reading was achieved. It was as if reading was the only important goal of learning.

Most people tend to have this mindset. They tend to forget that writing is just as important. This not only happens with parents but also with professionals as well. Most of the professional research literature will tend to focus on reading while it is hard to find as many on writing. Writing has always been treated as the poor cousin.

How do we teach children to write? Here are the stages that I teach writing:

1. Let children scribble. Making marks is the first form of writing. It also provides them practice with the pencil grip. Don't be afraid to give children pencils and papers to scribble on. Some parents worry about children poking others or themselves with the pencil or that the children might scribble on walls and never give their children pencils to hold. This is a mistake because they end up with under developed writing skills. For how are they to write when they cannot hold a pencil properly or to control it?

Also, provide children with different types of writing implements and writing surfaces as this will keep them motivated. Writing implements include pencils, crayons, markers, gel pens, glitter pens, and paint brushes. Writing surfaces include coloured papers, textured papers in a variety of sizes, cards, notepads, exercise books and white boards.

2. Drawings with Letters. Once children learn how to write letters and numbers, they will attempt to add a few known letters and numbers to their drawings. So it is absolutely necessary to teach children how to write letters.

An important point here is that when teaching children to write letters, they must be taught to write in lower case - only their names should be taught with the capital for the first letter. Many children who enter my prekindergarten classes are taught the upper case letters by their parents and when asked to write their name and to write the alphabet they do so in capitals.

There is nothing wrong with learning the capitals but when they come to write words and sentences they continue to do so in complete capitals. And it becomes a hard habit to break. Imagine a whole page of WRITING IN CAPITALS or partial WriTing in caPiTals (partial writing happens when children have learnt a few letters in capitals at home and then I teach them the lower cases, it's hard for them to change because they have locked the capitals into their mind). You can spare children the headache by teaching the lower cases first.

Can you spot the letters and numbers in these drawings?
These were done by 4 year old students.

 by CJ

by Mariam
Children may even imitate writing words.
by Rayhanah 

2. Draw and label. When you see children drawing pictures then it is an excellent opportunity for writing by simply asking them to label the picture. For this, children would need to know the sounds of letters and also could hear the first and last sounds in words.

Or you could ask children to draw a picture then ask them to label  the picture with one word. For example, ask what it is that they have drawn then ask them what letters they can hear in that word, eg if they have drawn a car then ask what the first sound they can hear in the word 'car' is and then what other sounds they can hear (this would usually be the last sound, at this stage they find it hard to hear the middle sound).

Here is an opportunity to label some pictures

"diamond, love heart, star, moon, dot, sun, leaf" by Mariam, age 5 years

3. Write sentences using sight words taught. When children are taught sight words, have them use the words in their writing. For example, I can ___, It is a ____, I see a ___, For the sight words "I can", ask children to draw something that they can do then ask them to write the sentence "I can ___" underneath. So if child has drawn himself playing, ask him to write "I can" then sound out the word "playing" (as above in draw and label).

Similarly, ask children to draw something they can see then ask her to write "I can see a __"

"the flower is nice" by Samiha, age 4 years

"I can see the sea" by Jamileh, age 5 years

4. Draw and write. At this stage children need to be able to confidently sound out words and know quite a few sight words. They would also need to know the structure of a sentence (capital and full stop/period) and about spacing. Ask children to draw something - it could be what they did, something that belongs to them or they like. Then have children write about it.

For example, ask them what their favourite toy is and to draw it. Then ask them to describe it, what they like about it, why it's special and so on. Now have them write down what they said about the toy.

"I love Miss Jamilah a lot in the whole world. Because she lets us colour and play with the puzzle and read books." by Mariam, aged 6 years. Notice the overuse of full stops at the end of each line.

"To Miss Jameela. I am going to miss you on the holidays because you are the best teacher in the world. Love Jamileh." by Jamileh, age 6 years. Yes I had a student named Jamileh but she spelt her name differently to mine - it was quite confusing for the other students to remember the 2 different forms. This was actually a letter that she wrote to me before the holidays with only a few mistakes.

Write Detailed Sentences booklet
Draw and Write booklet

5.Teach children how to write different text types. Once children can write sentences on their own, it is time to teach them the different text types. By knowing the different text types and how they are written, children are better able to write them. The first group of text types are easier to write than the second group. There are others but these are the main types.

a. Narrative, Recount and Procedure.
A narrative is a story, a recount is recalling what you did or what happened (like in a journal and biography) and a procedure is a set of instructions (how to do something and includes recipes). Children in kindergarten can be taught the basic forms of these.

Story Prompts booklet to help write narratives.

b. Report, Exposition (persuasion) and Discussion.
These are taught in the upper grades as they are more complex.

I remember when I was in Year 7 and we were asked to write an essay about saving the Daintree Rainforest. None of us had any ideas on how to write an essay let alone heard of the word. We had not even read an essay or practice writing one ever - not even in the upper grades of primary school were we taught.

We were thrown in the deep end and were expected to write. What we wrote were passable but weren't great. Keep in mind that in those days, the theory of reading and writing was that you weren't explicitly taught but you had to experience it (whole language). If we knew what the structure of an essay looked like and had a little practice, I'm sure we would all have produced much better results.

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