Teaching Writing without (BUYING) a Writing Curriculum
Just Write! Practice Makes Perfect
Finding a writing curriculum can be difficult and expensive. But it doesn't have to be. Actually, as long as you have an English usage manual or two, you don't need a writing curriculum at all. You simply need to practice writing!
Repeated experience writing and editing your writing is the best way to improve your skill. And that requires no fancy curriculum or textbooks --just time to write.
Caveat -- some families really do need a writing curriculum. Read Do I Really Need a Writing Curriculum? at In Our Write Minds blog to discover if you need a curriculum or if you can go the DIY route as I outline here.photo credit
The Writing Process
Writing is far more complex than simply putting pencil to paper (or in today's day, typing at a keyboard). The skills involved in writing include
- word choice
And for most writers, doing all of those tasks at one time is impossible. Thus we use the writing process. We first think and plan what we will write. Then we organize those thoughts into some type of logical structure. That step is called prewriting.
Then we begin to dig in with the actual writing. This is the drafting stage. And it gets messy. Ideas are flowing, but sometimes spelling, punctuation, and grammar get lost in the shuffle. That doesn't matter. Because in the drafting stage, our main concern is capturing on paper all the precious ideas that the brain is churning out.
The next step is painfully long -- the editing stage. This is when you have to read and reread your draft, looking for ways in improve coherence and organization. Some sections may need additional details. You consider word choice and nit pick for those pesky spelling errors.
Once you've polished and rewritten, you're in the publishing stage when you share your work with someone or with the entire world.
Free Printable Writing Process Posters
Understanding the writing process is critical to writing success. Why? Because if you don't understand the steps, you may get bogged down with an irrelevant task. For example, you are grappling with grammar issues in the prewriting stage when you should not be considering that at all. There is a time for everything that relates to good writing. But each thing must be taken in turn. Otherwise you short circuit the brain's creativity.
So help your children to focus on just one part of the writing process at a time. And adapt your expectations to match the step that your child is working on. Writing is a messy task, and if you are expecting beauty too soon, you may end up discouraging your child.
We must walk before we can run, and we must learn the building blocks to writing in the same way.
Here are the steps:
The ability to write sophisticated and mechanically accurate sentences is foundational. So start there.
Then move to the five sentence paragraph.
And finally expand that same structure into a five paragraph essay.
Any of the three levels can be used with any writing topic. This is perfect for homeschooling a variety of grades. For example, your children are all studying the American Revolutionary War. The second grader writes a sophisticated sentence about the causes of the war. The fourth grader writes a paragraph about the same topic, and the seventh grader writes an entire essay.
If you want some guidelines for what type of writing should be expected at the different grade levels, visit Vermont Writing Grade Level Expectations which are found on pp. 99-133 of the PDF document
Once the three levels of sentence, paragraph, and essay are mastered, you can go on to experiment and move beyond the formulaic writing. But don't be fooled. The formulaic writing will serve you well in college classes and on entrance exams. So don't despise it.
Revising and Evaluating Writing - Using the Six Traits
During the revising stage, your child will benefit from extended one on one conferencing time with you. This is where the six traits of effective writing come into play. Look at one aspect at a time, and point out problem areas. Also be sure to point out places where that aspect is right on target! Specific praise is important not only as a confidence builder but also for reinforcing existing writing skills! So don't just focus on the negatives.
POSTERS and HANDOUTS
- Full color Six Traits handouts -- especially good for the visual learner
- Whimsical Six Traits posters -- a big set of 28, detailed, black and white pages.
- Six Traits scoring guides -- including examples
- Student Friendly Six Traits Writing Rubric for self assessment
- Rubric Sampler for grades 3-8
Do you feel overwhelmed by correcting your children's writing assignments? Don't! Instead you should be helping your child revise and edit his own work. Be sure to read this article,"Tired of Being a Red Ink Slave to Corrections?" Although it's written for the context of a classroom teacher with dozens of students, the principles are the same for a homeschooling parent.
Write Source 2000
Ideal for the middle school (grades 6-8) writer in school and at home, Write Source 2000 provides an accessible and comprehensive approach to writing, thinking, and learning.
This is the spine I use for my daughter's writing instruction. It also serves as a wonderful reference for matters of usage and mechanics.
Read a detailed description at the publisher's website.
Proofreading and Editing Skills
The best way to teach grammar and mechanics is in the context of real writing.
The next best way to learn grammar and mechanics is in deliberate editing exercises such as the examples listed below. Not only do editing exercises give you opportunity to reference usage guides and learn grammar, but they also hone the critical reading skills needed to proofread your own work.
How to use editing or proofreading exercises:
1. Give your child the passage and have him read it orally. This clarifies understanding and in some cases also can help him find errors.
2. Let him mark the errors, using standard proofreading marks.
Here are some printable reference pages (PDF) for proofreading marks:
3. Have him read it again, making sure he has found all the errors.
4. Check the passage against the suggested corrections (You can do it, or allow him to do it.) Remember that there may be more than one possible way to correct an error.
5. Ask your child to explain why he made each correction. If he cannot explain why, use your English usage guide as a reference.
6. Especially make a point to look up any missed corrections and make sure that he understands the usage or mechanics rules behind them.
- FREE -- Every Day Edits
Themed selections for proofreading, suitable for grades 4 and above. Answers are included.
- RETAIL -- Great Editing Adventure Series and Great Explorations in Editing
Published by Common Sense Press, these editing books are suitable for middle school and high school students. Three different volumes are available.
- ONLINE GAME -- Power Proofreading
For this interactive proofreading, you select your grade level and then correct passages.
- FREE -- Super Teacher Worksheets
Thirteen printable selections to proofread for grammar and usage. Answers are included.
Integrate Your Writing Assignments
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to select writing assignments from your currently studied academic areas. So if your child is studying chemistry this year for science, give her chemistry topics for writing assignments. If you are doing a unit study on Monet, have her write an essay about his art or his life. Write about poetry or novels that you are reading.
This is sometimes called writing across the curriculum. A great (and free) manual for writing across the curriculum is offered by Teaching That Makes Sense. There are some good tips for teaching writing as well as practical ways to develop writing prompts that connect to academic subject.
Choosing topics that are relevant to a child or teen are okay occasionally. Visit this page for examples of what I'm talking about. These topics sound like something a child would write in her diary or include in an email to a grandfather. Use these sparingly.
If you're preparing your child for college writing tasks, realize that the vast majority of writing assignments will be about an academic subject -- literature, science, art, or history, for example. If you constantly give your child creative writing assignments or "what do you think about this?" type of topics, you are putting your child at a disadvantage. Make him write about academic topics.
So how do you come up with writing prompts for your academic areas? If nothing comes to you immediately, try adding these beginnings to a topic your child is studying.
Compare ____ and _____.
Contrast ____ and _____.
Tell why _____.
Describe the steps of _____.
Thoroughly define _____.
What are the causes of ____?
What are the results of _____?
Give examples of _____?
Convince someone _____.
Tell the characteristics of _____.
Demonstrate that _____ is _____.
For more inspiration, read these sample writing prompts organized by academic areas.