To succeed at school and, later, in life, children need to explain things in writing. But lots of students have problems writing clearly. This is a problem at school – writing skills are essential for good exam results across the curriculum (even in STEM subjects). Poor writing is an even bigger obstacle in the workplace, with professional email, social media and report-writing skills key to advancing in many careers.
When children learn to write well:
- you can spot their comprehension gaps more easily;
- they get better at comprehending and producing sentences with complex grammar;
- they learn to organise, structure and sequence their thoughts logically; and
- they learn to improve their study skills.
As with reading, learning to write is not natural. Writing has to be taught explicitly. But how?
Taking my cue from Hochman and Wexler’s “The Writing Revolution”, here are exercises I’ve developed for use in the clinic with my clients. The idea is to use incomplete sentence cues or “fragments” to help writers recognise:
- first, that sentences need to contain a subject and a verb (at least a “who”, “what did they do”); and
- second, that basic noun-verb sentences can be improved by responding to cues such as:
- where did it happen? (e.g. in the park, at the beach, on the soccer field, in Ancient Rome, in Victorian England);
- when did it happen? (e.g. in the morning, at night, at 7am, in Winter);
- why did it happen? (e.g. because he wanted to win the game, because Augustus Caesar centralised control of the Treasury, or because of gravity); and
- how did it happen? (e.g. suddenly, gradually, tragically, comically, violently).
For these exercises, I’ve chosen random sentence fragments matching the interests of many of my younger clients so you can just print and use these in your sessions. They can tick off each fragment as they work, so you can keep track of what they have completed. You can also use fragments tied to what your clients are learning at school (i.e. applying writing principle 3 above).
I’ve included two scaffolds – one for younger clients who need more room to write, and one for older clients. You can print each of these double-sided to save paper. There are several completed sentences to show you (and parents) how to use the scaffold.
For more, see our blog on our sister site, Banter Speech & Language: My school-age child can’t write properly!