Written by Ms. Rehensely
Knowing how to help with their children’s writing assignments is not a skill most parents have. See if this account sounds familiar:
Sarah came home from school dejected. In her hand was an essay she had written the week before. The teacher’s comments written in red on the paper said, “be more specific, run-on sentence, unclear, and weak conclusion.”
Sarah spent hours working on her essay, and even with all of the comments, she still has no understanding of why it received such a low score.
A Parent’s Own Childhood Experiences
Countless adults have similar stories about their grade school experiences with writing assignments.
- “My 5th-grade teacher hated my writing,”
- “My essays looked like they were bleeding with all the comments written in red.”
These experiences have a lasting impression that affects most people into adulthood. Their attitudes about writing are often connected to their experiences in school.
However, no matter the attitude, either positive or negative, many of our daily tasks require some form of writing, and more importantly, most jobs require writing, so it is imperative that students learn writing skills.
Parents can play a vital role in helping students improve their writing skills and their attitudes towards writing. Hopefully, you can begin this process at least three or four days before the paper is due. The dreaded last minute essay rarely receives the attention needed to write a solid high scoring paper.
The following offers several tips that parents can use to assist their children with their next writing assignment.
Understand the Assignment
Before the writing begins, it is necessary to understand what the teacher is asking of the students. Ask your child to read the directions, or the essay prompt to you. Is this a persuasive essay, a book report, a literary analysis?
It doesn’t matter what type of essay because all good writing requires the same elements, but we’ll get to that later. What does matter is that the child understands what the teacher expects for this writing assignment.
Once you have a clear understanding of the assignment, you can begin discussing possible ideas about how to approach the topic. Brainstorming is a necessary step before the actual writing begins. Try to get your child to express as many ideas as possible.
You can add to the list, but the majority of ideas should come from your child. During brainstorming, there is never a bad idea. It is just a time to discuss all of the possibilities. You can do this in a discussion, or you can have your child jot down ideas in a list.
Narrow the Topic
After you have exhausted all of the possible topics for the essay, it is time to narrow it down to the one topic that will work best. Typically, the chosen topic is one where the child has some background or passion for the idea. It is always easier to write about something where you have knowledge and/or passion.
So, help your child choose the topic that is most appealing. Narrow the topic if necessary. If the main topic is education, obviously, the topic is too big for an essay. Discuss with your child how you can narrow the topic on education to his favorite subject.
If his favorite subject is science, then his paragraphs can be divided into the different aspects of science class that he most enjoys.
Your child has narrowed the topic, so now it is time to figure out the “roadmap” for the essay. The roadmap is a way to explain to readers in just one sentence what the essay will cover. For example, with the science essay, the thesis statement or roadmap could be: Science is my favorite class because of the experiments, new discoveries, and hands-on learning.
The main paragraphs would cover those three sub topics. If you find it difficult to create sub topics then you may need to return to the brainstorming you created earlier. However, if it was easy to determine the subtopics, you can begin adding details.
Details and the Rough Draft
It is time to write the first draft of the essay. During this stage, many students struggle with adding details to their essays. They often assume the reader understands what they are thinking, so they often omit information that helps with understanding.
Parents can help their children add details by asking questions. “What do you do during an experiment in science? What was your last experiment? Do you work with a partner or by yourself?” These questions help students understand they must add information to help the reader picture the scene.
When the rough draft/first draft is complete, you should read over it and point out the positives. Be specific with your praise. “I liked how you described the tools needed to conduct the experiment.” You can also give some constructive feedback, “I think you could add some more description here.”
At this stage in the writing process, it is important to spend more time praising the good parts, and less time critiquing the weak parts. You are trying to help the student have a positive relationship with writing, so you want this help session to be uplifting.
After the rough draft was discussed, it is time to do some final revisions before writing the final copy. At this stage, encourage your child to look for varied sentence structure, strong verbs, and good vocabulary. One good strategy is to have your child underline the first few words of each sentence. Are the sentences varied?
Some sentences should follow the pattern of a subject followed by a verb, and other sentences should begin with a clause. Once the changes are made and the final copy is written, you have one final step.
It’s time for your child to read the essay out loud. This strategy helps the student hear how the writing flows, and you can listen for any confusion or awkwardness.
Remember, writing for many people is a difficult endeavor, yet it is a necessary life skill. Helping your child with writing will benefit him for the rest of his life. You don’t have to be an expert writer, you just need to support, encourage, and praise your child as he struggles through his next writing assignments.
If you do this, he will develop the necessary writing skills as well as a positive attitude towards writing.