Most homeschool parents are concerned about their children’s writing skills and spend countless hours looking for writing programs and online courses that might assist them in teaching their kids how to write with clarity and purpose. And there’s plenty of information available! In fact, if you enter the keywords “writing and homeschooling” in your browser search field, you’ll get thousands of results. (A quick Google search literally turned up 99,500 possible links.)
Teaching writing is one of the more difficult tasks a homeschool parent encounters. The only way anyone, including children, learns to be a strong writer is through constant practice. Unfortunately, constant practice is not something school-age children move towards naturally. But most kids are skilled at storytelling. They want to verbally express the pictures in their heads as a way of communicating with others – first to the adults in their lives and then to their peer groups and friends. Your job as a writing teacher is to guide your students to move those words and stories to paper.
Here are three easy and entertaining ways to help turn homeschool non-writers into writers:
- “Clustering” as a Way to Get Started
First, it’s important to remember that your child likely does not have a story already clear in their head that they can write about spontaneously. Technical definitions of “clustering” aside, when used in a literary or writing sense, clustering (sometimes known as “mind mapping”) is a type of “pre-writing” that can be used as a tool to jumpstart a young writer into creating a narrative or storyline. The idea is to give your student a new way to arrange ideas, memories, experiences, and words into a real story, poem, or essay. Clustering begins when a central idea is presented and the student then proceeds to “map out” anything he or she considers to be linked to that idea.
Clustering works great with young children because they are generally interested in puzzles and games. Here’s how it works:
- Jump start the process by giving your student(s) a single word, a piece of information, question or visual image. Write the idea or word on the board, draw a circle around it and ask your class to call out what they think of when they read the word or question. Summarize each child’s response in one word and add the word to the board, radiating out from the central word or idea like a drawing of the sun or a flower. When you reach a point where the kids seem to have run out of new ideas, explain to them that they are looking at a picture of the thoughts and ideas they have moving around in their brains.
- Provide another word, question or idea and ask your student(s) to create their own cluster. Be sure to explain to them that they should complete their “mind map” in just a couple of minutes. (NOTE: This step can be completed in a group or individually.)
- Now ask your student(s) to write a short paragraph using the words they have added to their mind map. Assure them that this part of the exercise will take only five to eight minutes and that they should allow themselves to write anything they feel based on the words they added to their map.
- At the end of the paragraphing exercise, ask the students to add a title to their “story” that they feel summarizes the main idea of the paragraph. Encourage them to share their story with you or the group.
- Writing Thank You Notes
Writing thank you notes is sometimes seen as a lost art. Most parents were taught when children that sending written thank-you letters for gifts was the “right thing to do.” Perhaps, unfortunately, such etiquette lessons have mostly gone by the wayside, but writing clear, friendly thank you notes is a great writing exercise for kids. This lesson is a good one to use around the first of the year, just after the holiday season when your children have often received gifts from friends and relatives. Provide a notecard to your student(s) and suggest that they write something kind, loving and friendly to a person who gave them a holiday gift. Suggest that they might use the mind mapping method to get their ideas on paper before writing the final note. Ask them to read their work aloud when finished. (NOTE: If you want to use this exercise outside a holiday gift-giving season, get a local short list of members of the military and ask your students to write a friendly note to one of them thanking them for their service to our country. Use the same process described in this paragraph.)
- Writing in a Journal
Provide your student(s) with a blank composition book. Tell them to write their name and the date inside the front cover. Suggest that they write down their dreams, daydreams, and thoughts in the book. To avoid embarrassment, suggest they write down only what they are willing to share. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover how excited kids are when presented with their own book to contain their own ideas. Encourage them to add drawings and doodles to enhance their writing. Suggest that the ideas from this book can be used later as the basis for writing longer paragraphs and stories.
Grammar and Punctuation
One of the mistakes many parents make when considering how to teach their child to write is that of trying to teach grammar, sentence structure and spelling as the initial basis for learning to write. Remember – as important as these rules are, they are NOT the actual writing process, but the technical TOOLS of great writing. Rather than constructing an actual grammar/spelling/punctuation class, teach these as a sidebar to learning how to write. When your child has finished a writing assignment, sit down with them and go over spelling, punctuation and grammar issues, explaining why these things are important and reminding them to remember to use the new “rules” in the next piece they write. DO NOT apply your blue-pencil editing skills to your child’s paper. This will only intimidate them and make them fearful and cautious about writing again.
Reading Good Books
A good writer is also an avid reader. Hearing or reading a great author’s words teaches children what great literature is and gives them a mental basis for creating narratives using appropriate and creative language styles. People who read a lot of great books are often great writers. One online reference noted that “if you want your homeschool students to learn to write, give them the book they’ll want to read.”
Global Student Network (GSN) has a plethora of courses that include strong writing components. In addition to writing skills taught in core English Language Arts in middle school and high school classes, GSN offers a number of writing electives, such as –
For many hundreds of years, literature has been one of the most important human art forms. It allows us to give voice to our emotions, create imaginary worlds, express ideas, and escape the confines of material reality. Through creative writing, we can come to understand ourselves and our world a little bit better. This course provides students with a solid grounding in the writing process, from finding inspiration to building a basic story to using complicated literary techniques and creating strange hybrid forms of poetic prose and prose poetry. By the end of this course, students will learn how to discover their creative thoughts and turn those ideas into fully realized pieces of creative writing.
Are you always the first one to know what’s going on at school or in your town? Maybe your Facebook or Instagram accounts are the reliable place for others to find the latest breaking news? If so, you are just the kind of person every online, print, and broadcast news outlet is searching for, and Journalism: Investigating the Truth is the perfect course for you! Learn how to write a lead that really “grabs” your readers, interview sources effectively, and write engaging news stories. You will explore the history of journalism and see how the modern world of social media can provide an excellent platform for news. Turn your writing, photography, and collaborative skills into an exciting and rewarding journalism career.
There are literally dozens of ideas you can use to stimulate your homeschool student to enjoy reading and writing. For more ideas, conduct your own online search and create a “Writing Journal” of your own. Teaching writing to kids can be a satisfying and fun exercise for you and your student and will provide your child with a set of basic language skills that he/she will find useful for the rest of their lives.