Guest Educator

Help Your Child Enjoy Writing at Home

by Sue Rohrbacher

This month's guest educator, Sue Rohrbacher taught writing in the public schools of Wilmington, DE for 21 years. MetroKids invites teachers to contribute Guest Educator articles that offer insights to other teachers and parents about topics such as curriculum, techniques, motivation, discipline or teacher-parent relations. Please send ideas to editor@metrokids.com

Back to school time evokes various reactions from kids. Some are happy to see summer end and to get together with old friends. Others dread the idea of schoolwork and homework again.

Ask these students what their least favorite subject is and odds are they'll say writing. While many talented young writers keep logs, write beautiful short stories, and are a teacher's dream, there are many more kids ages 9-14 who absolutely balk when it comes to putting pencil to paper.

They may love reading, social studies, science or math, but having to write leads to protests, procrastination and sometimes even tears.

Teachers are ready to work hard with their students every day, using many different techniques to help them write well. Any help you can give would surely be appreciated. And no one knows your child like you do.

Simple, Fun Games
There are many simple and fun word games you can play with your child in the car, at meals, or any time you're just hanging out.

One component of good writing is the use of specific words. To develop that skill play a game called General to Specific. For example, you say “fruit.” Your child says “pear.” You say “apple.” She says “peach.”

After exhausting all the possibilities, try getting more specific. You
say “apple,” she says Macintosh apple. Or “red apple.” Or “huge apple.” Only allow one adjective to avoid teaching your child to use long strings of adjectives, usually not a good writing practice.

Tailor this game to your child's specific interests. Try using sports, video games or friends.
For great examples of specific language, have your child read the Henry Huggins books by Beverly Cleary. Cleary never says “store” when she can say “Mr. Reilly's Hardware Emporium.”

To further teach specific words, play a game called Drawing to Directions. This works best with two or more children, or mom and dad can both play.

One child picks a topic, for example “dog.” She then has three minutes to describe the dog as specifically as possible so that the other players can draw it. After they finish, everyone compares drawings. If the final drawings look very similar, the child wins. If there are too many differences, she was not specific enough.

Other Techniques
Another way to use drawing to promote writing is by having your child draw a picture of what she's going to write about. Sometimes teachers have children illustrate their writing when they're done. Drawing beforehand, which children usually prefer anyway, gives them a base to write about.

If the topic is “Life on Another Planet” have your child draw the people, their cars, the houses and the environment. It is much easier for them to simply describe what they've already drawn, using details from the picture.

Using figures of speech enhances writing at any level. To teach similes, try saying “as old as” and have your child say “my great-grandmother” or “the oak tree behind the house.” You play too, to model good examples.

For metaphors, say “our dog is a —” and she says “sweetheart” or “best friend” or even a “big pain.” To demonstrate personification, ask how the old car came up the hill. You might say, “It shuddered.” Your child says, “It coughed.” Or “it wheezed.”

Another fun thing to do is to see how many clichés associated with figures of speech you can come up with — to banish. Think of “cold as ice,” “cool as a cucumber,” “neat as a pin,” “white as a ghost.” Teach your child the meaning of “trite.”

For reinforcing the use of figures of speech, read with your child The Phantom Toll Booth by Norton Juster (Random House Books for Young Readers, $6.99). Not only is it an outstanding children's book, but also it is filled with examples of almost every kind of wordplay imaginable.

Vary Sentence Length
When your child does write an essay or a story, check to see if he has used varying sentence lengths. This is important, because some kids make all their sentences about the same length and with the same rhythm.

Read the story out loud, but instead of saying the words, hum or sing them. Or beat out the rhythm on a table with a ruler. You can easily hear if the sentences all sound the same or if the “song” varies in its beat. Sometimes you have to be silly to get kids' attention.

Make this the year that your child starts loving (okay, not hating) writing. Your child and your child's teacher will thank you for doing your part.