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3 Steps to Improve Your Child’s Sentences with Guided Writing Activities

guided writing activities for students

Why do we use Guided Writing activities with students?

It is very common for young children or children with learning or developmental disabilities to have trouble organizing their thoughts, in order to put them into “well-written” sentences or paragraphs.

Students with writing difficulties may try to avoid writing assignments or get frustrated with writing.

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This can lead to a lack of progression in skills.

Guided Writing can help.

What is Guided Writing?

Guided Writing is a research-based writing strategy in which the adult guides the child through every step of the writing process, asking the student questions along the way, and providing the answers when necessary.

The teacher or adult ensures the child is following capitalization, punctuation, and spelling rules, and that they are creating complete sentences with relevant details.

This guidance provides the building blocks for becoming an efficient independent writer.

Related Article: How to Use Graphic Organizers to Improve Academic Skills (Reading Comprehension, Writing, Listening, Note Taking, and Study Skills)

When should you provide Guided Writing activities to students?

Guided writing activities can be applied to a variety of situations.

They can be used to teach a child to write a simple sentence or a complex essay.

They can be used to write about a weekend trip, a period in history, a fictional story, or really any topic of the writer’s choice.

Meet your child at their current level, challenging them ever so slightly as you progress through the lessons with them.

While Guided Writing is traditionally used with students who have at least some basic spelling skills, with speech-to-text and other technological programs available, it can be modified for students who are still learning to spell.

It is important to encourage your writer throughout the process.

During a Guided Writing lesson, it is important to keep the writer motivated by acknowledging their small successes along the way.

With enough success, they are likely to gain some internal motivation and start taking bigger risks.

Praise your writer with comments such as “Nice work using a period” or “I like the details you included about…”

Give specific positive feedback about what the child did, rather than more abstract praise like “Good job.”

guided writing activities for students

Specific positive feedback lets the child know exactly what is expected, which they can internalize and keep in mind for their next writing assignment.

Incorporating choices and interest can also help keep your student motivated.

Guided Writing is implemented with three steps?

Here I will illustrate a Guided Writing lesson example.

I want you to try to think about how you might apply Guided Writing with your child or student(s) among a variety of possible writing activities.

Step 1- Ask your child/student(s) to give you some piece of information, like what they did over the weekend.

Encourage your child to provide specific details about the event. An answer with good details for writing would be something like, “I went to the beach with my cousin this weekend. We went swimming and I had a great time.”

guided writing activities for students

For some children, you may need to ask several questions to get the necessary details for the writing assignment such as:

  • where did you go over the weekend?
  • who did you go with?
  • what did you do there?
  • how did you feel when you were there?

Other children will verbally provide these kinds of details without much guidance.

Sometimes visuals (images online, drawings, or actual images of the child) can help a child describe or remember their experiences. For instance:

How did you feel when you were at the beach?

Happy 😃 Sad 😞 Tired 😫

Step 2- After you get the details from your child/student, ask them to write down what they did over the weekend (providing as much assistance as needed).

Ask them to say their first sentence out loud, using the details they just gave (e.g., I went to the beach with my cousin this weekend).

Children learning to improve their written expression can verbalize their thoughts out loud before putting them on paper.

Recording their thoughts on video or speech to text is helpful as well. They can refer back to the sentences they recorded to type or write them.

girl wearing blue dress while using smartphone

If your child leaves out important details or words when verbalizing the first sentence or includes information from the second sentence (e.g., I went swimming and had fun), encourage them to say what happened first.

You can ask questions like:

  • When did you go swimming with your cousin?
  • Where did you go swimming?

When they say “this weekend” and “at the beach,” guide them through saying (or recording) the first sentence again if needed, “I went to the beach with my cousin this weekend.” Next, they can write it down, with support if needed.

If other children are in the group you can ask if they would like to say their sentences aloud to each other so they can all hear what a first sentence may sound like.

Provide as much guidance as needed for your child to get the whole sentence out.

Have your child try to create a picture in their mind of the scene to really connect to what they are writing.

guided writing activities for students

Use real pictures (such as those from Google Images) if that will help your child formulate their sentence or keep their sentence in mind.

Related Article: How to Use the Visualizing and Verbalizing Strategy to Improve Reading Comprehension

Step 3 – When your child/student starts writing the first sentence down, you can ask them questions about capitalization and punctuation.

Questions might include:

  • Should you start with a capital letter?
  • What should go at the end of your sentence?

If your need help, tell/show them the rules (e.g., “The first letter of a sentence should be capitalized.”, “You end your sentence with a period.”).

Provide a sample if needed. You can laminate general sentence cards so your child has a sample to refer to at each lesson. See sample sentence cards below:

research-based strategy Guided Writing to help a child improve writing
guided writing activities for students

Sentence cards and multisensory games are a great way to build a child’s independence in the use of writing rules.

How should you guide your child through the second sentence?

After your child/student completes the first sentence, complete the same steps if needed for the second sentence.

Ask your child/student to think of what the next sentence would be.

Have them say it out loud (and/or record it). Encourage your child to connect the second sentence to the first by adding more detail.  For example:

  • First Sentence: “I went to the beach with my cousin this weekend.”
  • Second Sentence: “We went swimming and I had a great time!”

If needed, ask questions to get the necessary details (just as shown above for the first sentence) and encourage your student/child to create a picture in their mind of what happened. In a group, children may want to share their second sentences with their peers as well to hear examples.

Just like the first sentence, you may work on capitalization and punctuation by first asking the child/student to show or tell you what they should do, and then telling/showing them if they are unsure.

You can remind them to refer to sentence samples, rules cards, etc.

How can you help with spelling during guided writing?

Provide assistance with sounding out the words if your child is having trouble spelling. Refer to 12 Spelling Strategies Parents Can Try at Home if you are in need of more spelling support.

Here is some additional information about using guided writing activities with children.

Keep in mind that the strategies in this article are recommendations. Please do not try to pressure a child into participating in any of these strategies.

This can lead to frustration, which can turn your child off to writing practice.

Remember to always stay calm when working with a child or student, even if you think they should be getting something that they are not getting. 

If you get frustrated with them, they may start to feel anxious, angry, inferior, stupid, etc. which will lead to a less productive learning session.

Keep practice sessions short (2 to 10 minutes for younger children or children who get easily frustrated and 10 to 15 minutes for older children or children who can work for longer periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going.

Practice at regular intervals, and allow your child to do something they enjoy after practice.

As stated above, incorporating choice and interest is shown to increase motivation.

For more suggestions on ways to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read our articles How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior and 3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion.

Ask for additional support for your student or child when needed.

Many children show improvement with Guided Writing strategies; however, some do not.

If your child is significantly struggling with writing or acquiring other academic skills, despite consistent practice and guidance, talk to your child’s school and/or doctor(s).

Clinicians and educators can direct you to the appropriate professionals to determine what might be interfering with your child’s progress and what additional strategies might help.

guided writing activities for students

Recommended books:
1) Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6): Teaching, Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy, by Fountas and Pinnell.
2) Writing Assessment and Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities, by Nancy Mather, Barbara J. Wendling and Rhia Roberts.

Thank you for visiting Education and Behavior – Keeping Us on the Same Page with Research-Based Strategies for Children!

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