Most children struggle to write an essay at some point in their lives. Some students have more writing challenges than others. Once your child or student has learned to write a paragraph, they will likely need to write longer pieces for school or other reasons (applications, contests, etc.). These nine research-based tips can help improve their essay writing skills.
1. Encourage Your Child/Student to Read About Topics of Interest
Research demonstrates that students who read about topics of interest, have more advanced writing skills than those who don’t. Reading for pleasure, whether in a book or digitally, can lead to improvements in a students’ vocabulary, understanding of sentence structure, writing style, grammar, and knowledge base. All of these improvements have a positive impact on writing skills.
2. Teach Your Child/Student About the Available Writing Methods
Some students do best with handwriting, while others are better at typing. Some students are in need of a speech to text program, where even punctuation marks can be spoken.
It is important to know the needs of your child or student. Would they do best with one of these options, two, or perhaps all three? Sometimes just having the choice can increase motivation.
Regardless of the method used, the end goal is to have a well-written piece of work in a real or electronic document. Children with motor challenges or visual impairments are good candidates for alternative writing methods (i.e., speech to text). If you think your child would benefit from these alternatives, check with their school regarding the options available and how to best support your child’s writing needs.
3. If Your Child/Student is Feeling Stuck, Encourage Them to Record Their Thoughts
Sometimes it is easier to say our thoughts out loud than to get them down on paper. We can always record our thoughts either visually or auditorily and then write them down as we play them back, pausing or rewinding as needed. This helps eliminate the challenge that some students have of getting their thoughts down on paper.
4. Show Your Child/Student How to Use Graphic Organizers
Graphic organizers allow you to plan out your writing piece in a visual way, with structure. For instance, if you wanted to write about a story you read you may put the characters in one section of the organizer, the setting in another section, the problem in another section, etc. Then you would use that outline to create your rough draft for your writing piece.
As another example, maybe you want to write about Dolphins. In one section you may write where they live, in another what they eat, in another how they communicate, etc. They pull all the sections together for your piece.
Here is an example of a story mountain map graphic organizer that asks the student questions to plug in about different parts of the story. This can help with reading comprehension and writing.
Related Article: How to Use Graphic Organizers to Improve Academic Skills
5. Teach Your Child to Keep Their Sentences Clear and Concise
When sentences are relatively short and easy to understand they are more likely to hold the reader’s attention. Long drawn-out sentences with words that are confusing or hard to understand, can lead to readers giving up or putting down the material.
For instance, it is clear and concise to write – “I had a great time this Saturday when I went exploring caves with my sister. After checking out the caves, we ate lunch under a waterfall and shared memories from our childhood.”
Then to write – “This Saturday was so extraordinary because my sister and I were exploring caves and we were discussing our memories from our childhood from a long time ago, while we were eating under a waterfall near a big tree.”
6. Show Your Child How to Combine Two or Three Short Ideas Into One Sentence
For instance instead of saying:
I like ice cream. I really love to eat ice cream with my brother. It makes a mess.
You can combine these ideas by saying something like, “Even though ice cream makes a mess, I love eating it, especially with my brother.
7. Show Your Child How to Use an Active Voice
It is also considered “good writing style” and more captivating to use your active voice vs. passive voice. Here is an example of both below:
Active Voice: The boy bought ice cream at the carnival.
Passive Voice: There was ice cream at the carnival and the boy bought it.
Active voice allows us to stay clear and concise.
8. Look at Writing Samples with Your Child/Student
There are hundreds of writing samples that can easily be found in an online search. Pick a topic that your child is interested in and look at some samples together. Notice paragraph format (e.g., one topic sentence with related sentences) and essay format (e.g., introduction, body, conclusion). Also pay attention to the writing style.
For instance, an essay about why people under 18 should have the right to vote will have a persuasive or argumentative style. A story about someone’s first day at school will be written in a much different style. For instance, there may be a narrator explaining the events in the story talking in the first person (e.g., My first day of school was one I will never forget).
9. Encourage Your Child to Revise and Edit Their Work with These Tips
Read your paper out loud to yourself at least twice. Correct any mistakes you find in spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc. Fix any sentences that can be clearer or reworded in an active voice. Use spell checker and grammar tools like Grammarly and Microsoft Word. To be sure you didn’t miss anything. you may want to give your paper to someone else. like a parent or sibling to check after you have checked it over twice and corrected it.
If your paper feels too long to edit in one sitting, break up your edits/revisions into paragraphs, doing one at a time, and taking breaks. You can even have Microsoft Word read a text document aloud to check for errors and hear how your writing sounds. You can also ask someone to read your paper to you to hear it from another perspective or record yourself reading it and play it back.
If you create a writing piece based on content that is already online, you may want to use an online plagiarism checker tool to ensure that your work is completely original and does not have too much text from the original document. Many plagiarism checker tools will also include an editing component that notifies you of misspelled words and grammar mistakes.
Duplication or plagiarism is a very common error in writing. Today, you have to save yourself from deliberate and unintentional plagiarism, which is why the plagiarism checker tools have become much more important.
When it comes to writing and editing, digital tools and technology have made our lives easier. Children and adults can take full advantage of technology and learn new aspects of writing or polish their old skills!
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Rachel Wise is a certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a Master’s Degree in Education. She is also the head author and CEO at educationandbehavior.com, a site for parents, caregivers, educators, counselors, and therapists to find effective, research-based strategies that work for children. Rachel has been working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs for over 20 years and has a passion for making a positive difference in the lives of children and the adults who support them. For Rachel’s top behavioral strategies all in one place, check out her book, Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children, a Guide for Parents and Teachers. If you want Rachel to write for your business, offer behavioral or academic consultation, or speak at your facility about research-based strategies that support children, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.