Writing Tips: Back to Basics for Back to School
Was your kids’ summer writing limited to scribbling their names in sidewalk chalk on the driveway? Don’t worry! You have plenty of time to get back in the swing of things. You probably don’t want to start your kids off with a five-paragraph essay comparing two works of literature and grammar worksheets, but what should you do?
Here are some ideas to ease back into writing for the school year:
Brushing up with Language Exercises
Getting ready for the year’s writing activities doesn’t require pencil on paper. Try these verbal language exercises that practice the major genres of writing (i.e., narrative, informative, argumentative) and build writing skills without time sitting at a desk:
- Storytelling: Ask your kids to tell stories. Do this at a campfire or during a car ride or while relaxing in the evening. Take turns or try to create stories collaboratively as a team. Provide story prompts or just let the creative juices flow.
- Debating: Mealtimes can be a great time to discuss issues. Find something in the news that interests your kids. Share an article if you have one, then ask them to state their opinions. Guide them to provide reasons and even evidence through your discussions. At the upper grades, challenge students to find counterarguments.
- Informing: Give your kids short topics to research briefly and then present. For example, ask each child to research an insect and share with the family. Have each one start their presentation with a topic sentence and end with a concluding sentence with a few facts about the insect included in between.
- Summarizing: After reading a story or watching a video together, ask your kids to retell the story, summarizing the key points. Again, guide them to verbalize introduction and concluding sentences.
Easing into Writing
The last thing you want your kids to do is to go running and screaming when you mention more traditional writing after taking a break over the summer. Make a smooth transition back to writing by following these suggestions:
- Beginning with Fun: Rather than diving into formal, academic writing, begin with some creative writing assignments. Find fun writing prompts that your kids will enjoy by searching on the Internet.
- Building up Stamina: Start with shorter writing assignments, like practicing sentences before paragraphs and paragraphs before essays. Try journaling and freewriting for shorter pieces. Gradually build back up to grade-level academic writing.
- Getting a Baseline: Do one brief formal writing assignment that will establish a baseline for the year. This writing sample will help you set goals and targets for your writing instruction. It will also be a great way to show each child his or her own progress throughout and at the end of the year.
Practicing Grammar and Mechanics
Practicing grammar and mechanics can be very dry, but it doesn’t have to be! Here are some fun ways to get back into the nitty gritty parts of writing:
- Brainstorm Parts of Speech: Review the parts of speech by having your kids brainstorm as many nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. as they can. Go back and forth saying a word and a synonym (of the same part of speech). Throw a frisbee back and forth to make it fun.
- Review/Preview Spelling: Choose words on last year’s spelling list or preview some words for the upcoming year. Try shooting hoops while spelling words. Post trouble words around the house (i.e., on a frequently used mirror) to practice whenever the words are seen.
- Practice Frequently-Confused Words: Find words that are often confused (i.e., “there” and “their”), and then find ways to remember them (i.e., “there” includes the word “here” for “here and there”). Create games, like Memory where the pairs need to be matched and then defined. Base your activities on words your kids confuse or start with a generic list of commonly confused words. Many adults even need help with these!
Crafting Sentences and Paragraphs
You can also ease your way into writing full sentences and paragraphs. Here are some ideas to make the transition to academic writing:
- Find Text Examples: Review sentence and paragraph structure by finding examples in books your kids enjoy. Directly teach the kinds of sentence structures and paragraph organization through your examples. Kids can learn without lifting a pencil!
- Scrambled Sentences and Paragraphs: Once you have reviewed sentence and paragraph structures, cut apart some sentences and paragraphs and have your kids put them back together like puzzles.
- Brainstorm and Build: When your kids are ready to start writing full sentences and/or paragraphs, have them brainstorm individual words or sentences on separate pieces of paper, and then put them together (like they did in the scrambled activities) using their own ideas this time.
- Challenge with Word/Sentence Targets: After your kids are writing complete sentences and/or paragraphs, challenge them. Ask them to write sentences that are at least so many words long or paragraphs that include at least so many sentences.
Whatever you do to help your kids ease into writing this homeschool year, remember to begin with light, fun writing in short bursts and with simple activities. Focus on the positives early on. Your kids will be back up to speed before you know it!
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