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Guest post sponsored by Time4Writing.com

You know that feeling where you turn around twice, and your infant is suddenly walking and talking? Then you turn around again a couple times, and your toddler is writing letters and sounding out simple words? That phenomenon doesn’t end once your student is in the school years – – especially when you are a busy homeschooling family. Before you know it, your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade student will be in junior high, and you will wonder where on earth the time went!

That time-warp feeling can be especially stressful if your homeschooler isn’t fully prepared for the rigors of middle school writing. According to the 2011 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), only 24% of eighth-graders were at or above the proficient level in writing and only 3% wrote at an advanced level. Those results can often be a direct result of gaps in elementary level writing instruction. For that reason, it’s vital that parents and teachers focus on helping students master these four areas of writing skill mastery during the elementary years:

  1. Writing in complete sentences
  2. Understanding the key rules of grammar
  3. Forming well-structured paragraphs
  4. Using the writing process

To meet middle school writing standards, your homeschooler should have a firm grasp on these four skills. Let’s look at each area more closely to examine the specific skills that pertain to mastery.  

Writing in Complete Sentences

Some of the most common errors in middle school writing come back to not fully understanding what makes up a complete sentence. Sentence structure can trip up any junior high student who hasn’t had significant practice in creating complete and well-formed sentences. Some of the concepts that students need to be well-versed in include:

  • what makes a complete sentence
  • how to avoid run-on sentences and sentence fragments
  • understanding the difference between simple, compound, and complex sentences
  • knowing the different types of sentences (declarative, interrogative, exclamatory) and the appropriate punctuation for each
  • recognizing the difference between dependent and independent clauses

To help your homeschooler master these areas, Time4Writing offers two eight-week online courses that cover the basics. Elementary Grammar Skills teaches students how to correctly form complete sentences with subjects and verbs; it also ensures they can recognize run-ons and sentence fragments in their own writing. Elementary Sentence Writing covers the four main types of sentences students need to know how to write as well as the trickier parts of sentence construction such as subject-verb agreement and possessive nouns.

Understanding the Key Rules of Grammar

English grammar has plenty of rules: rules about semicolons, contractions, capitalization, coordinating conjunctions, and so much more. Is it any wonder that even middle school students who love to read and write create grammar mistakes on a regular basis? By the time he/she is in 5th and 6th grade, your homeschooler should have a handle on:

  • subject-verb agreement
  • noun plurals and possessives
  • capitalization and punctuation
  • using action, linking, and helping verbs correctly

Because writing assignments in middle school build on the grammar skills students learn in elementary, Time4Writing makes sure to provide a strong grammatical foundation for students. In addition to the skills students will gain in sentence writing noted above, Elementary Grammar Skills instructs students in the essentials of parts of speech, capitalization, and learning to proofread their own writing for errors. Likewise, Elementary Sentence Writing covers the difference between singular, plural, and possessive nouns, how to match subjects and verbs according to their number, and the correct use of commas.  

Forming Well-Structured Paragraphs

The paragraph is at the core of almost every writing assignment middle and high schoolers will be assigned. Well-written essays, reports, and narratives all depend on strong and clear paragraphs. That’s why, from the early grades, your homeschooler needs comprehensive instruction on what makes a well-structured paragraph. A successful paragraph will have the following traits:

  • unity
  • order
  • coherence
  • completeness

Time4Writing’s approach to paragraph writing not only teaches these four essential elements, but also helps students to recognize when they are missing in their own writing. By the time a student has completed the eight-week Elementary Paragraphs course, they will have gained comprehension in topic and closing sentences, using supporting details to back up their topic, varying their sentences to create interest, and using transition words to make their sentences flow together.

Using the Writing Process

While teaching the individual components of good writing goes a long way toward improving a student’s success, it is mastering the habits of good writing that will ultimately make a young writer flourish. Writing is a complex combination of skills which is best taught by breaking down the process. By establishing these steps during the elementary years, students learn to internalize them and even make them their own during middle school and beyond.  The five stages of the writing process are:

  1. prewriting
  2. planning
  3. drafting
  4. revising
  5. editing

By approaching writing as a process, instructors encourage students to postpone closure on a piece of writing until they have explored all of its possibilities. Two distinct courses in Time4Writing’s Elementary Course catalog focus on the steps of the writing process. Elementary Narrative Writing uses a child’s innate fascination with the animal kingdom to teach narrative writing from the research stage through the final draft. Elementary Informative Writing lets students practice using multimedia tools to research, write about, and revise a slideshow about a specific wild animal.

By focusing in on these areas, you’ll be preparing your student for the expectations of more advanced writing assignments. After all, faster than you expect, your elementary level writer will be starting middle school. Don’t blink, or you might miss it!

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