Thursday, October 1, 2009

Writing, Grammer & Spelling Tips


Teaching writing is simpler then many make it out to be. "It is merely a matter of providing the child with examples, opportunities, and incentive to write... (it) should be a pleasant and uncomplicated experience, and needs not resemble the frustrating and painful process it so often becomes in a conventional school setting. A relatively small number of meaningful reading and writing exercises, combined with (a) range of activities... will almost certainly ensure the acquisition of these skills painlessly and with greater effectiveness than the schools are ordinarily able to provide." (1:72, 74) 

The best thing you can do to help your children be better writers is to read with them more! Students who read the most recreationally are generally the best writers. They absorb quality language through their reading, and then it flows out more effortlessly when they're given opportunity to write. 

Rather than using endless worksheets, making writing a drudgery, try to create and utilize meaningful, real life writing opportunities. Some of these include journaling, notes, cards, or letters to friends and relatives, and even list-making for the beginning writers.

Remember that creative writing is not just imaginative writing, but autobiographical too. Children can creatively write about their experiences using sensory language, which sharpens their observation skills and their writing skills. A simple conversation is usually enough to spark their ideas. You can show interest or ask questions to help them draw out details (like, "How would you describe it to a blind person?"). "Too often, children are required to write before they have anything to say. Teach them to think and read and talk without self-repression, and they will write because they cannot help it."(4:286)

Notebooking is an invaluable tool! Notebooks may include journaling, observations & illustrations over what they've done or learned, where they've gone, their mood or feelings. Children's notebooks should be treated as valid sources of information (when did we do ___? what did we discover about ___?), giving them a usable purpose.

To showcase special creative writing, allow children to make their own mini-book or notebook to write in. In creative writing (as in all creative or artistic subjects) try not to overly-criticize. If there are misspelled words or grammar errors, simply make a note to to yourself of areas you may need in your future teaching. "Encourage creative urges when they poke up their heads... It works well to let children write their own material when they have something in their heads to write. But it does not work well to regularly require original writing. Too many school children have written "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" and "What I Would Do if I Had a Million Dollars." The natural method frees you from having to find or think up writing topics to motivate your child to do original writing..." (2:49)

For the young child, let him dictate what he wishes for you to write. For a young child capable of forming letters, write on a separate piece of paper what he wishes to write, so he may copy the letters. Afterwards, read it to him, or let him read it to you (some children learn to read this way). Then, the child may illustrate as well. If he as a favorite story that he's proud of, find an audience for it. It's also nice to collect children's stories in a book of some sort. See my notebooking page for more ideas. If you think you need extra help with establishing your home writing program, check out "Any Child Can Write," by Harvey S. Weiner.

Copy work is another useful writing tool. It is a natural method of practice to increase vocabulary, reinforce language usage and grammar rules. "Just as the child learned to speak by copying your correct speech, so he learns to write by copying fine writing." (2:42)  As ability allows, the child can then progress into dictation work. This is where you read aloud what he is to write, and he decides on punctuation and capitalization based on your voice inflections. In both copying and dictating, let him compare his writing to the original work to receive immediate feedback. You can also discuss the words, punctuation, grammar, rhyming, style, etc and why it was used in the selection. You may discuss what images it conjures up, then let the child illustrate it. You may also discuss practical application. Since there are many different things you can learn from one selection, you may use that selection over the course of several days, and in teaching multiple children each on their own level.


Good English 

"The way to write good English is to read it and hear it... In a child, the selection of the better from the worse is not conscious; he is the servant of his word-experience"(5:304) Our speech and writing abilities are highly reflective of the literature and speech we're exposed to. In other words... everything we read and hear becomes a part of our word bank. So, think about what all your children are exposed to. Though some people are more naturally gifted in writing then others, "the inborn gift of style can be starved or stimulated. No innate genius can invent fine language. The stuff of which good style is made must be given to the mind from without and given skillfully. A child of the muses cannot write fine English unless fine English has been its nourishment."(5:292) Be wary of "juvenile literature" which "belittles the language under pretense of being simply phrased for children; as if a child's book like, Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe or the Jungle Book, be in good style."(5:293) (See "Choice of Reading Material") 




To personalize your teaching on spelling for maximum efficiency, teach words as needed on-the-spot, or tailor a spelling list or lesson based on what words your child needs, rather than a generalized list. As a child learns a new word, have him look at it, then visualize it with closed eyes, then when he thinks he knows it, write it from memory or spell it aloud. "Once the eye sees a misspelt word, that image remains; and if there is also the image of the word rightly spelt, we are perplexed as to which is which."(1) So, try to provide for correct spelling from the start, and prevent false spelling. "The whole secret of spelling lies in the habit of visualizing words from memory, and the children must be trained to visualize in the course of their reading."(3) 

Spelling Power... If you want a curriculum, check this one out. One program works for all your kids, from the little ones all the way up to college level, and helps them to actually learn the words as they need them- not just memorize them for the test.

Works Cited...
1 David & Micki Colfax,
 Homeschooling for Excellence
2 Ruth Beechick, The Three R's

3 Charlotte Mason,
 Home Education 

4 Anne Sullivan, in Helen Keller's The Story of My Life 
5 James Berger's Supplementary Account in Helen Keller's The Story of My Life

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