If you have a child/student who is learning to write sentences and simple paragraphs (and has reached reading fluency—the stage in which he or she does not rely on controlled readers but can pick up most things at an upper elementary/beginning middle school level and read them), there are many things that you can do to help him or her.
- Teach him/her the five parts of a sentence---CAVES—Capital; All makes sense; Verb; End mark; Subject. Help the student find these things in his sentences or in sentences that he reads.
- Teach anything about the writing process informally that can be taught informally. This is for parents and educators alike. Point out that a sentence begins with a capital letter as he reads to you. Ask him what the (?) at the end of the sentence means. Talk about why a word is capitalized in a sentence (it’s at the beginning or is someone’s name). These informal teaching times will carry over to his real writing.
- Understand the difference between penmanship and writing. Penmanship is art. Pure and simple. I would almost say (but can’t bring myself to do so since I have a degree in elementary education and a two hour credit in penmanship!) that “you either have it or you don’t.” Writing is putting words together to form sentences then paragraphs, then stories/reports/essays/letters—anything! If your child has penmanship difficulties (as many young boys do), do not let this distract him from writing. Pen for him as he dictates to you. Teach him to type. Remember, penmanship is not writing. Writing is writing.
- Show him that writing is just the spoken word written down. Have him talk slowly to you while you type. Read it back to him. Tell him that if he can speak, he can write (even if the penmanship and spelling are not there yet!).
- When he is first learning to write sentences, do not make him sound out every word. Just tell him how to spell the tough ones and move on. (There is even research out there now strongly suggesting that when it comes to spelling, “you either got it or you don’t.” Nowadays with computers and spell check, no person should be uneducated or feel stupid because of spelling problems.)
- Have him dictate sentences about anything (his day; his favorite show; his favorite game; etc.) and write them in large letters with a highlighter. Have him write over the highlighter with his pencil. Have him read the sentences back to you. Then make a big deal out of it—your child can write!
When starting to read and starting to write, a child needs a great measure of success to keep going and feel confident in what he is learning. Making the reading and writing connection in the elementary grades can help do that for your child.