How to Teach Writing Skills



Can you imagine taking a class to learn how to knit and ride a unicycle at the same time? It makes me giggle to think about. But that's what I think about when I'm teaching the kids.

If we wanted to learn to knit while riding a unicycle, we would have to master each of the skills separately before we could combine them. We wouldn't practice riding while we're learning to hold the needles. No, we would first learn to ride masterfully, and then to knit again masterfully, and then we would finally combine.



We would need to be masters at each skill before combining them because of the complication in combining two unrelated skills. We would need to be able to knit and ride without thinking about it before we could combine.

It's the same with writing, and math actually too. We can't expect our kids to combine skills they haven't yet mastered. What are the skills of writing?

The actual act of writing is one. Using your hands to hold a stick and form little, bitty letters on a movable piece of paper takes a lot of skill! Think about it: A piece of paper or a book in front of you that unless you hold it still can move right out from underneath your hand. A hard, uncomfortable stick that takes just the right amount of pressure in several different directions at once. And a bunch of complicated little lines and circles that are all slightly similar but have to be distinguishable from each other. This is a skill that takes practice, and patience, and must be mastered. There are many little things that they have to think about when mastering this skill, and trying to combine it with other thinking skills (like forming coherent sentences) is very, very difficult.

Spelling is another skill we use in writing. Choosing the correct letter combination out of the 72 phonograms (if you are using the Spalding method) takes serious concentration! When I am writing, and have to spell a big word that I'm not really sure of and have to stop to figure out how to spell it, my whole writing process stops as well. I have to change gears for a minute or two. It's the same with the kids, although it's a lot harder for them to switch gears back and forth. It just takes more practice and time than they have had yet. And the words they have mastered aren't as many as the words I have.

And finally, the whole forming coherent sentences part of writing. Kids as young as two can tell stories. Most of them love telling stories. But sometimes making sure those stories fit into the parameter of an assignment can be hard. Especially when you are also trying to write the story down and spell all the words.

So how do we break these skills down? Well, spelling lessons are for spelling. If my kids aren't in a spelling lesson, but are doing some writing and ask how to spell a word, I give it to them. I don't try to stop their process, and make them switch gears. I just spell the word quickly, they write it down, and keep going with their writing. As their spelling vocabulary has increased, they have asked for less help.

Eowyn has mastered writing enough to write while she writes, but Gideon is not there yet. He's a lot closer after the last semester but not all the way. He's been doing Writing and Rhetoric Fables. We go through each lesson together, talking about and writing down the answers to the questions. And when we started, I did most of that writing. But after a few lessons, he took over. And at the end of the lesson, when we get to his larger writing assignment, he tells me his story and I write it down on a sheet of paper. Then he copies it into his book. It's one extra step for me, but it means he writes better stories since he isn't as worried about getting it done quickly. And then he gets to practice his physical writing skill without the pressure of story writing or spelling.


If your student is having trouble with a new skill beyond the normal trouble we all have with new skills, back up and make sure he/she has mastered all the little skills that make up the new skill. Don't get frustrated, or let them get frustrated. In fact, nothing about learning skills needs to be personal. Succeeding or failing at a new skill isn't based on anyone's great or horrible personality, but it very much has to do with their tenacity. Just back up, and keep practicing. Master each small skill one at a time.


6 comments

  1. I have a theory that it is harder to teach your own kids to write if you really enjoy writing and it "comes naturally" to you. Your thoughts do a great job of breaking down all the components that these little people have to master in order to communicate on paper!

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    1. It is a lot of little steps when you think about it!

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  2. What a great teaching post! It's wonderful that you teach your children this way. My son learned to read with the Spalding method and it was such a great program. Thanks so much for sharing your post at Together on Tuesdays :)

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    1. The Spalding method is great, and it just makes so much sense! Thanks for hosting Together on Tuesdays!

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  3. I love the idea of writing it for them and having them copy it! My boys and I often trade off where I'll write a little and then they'll write a little or they'll write one day and I'll write the next but I have definitely noticed that they tell better stories when I'm the one writing! Thanks for sharing with us at Together on Tuesdays! I am so inspired now!

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    1. I'm so glad! It really gives them the opportunity to shine a bit without the pressures of writing. But letting them copy it gives them the writing practice they need as well.

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