Coaching your students to better writing can feel like a daunting task whether you’re new to homeschooling or have years of experience. Knowing what kind of feedback to give and when to give it can be tricky. Too much criticism, even when it’s constructive, can have a stifling effect on your young writer. At the same time, teachers must provide guidance in order to help students progress. Luckily, the homeschool teacher can rely on the writing process to provide cues about what kind of writing support and feedback is appropriate at each stage. For best results, break up the writing process over several days to avoid overwhelming your students. Read on to discover ways to help your writer at each stage of the writing process.
During the brainstorming phase, students come up with as many ideas as possible and finally narrow down to one topic for a piece of writing. At this stage of the writing process, students may need guidance about how to choose a topic. Some students feel overwhelmed at this phase. In some cases, this might be the result of an indecisive personality or the worry that they won’t choose a good topic. During this part of the writing process, you want to provide support that takes the pressure off the students while reminding them of their options.
Brainstorming Tips to Try at Home:
- When assigning a writing prompt, choose a specific prompt rather than one that is open-ended. Students will still have some choice about what to write, but they won’t be overwhelmed by too much choice.
- At the beginning of the brainstorm session, have your student list all ideas on paper or a white board. Impose a “no judgement” rule while he or she is listing ideas. This will keep the ideas flowing.
- After compiling several ideas, have your students narrow down to the top three choices from their list. Finally, the students will narrow down to one they want to write about in their assignment.
- If a student has difficulty choosing because he or she has many good ideas, offer to flip a coin or to write each topic on a slip of paper to draw at random.
- If the student has trouble choosing because of a lack of ideas, offer a few suggestions and have him or her choose one.
- If the prompt uses language that is problematic for your students, help put it in perspective. Remind them that the purpose of the activity is to practice writing. For instance, my 2nd grade daughter struggles when the prompt uses the word “favorite.” “MOM! I don’t know my favorite food!” In this case, I would tell her that it really doesn’t matter which is her favorite as long as she can write a few details about why she likes that particular food.
- If some students can’t choose because they aren’t sure if the ideas will work, remind them that they can always change topics if necessary.
During the organizing and planning phase, students determine the content that will appear in each section of the piece of writing. Using complete sentences is not necessary at this juncture of the writing process. At this stage, students may need support in recalling specific details to include in their writing. They may also need reminders of the writing assignment’s requirements.
Organizing/ Planning Tips to Try at Home:
- Use a graphic organizer to help students remember which parts to include. Graphic organizers help the student to work more independently and increase the chances of success. The empty boxes help the student to realize when a required element is missing, usually without any prompting from the teacher.
- Take a trip down memory lane. If the students are writing about a personal topic, encourage them to talk about what they can remember about it. This might lead to useful details to include in their writing plan.
- Encourage students to look back at the brainstorming list to see if another topic might work better if they have trouble coming up with details to support the chosen topic. Changing topics may be the best way to move forward.
During the drafting phase, students convert the ideas in the writing plan from the previous step into sentences that form a paragraph or a multi-paragraph essay. At this point in the writing process, the students should focus on having a clear beginning, middle, and end. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of getting the content out in sentence form. If they forget elements of the format or their mechanics are imperfect, let it go. There will be time to correct errors later in the process.
Drafting Tips to Try at Home:
- Give students permission to silence the inner critic, the voice that tells them the writing has to be perfect. Remind them that any errors in spelling or mechanics can be fixed later.
- Let students speak their ideas aloud before writing them down. If they’re writing about a personal topic, you might even encourage them to look at photos related to the topic. This tactic can often lead to better development.
- Consider letting them use voice-to-text tools to make the process easier if you have students who struggle because their hands can’t keep up with their brains.
- Let the students take breaks as needed. Sometimes I send my daughter out to ride her bike around the block a few times when she’s stuck. She usually comes back to the task with better focus. If that doesn’t work, we will end the writing work and come back to it again the next school day.
- Remind students to keep looking at the writing plan they devised in the previous lesson. It will help keep them moving.
During the revising stage, students make improvements to their draft. In most pieces of writing, students will want to examine content, word choice, and sentence structure. Depending on the assignment’s requirements and individual strengths and weaknesses, students may want to look at other aspects of the writing as well.
For example, if the student is writing a persuasive essay, he or she may want to spend extra time developing a strong hook (also called a lead). If the student has a history of struggling to stay on topic, that student would definitely want to spend time going over each sentence to make sure that the content is relevant to the essay. The goal during this stage of the writing process is to execute changes that make the writing clearer and more expressive.
Revising Tips to Try at Home:
- Consider the age and ability level of the students when setting expectations and pacing during this stage. Avoid overwhelming younger students by doing a separate reading for each area of revision rather than lumping it all together. Look for signs of mental fatigue and frustration and allow your students to take breaks as needed.
- Encourage the students to read their work aloud, touching each word, as they revise. Combining the senses of sight, sound, and touch often helps the students to catch a mistake or an area that needs improvement that may have gone unnoticed otherwise.
- Ask students to circle the first word of each sentence. Students should then make changes so that two consecutive sentences don’t begin with the same word. This activity also makes it easy to get a quick assessment of sentence length and variety. Older students with a better grasp of sentence structure should revise to include a variety of sentence structures and lengths.
- Help the students create more effective language by encouraging them to “Show! Don’t tell.” By replacing common and boring words with expressive action verbs, adjectives, and other descriptive language, your students can make their words come alive. Depending on the age of the students, you may want to encourage them to use a thesaurus during this step.
Edit/ Final Draft / Publication
The final stage of the writing process is editing the piece of writing to make it free of errors and creating a final copy that is either neatly re-copied or typed. The students should especially focus on writing mechanics, including capitalization, spelling, and punctuation. If appropriate to the assignment, the teacher may provide an opportunity to publish the writing by sharing it with an audience such as family, friends, or homeschool group.
Editing Tips to Try at Home:
- Be sure your expectations and level of support at this stage are appropriate for your students’ ages and abilities. Younger students and students with learning challenges may require a lot of handholding during this part of the writing process.
- Encourage students to use the spell and grammar check functions of a word processor, if using one, in order to identify errors. Also, be sure to specify format requirements such as font size and style and line spacing.
- Avoid using the word “perfect” as it can trigger anxiety in students who have perfectionist tendencies. Instead, present this stage of the writing process as an opportunity to improve the writing to the best of their abilities.
- Offer to circle errors on the student’s first draft if you see that a student is having trouble identifying errors. Then, give the student the opportunity to figure out what to do to fix it. Offer gentle reminders about capitalization and punctuation rules to guide him or her as needed.
- Praise the students’ proofreading skills as they identify and correct errors. Avoid criticizing any mistakes they made in the first draft.