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Writing Strategies

Home and School Collaboration
Parents and Teachers Communicating
Talking with Children about Attention

Home and School Collaboration

Living with or teaching a child who struggles with writing can be an emotionally charged experience. Frustration and confusion about what to do can complicate the conversation between parents and teachers. Respect for each other and open communication can reduce tension and enable parents and teachers to benefit from each other’s expertise and knowledge of the child from different perspectives. Working as partners, parents, teachers, and the children themselves can inform one another on how best to address the child’s needs.



Parents and Teachers Communicating

When you suspect your child is struggling with writing, schedule a parent-teacher meeting to share information about your child. The following “talking points” can help structure the discussion.

  • Share observations of your child’s writing profile and discuss where the breakdown is occurring. What are the worries or concerns? Does your child have difficulty with a writing subskill, such as letter formation, mechanics, or generating ideas? Do difficulties in graphomotor ability, attention, memory, language, or higher-order thinking seem to affect your child’s writing? Does your child have similar problems when writing at home and at school?
  • Identify and discuss your child’s strengths and interests. How can they be used to enhance his or her writing skills and motivation to complete written assignments? Can a child’s curiosity about World War II or in cycling be used in a research report? Can parents capitalize on a child’s love of photography by encouraging her to write brief descriptions of photographs that she or others have taken?
  • Discuss possible strategies. What have you both tried that has been successful and not so successful? Are there other ideas that might work?
  • Acknowledge emotional reactions to the situation. Discuss how children who experience frustration or failure may become so fearful that they give up on writing because they feel they cannot produce anything acceptable. Some children may then turn their energy to acting out or withdrawing from writing tasks. Share strategies that have worked in the classroom and at home to help your child cope.
  • Discuss appropriate next steps. Establish a plan for ongoing discussion and problem solving. Should specialists be consulted? How can you best advocate for the child?

When a problem with writing has been specified:

  • Learn more about the process of writing from other experts, reference books, and Web sites. See Resources.
  • Seek assistance from experienced parents, professional organizations, and support groups.
  • Request that the school’s special education teacher or learning specialist observe your child and consult with you on strategies to use both in the classroom and at home.
  • Investigate the availability of professional help from pediatricians and related service specialists such as occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists.

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Talking with Children about Their Strengths and Weaknesses


Moments of frustration are common for children who struggle with writing and for the adults who work with them. Some children give up and see themselves as failures. Others may exhibit behavior problems that relate to their writing difficulties.

To help children learn to clarify and specify their differences, All Kinds of Minds uses a process called demystification. Through open discussion with supportive adults, children understand that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. This process creates a shared sense of optimism that the child and adult are working toward a common goal and that learning problems can be successfully managed. The following suggestions can help as parents, teachers, and learning specialists work together to demystify children’s difficulties with writing.

  • Eliminate any stigma. Empathy can reduce your child’s discouragement and anxiety about her writing difficulties. Emphasize that no one is to blame, and that you know that she often need to work harder than others to write successfully. Explain that everyone has differences in the way they learn. Reassure your child that you will help her find ways that work for her. Share a story about how you handled a learning difficulty or an embarrassing mistake in which your writing weaknesses were the culprit.
  • Discuss strengths and interests. Help your child find his strengths. Use concrete examples, but avoid false praise. You might say to your child who seems to effortlessly learn a new software program, “You’re a real computer whiz. Could you write a short guide telling me how to use the program?” Identify books, videos, Web sites, or places in the community that can help your child build on his strengths and interests.
  • Discuss areas of weakness. Use plain language to explain what aspect of a writing skill is difficult for your child. Use concrete examples, such as, “You may have difficulty starting a writing assignment because you have many wonderful ideas and can’t decide which ones to use.”
  • Emphasize optimism. Help your child realize that he can improve – he can work on his weaknesses and make his strengths stronger. Point out future possibilities for success given his current strengths. Help your child build a sense of control over his learning by encouraging him to be accountable for his own progress. A child who has difficulty generating ideas from scratch may learn to use a brainstorming strategy. Have your child monitor his progress in becoming a better brainstormer by keeping track of his many good ideas.
  • Identify an ally. Help your child locate a mentor – a favorite teacher, an older child, or a neighbor – who will work with and support them her. Explain to her that she can help herself by sharing with others how she learns best. Older children can explain the strategies that work for them, while younger ones may need adult support. Encourage your child to be an active partner with her allies.
  • Protect from humiliation. Help your child strengthen self-esteem and maintain pride by protecting him from public humiliation, especially in relation to his learning differences. Always avoid criticizing your child in public and protect him from embarrassment in front of siblings and classmates. For example, if your child has graphomotor weaknesses that affect handwriting, do not share drafts of his work with others.

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Strategy Tips:

  • Decide which strategies to try by observing your child and identifying the ways in which he or she learns best.
  • Limit yourself to 1-3 strategies to try first.
  • It may take several attempts to see positive results from one strategy. Don’t give up too soon.
  • If the first few strategies you try do not improve the child’s skills, try others.
  • Most of these strategies can be adapted for use with different age groups.

Higher-Order Thinking

General Strategies

  • Create a safe environment for writing. Balance feedback between what is good about the writing and what needs improvement. Always highlight whatever is positive in your child’s writing. Avoid comparing one child’s writing with another’s.
  • Evaluate content and mechanics separately. Help your child to see that she may have good ideas and still need to work on a particular writing subskill. Always correct any grammatical or other speech errors in a private, respectful way.
  • Encourage a variety of writing activities. Keeping a daily journal can be motivating and can provide needed practice. Consider other fun writing tasks such as writing to pen pals, composing songs, and/or recording family trips.

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Graphomotor Strategies

  • Find the right writing instrument. Make sure your child feels a sense of control with the pen or pencil. Try aids such as pencil grips. Suggest using pencils – they provide more friction on the paper than pens, do not smear easily, and can be erased.
  • Allow your child to print. If your child is having difficulty writing, consider postponing cursive writing or give him the choice of cursive or print.
  • Provide technology. Make tools available that facilitate writing, such as computers. Teach touch-typing. Allow your child to record her ideas on audiotape and then transcribe them, or take dictation of your child’s story and have her review and revise the written product.
  • Provide specialized paper. Your child can use writing paper with raised lines and cued left and right margins to guide letter formations, size, and spacing
  • Ensure the optimum setup for writing. Are your child’s chair and desk a good fit in terms of height, stability, and slant? (A child may find a slanted work surface, such as a desk easel, helpful for writing and drawing.) Is she more stable with the paper taped to the desk or held by a magnetic paper holder rather than having to hold it with her free arm? Is she more comfortable writing on the floor while lying on the carpet, or at waist level sitting upright at a desk, or at an upright surface like the chalkboard?
  • Provide a model. If your child presses down too hard on his paper, have him draw a line exerting appropriate pressure while you observe. Whenever your child is writing, have him compare the lines in his writing with the model line and adjust pencil pressure as necessary.

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Attention Strategies

  • Help your child get started. Assist your child by making sure she has the right writing tools available and has an organized workspace. If needed, provide a jump-start to help her begin, such as the first sentence of a paragraph.
  • Build in planning time. Give your child five minutes of planning time before beginning an assignment. Provide guidance in effective planning when necessary.
  • Provide guidelines for an age-appropriate narrative. For instance, provide a checklist:
    • Characters (appearance and feelings)
    • Setting (time and geography)
    • Place (climate, government, economy, culture)
    • Events (what happened, what was the cause, sequence, conclusion, far-reaching results)
  • Preview. Help your child get started on assignments by encouraging him to think ahead of time about the completed assignment and what it will look like or what he will do in the assignment. Have your child make a list of materials he will need to write his book report or have him outline what information he will include in his story or report. Ask him to consider what he will need to describe in the beginning and middle of a story so his ending will make sense.
  • Use a strategy such as PLAN to help organize writing and free your child to brainstorm ideas:
Preview the assignment – think about things such as the purpose and audience.
List the main topics you plan to write about, along with details for each.
Assign an order for the topics.
Note ideas in complete sentences.
  • Increase awareness of writing quality. Ask your child to set a letter grade goal or other measure of work quality for her writing prior to beginning. Then have her self-grade or appraise the quality of her work before turning it in to the teacher.
  • Provide models of assignments and criteria for success. Give your child a clear sense of how a final product might look by showing examples and sharing exceptional products (e.g., essays or drawings). For instance, make work from last year available, and draw your child’s attention to specific qualities of the work (e.g., “Notice that a good paper has a clear topic sentence.”). Do not, however, compare your child’s work with that of peers or siblings.
  • Self-monitor. During a writing task, teach your child how to stop and evaluate how well he is doing. For example, tell him, “Every ten minutes you will need to stop and check to see if you are getting your point across.” Teach your child to ask himself questions such as, “How is it going?” and “Do I need to make changes?”
  • Teach proven strategies. Provide your child with specific age-appropriate strategies to use in checking work. For example, use Dr. Donald D. Deshler’s COPS (Capitalization-Organization-Punctuation-Spelling) for proofing written work. Your child can create a reminder card to keep on her desk or in her assignment book for quick reference to the strategy.
  • Let your child delay editing work. The day before an assignment is due, have your child review his work and read it to an adult. This will give him enough perspective to catch errors or add more details and produce better results.

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Language Strategies

  • Create a personal dictionary. Encourage your child to write down words that interest her or that she learns from reading. These words can be used as a reference for writing.
  • Use a tape recorder to store thoughts. Discussing her thoughts might organize your child’s ideas before she begins to write. She can then transcribe her dictation.
  • Read writing aloud while editing it. Teach your child how to listen for where sentences begin and end so that he may apply proper punctuation and capitalization and listen for grammatical errors.
  • Practice the sequencing of ideas. Your child might write ideas or sentences on strips of paper and then order the strips before writing.
  • Use transition words. Give your child a list of transition words and phrases, and show her how to practice using these words to unite sentences and paragraphs. Examples of transition words include: “previously,” “afterward,” “finally,” “as a result,” “subsequently,” and “furthermore.”
  • Provide keywords. Help your child create a list of words related to the writing topic of his choice. Then encourage him to use all of the words in his sentences. For instance, a paragraph about spiders might include: “spider,” “legs,” “eyes,” “web,” etc.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to practice speaking. Encourage your child to express ideas and elaborate on them in everyday speech. Build in opportunities for oral reports and discussions on topics that interest her.
  • Practice elaboration. Use visual stimuli to trigger speech. Ask your child to describe, explain, or elaborate on photographs, illustrations, and pictures. Frame questions that are designed to elicit responses requiring more than one-word answers – for example, rather than ask him if he liked a television program (answer could be yes or no), ask him to describe what he liked best and least about the program.

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Memory Strategies

  • Learn the rules of spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. An example of a spelling rule is “change the ‘y’ to ‘i’ and add ‘er’.” A sample capitalization rule is “always capitalize the names of places.” Ask your child to explain the rule as needed. For example, if she has spelled the word “easier” as “easyer,” she should be asked what rule applies, say it aloud, and then make her corrections.
  • Break writing assignments into steps or stages. Make brainstorming the first stage, drafting ideas the second stage, revision the third stage, and correcting spelling and grammar the last stage before the final draft. Spread out the stages over time.
  • Generate ideas apart from writing. Allow your child to record his ideas on a planning sheet or into a tape recorder that he reads or listens to later when he is ready to write.
  • Reduce the emphasis on certain subskills. Place priority on getting ideas down on paper, without worrying about spelling or punctuation.

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Higher-Order Thinking

  • Use graphic organizers to organize ideas. Encourage your child to map out what she wants to say before she begins writing. Have her number her ideas in order of presentation. Suggest that she diagram or draw her ideas before starting to write. You can find many examples of graphic organizers on the Internet.
  • Practice idea generation through storytelling. For example, present a picture and ask your child to tell you about the picture. He may need some specific, but open-ended questions to help him get started (e.g., “what happened just before?” “what will happen next?”).
  • Encourage your child to use brainstorming before starting an assignment. Start the brainstorming process with something of interest to your child. Allow her to brainstorm in any way she prefers – for example, if your child has difficulty with writing, let her brainstorm orally.
  • Use sentence starters to trigger thoughts. Ask your child to finish a sentence, such as “Jack runs… .” Probe by asking him questions about the sentence starter, such as, “What kind of person was Jack?” and “Where was Jack running?”
  • Provide a story ending. Challenge your child to create the beginning and middle of the story to fit the ending.


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