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Your second grader and writing under the Common Core Standards

Your second grader’s vocabulary and word sense are blossoming – and just in time, as writing projects this year require more detail and nuance.


By Jessica Kelmon

This year, your second grader’s language skills will grow exponentially. Simple sentences grow into compound sentences and descriptive words take your child’s writing to the next level. While the Common Core Standards are rigorous — young writers are expected to use information from “provided sources” to answer questions and to conduct “shared research and writing projects” — remember that this year your child will be building skills in gradual, steady progression, starting with a new facility with words.

So long, “invented spelling”?

All that sounding-it-out practice is about to pay off! After years of rhyming and practicing high-frequency and sight words, your child has learned a lot more than you may realize about the rules of spelling — and this year she’ll show you exactly what she’s learned.

Gone, for the most part, are the phonetic spellings with missing vowels between consonants — “ct” for cat and “becs” for because, for example — that characterize “invented spelling.” Instead, your child will learn to correctly use and spell irregular plural nouns (e.g. mice and feet) and the past tense of irregular verbs (e.g. hid, sat, told). She will begin to understand the concept of root words and how a word's meaning can be modified by adding a prefix (e.g. happy/unhappy) or suffix (e.g. clear/clearly) and how words can be combined to create compound words (e.g. lamppost and playground).

Your child will also more easily recognize tricky spelling patterns (think cage versus badge and boy versus boil) because of all the work she’s done to learn phonemes and the conventions of spelling. But now when your second grader is confronted with a new word, in addition to using root words and context to figure out what it means, expect your child to look it up! This year, both dictionaries and glossaries become common tools of the writing trade. You’ll find your child challenged to use both regularly — especially for weekly spelling tests. (See our weekly second grade spelling lists for examples.)

3 types of writing in second grade

Under the Common Core Standards, second graders should build on the three kinds of writing they’ve been improving on since kindergarten: opinion, informative, and narrative writing. Opinion and informative writing will likely start with kids reading one or more books and responding to what they’ve learned. In an opinion piece, your child should introduce his topic clearly, state his opinion about that topic, give a few reasons to support his opinion using linking words (e.g. because, and, also) to connect his evidence to his opinion, and then write a full sentence or a few sentences to conclude his opinion. In informative writing, your child should introduce his topic clearly, use facts and other information — such as definitions — to write a few clear, well thought-out points about his topic, and then write one or more sentences in conclusion.

Writing a narrative is essentially telling a story, and your child’s story may be inspired by books, experiences, or pure imagination. Your second grader’s story should describe an event — or a series of events — using details to describe the characters’ actions, thoughts, and feelings. In addition to careful use of descriptive verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, your second grader should use sentence order, verb tense, and temporal words (e.g. after, following, later) to clearly put the events in order. At the end of a second grader’s narrative writing, there should be some sense of the story coming to a close. (Hint: not just by tacking on “The End.”)

Check out these three real examples of good second grade informational writing:
 •"1,000 ways to save water!"
 •"Lots of ways to save wate!"
 •"Ways to save water"

bttr, better, best!

Strong writing means not rushing into writing — and not stopping after the first draft. It's a lesson your second grader is likely to learn through experience this year. Don’t be surprised to see your child spending more time on a single piece of writing — prewriting, creating a first draft, revising, and editing.

Writing begins with learning. Collectively called prewriting, this first step involves reading and processing new information and ideas, taking notes, organizing their thoughts, discussing what they've learned, and, often, rereading and looking for additional sources. Once a first draft is turned in, the teacher or other students will go over it with your child. They may ask questions about the work to elicit details or facts that could be added or clarified, prompt your child to find more information, make sure your child’s word choices convey what she means, make sure there’s an introduction and a conclusion, and help organize the order of events in the story. Using all these questions and suggestions as guidance, your child will do a revision — adding, reordering, and refining the draft.

After one or more revisions, the teacher will likely help your child with the final edit — focusing on spelling and grammar, capitalizing proper nouns, making sure nouns and verbs are in agreement, and checking that periods and question marks are used correctly. These steps — prewriting, doing a first draft, revising one or more drafts, and editing the final piece — help second graders learn that gathering and recalling information, organizing their thoughts, strengthening and clarifying their ideas, and improving grammar and presentation are all essential to the writing process.

When your child is working on a writing assignment at home, it may be tempting to correct spelling and grammar errors or make other suggestions, but it’s a good idea to talk to the teacher before you jump in. She may prefer to see your student’s unvarnished effort so she can work with your child to get it right as part of the learning process.

Check out these related worksheets:
How to write a story
Writing recipes: pizza

Research and sources and publishing, oh my!

Reading a series of books about wetlands and writing a report. Answering questions about habitats by recalling information from a specific book. Recording observations about an experiment. Sound like second grade writing? Under the Common Core Standards, kids learn to do research with the careful guidance and support of their teacher and peers. Together, second graders will learn to gather information and draw on what they've done in class to answer questions and deepen their understanding of a topic. In their writing, this means that kids will learn to pull information from provided books, websites, class presentations, and other sources to form their opinions, arguments, and narratives.

Working with peers is a skill emphasized in the Common Core Standards, so your child will likely work on at least one group project. She’ll also be expected to give other students feedback to improve their writing drafts by adding details or facts and making sure information is presented in the correct order. The standards also call for students to work together and with the teacher to “use a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing.” In some cases this may mean typing and printing a report — but don’t be surprised if your second grader’s work is published as part of a class blog!

Second grade G & P

What are G&P? Why, grammar and punctuation of course! Second graders learn to use handy new language tools this year — starting with apostrophes to show possession (e.g. Matt’s dog) and create common contractions (e.g. isn’t and don’t), commas for greetings and closings when writing letters (e.g. Dear Mom, and Love, Isla), and capitalizing the first letters of holidays, products, and geographic names.

Your child should also learn to use new and increasingly precise words to express herself, including collective nouns (e.g. the group, the class), reflexive pronouns (e.g. myself, ourselves), and adjectives and adverbs to add detail in their writing. But adding detail isn’t enough: your second grader needs to learn how adjectives and adverbs are different and choose between them based on what they’re modifying (e.g. “The small horse ran quickly” – the adjective small modifies the noun — horse — and the adverb quickly modifies the action — ran.)

To put these tools to the test, your second grader will be challenged to write — and rewrite — simple and compound sentences to show what she’s learned about language, grammar, and structure.

Check out these related worksheets:
Writing a letter

What about the big H?

Despite what you may have heard, the Common Core Standards don’t do away with handwriting — but neither do they spell out specific benchmarks beyond printing the alphabet in kindergarten and first grade. The standards acknowledge that your child still needs to know how to write legibly — and that means penmanship matters. The standards also say that, with assistance from a teacher, kids need to use digital tools to produce and publish their work, but no specific typing skills are outlined until third grade. What does this mean for handwriting, cursive, and typing? Schools will handle this differently, so it's a great question to ask your child's teacher.

Updated November 2013 to align with the Common Core Standards

is a senior editor at

Comments from readers

"I assume the terminology "invented spelling"is replacing or has replaced the term "phonics". Emphasis on phonics has proven to be a superior learning tool for word recognition, writing and speech. Watching my 5 and 7 yearold grand sons use phonics amazes me just much easier it is to learn. "
"You have a wonderful writing program with such depth and content for the children. I’m happy that you have children writing stories! Congratulations! I’m retired now but taught for many years – and right from the first day, story writing was introduced to first graders and reviewed for second graders. In my combined first and second grade classes, children wrote about various kinds of adventures using much imagination and creativity. When children were writing, they were deeply involved in creative and critical thinking and problem solving galore – and they thrived and grew and become more skillful and cognitively alert. Second graders made first and second drafts of their writing, and first graders were ready for two drafts by mid-year. The second drafts, all corrected, were beautiful – the handwriting, the illustrations, and the cover. See my entry about young children’s story writing: "
"Interesting and informative. To tell the truth regarding these skills, I think I should re-write my syllabus for the post-graduate course I teach (yes, many of my students appear to have been absent most of the second grade). There is, however, one aspect of expected skills introduced in this article that concerns me - invented spelling. Is this the new world equivalent of phonics? The referenced link, Cn U Rd Ths?, appears to support that shortcut method of text messaging that students find acceptable in its use with academic papers. There should be the same out cry regarding invented spelling as there was regarding 'ebonics.'"
"This information was great it helped me out tremendously. I think I'm in love. Finally I've found the answers I've been looking for to help me assist my son with his homework. He's right on schedule and I was worried. 'invented spelling' WOW!!! who knew??? lol"
"After an intense conversation with my 2nd grader teacher who was explaining my son's lack of ideas when writing, I searched the itnernet for ideas and found your article. Thank you! The information on our site is super helpful and educational. Gladys"
"How should a tipical second grader's handwriting look like at the end of second grade vs a sub-standard second grade student's hand writing?"
"very informative and to the point"
"I found this article to be very helpful. When I visited a potential school for my kids I used the guidelines listed. Thank you Great Schools"
"Again, excellent detail allowing for developent of productive conversation with our teacher."
"When I read this article I realized my first-grade daughter is already doing second grade spelling and writing. She has weekly spelling tests at school, she likes to use the dictionary, she loves to read and now she is into cursive writing. I guess I also have to give credit to the school and my child's love for learning (she is in Montessori School)"