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Ten expert tips for improving writing

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By GreatSchools Staff

Check the organization.

If it is an essay, see if the teacher has given specific instructions about the introduction, body paragraphs or conclusion. Go over the sequence of ideas in each paragraph your child has written. Can you follow the thinking or are there missing steps that you need to understand his logic? Are transitions needed to link the paragraphs together? Talk about paragraphs that work well, identifying why they are effective. Discuss how the introduction and conclusion relate to the topic. Does the writer draw in the reader with his introduction? Does the conclusion include his thesis and sum up his ideas? The WriterCoach Connection coaches found these tips helpful in coaching once their kids had the beginnings of a piece of writing. You can read more on the WriterCoach Connection Web site.

Start by asking your child, "How can I help you?"

As a coach, your role is to listen and help your child figure out what he is trying to say. "You're giving the child a sounding board to talk out his ideas," Mueller says. "You'll help him organize those ideas and support them with examples."

Listen to your child read the piece of writing aloud without interrupting.

Writing is hard work that requires concentration. If you interrupt, you risk interfering in your child's thinking process.

Find three strengths in your child's writing and point them out.

Always start with strengths. Look for concrete details, sentences that are clear, words that are vivid, and praise them when you find them. Point to the phrase, sentence or paragraph and read it aloud. Tell her why it's effective: "I really like the way you understand the main character of the book," or "I love the colorful details in that sentence." You'll be showing her that writing isn't a mystical process but one that requires skills that she can master.

If something is unclear ask for more information.

Ask questions about what your child is trying to communicate. Tell him if there's something you'd like to know more about, an idea that's not fully expressed. Don't criticize or give the answer, but help him find his own answers. If you respond to his writing as a reader, you'll be showing him that writing is a way to communicate ideas to an audience. "Every writer has an audience," Mueller says. "Student writers may not realize this because they're writing an assignment for a teacher."

Don't correct grammar or mechanics on a rough draft.

Your child may correct her own rough-draft errors as she revises her writing, particularly if you encourage her to read her work aloud - to you or to herself. But if your child makes a consistent mistake in mechanics at this stage, see if she knows how to correct it. If she doesn't, give her the correct form. On the final draft, encourage your child to edit her own work. Resist the temptation to make the paper "perfect" from your point of view.

Respect your child as a writer.

What and how to revise is your child's choice, not yours. The "voice" he uses should be his, not yours. Offer a suggestion, and remember that your child must learn to do the thinking and writing.

Comments from readers

"these are things that i had'nt thought about : i would like to learn more about how to put my notes together to make my message put across to the audience that i am speaking to."
"My daughter Julia Murray is working on a novel and sometimes has asked me for my input these tips have helped me to be possitive and allow her to develop her story. Thank you Bonny L Schallock"
"I found this advise helpful. I value this type of advise because I want to be prepared to help my child if I need to in the future."
"This was very helpful and it arrived on a perfect day as my son was struggling with an assignment and I was at a loss at how to help him without putting to much of me into it. His biggest problem was that he had so many ideas he became overwhelmed and they became jumbled as he tried to organize them. In addition to the help in the article I let my son use my mini tape recorder to read his paper out loud and record it so he could listen to his paper as he played it back and make notes as to where he thought changes needed to be made. He said that helped him so much he recommended doing that to a friend. I look forward to more great tips, thanks a ton."
"Absolutely wonderful advise throughout the article. I will incorporate the ideas next time my children are at a loss. Thanks!"
"Oh! Just fabulous advice. My 17 yr old son struggles with writing and its been agonizing for us both. Now I am armed with tools to help him. He's gonna be shocked!!"
"Thank you for the writing tips. This information will help me assist my teenager(s) with their writing assignments. It is very important to let your child be the author of his paper and encourage them to expand on their idea when a paragraph is not clear. Positive feedback is the key. "