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Ten tips for improving teens' writing

Break through writer's block and other common problems with these expert suggestions.

GreatSchools Blog

bex out loud/Flickr

By GreatSchools Staff

If your older child is struggling with writing, you can help — and you don’t have to be a great writer yourself to do so. That’s the thinking behind one Northern California writing program that trains volunteers to work one-on-one with middle and high school students. The WriterCoach Connection (WCC) puts college students, lawyers, retirees, and other community members (no teaching experience necessary) through six hours of training before placing them in Albany, Berkeley, and Oakland schools.

Volunteers are trained to coach young writers, not correct their papers. They learn strategies to help students organize their ideas and revise drafts. Associate Director Lynn Mueller describes a good writing coach as a “patient, friendly listener.”

WCC isn’t magic — or a substitute for a strong writing program at your child’s school. Since the best way to become a better writer is to practice, practice, practice, students should have time to write at school or home every day.

What can you do if your child is stumped about how to even begin an assignment? Or just “stuck” partway through? These ideas, drawing on the experiences of WCC volunteers, might be key to releasing your child's inner scribe.

1. Know the assignment

Without fully understanding the details of their homework, it can be hard for kids to start writing. Ask your child to explain the assignment in his own words, and, if he's unable to, consult the assignment sheet provided by the teacher. If you can’t find one, have your child call or email a friend to get the scoop on what’s expected.

2. Plan ahead

Some students struggle with writing because they haven't thought enough about what they want to say. Ask your child to articulate the main point he wants to make: If he can explain his ideas before putting pen to paper, writing will be that much easier.

Ask him to list examples that support his thesis or main points, which should help him plan out his argument. If your child reacts negatively to an assignment, talk to him about what he dislikes. If you can help him articulate his ideas, he might be able to write a persuasive paper based on his objections to the assignment. Not bad!

3. Gather the facts

Strong evidence makes a paper that much better. Do the examples support your child's main idea? Are they accurate? Lively? If your child is having trouble, ask him to take a minute and describe the scene as if he were a reporter, using the “five W’s” of journalism: who, what, where, when, and why.

4. Get organized

Great organization facilitates great writing. See if the teacher has given  instructions on how to write the introduction, body of the essay, and conclusion. Review the sequence of ideas in each paragraph of your child’s writing. Can you follow his thinking, or are there gaps in his logic? Are transitions needed to link the paragraphs?

Talk about what works well and how the introduction and conclusion relate to the theme. Does your child draw in the reader with his introduction? Does the conclusion include his thesis and sum up his ideas? The WCC coaches found these tips helpful once their kids had the beginnings of a piece of writing.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

01/5/2012:
"what do we have to do "
11/15/2011:
"Even with these tips you can't expect someone to become a great writer, or even a good one. Writing anything more than a passable paper on a regular basis requires practice and experience in writing. One of the best things you can do if you want to write better is to read. If you read then you are exposed to all sorts of styles and ideas that you can then use in your writing. "
11/14/2011:
"My son is a senior in high school (Florida). I must say he has had excellent English teachers that encouraged him write frequently. He has also taken creative writing classes and loves to write. "
10/25/2011:
"I AM a 6th grader and i found this article fairly helpful. We don't do very much writing anymore in E.L.A., I did much more writing in 4th grade on Friday letters. Thx. "
11/10/2010:
"Thanks for the advice! I have a 6th grader that has weekly essays to write & much of this will help me to work with him to get it done. "
08/31/2010:
"ithink they should let the children tell them what they don't get"
07/19/2010:
"I believe you've nailed it! These ten tips are beautifully explained."
07/19/2010:
"Great Great ideas and techniques for writing. I plan to use these to help my daughter, my students and myself. Thank you for making a difference."
07/19/2010:
"WRITING HAS NOT BEING A PRIORTY I SCHOOL ANYMORE. THE TEACHERS HAVE TO TEACH MATH, ENGLISH AND SCIENCE IN ORDER FOR STUDENTS TO PASS THE FCAT IN FLORIDA. AND ALL OTHER SUBJECTS TAKE A BACK SEAT. WRITING SHOULD START IN THE LOWER GRADE LEVELS. "
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