Rapidly advancing technology makes communication more accessible, simpler, and more convenient than ever before. Young children in elementary school are receiving an outside education in the art of modern writing and communication.
The problem is that many students are learning habits at a crucial age that may help them pick the perfect emoji or gif for a social situation, but it won’t help them learn the appropriate forms of “your,” “you’re,” and “yours.”
The (D)Evolution of Writing
The lack of formality in modern communication leaves educators unsure of how to teach writing to elementary students. No one outside of the classroom writes essays anymore. Instead, we write articles and blog posts, like this one; we tweet and give TED talks.
The art of writing and the rules associated with the craft seem further removed from the zeitgeist than ever before. Therefore, teaching your elementary students to write essays correctly can seem like an impossible task, especially when they spend so much time communicating with one another via other mediums.
At The Graide Network, our mission is to help teachers and schools better educate their students. That’s why we’re providing tips on how to teach essay writing to elementary students, as well as some tips and tricks for improving your students’ writing skills overall.
In this post, we’ll cover:
Data on elementary student writing levels
How to help kids with writing
How to develop your students’ writing skills in fun ways
According to reports from the National Center for Education, SAT mean scores in writing dropped from 497 to 484 over nine years (2006-2015). Furthermore, during this period, the number fell every year.
With roughly only 25 percent of students testing as proficient in writing, it can be easy to point the finger at social media and constant access to screens. However, the issue starts in the classroom.
In 2016, 40 percent of students who took the ACT writing exam lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to complete a college-level English composition class.
How to Evaluate a Student’s Writing Skill Level
Let’s be clear. We’re not blaming you, the fearless educators. It’s an issue that’s far more systemic.
Elementary school is the time when students first learn how language operates. They’re expected to grasp vocabulary, grammar, and spelling while simultaneously expressing and conveying ideas and arguments in a concise, organized way, making it hard to know how to develop writing skills in a child.
The Challenges of Learning to Write
Elementary school is a crucial time in a child’s development, and the pace at which students are expected to learn and succeed is exceptionally fast. By the time students reach middle or high school, they’re expected to write multi-paragraph essays containing formal introductions, arguments with supporting evidence, and conclusions.
The problem is that language is a vast territory, and with so many exceptions to the rule, students often become overwhelmed and stop trying.
Common Struggles Students Face
Students often face a variety of struggles when it comes to writing, whether in the classroom or at home. From grammar to organization, these are the most common hurdles:
Lack of topic ideas
Lack of structure leading to disorganized thoughts
A feeling of disconnect from the assignment
When it comes to writing, the actual words your students use and how they use those words is vital, but putting “pen to paper” is the last step of a long process that requires plenty of practice and planning.
How to Tell if Your Student is Struggling with Writing
There are more signs that your student is struggling with their writing than poor sentence-level mechanics. Whether you’re a new teacher or not, you know that the signs of a struggling student go beyond the quality and grading of their assignments. Therefore, to improve their writing, you need to address each area.
You can identify a student that is struggling with their writing by paying close attention to their work and how they behave in the classroom. Many students who struggle exhibit such signs as:
Poor spelling and grammar
Lack of organized thoughts and structure
An unwillingness to participate in an assignment
Sometimes because the student doesn’t feel they are prepared enough to complete it
Now that we’ve covered the issues and how to spot them, let’s figure out how to prevent them and provide students with a positive fix that will increase their writing efficiency.
How to Develop Elementary Students' Writing Skills in a Fun Way
Young students, especially those in elementary school don’t benefit from long attention spans. In fact, a 2015 study found that adults have an attention span that lasts about eight seconds. Keeping your students engaged while teaching them better writing skills is no small task.
Classroom Activities to Improve Writing
We’re going to break these activities down into three sections that each relate to common issues: Ideas, disorganization, and disconnection from the assignment.
Lack of Ideas
Orally share ideas in groups before having students write
Allowing your students to generate ideas in a group and brainstorm is an effective tool. If a student is stuck on an idea, hearing what others say can create inspiration. Additionally, if multiple kids are stuck on an idea, a group setting allows them to feel less alone from their lack of an idea.
Have your students write collaboratively
Allow your students to work on an assignment in pairs, groups, or as a whole class. Similar to sharing ideas out loud, this method gets your students to better think about how to structure an essay and share their writing styles
Give your students a sentence starter
A writing prompt or starter sentence doesn’t allow your student to claim they don’t know what to write about and forces them to begin while guiding them.
Give your students a writing warm-up
Allow your students to free write for a few minutes and encourage them to ignore structure and grammar (for now). Free writing is an excellent tactic for getting the creative juices going.
Disorganized and Lack of Structure
Organize assignments and include visual aids
Instead of making students write a five-paragraph essay all at once, break each part of it into sections. Provide students with a graphic breakdown of each section that includes helpful hints for writing and structure.
Provide models of good writing
Give your students an example of what you’re looking for and provide explanations for different sections.
Instead of focusing on an essay as a whole, teach smaller chunks of the essay and its structure. Take 10 - 15 minutes to focus solely on lead sentences or transitional phrases.
Give your students a toolbox
A writing toolbox can include anything you think may help struggling students improve their writing. Include resources like a list of transitional words or phrases, a list of words to avoid, and a grammar cheat sheet.
Disconnected from the Assignment
Give your students a topic choice
Either let your students choose from a list of approved topics or give them the option to pick their own for approval. Often, students who feel invested in a subject are more likely to write more and try harder.
Give them a greater purpose
Writing an essay for a grade isn’t always enough to get some students engaged, especially if they’re struggling already. Raise the stakes and give them a greater purpose by creating unique assignments. For example, have them write a blog post they have to share with the class or a travel brochure to their favorite destination.
Conference with your students
Whether in small groups or one-on-one, it’s vital for teachers to pay attention to each student and identify where they are struggling. When students feel disengaged, it may be because they think they lack the skills to do well. Make sure to target different areas for each student.
At Home Activities for Parents
Just as in the classroom, teaching your kids writing skills at home is essential because it shows your kids multiple methods and ways to write. Writing at home also keeps what your child learned in school fresher in their minds. Remember the length of that attention span? Knowing how to help kids with writing isn't always easy, so we've got a few helpful tips.
Here are a few ways parents can help at home:
Task your child with writing instructions for taking care of the family pet.
Dictate to your child what you need on your shopping list and have them write the items down.
Have them spend five minutes after school journaling about their day.
Write an online review of something they like.
Create a space in your home where your child will feel comfortable doing homework and other writing exercises. When doing exercises with them, don’t be afraid to make it fun with crayons, colored pencils, and markers.
If you enjoy reading to your child, try and write a story together. By reading and writing together, you’ll help your child develop ideas more efficiently, which will translate to their performance in the classroom.
Improving young students’ writing skills may seem like a tall challenge, but by doing a little planning yourself and identifying the individual needs and issues of each student, you’ll be able to transform your classroom into a great writers workshop.