Don’t “Write Off Writing” Instruction
Creative Ideas for Teaching Composition to Your Struggling Learner—Part II
By Faith Berens, M.Ed
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant
Last month I discussed why writing can be difficult for some children with special needs and also shared basic, guiding principles regarding teaching struggling learners the process of writing. This month, I will offer some specific writing strategies as well as discuss some suggestions for children with specific types of learning difficulties.
Teaching Writing-Strategies for Struggling Kids
Very young students, even those who are not yet reading, want to write. Many experts agree that reading and writing are reciprocal processes; one goes hand-in-hand or helps the development of the other. The early literacy approach encourages children to write even before they learn to read. You can encourage your child to write by providing a “writing station,” special area, or workbox that has writing materials in it, such as blank (folded paper) books, flip books, stickers, paper, notepads, greeting cards, pencils and other writing materials. Writing for real purposes is very motivating. Encourage them to draw and write notes and cards, help with writing the store list or take the drink or dinner orders at meal time. Patterned writing is great to do with emergent writers and readers. In this strategy, students have been read and are familiar with a favorite predictable, patterned book, such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? Students, with assistance, can write and create their own version of the book. There is a really good book-making software program called Book Builder, through Pioneer Valley publishers, that students love because they can put their own names and people they know and love into the stories!
Morning Message—In the morning, when it fits best in your homeschool routine (after breakfast, Bible and worship is best for our family) direct your children to a morning greeting, a message that is written out on a chart paper, whiteboard or chalkboard. This could include a verse, poem, or Scripture. Within the message, include errors made on purpose and make it your students' job to work together to find and correct them. Do not make them copy the morning message. This could be done weekly or as often as you see fit. It is a fun and simple way to integrate grammar and mechanics in a non-threatening way into your at home teaching.
Springboards or Writing Prompts—For a child who does not seem interested or motivated to write, give him a special box, like a recipe card holder, and have him decorate it. On index cards help him brainstorm story starters. You can buy commercially prepared writing prompts, such as 350 Fabulous Writing Prompts by Jacqueline Sweeney.
Concept Map or Graphic Organizer—This a visual guide to follow while writing and is very helpful in pre-writing. The student fills in the boxes or circles with the topic or main idea and then the supporting ideas and details. There are many different graphic organizers. For instance, a Venn Diagram is helpful when you want your child to compare and contrast two things, for instance, frogs versus toads, that he read about in science. One side of the circle is filled in with short phrases and facts about frogs, the other circle completed on toads. Ways that the two animals are similar (or share characteristics) go in the middle where the two overlapped circles share common space. Mary Lou Ward’s book Writing Step by Step provides maps and a model for guiding children through the writing process that is very easy to use.
Sentence, Paragraph, and Poetry Writing Frames—This strategy is similar to the cloze technique for reading. The teacher provides a sample sentence, poem, or paragraph frame with blanks as a model and the child fills it in to complete the text. It is helpful to provide a complete sample (with no blanks), then complete one together before giving the child their own fill in the blank frame to complete.
Now let’s look at three homeschoolers and explore ways to help address the difficulties each student is facing:
Student 1—“Allie, who has attention and focus difficulties”:
- Provide a visual chart with the steps of the writing process (Pre-writing, drafting, sharing, revising, editing, publishing)
- Break the writing assignment up into manageable chunks and go through the writing process over many days.
- Utilize short, mini-lessons with student writing sessions of about 20 minutes in length daily.
- Provide visuals or graphic organizer, such as a concept map, as pre-writing and organizing process.
- Allow student to work on floor, standing up, or sitting on a balancing/exercise ball so she can move or bounce.
Student 2—“Bryce, who is extremely bright and very verbal with a great vocabulary, but can’t spell”:
- Allow use of a Franklin Spell Checker or word processing program and spelling program, such as Ginger Spell.
- Have child dictate to parent who acts as a scribe.
- Use a word wall or spelling chart with high frequency words for child to refer to while writing and allow him to use approximate spelling on drafts; encourage the child to underline or circle words he knows he needs assistance in spelling.
Student 3—“Connor, who has short-term memory deficits and word finding (language expression) difficulties”:
- Allow child to dictate to parent or use voice recognition program, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking or utilize a small hand-held recorder for child to dictate into and he then can go back and listen in order to transcribe the ideas.
- Let the child “storyboard” or draw out the ideas to be written about first; parent can help provide words and guide writing.
- Help the child by providing word banks of nouns, adjectives, and verbs to incorporate into writing.
- After child has written a draft, go through the piece and select a couple of words; generate lists of synonyms and antonyms for selected words in order to expand vocabulary.
- Utilize “word pictures”—provide cartoons or pictures that help to define the word for the child .