How to teach writing skills is essential to the development of students and lifelong learners. (See Why to Teach Writing Skills.) In addition to being a foundational educational skill, it is among the top desirable qualities for employees. Writing skills are even more needed in the current age of technology (Goobersoly, 2016) Since it is such a needed skill, how can it be taught and acquired? Here are few of the best tips:
- Provide daily, dedicated time for writing. Set up a time to write. It doesn’t need to be formal writing. But use it every day. There are many simple ways to set up a writing time. Write emails. Letters. Journaling. Set a goal to write a book. Maybe you’ve wanted to write a blog. Create one. Whatever you decide to write, don’t feel that you need to be restricted by rules. You don’t even have to share it. Just enjoy yourself and your time writing.
- Teach the writing process using a variety of methodologies. As an educator, the greatest methodology to teach writing is the one that works! There are many wonderful systems, curriculums and advice on how to teach writing, but different approaches will reach different students. Don’t get set on one system. Shake it up and try something different! Use learning styles as well!
- Teach fluency in handwriting, spelling, sentence construction, typing, word processing and grammar. This seems like a contrary piece of advice in relationship to the first tip, but the basics simply cannot be ignored when teaching. There are times when writing should be for fun and the rules should be thrown out! In contrast, an employer would frown on writing which does not adhere to the grammatical rules.
- Organize a community of writers. There are many communities of writers. Some can easily be found online through Google Plus or even on Facebook. You might also be surprised at how many of your friends are interested in setting up a writing group or share their writing. Other places to look are local bookstores and the libraries. Often writing groups are sponsored through them.
- Use journaling. Journaling with or without feedback is a valuable asset in writing skill development. My children (and students when I teach writing courses) are encouraged to keep several journals. One is serious. The historical kind which will one day be handed down to the next generation. Another journal is the learning journal. Lastly, I encourage the use of a junk journal. What exactly is that? A place to record anything and everything with no rules. Anything can be said. Nobody will ever read it. My daughter once used a junk journal to record some of her most hateful thoughts during a trial. Nobody read it. When she was finished with it -not necessarily having filled it. She burned the book. The junk journal served a purpose to help her to deal with her trial, emotions and to have a place where she was not censored.
- Carry writing tools. Did you know the greatest writers carry a notebook and a pen with them? It doesn’t need to be fancy. Simply a place where you can quickly record a thought or collect a phrase, a word or to take a writing pause in your day. I use 3×5 cards. They’re easy to toss in my wallet or pocket. I also don’t feel restricted that I need to write perfect script. I can scribble on them.
- Write letters and mail them. Did you miss getting real mail? Someone recently stated to me that they go to get their mail only once a week. (The mailbox is in their front yard.) Why? Because they only received bills and junk mail. Think of how a letter would be received. How about setting a goal to write a thank you card once a week? You’d be surprised what a little gratitude can do to your life as well as assist in developing writing skills.
- Don’t forget the phonics. Teaching phonics should start at the earliest of ages. (LINK) Think of how many times you sound out something to spell a word. Maybe you don’t do it daily, but you do it! Don’t forget to teach these fundamental sounds!
- Use graphic organizers. Never underestimate the value of using the thinking process prior to writing. Many grammatical errors can even be avoided by providing time for thinking. Graphic organizers aid in this asset.
- Set up peer critique. Peer critique goes hand in hand with a community of writers, but even if a community of writers is unavailable, find someone who is willing to give honest feedback.
- Create a writing space. Does this seem silly? Writing doesn’t have to occur at only one place, especially as you’re encouraged to carry writing instruments and journal. However, there is value in setting up a special space to write. It doesn’t need to be complicated. One student of mine has a writing tub which has paper, writing utensils, journal, etc. She places her writing tub on the end of the kitchen table which tells her mind it is time to write. Other options is a desk in the corner. My desk is not large but sits in front of window. I enjoy the time to look out the window while I write.
- Combine reading with writing. Did you know the best writers also tend to be the best readers? (Hanski, 2014) Read often. Lemony Snicket says, “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” While reading, periodically notice different word choices and idioms. See how the author may have describe something in a unique matter.
- Use a variety of writing styles. What does that mean? It is similar to speaking styles. In a professional setting, you’d probably not expect to hear your boss use common street slang. The same idea applies to writing. There are times for informal voice and formal voice. Learn a variety of them.
- Apply plenty of praise and positive reinforcement. (LINK) Positive feedback can take on a creative aspect. Reh (2012) states “don’t ever underestimate the power of positive feedback. We are quick to point out to someone when they make a mistake. Sometimes we forget to acknowledge them when they do something right. Giving positive feedback can be a powerful tool for employee motivation” (p 1).
- Use a word processor for grammar. Most programs now assist writers with spelling and grammar. Don’t overlook this valuable asset.
- Practice. Practice.
Goobersoly, L. (2016). Why writing skills are more important than ever. Retrieved from http://www.universityprimetime.com/writing-skills-important-ever/
Hanski, M. (2014). Want to be a better writer. Read more. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-hanski/read-more_b_5192754.html
Reh, F. (2012). How to give positive feedback. Retrieved from management.about.com/cs/peoplemanagement/ht/positivefb.htm
By Tracy Atkinson
Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband and spirited long-haired miniature dachshunds. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners and learning styles. She has published several titles, including MBTI Learning Styles: A Practical Approach, The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.