Writing it Right: Helping Kids to Become Better Writers
I’ve been writing since I was about twelve years old. Because I loved reading so much, taking the leap to writing my own stories came naturally. I wrote practically every single day during summer vacation and worked on different stories.
Though I enjoyed writing and reading as a kid, it’s definitely not in the list of highest priorities for many kids of the 21st century. Many kids are getting their entertainment through video games, movies, and web content like YouTube. Technology plays a significant part in the lives of school age kids, but it is also responsible for their inability to write. When the only actual reading or writing they ever do is when they’re forced to at school, there is no incentive for them to do it for pleasure. The closest form of writing any of them ever do is sending text messages or writing comments online.
We may not realize it, but the skill of writing is just as important as mathematics and reading. In many schools around the country, there is a strong push for new STEM-based learning as many of the jobs of the future will be in the fields of science and technology. But placing a specific emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics completely ignores the writing and reading crisis prevalent in many schools, especially poorly funded inner city schools.
The solution for this problem doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. But, like many problems, the earlier parents and teachers get a handle on the situation, the greater chance of success in solving any problems down the road. Ultimately, that is the only reasonable solution. If teens enter college ill prepared with even the most basic writing skills, they will struggle to attain those jobs and opportunities waiting for them when they’re done with school.
Following these few simple steps could not only help your kids become better writers when they reach later grades in school, even following these tips in high school could help improve those with struggling skills.
Readers Make Better Writers
It should come as a surprise to anyone that people who read more tend to have better writing skills than those who don’t. The first step in becoming a better writer is just reading more. A strong foundation in literacy is the bedrock for all writers, both professional and non-professionals.
Reading exposes students to new words, expressions, emotions, and writing styles they can’t find anywhere else. Books provide a way for them to escape for a while and use their imaginations, making them become better at creative writing and finding ways to express themselves with words.
Furthermore, reading allows kids to see how all of the things they’re learning in English class apply when someone sits down and writes something. The more a student reads, and especially at an early age, the more they see how writing is supposed to be done and they are able to repeat basic grammar rules and even retain how many words are spelled.
Reading into the Reading
It’s not enough to simply encourage kids to read more and suggest it will make them better writers. I know many people who read more than I do and aren’t creative enough to write a story. But one of the benefits of being well read is being able to spot good writing from bad writing fairly quickly.
Just because we ask a child or teenager to read a book doesn’t necessarily mean they’re comprehending what they’ve read. Reading comprehension isn’t just important for reading stories or poetry. Being able to read a piece of text and understanding what it’s saying or trying to say is an important life skill. As adults, if we don’t know what it is we’re being asked to read or sign, we’re liable to get ourselves into trouble or miss out on major opportunities. A person could read the fine print all they want, but it would mean very little if they had no idea what it was trying to say.
Reading comprehension is vital when it comes to writing as well. If a student reads a book and doesn’t understand that the writer is trying to convey a certain emotion, explain something via metaphor or hyperbole, or even simply explain what happened in the section they’ve finished reading, they’ve learned absolutely nothing.
In order for students to build their writing skills, they need to be able to recognize the important elements of the writing they’re reading. Without this skill, they will never be able to translate those elements into their own writing. If they see words they can’t pronounce or know their definition, they’ll never use them as part of their vocabulary.
Learn More by Doing
Like many skills in life, writing is best learned and perfected the more it’s done. Looking back on the stories I wrote when I was younger, saying I wasn’t a strong writer is a bit of an understatement. As I got older, learned more in my English and creative writing classes, and read more books, my skills and my stories got better.
It’s important to encourage your kids to not only read more but to write more. And if they’re not interested in writing much, they should be spending more time reading. Encourage young kids who love storytime at school or at home to sit down and write their own stories. Make time so they can share them with you. Tell them you want to know what happens next in the story or encourage them to create even more stories and share them with you.
Feedback and Constructive Criticism
There is absolutely no way anyone will get better at doing anything if there isn’t someone to give them feedback on how they’re doing. Feedback for a new writer or someone trying to improve their writing skills is incredibly important.
Even now as a professional writer, I still reach out to people and ask them to review things I’ve written to see if they see mistakes I missed or think something needs clarity. In my profession, every writer benefits from having an editor or two read over their copy. For students and amateur writers, having someone to read over a story and give honest and constructive criticism will help them improve their skills tremendously.
Whether it’s rephrasing the way certain paragraphs are written, developing better dialog for characters, or reminding them to use certain proper grammar, feedback is necessary to improve writing skills and to create better writers.
Write the Right Way
One of the first things I learned as a young writer was that while it was okay to make mistakes in my writing, it was critical I learned how to write the right way. This is where teachers step in and make sure kids are learning the basics.
Unfortunately, this is where we start to face the issues we see today. The fundamental principles of writing are often lost because students are not encouraged to keep writing and applying what they have learned. They fail to remember basic grammar rules like avoiding passive voice, avoiding run-on sentences, using the correct tense of words, remembering correct punctuation, etc.
Many of us remember being back in high school or college and getting back essays with red marks and notes in the margins. In order for students to improve, they need to see these familiar marks on their writing so they see what they’re doing wrong.
But the modern age is slowly erasing those familiar red marks thanks to computers. Technology, for all of its benefits in the classroom, is actually destroying the hard work being done by English and creative writing teachers. The classic spelling and grammar check in your standard word processing software automatically corrects mistakes. It underlines grammar issues and makes suggestions while you’re writing. For the majority of people who use these programs, myself included, we often simply let the computer decide for us what looks good.
Putting it simply: kids need to be taught how to write the right way. Our fast-paced world forces teachers to place kids in front of a word processor to type of papers instead of writing them by hand. In doing so, we give them access to a machine that already has all the basic rules of writing built in so they never have to remember them. It’s like asking them to take a test, but handing them all the answers.
Write It Your Way
Once they know the basics and it’s clear they understand the basic principles of writing, encourage them to start writing anything they want. Experimenting in writing is not only how many young writers find their voice, but it further cements the basic skills they’ve been taught. No matter if it’s poetry, short stories, novelas, or simple writing prompts, encourage kids to practice what they’ve learned as a writer and analyze their writing to see what skills they’re lacking.
Writing stories and allowing students to be creative is the best way to see how they’re progressing. Feedback, constructive criticism, encouragement, and repeating the cycle is the basic formula to getting kids on the right track to becoming better writers.
Unfortunately, writing is a skill that is mastered by very few people. But the purpose of this blog isn’t to teach kids to master the art of writing. It’s to encourage students and young adults to become better writers. Writing is a skill best learned by repetition and analysis: create, criticize, continue. Of course, encouragement goes a long way to creating better writers.