Teaching children how to write requires a lot of effort and patience from teachers. Not only do we need to teach the fundamental writing skills, we also need to explore and guide the students through the writing process, help them to understand the different purposes of writing, and develop a supportive writing environment. Success in these areas will allow us to achieve one of our goals; to enable students to write flexibly and effectively in order to communicate their thoughts clearly.
Fundamental Writing Skills
It is important to first ensure that students have a basic understanding of spelling and grammar concepts, appropriate for their age or grade. Teachers need to allocate time for acquiring, guiding and polishing these skills. If students do not know how to spell a word, they will likely use another word, and that will affect how their message is conveyed. Students also need to produce compelling, thought-provoking sentences in order to get their message across and engage their readers. When a student’s writing contains spelling or grammar mistakes it can be hard for the reader to comprehend what the student is trying to communicate. Using correct punctuation is equally important to teach as the position of punctuation often affects its meaning in a sentence. Correct use of punctuation will help the readers understand what the writer is trying to convey. To assist in this process my students are using the advance proofreading bookmark shown below:
This is a sample of student’s work. They are required to do their corrections using a green pen.
Another fundamental writing skill to teach is writing clear and specific main ideas or thesis statements. Emphasize that every sentence within the essay should be associated to the thesis statement. Explain to the students that being specific means ‘straight to the point’ and not skimming the surface. By being clear, they will ensure their readers will understand exactly what they mean. This could be hard to explain, so we need to show students examples to help them create their own thesis statements.
The Writing Process
Effective writing is not simply writing down what comes to mind. Teachers need to guide their students in thinking carefully on what they plan to say and how they want to say it. It is very important for the students to follow the writing process: planning, drafting, sharing, evaluating, revising, editing and publishing.
One basic strategy is POW (Pick ideas, Organize their notes, Write and say more). This can be introduced to lower elementary students. Teachers can also provide a variety of graphic organizers and teach students how to organize their ideas in a more visual form. For upper elementary students, more complicated strategies, such as peer revising, can be implemented. Many strategies can be used to assist students. In our current unit where persuasive essay is the writing genre, I set guidelines and standards for students’ writing, such as focusing on the argument given and providing three or more reasons for their beliefs. I use the TREE method, (Topic sentence, Reasons—three or more, Ending, Examine) whereby they make a plan for their paper that includes what they believe, reasons to support their beliefs, examples for each reason, and an ending. For their introduction, they can make it catchy by starting with a question, a quote or a personal experience. They also need to state their beliefs in the introduction, but they should elaborate on them in the following paragraphs. As students may also be conducting research, academic honesty must be emphasized as well.
Purposes of Writing
I am proud to say that in our school, each writing genre is explored meaningfully. Each unit of inquiry is tied to a specific writing genre which a grade level has deemed most appropriate to what they are inquiring into. This way, learning is more focused and purposeful. For example, in Grade 5, to prove the existence of each type of force, our students conducted experiments and learnt how to write a procedural text using the scientific method. While exploring local and global issues our students also learnt how to write persuasive essays on slavery, discrimination or drug trafficking. In addition, students need to understand that they are writing for different audiences and not only for their teachers. As a class, you can create a list of probable audiences and let the students choose the audience that best fits their topic.
Supportive Writing Environment
To be good writers, students must not just have the skill but also the will to write. Teachers must motivate students to write by creating a supportive environment. This can be achieved in several ways. First, give the students writing choices. For example, when exploring persuasive writing, provide a list of titles they can write their opinions about. For narrative writing, teachers can provide pictures or sentence prompts for students to choose from.
Secondly, teachers can share their own work with students. This was what my teacher did when I was still a student. He showed the class his published works in different newspapers. He then required us to write and submit our articles to newspaper companies. Every week, someone’s work got published, this process even prompted a local government to act on a flooding issue. The article I submitted at this time detailed my thoughts about the death penalty and it was published in two newspapers. I shared this with my students.
Thirdly, encourage students to brainstorm ideas about a topic and help peers revise their work. This will inspire students to collaborate more frequently.
Practice is the key to being a successful writer. Help your students practice as often as possible. Make the writing tasks interesting instead of a torture for the students. Assist students in developing a love for writing by encouraging them to let their imaginations run wild and to openly express their feelings.
By Corita Silapan
Grade 5 Class Teacher and Level Head
BINUS SCHOOL Simprug