By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington

For these reasons and more, it's important to ask your child's teachers for extra help if your child is struggling with this important skill. In the meantime, here are some additional ways to build writing prowess both in and out of school:

Write for practical reasons. Students need meaningful writing tasks that are designed to meet objectives, and writing letters is a good way to learn how to write persuasively. In a letter to return a purchase, for example, simply explaining why you're dissatisfied and why you expect to have your money refunded teaches you how to articulate an objective, reinforce that objective with facts, and reach a desired resolution. This activity also reinforces the value clear writing skills in everyday life.

Write to express feelings. Keeping a diary or journal can be a very effective way to encourage self-expression and strengthen writing skills. Writing about personal feelings, successes and disappointments can also help students resolve conflicts. When people write about things that concern them, they're more apt to strive for "just the right words" to describe how they're feeling.

Learn to argue on paper. This tactic will be especially interesting to parents. The next time your child expresses a point of view or petitions you for a special favor or privilege, pull out a pen and see how well the case can be made on paper. A five-paragraph essay can be a good model, with the first paragraph stating the child's desire or point of view, the next three paragraphs (or sentences) providing supporting evidence for that point of view, and the last paragraph summarizing the key point and supporting evidence. Many teachers find the five-paragraph essay to be a good tool for helping students organize their thoughts, so these skills can have a direct impact on writing proficiency and performance.

Summarize reading assignments. As students reach middle and secondary school, homework assignments tend to require more reading and analyzing. After reading a chapter or an important section of an assignment, students should do a "notes page" summarizing the key facts and restating, in their own words, the most important points to remember. This process enhances retention and further strengthens writing skills as well.


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