Help, my third grader can’t write! Creative help for kids who hate writing.

25 Jan

Let’s talk about kids and writing.  Lots of kids, especially boys, dislike writing intensely.  Some children find it physically painful to write a lot.  Some find that their thoughts come to them too fast and they just write run on sentence after run on sentence.  So, what are some creative ways to help a young struggling writer?

  • First, make sure the child understands the main parts of a sentence.  They should understand what a noun is and what a verb is.  You can tell them a noun is a person, place, or thing while a verb is an action or “state of being.”  The “state of being” is a bit hard to explain but with examples such as showing them “is” and “am,” they will catch on.  It is okay if those come a little slower, just keep reminding them.  Have students show you what the subject of the sentence is, what the verb is, and what the predicate is (or the part that follows the verb that closes the sentence.)  For example:  The boy ran to the store.  The child should be able to say the “boy” is the subject and is a noun.  “Ran” is a verb, talk about how running is an action, and the rest of the sentence talks about “where” he ran… “to the store.”  Keep dissecting simple sentences until your child catches on.  They won’t mind this as much since it isn’t writing, it is just talking about sentences.  
  • Second, introduce them to the idea of “fat” sentences.  Talk about adjectives and adverbs and conjunctions to make a sentence more interesting and complex.  A good game to play is that one person draws a picture (I like to use a white board, kids find them fun) and the other has to make a fat sentence about the picture.  You take turns.  My daughter and I had silly pictures and silly “fat” sentences.  A “thin” sentence would be, “The boy ran to the store.”  To make that a fat sentence, we would say, “The red-haired boy in a blue shirt ran quickly to the store that was about to close.”  You can talk about how you added adjectives such as “red-haired” and a description “blue shirt” and an adverb, “quickly,” and finally you elaborated on the store information, “it was about to close.”
  • The above game is nice because we just write ONE sentence at a time and we make sure we include correct capital letters and punctuation.  If spelling is an issue, for now, just help your child rewrite the word spelled correctly.  Spelling should be taught separately from writing so you should be having spelling lessons, they link well with phonics lessons as they learn the rules of the English language such as letters like /c/ have both a hard sound and a soft sound.  You usually will see the “magic e” when the /c/ makes its soft sound like in “ice.”
  • Next I would have a talk about commas.  We don’t teach comma usage early enough.  A young child doesn’t need to know all the comma rules but I would suggest they know these:  Commas after sentence starters such as:  In the beginning, the cat was upstairs.  Before school, I went to McDonalds.  Point out that the subject is not in the sentence starter but after the comma.  Next, they should use comma’s to separate items in a list such as:  I like apples, bananas, and grapes.  Third, they should use commas to “double name” someone or something.  My friend, Jill, likes popcorn.  We already said who likes popcorn, “my friend” does but we also said who “my friend is” so we double named the subject here:  my friend = Jill so Jill must be set apart with commas.  The last thing I would teach is quotation for when your child wants to make people talk in her stories.  Teach the location of commas and quotes:  “Hey, I will go to the store with you,” said my friend.  My mom called me from the stairs, “Sarah, it is time to go.”  You can teach these with worksheets where the student just adds the punctuation so it isn’t a lot of writing.
  • Now the fun part.  Notice until now, your child hasn’t had to actual write anything more than a sentence.  Our next step is to get the child to write many sentences.  Tell the child we are going to write about something, say dogs.  Tell them they have to think of 5 sentences that talk about dogs.  Now, get out your phone, ipad, or computer and use a voice dictation app.  Dragon Naturally speaking if a program you can buy for the PC or you can get Dragon dictation for a tablet or phone.  You can also just use your text message area or speech to text in an email on your phone, whatever is easiest.  Teach the child to talk with punctuation, speech to text will understand this.  You give an example about cats.  You say, “Cats are a lot of fun period.”   You actually say the period and the word comma if you are using a comma – out loud and program will know to put in the punctuation and not the word so the above should read, “Cats are a lot of fun.”  It forces the child to stop between sentences since they have to say, “period” before they can go on to their next thought.  You would continue, ” I have two cats comma their names are Lill and Bowser period.”  This will come up as “I have two cats, their names are Lill and Bowser.”  You continue, “Bowser is the black cat and she likes to sleep with me period Lill is the more playful cat period I think cats are great fun period.” After their dictation is over (you may need to pause and do one sentence at a time if your child doesn’t immediately know what his next sentence will be), you look at it together.
  • At this point, you would talk about making sure you vary the start of your sentences.  If your child said, “I like dogs period I like to throw  a ball for my dog period I like to pet my dog period I feed my dog dinner at night period.”  You can actually write out the sentences for the child and underline, in color, the beginnings of the sentences and how they all start with “I” and most start with “I like.”  You can tell the child that you don’t want your sentences to all sound the same so you need to vary the start of each sentence.  You can model it for him, “Dogs are great.  My dog likes it when I throw his ball for him.  Sometimes, I will rub my dogs belly.  It is my job at night to feed my dog dinner.”
  • These last two steps will take some time until the child can write a good 5 sentences that all stay on topic and have different sentence starters so get that strong before you move on.
  • After that is going well, you can begin to introduce the idea of making some of the sentences fatter and more interesting with details like you did in the earlier game.  “Dogs are great, there are so many different colors sizes, and types of dogs.  My black and white dog gets very excited when I throw his yellow tennis ball for him.  Sometimes, I will run his belly, he lays very still and enjoys it whenever I pet him.  At dinner time, my dog is hungry and it is my job to feed him.  He is always very happy to get his food.”
  • You can see how each step we just add a little more expectations.
  • When you are now able to get fat sentences, good mixed starters, and more complex sentences it is time to begin to talk about organization.  Let the child know there needs to be a topic sentence that is GENERAL that will tell the reader what they are going to be reading about.  Give examples for your child to choose from:  Which is a general topic sentence and which is a smaller detail?  A)  Dogs are fun and great to have around.  B)  My dog likes to chase a ball.  OR  A) When my room is clean, it is easier to find things.  OR B)  Clean rooms have a lot of advantages.
  • Now work on making a writing organizer to help with the structure of writing.  Come up with a GENERAL topic sentence and then add 3 details with examples to support the topic sentence.  The organizer doesn’t need full sentences, just jot down ideas to remind you what you will talk about.  For example:  Dogs are fun and great to have around.  (Topic Sentence) – the details would be “Why are they fun and great to have around?”  1)  Play ball 2) cuddle and look cute 3)  always there for you.  Now you have your topic sentence and three ideas you can go back to writing sentences, it is okay if the first ones are skinny, after you write them once, go back and make them fat.  “Dogs are fun and great to have around.  One fun thing I like to do with my dog is to play ball.  I throw the ball over and over and he keeps bringing it back until he gets tired.  He even jumps for it and catches it.  My dog will also cuddle with me on the couch.  He looks so cute when he is all snuggled up to me.  He lets me pet him for hours and loves it.  Sometimes people get lonely but your dog is always there for you, there is a reason they say “Dog is Man’s Best Friend,” because your dog is always there for you, no matter what. ”  This might be a little advanced for a third grader but it is also good to show them models of what you are looking for and how you met your goals of:  Topic sentence, 3 ideas that support the topic with examples, unique sentence starters, and fat / complex sentences.

There are many additional steps you can take from here but this is a great start!  Happy writing / Happy Dictation.


Written by:

Lynne M. Gregorio, PH.D.


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