How to Teach Writing - Easy Step by Step Guide for Homeschool Families

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Are you wondering how to teach writing in your Homeschool?

As homeschooling parents, we sometimes worry if we are doing enough, how to include grammar in writing lessons - and whether we can base language arts lesson plans on literature. The answer is "yes" and I urge you to keep it simple. Follow this simple and yet effective plan.

Develop Language Arts lesson plans through Literature.

Here's my 10 Step Outline which might work in your family!

Of all the how-to-questions about teaching as home educators, I think how to teach writing holds the most fear. 

How can you teach writing?

Below is just my simple outline of how I see the Writing process and the steps involved in teaching writing.

Of course, there are a number of ways how to teach writing and the specific writing skills and I will deal with those at the end of the page. Firstly I want to describe the general progression involved in the writing process.

  1. Tracing letters and Teaching the correct letter formations.
  2. Copying words.
  3. Copying sentences – copying punctuation.
  4. Writing from Dictation.
  5. Copying larger selections.
  6. Writing from Dictation of large selections.
  7. Copying own narrations.
  8. Writing own narrations.
  9. Teach Writing with Style.
  10. Teach Writing Forms.

Let me now expand on these above topics on how to teach writing.

  1. Tracing letters and Teaching the correct letter formations.

    Firstly you need to know how to teach writing prepartaion. This is the beginning step, which should be done with great care, especially emphasizing the correct pencil grip. It is harder to correct bad habits, so it is better to begin in the right way to start with.

    The Light Educational Ministries Phonics Manual shows you how you can teach writing formations and lists "Three P's of Writing Preparation: Posture, Pencil Grip and Paper Position."
    The LEM manual lists these important rules-

    • Posture
      • Sit with buttocks pushed to the back of chair.
      • Have feet flat on floor (use a footstool is the chair is too high).
      • Head should be held up, not drooping forward. A drooped head strains neck and back muscles.
      • Back should be straight, with the trunk leaning forward from the hip joint for a comfortable writing position.

    • Pencil Grip
      • Use a six-sided (hexagonal) pencil. Hold it between thumb and middle finger. The pencil should be held lightly enough so that it can be pulled out of the hand easily, but firmly enough to maintain good control. Hand and finger muscles should not be tightly tensed.
      • Write with the point of the pencil and hold it just above the shaven area.

    • Paper position
      • The side edge of the paper should be parallel to the arm holding the pencil. The other hand should rest above the writing to steady and move the paper up and down as needed.
      • The left-handed student will do the same, but the paper will be at the opposite angle. Be sure that the left-handed student rests his pencil hand below the baseline, not above the writing.

    More information can be found in the LEM Phonics Manaul.

    I have found the pencil supports beneficial to teach children the correct placement of their fingers. It is good also to encourage them to write large letters either on a whiteboard, in a sand tray, or on a chalk board, or in paints etc.

    how to teach writing

    The only Handwriting books I have used and enjoyed using are the “A Reason for Handwriting”. These books are based on Scripture verses. They teach correct formations over Days 1-4, copying the words in a Bible verse, and then culminating in Day five in which they write the whole Bible verse on a Scripture Border Sheet. This program covers how to teach writing concentrating on both the letter formations and words but at the same time, learning Scripture.

  2. Copying words.

    Once your child has begun to form their letters, let them copy some easy words.- This can be done in a variety of ways- begin an alphabet book with cut out or drawn pictures of the letter, and the child can copy the appropriate word under the picture. Number books – copying the words and drawing the correct number. Colour books. Family books – writing the names of the members of the family under photos. Journals – a drawing of their experience with your writing, out of which they copy a few words. The ideas are endless.
    At this time, you can begin to enjoy the whole idea of lapbooks and very simple ideas of fold-outs for delightful projects, in which the child can write a few words here and there. These can be a very enjoyable way how you can teach writing in the context of other subjects.

  3. Copying sentences – copying punctuation.

    As your child becomes ready to copy more than just one word, they can copy sentences. From the beginning, a high standard must be set. The books they create must be treated as a very special keepsake, and so all their work, must be done in the best manner possible. I would write my sentence on their page and they would copy the words exactly under what I have written. Now they need to understand that each word needs its own space. The beauty of copying is that you do not need anything apart from what you are already using. Copying is an extension of whatever the child is listening to. Copywork should come from the most excellent literature, and therefore, the Bible is an excellent source. My children have always had a small Bible Copybook in which they copy the Bible verses which they are memorizing. In this way you can focus on how to teach writing at the same time as learning scripture.

    Apart from our Bible Copybook, we have a Writing Treasure which is a blank notebook (Art book) into which they copy poetry and excerpts from literature.
    Through the years, I have selected poems, which I would like all of my children to have in their Writing Treasures, and organized them year by year. Sometimes, we all add the same poem, but mostly the children are working on their own poems. The Literature they include in their Writing Treasures are from the books we are reading. It may be an historical fiction novel, a biography or another excellent source of literature. We copy Aesop’s fables from time to time also.

    Is there a way to teach writing skills such as punctuation, correct spelling, use of quotation marks and so on in a simple approach?
    Copybook is a very effortless way of teaching a number of things. It is an easy way to teach correct punctuation. The child needs to copy exactly what you have written and so they need to copy the capital letter and the fullstop. As the difficulty of the passage increases, there are other aspects of punctuation to be taught in the context of real writing- commas, quotation marks, semi-colons, colons and so on.

    Another benefit of simple copying is that children are seeing words written correctly, and are copying them in correct spelling. They may not be reading fluently, yet their eyes are constantly observing how letter patterns are formed, and also subconsciously realizing that there are no patterns of d followed by b, or t followed by f and so on.

    teaching descriptive writing

  4. Writing from Dictation.

    Here I have the theory, but I find it hard to put into practice. Ideally, we copy a passage on Monday and write it from dictation on Tuesday. For some reason, this theory is very hard to put into practice. I do believe in the value of it though.

    Dictation is simply the teacher saying the passage out loud and the student writing it. At first, you will need to re-inforce the punctuation of a sentence and this is part of the learning process. “Remember, when we begin a sentence we begin with a capital letter. The first word I want you to write is ‘The’. ‘The’ begins with a ‘t’, so make sure your first letter is a capital.” This procedure must also take place with the introduction of every new concept. As time goes on, the child will not need your prompting and you can introduce the dictation time by saying that this will be a test to see if they know how to begin and end a sentence.

    I have read of others who copy a passage on one day, and then the child either writes the passage from memory the next day, checks and corrects it or writes it from dictation, checks and corrects it. This is continued through the week, until the passage is written correctly. By this time, the passage is mostly stored in their memory also. I have not used dictation in this way, but I am tempted to give it a go, because it works not only on good writing mechanics, but also forces precise memory skills. Each week, they would be memorizing an excellent excerpt of literature or the Bible. That’s worthwhile!

  5. Copying larger selections.

    You can continue to teach writing by selecting larger and more difficult passages and including different forms of writing. (letters, essays, poems, argumentative essays, speeches, sermons)

  6. Writing from Dictation of large selections.

    The selections of writing and the level of difficulty can increase as the child matures in their ability. It is very important that you train your child to listen very carefully to the passage being dictated and only repeat the line twice so that they must pay attention. I have also taped my dictation passages (as I do my spelling lists) and given it to them to listen to and write. This also frees you up to attend to another child.

  7. Copying own narrations.

    how to teach writing

    Narration is the simple tool of asking your child to “narrate” or “Tell back” to you whatever he or she has read or listened to. Narration is so simple and so effective. You can and should begin to ask your child to narrate when they are very young and continue to do so. At a young age, you can ask them what the story was about and you would physically write their words on paper for them. They may illustrate the page. Alternatively, you may decide to type it for them. As their writing skills increase they can copy their own narration. I would suggest that this is initially done by writing their own words on a paper and leaving a line for them to copy the words directly underneath. When that skill is achieved, they may be able to copy their own narration from the board, or from a separate piece of paper.

    Narration is an excellent tool. It forces the child to organize their thoughts. They need to sequence ideas and construct sentences. They need to draw on their memory and learn to express their thoughts. They need to choose words carefully and a child who has listened intently will often repeat the colourful language he has just heard. This increases their own vocabulary. Not every narration needs to be written down. It is firstly an oral skill, an extremely important oral skill which is needed as a precursor for writing.

  8. Writing own narrations.

    Narration can be done in many ways. It is a way to teach writing across all subject areas. It is the most effectual tool to see what your child has learned after they have read (or listened to) an assigned passage from a Science book, Historical fiction novel, History Text, or Literature. However, it can be used wherever reading takes place. Your child may be reading about nouns in a grammar text. You may ask him to read the information and then tell you all the sorts of nouns there are (i.e. common, proper, abstract…) The narration can be as broad or as specific as you desire. You can ask about what happened (broad) or ask them to describe how 'Character A' felt after…..(specific). Here are some Creative Writing Prompts or Narration Starters from Literature- Questions to ask after a literature reading or whole book.

    In our home, my children have narrated to me since they were very little- as soon as they can talk, they can "tell" things back to you. You can ask them to tell you about any story or poem you read – from early nursery rhymes to fairy tales. Depending on the time available, their narrations may be written out into special books or may just be an oral narration. Even when your child narrates orally, you are still teaching writing skills.

    We usually begin by narrating their own Bible Story Book. As we read the Bible stories, they narrate what happened and I copy their words into their own book. I use A4 Visual Arts Diaries for most of their subject areas, and I write the narration and they illustrate it. The beauty of this is that they have their own Bible Story book written by them and a lovely keepsake for themselves. This can also be done with Aesop’s fables – and made into a book.
    Most of the time a child can be prompted to narrate by just asking the child to tell what the passage was about. Sometimes, however, another prompt may be needed. There are many different creative writing prompts or narration starters which can help your child to begin a narration.

  9. How to Teach Writing with Style.

    Style is all about learning how to write effectively and with clarity. A child who has been taught to narrate from early on, has already learned to sequence and construct sentences and thoughts. This is a fantastic advantage.

    Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is a video seminar for teachers and parents presenting a system of structural models and stylistic techniques applicable for students of all ages and aptitudes. Have you used this curriculum? Add your review Here.

    Below are some ways to teach writing style.

    Stylistic elements add interest to writing.Adding stylistic elements in order to teach writing are ways of enhancing your writing and adding variety. I have a specific writing lesson every week and in this time slot, I slowly build on the list of elements we can use to add interest to our writing. It is too overwhelming to deal with all the elements at once, but when they are introduced slowly and referred to each week, they can become a part of your child’s writing. Remember, you do not teach writing overnight.

    1. Firstly one can look at the nuts and bolts of a sentence: the Words.
      As you teach the eight parts of speech, you can focus on these stylistic word elements.

      You may find it handy to list all the stylistic elements in a table or write them on a sheet of large cardboard, and slowly teach one at a time, reviewing as you go.

      Let's Look at the Words in your sentence!
      • Verbs – make sure they are interesting. (Find synonyms) Use dual verbs ( dived and swam)
      • Adverbs- Add a “ly” word. (Suddenly,…quietly…)
      • Nouns (find synonyms for your nouns)
      • Adjectives (colourful adjectives, describing the nouns);Use dual adjectives (long and slimy snake)

      Want some help to find interesting words to add to your writing. Try This Visual Thesaurus.

      More Information on Parts of Speech

    2. Secondly, one can add phrases and clauses to the sentence.

      Let's Look at Phrases and Clauses
      • Prepositional Phrases: (beginning with a preposition…in, out, through, between, around, beyond, under, with…. The land beyond the sea was….; The mouse in the attic scurried…)
      • Clauses:
        • Who/which clauses relative clauses– in the middle of a sentence with commas on either side of the clause. The gardener, who arrived precisely at ten o’clock, attended to the flower beds. Other relative pronouns which introduce a subordinate clause are whose, whom, what, that, whoever, whomever, whatever, whichever.
        • Adjective clauses: a subordinate clause which modifies a noun or pronoun. (The look that she gave him was discouraging.)
        • Adverbial clause- is a subordinate clause which is used like an adverb. (He runs as though he had been frightened.)
          The following words are words which join the adverb clause to the rest of the sentence: after, although, as, as if, as long as, as though, because, before, if, in order that, since, so that, than, though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, wherever, while.
        • Noun clause- a subordinate clause used as a noun. (This is what I need the most.)

    3. Thirdly, one can change the way the Sentence begins:

      Sentence Openers
      • Subject (The boy ran to fetch his father.)
      • Adverb (Quietly, he tiptoed into the room.)
      • Prepositional Phrase (Behind the door, the two men silently waited.)
      • Clause (Since there was no food available, the young men hurried to the next town.)
      • Dialogue("That's not fair!", he shouted.)
      • Participial phrase (verb as an adjective) yelling for help; also past tense participial phrase; (Returning late, the men decided to wait until morning to make a fire.)
      • QuestionWhere do you think the two were hiding?

    4. Fourthly, one can add interest by adding certain elements.
      Of course, these must not be overdone, or the writing may become too cluttered and wordy.

      Other Stylistic Elements
      • Metaphors/ similes
      • Questions
      • Alliteration
      • Variety of sentence lengths
      • Short sentences (2-5 words) as paragraph openers or clinchers
      • Dialogue

    5. How can we teach Writing Style?
      We can teach style by slowly teaching these above elements in the context of writing narrations.

      In addition to doing this, I have found three very effective and exciting ways how to teach writing Style.

      • The Classic Re-Write

        The Classic Re-Write is choosing a selection or passage of excellent literature and using this as a model to copy and re-write. The pieces of writing vary in length depending on the age of the child. Once, the passage has been copied, the child summarizes each sentence into 3-4 keywords. They need to pick out the words which highlight the most important and interesting elements of the sentence. At a later time, (a few days later), the child uses these words as his/her base, and begins to flesh out each sentence using their own words. It is a matter of summarizing to the bare-bones and then fleshing it out and using all the elements above to do so.

        Some may use the Classic Re-write as a tool to duplicate the passage - skill in modelling excellent literature and remembering the way in which it was written and duplicating this a few days later.

        Others may choose to use the Re-write as a tool to summarize, flesh out using the model, but allowing more room to show individual creativitiy, while remaining accurate to the meaning of the passage.

        On this page you will find an example of a Language Arts Lesson Plan using a Classic Re-write Lesson focusing on nouns and verbs.

      • Progymnasmata Exercises

        If you are looking for a classical, ancient way how to teach writing, you may decide to follow a planned set of Ancient Greek Writing Exercises called the Progymnasmata. Progymnasmata are preliminary rhetorical writing exercises developed under 14 main headings. The exercises are based on imitation, condensing, expanding in a controlled way developing along specific guidelines. Excellent literature is used as models, and then a precise structure is followed in each of the 14 main exercises. The traditional exercises are : Fable, Narrative, Chreia, Maxim, Refutation, Confirmation, Common Topic, Enconium, Invective, Comparison, Characterization, Description, Thesis and Law.

        Classical Composition is a writing curriculum based on the progymnasmata. It is written by Jim and Elaine Selby who have homeschooled for ten years.

        They believe, as written on their website, "Good writers, then, are good thinkers, both logically and rhetorically, and good compositions must be driven by both the intellect and the imagination. The Progymnasmata begins to develop logical and rhetorical structures in the mind. Good writing, as well as good speaking, is logically correct and it is a pleasure to encounter. Our minds and imaginations are uplifted by a well-communicated encounter with truth. Such an experience lies at the heart of excellent communication. . We rejoice in this type of quality and have taken as our task, as our goal, to ensure that every graduate is a good writer.
        Their curriculum seeks to provide an opportunity for each child to become an excellent writer. This has been a helpful resource for me to teach writing. Check out the downloadable samples to see if this would suit you.

      • Teaching Writing Through Modeling

        Modeling can be an effective way to teach form and style. Using modeling is very similar to using the Classic Re-write. I use modeling to teach a specific writing style -as in form or sentence structure and transferring what you have learned about the structure to new content; I use a Classic Re-write to concentrate on reducing the passage to the bare bones and then fleshing it out once again using descriptive and decorative style techniques.
        How do we teach writing using Modeling? language arts ebook

        -Firstly, choose a paragraph or passage which demonstrates a writing quality which you want to model. (Descriptive writing; Development on a narrative; Flash backs; Use of Dialogue; Recount of events; Definition paragraph; Classification paragraph; Compare and Contrast paragraph; Report, Essay, Persuasive essay, or even paragraphs which show use of short and long sentences for effect and so on.) You can choose this passage to model a style of an author or a form to copy.

        -Secondly, Copy the passage.

        -Thirdly, identify the elements in the passage which makes this excellent writing or a well-developed essay. (Descriptive writing would contain interesting adjectives and adverbs, use of prepositional phrases, different lengths of sentences and so on) (A report on a person will develop paragraphs in a methodical way -perhaps background, early life, contributions they made to society and so on.)

        -Fourthly, choose your own topic, character, theme and re-write the model (using similar styled sentences and topic paragraphs) but inserting your topic details.

        -Fifthly, edit, proofread, work on it until you are satisfied with the final paragraph or essay.

        This Modeling technique can be used across the ages. It all depends on what you choose for them to model, and the length of the passage. To teach writing using this method is an excellent way to teach writing style and forms. On this page you will see an example of a Language Arts Lesson Plan using Modeling and focusing on style.
      • I have used this Modeling Idea in Language Arts Lessons from The Hobbit. Read about this ebook here.
      • NEW!! Modeling the Classics - Teaching Descriptive Writing. Read more here.

  10. Teach Writing Forms.

    All the above steps deal with how to teach writing mechanics. It is also important to know how to teach writing Forms. Here children can find the type of writing in which they can shine. Writing is fun and exciting, a way to explore words, and inspire others. By teaching different forms of writing, the child can experiment with letter writing, poetry, play-writing, advertising, essays and so on.
    Here's my ideas on how to teach Descriptive Writing.

    Below is a list of forms of writing. This list is taken from the Write Source series: Writer's INC written and compiled by Patrick Sebranek, Dave Kemper, and Verne Meyer.

    This is a great writing resource book (as all the books in the Write Source series).

    These books help to teach writing to the student. They describe the writing process, how to use the writing process, the basic elements of writing (sentences, paragraphs...), the art of writing (style), the forms of writing, the tools of learning, proofreader's guides and a student almanac. I like the way it is written to the student, each book geared to a specific audience.
    I have bought four in the series which scan across the ages from about Year 3 -12.

    The books I have found useful are
    Write on Track
    Writer's Express,
    Write Source 2000,
    and Writer's Inc.

    Forms of Writing
    Personal Writing
    • Journals,
    • Friendly Notes and letters,
    • Reminiscences,
    • Logs,
    • Diaries,
    • Personal Essays and Narratives,
    • Freewriting,
    • Clustering,
    • Brainstorming.
    Subject Writing
    • Biographical Writing,
    • Autobiographical Writing,
    • Newspaper Stories,
    • How-to-Writing,
    • Descriptions,
    • Profiles,
    • Case Studies
    • First Hand Experiences,
    • Summary Reports,
    • Eyewitness Accounts,
    • Observation Reports,
    • Personal Research Reports,
    • Multimedia Computer Reports,
    • Interviews
    Creative Writing
    • Fantasies,
    • Tall tales,
    • Realistic Stories,
    • Writing from history,
    • Riddles
    • Poems,
    • Plays,
    • Stories
    • Fictionalized Journal Entries,
    • Monologues
    Persuasive Writing
    • Persuasive Essays,
    • Pet Peeves
    • Personal Commentaries,
    • Editorials
    • Essays of Argumentation
    • Essays of Opposing Ideas
    Academic Writing
    • Expository Essays,
    • Process Essays
    • Essays of Definition
    • Cause/Effect Essays
    • Problem/solution Essays,
    • Summaries
    • Comparison/Contrast Essays,
    • Research Papers
    Writing about Literature
    • Journal Entries
    • Letters to the Author
    • Character Sketches
    • Book Reviews
    • Literary Analyses
    • Dialogues
    Workplace Writing
    • Letters of Inquiry
    • Resumes
    • Memos
    • Letters of Application
    • Messages
    • Follow-up Letters
    • Writing Instructions gives parents and educators a number of resources that assist in teaching writing. Have a look at some of these free writing resources on teaching sentence writing, writing conventions, and the revision process. 

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