Teaching Kids to Write: Part 1

by Emily Strom January 28, 2019

Teaching Kids to Write: Part 1

“How am I going to teach these kids to write?” As a teacher, I pondered this question more often than I care to admit. Of course, I recognized the importance of writing. Writing helps us read, think, and communicate and I wanted all of this for all of my students. Yet I felt intimidated by the prospect of trying to teach it, especially to students with such significant learning needs.

Looking back, I wish I dug a little deeper, tried one more idea, or stuck with any one strategy for a longer amount of time. Many years later, after much trial and error, it dawned on me; I don’t need to be intimidated. Sure, some of my students might not learn to write today, or tomorrow, or even this year. But learning to write is a process... for everyone. It takes time, practice, support, and lots of foundational experiences, especially with the children we try to support.

At some point, I understood that persistence, creativity, and patience all pay off. I’m proud to say that I did ultimately figure out how to engage these kids in this process and begin to turn the key for them. Here’s a good example from a friend and colleague that parallels my experience:

I was working at a literacy camp over the summer. During the ‘writing’ period, I had one student, Daisy, who I can only describe as a marble rolling over a flat surface! During daily writing time, she was all over the room and decidedly NOT in her seat! I could appreciate that she was busy learning and investigating the world, but I also had the sneaking suspicion that she was avoiding writing, either because it was hard, boring, or both.

I tried starting the period off with books that interested Daisy and as a way to transition into writing. No dice. I tried asking her to point to letters on a board, and I would start the process of transcribing. No, thanks. I tried different pencil formats—scented markers, crayons, pens, a whiteboard. Nothing.

Then, randomly, a co-teacher brought in sparkly letter stickers, and Daisy was enchanted! She spent the rest of the week writing with tremendous focus and intention. I was surprised to learn that once Daisy had a ‘pencil’, she could work with, she had a consistent and conventional way to demonstrate what she knew about letters, sounds, and words and it turns out, she was much further along than I had understood! With lots of developmental spelling, Daisy spent the duration of the week composing a letter to her mom about her camp experience. She still sends me letters to this day!

This example highlights both how important it is not to give up and to keep searching for the right pencil. It also demonstrates the level of persistence and creativity that is sometimes needed to turn the key. Last, it reminds us that just because our kids struggle to tell us what they know does not mean that they don’t know things! Daisy, for example, had many beginning conventional skills that nobody knew about until she started writing!

As I mentioned earlier, writing helps us read, think, and communicate effectively. Can you think of a better and more important instructional priority than that?

In my next post, I’m going to outline three guiding principles for engaging and supporting your students as writers. Each one of them is easy to execute and will make the experience fun for all. Stay tuned! I’ll be back with practical writing tips for your kids next month!

Emily Strom
Emily Strom

Emily Strom, M.Ed is a special educator currently working on the Curriculum and Content team at Tobii Dynavox. Before working at Tobii Dynavox, Emily taught in the Chicago Public School system working with school-age students with a range of disabilities across varied school settings. Now, she lives and works in Boulder, Colorado and enjoys creating books while watching the wildlife outside her office window.

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