Teaching Writing

ReadingI recently was asked to provide some advise on how we go about teaching writing at home.. below is an excerpt from my response that I’m sharing in case there are more that have the same question

We use Worksheetworks.com to make handwriting worksheets, coupled with the Letter School App (now available in Cursive) to teach letter formation & actual physical writing skills. I don’t use NSW Foundation Font because it’s hard to write and ugly.

We use First Language Lessons and Writing with Ease from Peace Hill Press to learn the mechanics and usage of English and provide the content for handwriting worksheets/copywork. There’s heaps of narration (telling back what you’ve heard) and memorisation (technical definitions and poems), and the whole programme is scripted. Each lesson takes 10min or so (tantrums not withstanding). Next year we’ll get Robin onto Writing and Rhetoric by Classical Academic Press, but we need him to be writing sentences correctly and independently before we can start that (he’ll be in year 3, 8yrs old). I wouldn’t be surprised if Wren was able to start W&R earlier than age 8 as she currently seems to be a more natural writer – she struggles more with applying herself where Robin is resistant to actually forming a sentence or copying one.

We teach physical writing, usage & technical terms and summarisation/narration as 3 separate activities. At this stage we don’t teach any “creative writing”, but the kids naturally create adventurous narratives in their play. So far, it’s all about the practical skills required for independent learning.

The driving idea is to get good at the doing and thinking separately, then put it together slowly. For example: I’ll read a passage, the kids will each tell me their summary sentence, and I’ll dictate it back to them to write. They have started to write independently, but I don’t require it as part of school. Wren writes little notes, cards, stories and Robin copies out instructions for minecraft or makes basic lists of information from his library books. This is all aside from handwriting; for that, Wren is still just tracing the pre-cursive sentence I print for her and Robin traces and copies the same, but in cursive – I don’t ask him to use cursive for his other work, but I’m encouraging him to running write his name in his maths book daily.

We don’t teach spelling at all, but take notice of the patterns and language roots of words as we teach reading and phonetics – English spelling is more closely related to word origin than phonetics, and there are exceptions to every phonetic pattern; we teach Latin because of this (something like 70% of English has Latin origins). Basically, good spellers are good at decoding language so poor spellers won’t improve by repetition/memorisation/testing, but by improving their reading and exposure to broader vocabulary. We rely heavily on our Shorter Oxford for word origins and contexts.

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