How to Teach Writing: Advice From a Veteran Homeschool Mom

What curriculum do you use to teach writing? 

How do I get my child to write? 

How can I help my child become a better writer? 

When you encounter a group of homeschoolers, it doesn’t take very long for the conversation to turn to writing (and math). Scroll through most any homeschool Facebook group and a parent somewhere is struggling with teaching writing. 

Why?

Why is writing such an elusive skill? Good writing can sometimes feel like art, we know it when we read it, but we aren’t sure how to create it ourselves.

Teaching writing is a combination of skills, much like painting, and they must all work in conjunction to create a finished product. Writing is more than putting words on a page, much like painting is more than putting paint on a canvas.

How to Teach Writing

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Writing in My Homeschool

First, a little about me. I have six children. The oldest is 17 and the youngest is 5. I’ve homeschooled from the beginning and now have a child making A’s in dual enrollment college classes. My second child is dyslexic who struggles with all language arts skills.

Is any of this because of me? Not so much.

My oldest is a naturally good writer, she loves to read and has a great vocabulary. My second child had the exact same childhood, yet struggles daily with language. The next four will benefit from all I have learned homeschooling the first two.

So how then should we teach writing?


Writing in Our Homeschool: What I Have and Have Not Done


What is Writing Well?

Ask anyone to define “writing,” and you’re bound to get a multitude of answers. Your definition may differ from mine, but I consider writing to be the expression of ideas in written form. That’s it. However, doing that takes a multitude of skills working together.

But what skills do children need to become proficient and interesting writers? Here are a few of the critical skills needed:

  • English grammar 
  • Word usage (vocabulary)
  • Mechanics
  • Organization of ideas

So before you lament your fourth grader’s book report, think about this list. Do they have all these skills and more? Can they easily use them all at the same time?  How do they develop these skills?

Writing Skills for the Elementary Child

 A young child should be using their time to develop the skills needed to write in the future. In my opinion, having a six-year-old keep a journal in an attempt to create a writing habit seems futile. They’ve just learned to hold a pencil and form letters, trying to put complete thoughts on paper will be frustrating.

Instead, spend this time honing some of the other skills that will serve their writing well.

First, focus on narration, which is when a child retells information or a story to you in their own words. This is not simply a tool to see if your child learned the information, it is also beneficial to helping then organize information and ideas. It’s the precursor to a simple report or five-paragraph essay. 

Next, allow plenty of time for reading aloud. Again, this is not simply a means of delivering facts and information. To write well, you need to hear good writing. By listening to read-alouds a child hears how interesting sentences are constructed, how an author will vary the length of sentences to hold your attention, and the structure of a story. 

Reading aloud is also a wonderful way to build a broad vocabulary. By hearing unfamiliar words used in context, a child learns their meanings. Much more interesting than a vocabulary worksheet.

For a young child, just these two activities will set them up for further writing success.

Homeschool Strewing Quick Guide

Teaching Writing and the Older Child

As they get a little older, upper elementary to middle school, it’s a good time to start working on some of the grammar and mechanics needed to produce thoughtful writing. So now is the time to start having lessons on proper comma usage, passive versus active voice, and structure. 

This is also when you can introduce different styles and types of writing. Are they writing an impersonal summary or a personal narrative? Persuasive or research-oriented essay? 

Here are some activities to hone these middle-grade writing skills:

  • Practice editing skills
  • Write a personal essay
  • Summarize facts or instructions (i.e. recipe instructions)
  • Write a news story
  • Learn various poetry forms
  • Create a mini-portfolio of work
  • Retell a famous story with an alternate ending

During this time, your child should continue to hear and read interesting books and stories. Not only does this allow them to “hear” well-written prose, but they are also building a database in their minds from which they can draw ideas for their own writing.

Teaching Writing in the High School Years

You’ve made it to the high school years, and now you have to get serious, right? There are research papers and college essays to write, so no more goofing off, okay?

Well, allow me to disagree for a moment. Whenever I hear homeschool moms or teachers make these claims about high school work, the reasoning is always, “because they’ll have to in college.”

This argument always leads me to two questions:

  1. What if they don’t want to go to college?
  2. If they’re going to do them in college anyway, why do we need to beat this to death in advance?

If your child is capable of college, I think they’re probably capable of using Google to find out the pesky requirements of bibliographies and citations. My oldest daughter began dual enrollment at 16 and had no problem meeting the citation requirements set out by her English instructors, without me ever requiring a research paper.

So you can actually loosen the reins a bit and allow your high schooler to take the lead with their writing.

  • Participate in NaNoWriMo
  • Start a blog
  • Keep a journal

However, doing well with some college admissions will require two skills. If your child is looking at an elite, highly competitive school, they will need to craft a compelling personal essay and master the SAT/ACT essay.

Not all schools require these for admissions, but some do. Check with your child’s preferred school and decide whether these are areas you should focus your efforts.

high school writing

High School is a time for a child to figure out what they would like to do and what role writing plays in that desire. The writing requirements of an EMT vary greatly from those of a college professor. So make their writing assignments relevant and meaningful.

So far, we have simply used the dual enrollment avenue for most of our high school writing. If you have this option available, I highly recommend it. My oldest became more self-motivated because she doesn’t like getting a bad grade. Funny, since I’ve never graded her at all.

The Keys to Teaching Writing Well

Writing well is not confined to simply proper mechanics and grammar. We’ve all read something that was grammatically correct and free from spelling errors but was terribly boring.

At its best, writing well is the culmination of numerous skills all used in conjunction to create writing that is not only grammatically correct but enjoyable to read.

Yes, correct punctuation, grammar, and spelling are important but don’t let these skills dominate writing in your homeschool. They are just a small slice of the overall writing pie.

Writing well includes ideas, language, and interesting vocabulary. So when teaching writing in your homeschool, don’t only focus on the misspelled word or incorrect capitalization. Take a step back and view your child’s writing with a broader view.

Is it interesting to read?

Did they use colorful language?

Did they bring interest to the subject matter?

These are the hallmarks of good writing. They can always find an editor to correct their mistakes, but they need the ideas to write well.

Homeschool strewing

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How to Teach Writing

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About Bethany Ishee

Bethany is the mom of six, always-homeschooled children, who one day realized she'd lost herself in the process, probably under a pile of laundry. Her eclectic style of homeschooling draws upon Classical to Unschooling and everything in between.  While homeschooling her children and writing about learning outside of school, she tries to find time to read a book, drink coffee, and pay the bills.

4 thoughts on “How to Teach Writing: Advice From a Veteran Homeschool Mom

  1. I think there’s another reason to learn about bibliographies and citations in school.

    Citations are about giving credit where credit is due. It’s also about giving your reader sources to show that you’re not making stuff up out of thin air, so that they can consult the sources themselves and see if they are valid and being interpreted correctly. It’s just as important to cite sources if you are writing a blog post or even discussing things on facebook as when you’re writing a college essay (maybe more so…as in this age of rampant fake news it helps people be able to determine what’s real, and more people read your facebook posts than your college essays). The format isn’t as important as the general concept (I’m leaving links, or just telling what book I got it from, when I cite stuff on facebook–I’m not doing MLA formatting). But the general concept of citing sources is something I wish more online writers would take seriously.

    1. True, but in school, this felt more like a gothcha game of periods versus commas, rather than citing sources. Again, these are all things that can be learned when needed, there isn’t a time limit that says after the age of 16 it isn’t possible to learn citations. We never did citations or research papers in our homeschool, yet my daughter has had no problem learning the correct method (which is really just whatever method a given teacher wants) and actually finds her current Am Lit class silly for requiring a pre-assignment in MLA. She says she’s already learned this in ENG 101 and 102, why again! The lesson we may need to teach is about finding sources. As you know, no matter the angle they all have an agenda, and most people tend to put more weight to the source that affirms their own opinion.

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