Do you have a student whose writing skills need improving?
In this Information Age, communication is important. The world needs people who can make their message understandable and use words well to describe and explain things.
The student whose use of language falls short — especially in writing — will be locked out of opportunities.
True, writing is only one aspect of using language. The term, language, covers speaking, reading, writing, and listening. Unfortunately, students don’t always develop this set of skills evenly. A student may be a great speaker, but a poor writer; an avid reader, but an inattentive listener. How often have parents said, “He/she is always reading something! I can’t understand why this English grade isn’t higher.”
So keep in mind that “language” entails several abilities, and each may have to be addressed separately for a student. But, for now, what about writing? Here are some guidelines that you can use to help your child. Let’s start small: with vocabulary.
A student can write a fine paper with intelligence, expression, and fluency using a rather modest vocabulary. In fact, while expanding a vocabulary is important, a large vocabulary is more useful for students’ reading (recognition) than for their writing (use).
In fact, one of the worst writing mistakes students make is trying to wield a vocabulary beyond their grasp. Don’t encourage your student to use a thesaurus. If he/she asks about one, say it’s some kind of dinosaur — and to a younger writer, just about as useful. Why?
Students frequently can’t distinguish shades of meaning among synonyms found in a thesaurus. Let’s take a really simple example. Look at a few shades of meaning for walk: hike, stroll, dawdle, strut, and parade. With bigger words, younger writers can’t distinguish such shades. They may write something unintentionally silly.
The best advice to use with your student writer? “Use your own words — don’t use big ones you think are impressive. They will trip you up. Be natural.”
Grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This is a sticky area. Many grade schools encourage students to simply “write.” “Write a story, a description of your house, your vacation. Just write. We’ll learn about rules later.” The result is a “good news/bad news” story.
The good news is that these students often do not fear the blank page — they more easily and naturally put their thoughts, imaginations, opinions and research into words. The bad news? Many schools, delighted with students’ lack of fear of the blank page, don’t want to discourage writing by teach the rules of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. They trust that, later on, another teacher will get to the “discipline” of writing. But it never happens.
If your student has taken an early SAT or ACT (i.e. eighth or ninth grade), getting a low verbal/English score may signal a problem. Explore the writing courses at your student’s school. Are spelling, grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary included?
Remember, many middle and high school courses teach literature and composition together which, for the student with serious spelling/grammar/punctuation problems, is not much help.
If this happens to your child, seek help. Seek tutoring at the school. Look into a composition course at your nearby community college. Find online or software programs. All are options. If the budget allows, go to a tutoring/learning center, like Sylvan. Just don’t delay.
If mechanical problems aren’t corrected, your student will be penalized in college, where writing competence is expected in virtually all courses.