Home schooling primary aged children during lockdown – a guide to writing – Jon Aspinox Writes

Home schooling primary aged children during lockdown – a guide to writing

I’m joined again by Georgia Aspinall, a teacher at Holly Spring Primary School, as she shares tips and advice for parents trying to help their children with their learning at home. In this blog, we’re taking a look at how to help your kids with their writing.

If you’ve already read my 7 tips for home-schooling your primary school children, you’ll hopefully be feeling the stress of home schooling start to ease a bit. In this blog, I want to go into a bit more detail about the home-learning of writing. If you’re looking for help with reading, check out this blog.

What I’m trying to explain here is what YOU can easily manage when it comes to helping your child learn to write well. I’m not going to cover all of the requirements, as your role here isn’t to take over the teacher’s job -and in any case we’ll hopefully be back at school within the next few months and teachers can take over. All you need to do is make sure that your children are getting a good, solid amount of practice and learning while they’re home- so that’s what I’m covering in this guide.

First of all, as I said in my previous blog, I’d recommend following your child’s lead in terms of timing and amount of writing. 20 to 30 minutes for a writing session a day (including both their independent writing time and the time you spend helping them) is absolutely fine. If they want to longer – great! If they’re just in the mood for a 10 minute write some days that’s fine too.

How to begin

  • Choose something THEY want to write – a teacher may have set them a specific task, such as write a diary entry about such and such. Mostly this will be chosen as it’s something they think children will be motivated to write about, but follow your child’s lead. If they want to write a story about cats taking over the oceans to steal all the fish or a blog about how be a good YouTuber – go with it.
  • Get them writing quickly – make sure it’s something they have lots of ideas about so they can just start. Planning and structuring is important but not fun – let their teacher worry about teaching them how to do that.
  • Be really enthusiastic – fake it. Be really excited about their crazy ideas, add your own to the mix.
  • Feed them the ideas if needed – if they’re stuck, just give them an idea to get them going, like instructions of how to ride a bike, or a diary written by their grandma. Or watch a TV show they like and get them to write it as a story. The literacy shed has lots of short, lovely videos that can be easily written as a story.

It’s all about the feedback

Feedback is the cornerstone of good teaching. I would argue it is particularly crucial when teaching writing, because getting better at writing takes continual practising and improving.

In a class of 30, there is always a huge spectrum of ability when it comes to writing. Some children will still not have conquered full stops, some will be using such advanced language that their teachers will have to look it up. So teachers put a lot of time and effort into individual feedback to target these things. In school, this includes marking, verbal feedback in class and targeted group work. The good news is that you can give your child the same or better level of feedback a teacher than can give for a piece of writing with minimal effort on your part.

When to intervene

First, just let them crack with their writing for a while. It’s lovely if you sit together at the table. You can get on with your work while they write. Or if you have the time, write a story of your own. I’d try to avoid playing on your phone or loading the dishwasher while they’re working if you can. You want them to see writing as a fun activity, not a chore they have to get done or something you’re using to distract them for a bit of peace!

I’d suggest you have two feedback chats per piece of writing:

  • A half-way through chat, while they are still writing, where you give them positive comments and something to work on.
  • A post-writing chat, when they’ve completed their writing, where you read it together and celebrate what’s good, commenting particularly on how they’ve responded to the advice you gave them in the previous chat.

Giving them feedback half-way through the writing is important because it gives them a chance to make the improvements you’ve suggested as they’re going along. For example, if a child has missed out all the capital letters in a story, the only way to fix that is to go back over it and correct them all. This is fine but can be messy and doesn’t give them a chance to practise putting capital letters in during the flow of writing.

The half-way chat doesn’t actually need to be halfway – just at some point before they’ve finished. Everyone has a natural slowing down point when they’re writing, where they’ve run out of stamina or ideas. This can be a good time so try to watch out for it: for example, are they looking around more or not writing as much? Or better yet, get them to tell you when they’re ready for a chat about what they’re doing.

How to intervene

When giving feedback, don’t overwhelm your child with too much – either praise or improvements. They’re already trying to focus on coming up with ideas, good handwriting, spelling correctly and choosing interesting words… there’s only so much anyone can take in!

For the ‘half-way chat’ while they’re still writing, use the two stars and a wish formula I mentioned in my last blog. Pick two very specific things they’ve done well to praise, such as:

  • “You’ve used such brilliant words like ____, ____ and ____.”
  • “Well done for remembering to put in paragraphs, they’re just in the right spots.”

Try to praise the MOST ADVANCED thing they’ve done. For example, if they’ve used speech punctuation correctly, don’t praise them for putting in full stops.

Keep the wish simple as well. For instance:

  • “You’ve used the word “said” a lot. Shall we make a list of some more words that mean said and you try to use them in the rest of your story?”

When choosing what to focus on for the wish, do the reverse of what you did for the stars and choose the MOST BASIC thing they need to learn. For example, if they got full stops and speech punctuation wrong, ignore the speech and focus on the full stops. I’ve written a guide to explain what approximate order children need to learn writing skills below – so follow that to choose what to give feedback on.

Remember that the feedback you give them also has to TEACH them how to improve. It’s no good saying “remember capital letters” if they can’t remember where they go. Use my guide below to base this teaching on and have a mini practice together before they carry on.

Don’t expect them to get something perfectly immediately. It may be a whole week of going over it again and again to understand how to form the letter ‘f,’ for example. And then, they may write them incorrectly again weeks later and need a recap. This is fine. Be patient and encouraging. They’ll get there.

How to prioritise and teach writing skills

Below is a list of writing skills in order of priority – start with number 1. If they can do 1 but not 2, teach them 2 and so on. Please note this list is based on general writing progression. However it doesn’t cover the whole national curriculum requirements for writing, only the ones I think are well suited for learning at home with a parent.  

  1. Forming all letters correctly. Can you recognise all the letters for what they are? Rows of letters are good practice, as well as writing them correctly within text – but don’t practise too many at once. Twinkl has some great handwriting practice sheets to print off.
  2. Leaving spaces between words. They can practise using their finger or the end of a spoon if that helps.
  3. Sentences make sense. Words are in the right order and no words have been missed out. Verbal practise is best for this. Say the sentence out loud before writing it down. Recording each sentence on a phone app down so your child can replay it can be really helpful, particularly for slower writers.
  4. Capital letters. Use them for names of people, places, months and days, starts of sentences and for “I”. Here is a good game for practising this.
  5. Full stops at ends of sentences. This one can actually be really tricky to teach. Children find it very tricky to go back through a whole passage of text putting full stops in, and I think this is less helpful for learning how to use them. The best way I’ve found is to practise thinking of the whole sentence, saying it aloud, repeating it a few times and only then writing it down (with the full stop). Recording each sentence on a phone app so your child can replay it can be really helpful.
  6. Question marks and exclamation marks – special types of full stops. If they’ve missed any out – look at the sentence together. Discuss why it needs one of these – what are the clues in the sentence that it’s a question or exclamation (eg question words or onomatopoeia)? Write some other examples of questions or exclamations together. See here for more help.
  7. Writing some longer sentences using words like ‘and, but, because, when, if.’ for example, “Alex went to the supermarket because he was hungry.” This may help.
  8. Commas for lists. For example “Alex bought potatoes, carrots and peas so he could make a stew.” Check this out.
  9. Tense consistency. This means using the correct tense in the right places in a piece of writing. It’s the verbs (being or doing words) that change when you change the tense. Teach them about general rules like adding -ed to make a verb past tense but remember there are exceptions. Don’t worry about the complications of perfect forms of verbs etc, leave that for the teacher!
  10. Writing in paragraphs. When there’s a change of scene, time or you start writing about a new topic, it’s time for a new paragraph.
  11. Apostrophes:
    1. for omission for letters, also known as contractions. (e.g. to turn ‘do not’ to ‘don’t’, you put the apostrophe where you omit the letter, in this case the o.)
    2. for possession. (e.g. Sarah’s car is black, the children’s playground is in the park)  
    3. NEVER EVER EVER for plurals! (Where an s is added because there’s more than one.) More info here.
  12. Speech punctuation. There are a lot of rules, see here for a guide!
  13. Choice of language. If your child has cracked all of the above that’s brilliant. There are lots of things I’ve not included, like hyphens and expanded noun phrases and all sorts, but if I were you I would leave that to their teacher. I’d focus instead on learning some really excellent vocabulary and how to use it correctly. Show your child how to use a thesaurus or just go ‘interesting word searching’ together with a dictionary. You can do it on a computer too – select a word and press shift+F7 to bring up Word’s thesaurus feature. Maybe find a list of 3 groovy words and base a piece of writing around them?

What about spelling?

Alongside all of the above comes spelling. Your child’s teacher will love you forever if you do some spelling practice. In school, your child will learn phonics (the sounds made by letters and groups of letters) to help them with their spelling and reading. However unless you’re confident with this, I’d stick to helping them learn spellings by rote (practising them over and over again).  

This is because lots of words don’t follow phonetic patterns and there are lots of alternative spellings for each sound. For example the /ee/ sound could be spelt ee like in need, ea like in beach, e-e like in these, ie like in thief, ey like in monkey or even y like in happy. Don’t wade into this bog – leave it to the experts. Instead, practise writing the word, saying the letters over and again etc. Here are some good activities for practising spellings. 

As with other feedback, don’t overwhelm your child. Don’t try to correct every misspelled word; instead focus on maybe two per piece of writing and have a practise at those. Focus on the more common words first. Here’s a link to spelling words if you’re not sure. Maybe make a list of 5 they misspelled to learn for the week. If you want to, it’d be good to talk about some spelling rules and patterns that you’re confident with. For example, if they’ve misspelt should, have a look at would and could too. This is a good website for more help with spelling.

Keeping writing fun

This is perhaps the most important point. No-one wants you to have a fight with your child about writing. We want them to enjoy their learning at home with you and we want you to enjoy the experience too! Trust us. Teaching can be very rewarding. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t give feedback on every piece of writing they do. Sometimes it’s good to write for fun, not for learning!
  • Don’t push them to write too much or for too long if they’re not feeling it.
  • Let them type it if they want, sometimes. We do need them to improve their handwriting and writing stamina, but these are special circumstances.
  • Encourage them to decorate their writing with pictures, drawn or printed, to make it special. Perhaps create a portfolio of their work.
  • Keep it interesting by getting them to write in felt-tip, chalk on the drive, paper stuck to the bottom of the table. Write in bed, lying on tummies, standing up…
  • Sometimes just get them to write a text to their grandparent, or a sign to put in the window. All writing practice is good. Here are some other short fun ideas.

Finally, the real secret to being a good writer 

Of course, as any teacher will tell you, the secret to being a good writer is READING A LOT. Kids that read just pick writing up innately – the grammar, punctuation, spelling, great vocabulary, stylistic devices. I have taught children who have absolutely refused to write for years, and have had hardly any practice or feedback, but who really enjoyed reading. When they finally began to write, I was amazed at their understanding of the mechanics of writing.

So if you have a child who absolutely refuses to write anything, every day they are at home, try to encourage them to read a good book instead.   

The following websites may also be helpful:

  • https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/subjects/zv48q6f
  • https://www.theschoolrun.com
  • https://www.twinkl.co.uk/home-learning-hub
    • (offer code UKTWINKLHELPS)
  • https://www.spellzone.com/
  • https://www.busythings.co.uk/families/subjects/english
  • https://www.literacyshed.com/story-starters.html

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4 thoughts on “Home schooling primary aged children during lockdown – a guide to writing

  1. This guide is fantastically helpful and written in a lovely style that make the suggestions easy to understand.

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