Learning to write
What we need to know
Children experiment with writing long before they start school. Their early squiggles and drawings are the beginning of writing.
Books provide a powerful model of what writing looks like. Books convey the understanding that squiggles on a page convey a message. Reading and writing with your children helps them to make sense of how written language works.
We learn to write by writing. Children love to write! In classrooms, children are encouraged to select topics that express their ideas and interests. It is difficult (sometimes impossible) to write about unfamiliar topics or topics that are irrelevant to our life experiences. Before writing, talking about a topic is a good place to collect thoughts and ideas.
When children write and freely express their ideas, this is called draft writing. Children need many opportunities to express their thoughts and ideas in writing without being concerned about the mechanics of writing such a spelling, punctuation and grammar. At this stage, worrying about spelling, punctuation and grammar can hinder their styles, expressions and exploration of words that best communicate their ideas. In fact, this level of response often ‘kills’ off the writer who learns to write less and take fewer risks. Instead, respond to the ideas of the writer – for example, ask: Where did you get your idea? Are you writing a factual text (poem, recipe, chapter book etc)? What is going to happen next? Read me your lead sentence again because that really had me interested in your story. What is going to happen to your main character?
If the draft writing is to be shared with a wider audience, and has been edited for meaning, the next stage is to proofread for spelling, punctuation and grammatical mistakes. Not all writing needs to be edited. We do not edit our shopping lists, diaries or reminder notes! Children need to be encouraged to write for enjoyment and play with words.
In classrooms, children explore writing as a process from drafts to published pieces. Children are encouraged to write for real purposes and utilise a range of different text types such as recipes, factual texts, notes, report writing, narratives and poetry. They are also taught to consider how to appeal to different audiences.
Handwriting should not be confused with writing. Handwriting is a surface feature of writing and children who are self-conscious of their handwriting benefit from opportunities to write and draw with a variety of pens, textas, paint, magic boards, chalk and ‘fancy’ pencils. When it comes to publishing, children often publish on the computer, use voice to text recognition or publish in a variety of ways such a poster, alphabet books, dioramas, or chapter books. The form the publishing takes is the best match for the type of story being told.
Work that comes home from school may not have every spelling error corrected, every grammatical mistake rectified or punctuation inserted. It is important to talk with your children about the purpose of the work and what they learned, rather than emphasise the errors. Ask ‘tell me questions’ such as: ‘Tell me about this work …’ ‘Tell me how you did this …’ ‘Tell me what you liked about this activity.’