This article explains how to help your child/student(s) develop writing skills through a research-based writing strategy called Guided Writing. While Guided Writing lessons are usually done with a small group of children in the classroom, parents can also utilize these strategies at home.
It is very common for young children or children with learning or developmental disabilities to have trouble organizing their thoughts in order to put them into well-written sentences or paragraphs. Students with writing difficulties may try to avoid writing assignments or get frustrated with writing. This can lead to a lack of progression in skills. Guided Writing can help.
What is Guided Writing?
Guided Writing is a method in which the adult guides the child through every step of the writing process, asking the student questions along the way, and providing the answers when necessary. The teacher or adult ensures the child is following capitalization, punctuation, and spelling rules, and that they are creating complete sentences with relevant details. This guidance provides the building blocks for becoming an efficient independent writer.
During a Guided Writing lesson, it is important to keep the writer motivated by acknowledging their small successes along the way. With enough success, they are likely to gain some internal motivation and start taking bigger risks. Praise your writer with comments such as “Nice work using a period” or “I like the details you included about…” Give specific praise about what the child did, rather than more abstract praise like “Good job.” Specific praise lets the child know exactly what is expected, which they can internalize and keep in mind for her next writing assignment.
How is Guided Writing implemented?
Here I will illustrate one example, but I want you to try to think of different ways that you can apply Guided Writing with your child or student(s).
Step 1- Ask your child/student(s) to give you some piece of information, like what they did over the weekend. Encourage your child to provide specific details about the event. An answer with good details for writing would be something like, “I went to the beach with my aunt this weekend. We went swimming and I had a great time.” You may need to ask some children several questions to get the needed details for the writing assignment (e.g., where did you go over the weekend? who did you go with? what did you do there? how did you feel when you were there?) Other children will verbally provide these kinds of details without much guidance. It all depends on the child.
Step 2- After you get the details from your child/student, tell them that they will write down what they did over the weekend. Ask them to say their first sentence out loud, using the details they just gave. Children learning to write or struggling with writing should verbalize their thoughts out loud before putting them on paper. If the child leaves out important details or words when verbalizing the first sentence or includes information from the second sentence (e.g., I went swimming with my aunt), encourage them to say what happened first. You can ask questions like “When did you go swimming with your aunt?” “Where did you go swimming?” When they say “this weekend” “at the beach,” remind them to say the whole sentence first again “I went to the beach with my aunt this weekend.” Have them practice saying the first sentence aloud and writing it down. If other children are in the group you can have them say their sentences aloud to each other so they can all hear what a first sentence should sound like. Provide as much guidance as needed to get the whole sentence out. Have your child try to create a picture in their mind of the scene to really connect to what they are writing.
Step 3 – When your child/student starts writing the first sentence down, ask them questions about capitalization and punctuation such as “Should you start with a capital letter?” “What should go at the end of your sentence?” If they need help, tell them the rules (e.g., “The first letter of a sentence should be capitalized.”, “You need to end your sentence with a period.”). Also provide assistance with sounding out the words if your child is having trouble spelling.
- Check out: 5 Research-Based Reading Strategies for Teaching Phonemic Awareness: An Early Reading Skill for tips on teaching phoneme segmentation (breaking up words into individual parts) which is necessary for sounding out. Another recommended article is 12 Research-Based Spelling Strategies Parents Can Try at Home.
After your child/student completes the first sentence, complete all the same steps for the second sentence. Ask your child/student to think of what the next sentence would be. Have them say it out loud. Encourage the child to connect the second sentence to the first by adding more detail. For example, “We went swimming and I had a great time!” Then follow the same steps for the second sentence as you did for the first, including asking questions to get the necessary details if needed and encourage your student to create a picture in their mind of what happened. Work on capitalization, spelling, and punctuation by first asking the child/student what to do, and then telling/showing them if they do not know.
When to Use Guided Writing
Guided writing can be applied to a variety of situations. Let’s say you went on a trip and took pictures. You can use those pictures to write about the trip. Maybe you just read a book on the Civil War. You can use what you learned from the book to write a summary. Whether writing about your weekend, a trip, or a period in history…whether you have pictures to reference or not, you can use the steps of guided writing to go through the writing process. Take it one sentence at a time. Work with your child/student to create the sentences and work on the rules of spelling, capitalization, and punctuation.
Keep in mind that the strategies in this article are recommendations. Please do not try to pressure a child into participating in any of these strategies. This can lead to frustration, which can turn your child off to writing practice.
Remember to always stay calm when working with a child or student, even if you think they should be getting something that they are not getting. If you get frustrated with them, they may start to feel anxious, angry, inferior, stupid, etc. which will lead to a less productive learning session. Keep practice sessions short (5 to 10 minutes for younger children or children who get easily frustrated and 10 to 15 minutes for older children or children who can work for longer periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going.
For suggestions on ways to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read our articles How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior and 3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion.
Also remember that some children show improvement with these strategies, while some do not. If your child is significantly struggling with writing or acquiring other academic skills, despite consistent practice and guidance, talk to your child’s school and/or doctor. They should be able to refer you to the appropriate professionals to determine what might be interfering with your child’s progress and what additional strategies might help.
1) Guiding Readers and Writers (Grades 3-6): Teaching, Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy, by Fountas and Pinnell.
2) Writing Assessment and Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities, by Nancy Mather, Barbara J. Wendling and Rhia Roberts.
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