Supporting primary-aged children to write: Ideas for parents

Parents shouldn’t be responsible for teaching their child to write – that is the job of a trained teacher – but there are many things they can do at home to help children develop and practise some key skills.  

Get talking 

Getting children to express themselves in conversation is fantastic practice for expressing themselves in writing. Conversation allows children to learn new ideas, vocabulary, and grammar. After trying out new language while talking, children are better prepared to use it in their writing.   

The key thing here is to ‘talk with’ rather than ‘talk to’ children.  

  • ‘Talking to’ children means giving instructions, not allowing time to respond, or asking questions that only require a simple answer.  
  • ‘Talking with’ children means having a two-way conversation: listening carefully to what they are saying, allowing them time to think and respond, and asking them to elaborate.   

Obviously talking to children is important some of the time, but try to also make time for good conversation.  Shared reading, role play, and storytelling are all good starting points for talking together.  

Talk about planning, drafting, and editing 

Skilled writers know how to plan, revise and edit their writing. Next time your child is writing, try talking to them about some of these techniques.  

  • Planning. Prompt your child to organise their ideas before they start writing. This could involve reading about a topic they are not familiar with or sketching out a plan (for example, by writing the main points in bullets or drawing a diagram) before writing.  
  • Drafting and revising. Encourage your child to get their ideas down in a first draft which they can then edit and revise. When they have a first draft complete, ask them what went well and what they might improve in the next draft.  
  • Sharing and editing. Encourage your child to share, read, and edit their work. They might also share their work with a sibling at home, or online with a classmate. You can also talk to them about things they have read: what makes the writing effective and how could it be improved?  

Make writing fun 

Getting better at writing requires a lot of practice, which is unlikely to happen unless it’s fun to do. To motivate your child to write more often, you might consider the following:  

  • As children develop their skills, encourage them to write for different purposes and audiences. They could write a letter to their grandparents, a mock newspaper article, or a creative story. As well as providing motivation, this will help children to experience different writing styles.  
  • Give them the opportunity to publish their writing:  put posters up on the fridge door, email stories to extended family, or share writing on social media. Encourage positive feedback from family and friends so that your child takes pride in their writing.  
  • Find enjoyable subjects to write about. Writing about memorable experiences can provide a motivating purpose for writing.  

Keep up the handwriting practice 

Many children are using devices for distance learning, so your child is likely to be doing a lot of typing at the moment. This is a good opportunity to get better at typing, but it is also important that children continue to practise and develop their handwriting skills. Try to get them to do some writing by hand most days during the week. A bit of practice each day is probably better than doing a lot all at once. This might be as simple as making some notes by hand before typing up their work on the computer.  

You can help children to learn from their practice by giving feedback on their handwriting: 

  • Be specific about what has improved. For example: ‘It was good because you joined up your letters correctly’ is better than ‘your handwriting is getting neater.’  
  • Talk about how to improve their writing rather than just telling them when they have got something wrong: ‘Next time, try and make sure that all of your t’s are crossed. This is where you put the cross.’  
  • Encourage effort: ‘Well done – look how much you can do when you keep trying!’ 

By Peter Henderson

PREPARED FOR THE EDUCATION HUB BY

Peter Henderson

Peter is on secondment to The Education Hub from the Education Endowment Foundation, a UK charity which supports teachers to use research to improve their practice. Before he joined us, Peter co-authored five EEF guidance reports and led the EEF’s grant making in maths, literacy, and special educational needs. He also chaired the governing board of a primary school in North London.