Struggling With Writing Assignments

Completing a piece of writing requires your child to use many different skills at once — organizing their ideas, holding their pencil correctly, forming letters, spelling words, using correct grammar, punctuating sentences, using vocabulary — and they have to do all of this while accessing information in their “working memory” and staying on topic. If your child struggles with one or more of these processes, writing can quickly start to feel labored and arduous. By using these tips and exercising a little patience, you can support your child as they learn to write confidently and skillfully.

  1. Under the Common Core standards, kids are writing more than ever, across multiple subjects. Kids who struggle with writing may become reluctant to write, so it’s important to take action if you think your child is struggling. Talk about any concerns you have about your child’s writing with their teacher.
  2. Begin each homework session by asking your child to explain what they are expected to do. Ask questions to help them clarify the details of the assignment. Their answers will indicate how much support they’ll need — whether they will be able to work independently or if they’ll need some help to get started.
  3. Although you may be tempted, don’t write reports or papers for your child or tell them what to write. Instead, put yourself in the role of writing coach and offer encouragement, guidance, and feedback from the sidelines.
  4. If you aren’t around when your child completes their homework, let them know you’ll look it over when you get home. Be sure to follow through on your promise. Emphasize that you’re doing this to help them, not judge them.
  5. When offering feedback about your child’s work, start with positive statements such as, “You remembered to indent paragraphs; that’s great progress,” or “You have some interesting ideas in this part. What happens next?” Focus on the quality of the effort rather than on small errors, especially as the first feedback you offer.
  6. Make sure your child sees you writing at home. Write your child messages and leave them on the refrigerator. Write emails, letters, or postcards to friends and relatives. Post a daily or weekly calendar, make a shopping list, or write in a journal.
  7. Encourage your child to write short stories or keep a journal. As often as possible, encourage them to write on a topic of their own choosing. If they have favorite book or movie characters, suggest that they make up their own stories starring their favorite characters.
  8. Have your child make an album of photographs they’ve taken and write a brief description under each picture.
  9. Encourage your child to develop interests they can investigate, research, and write about to become an expert on a topic.
  10. Provide a place to complete writing assignments that has everything they’ll need, including a clear surface, sharpened pencils, erasers, and good lighting.
  11. When they write, check to see if your child is sitting up straight with both feet on the floor, holding the pencil correctly, and keeping their arm from the elbow to the wrist on the table or desk for support. Be sure that they slants the paper slightly to the left (45 degrees) for right-handers or slightly to the right (45 degrees) for left-handers.
  12. Your child may find that the mechanics of writing are easier if they use a pencil grip or a slantboard. Special paper with raised lines can help new writers stay within the lines.
  13. Encourage your child to learn keyboarding (typing) skills as early as possible. Third grade is a good time to begin. Computers encourage writing and give immediate feedback about spelling and grammar.
  14. For children who feel overwhelmed by longer writing assignments, it can help to break the assignment down into shorter chunks or drafts.
  15. Brainstorm sessions are helpful for starting the writing process. Encourage your child to talk about the main idea they want to get across and what points they can make that will support that idea. Or to talk through the plot points of a storyline.
  16. Revise, revise, revise! Emphasize that good writing always involves multiple drafts. First drafts are mainly for writing ideas or topic information. Second drafts would include organizing content, correcting grammar, checking punctuation, and correcting spelling.
  17. When the piece of writing is done, encourage your child to read it aloud. They might notice additional things they think should be revised.
  18. For long-term writing projects, help your child organize what they’re going to write over a period of several weeks. When writing assignments are broken down into smaller parts, you and the teacher can offer feedback and suggestions along the way.
  19. Learning to write well takes lots of practice and patience, so keep your child from getting discouraged by individual assignments and encourage them to find reasons to write every day.

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Resources >> Browse Articles >> Special Education & Learning Disabilities

How To: Accommodate Students With Writing Disabilities

"Making the steps feel small and manageable is the key to success."

Most general education teachers will encounter students with IEPs. The majority of learning disabled students identified have processing problems that affect their reading or comprehension ability. Students with poor reading ability often have poor writing ability as well, since the two skills go hand in hand.

Although less frequent, there are learning disabilities specific to writing ability. One, called dysgraphia, is defined as difficulty expressing thoughts in writing. Where reading disabilities are typically related to impaired auditory and attention processing, Dysgraphia can be related to either motor, visual, or spatial processing problems.

• Your students with dysgraphia may exhibit the following academic symptoms:

• Slow writing speed

• Delays in writing achievement

• Difficulty with writing out math problems.

• Difficulty taking notes

• Poor spelling and handwriting

• Sometimes writing takes all the students focus and they cannot attend to lecture.

• Sometimes have difficulty with hand-eye coordination, or fine motor skills.

How to Help Your Students With Writing Disabilities

• Like all students with disabilities, make sure to read your student’s IEP and list of required acommodations. Consult with the special education teacher or school psychologist for tips about your student’s unique learning style.

• If lecture is important to attend to, make sure your student can get a copy of the notes (from either you or a buddy) so they do not miss important information by trying to take their own notes laboriously.

• Allow the student to type instead of writing out assignments. Encourage the use of a spell checker.

• Extend their time limit allowed on tests or writing intensive assignments.

• Decide on a learning goal for each writing assignment. If the focus is on the organization of the content of the writing, than do not grade harshly on spelling and handwriting. If spelling and handwriting are the focus, than go easy on the organization and content. It may help the child to make the goal clear and to alternate the focus so all skills are worked on, but in general, students will enjoy writing more when the focus is on expression of original ideas.

• On tests of knowledge, it may be appropriate to allow for the child to give answers orally, so they can convey what they have learned more easily.

• Provide graph paper for math assignments so it is easier for the student to write equations in columns or rows.

• Make sure the student has an appropriate grip on their pencil.

• Have the student talk aloud during writing assignments.

• Have the student orally construct their paragraphs over a tape recording, and then copy down their language from the recording.

• Break writing assignments into small steps, such as:

1. Making an outline. With topic for each paragraph.

2. Work on one paragraph at a time, on separate pages.

3. Focus first on getting ideas down on paper, saving the grammar, punctuation, and spelling for later drafts.

4. Combine the paragraphs, and re-polish the document.

For students with writing disabilities, motivation may be low for practicing writing. Making the steps feel small and manageable is the key to their success, in addition, hold on to old work over the year, and periodically show the student how much they have improved by comparing their old work with new work. Your student may be comparing their own writing ability to their peers, which may also cause them to get discouraged. Focus on comparing their old work with new work, and on achieving their personal best rather than how other students are writing.

Read More Tips For Special Education Students


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Featured Author:

Kit Richert, Ph.D.

Kit joined Teaching after working as a middle school psychologist in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in California. As a school psychologist, Kit worked extensively with Special Education students, and developed expertise in assessment, counseling, and behavior management. Kit was a clinical psychology major at Tufts University and received her Ph.D. in Education from UC Berkeley. Her doctoral research focused on children with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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