After having taught primary grades the English language for about 5 years, I have now taken a huge leap from there, to teaching grades 9 through 11. It has been an interesting couple of months to say the least.
Right of the bat, I saw some consistencies in the weak areas the children were facing, especially when it came to essay writing. While the initial weeks were more of a learning experience for me, I had the opportunity to critically evaluate the general writing quality of the children across each stage.
I came to a couple of very important conclusions, and tackling these will take center-fold precedence when the new term starts. In my lap right now, are a bunch of writing papers that I need to grade and it has been a painful process… I’ll tell you why in a bit.
I wanted to share my insights with you as parents will always be an important part of their children’s education, alternatively, your teen can read this post and see where that takes him or her.
1.Children fail to understand the task: Some kids had written absolutely wonderfully, but it devastated me to not be able to give out a grade simply because the material written was so out of the premise of the actual question being asked.
I found myself reading the essay more than twice searching for the parameters that were in the query. I only found a hint here or a dash there. The rest was just digression.
2.Kids couldn’t handle the actual formation of smooth-flowing language: On the other hand, there were kids that had a pretty decent understanding of what was being asked, but their lingual skills were so sketchy, that reading the essay was paramount to deciphering some high level code.
So let us address these two issues shall we:
1.How do I attain full understanding of the task/question?
This is your typical O’ Level type creative writing question. Let’s assume the student already knows he or she has to keep it within the given word limit… here are the next steps:
a. Identify the ‘order’. Clearly here we are required to write something that is descriptive in nature. Not a personal rant on what happened on the journey per say… simply that a description is required. Thus the word ‘describe’ in the box.
There can be many ‘orders’. Writing a personal narrative, an argumentative essay, a formal letter, an application etc. The teacher will provide an updated format for each.
b. Next is the ‘topic’. So we have to describe something on a journey- but what? Ah, the underlined words tell you what it is that you will be describing. In this case, you would be required to write about a journey by car OR public transport (train/subway/bus).
c. Wow… that’s a lot of possible scenarios, a lot can happen on a journey, so what is the ‘focus’? There it is- circled in. So we have to describe a journey- but only the different scenery..The ‘focus’ hones in on the topic.
b.Now that you have adequately understood what is expected of you, how do you put it into coherent words that blend together into paragraphs that have unity?
Here are some pointers on how to do that:
- Stick to the topic you can relate most to… it will inadvertently lead to a better quality of essay.
- Keep to one tense, the simple past being the simplest. Don’t keep switching between present and past unless you are very sure of the effect you are going for.
- Do NOT change the voice. It was shocking to read one half of a perfectly good essay written in the second form.. “he” did this and then “he” did that only to suddenly have that changed to “I”. I’m traumatized!
- Do not repeat the same words in close proximity unless it is deliberate.
- Focus on the topic sentence of each paragraph, the sentences below will support the topic sentence, that is how you get a smooth flow. Each time a major idea changes, so should your paragraph.
- And while you’re at it, use good transitioning or linking words..
- Don’t go overboard with the long and pretty words, simplicity will always trump complex ambiguous words. Use colourful vocabulary with care and caution.
- Show don’t tell for descriptions.
- The kids should be proficient with the use of commas and quotation marks if nothing else.
- The use of idioms and similes dotted here and there helps.
- Go ahead and brainstorm- it’s never harmed any writer yet! Here is a template to get you started:
- Don’t try too hard, relax, go with the flow.
At the end, I can’t stress the importance of reading enough. The more your kid reads, the more he or she picks up on good writing habits. The more he or she reads, the more subconscious cues are picked up on spelling and grammar usage, the more vocabulary is mastered and the more faster the language is processed.
Ask your child to make it a habit to write daily, whether it be in a daily journal, a scrap book, a thought diary, a blog or even a children’s book. Creative writing once made fun, can be one of the greatest tools your child can have to attain a successful personal, academic and professional life.