“I’m going to tell you about…” Seeing this phrase at the beginning of a paragraph/essay/research paper is, to me, the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. I’m also not a real big fan of the “first, next, then, last” system much past third grade. Writing, even expository writing doesn’t have to be boring.
Of course, the first thing a writer needs to keep in mind is the audience that the work is intended for. For example, if your high school senior is writing an essay for a college application, he probably doesn’t want to open with a joke… But with that in mind, teaching your child the following tips when teaching writing will not only make the writing more interesting, but the quality of his writing will be improved.
Hook your audience.
The reason movies or television shows open with an exciting or suspenseful scene is to get your attention and keep it. A good hook will draw your readers in so that they want to keep reading. A hook can consist of a number of things: a quotation, a question, an exclamation, reveal something startling or provide a description. The goal is to get your reader into your second paragraph.
There are several words and phrases that your writer can use to get from paragraph to paragraph. However, I implore you to teach your child how to use these transitions correctly. I once made the mistake of simply giving a 6th-grade class a handout containing transition words. I got pages and pages full of paragraphs that started with “In addition…” The transition word or phrase used should be relevant. I suggest keeping a handout or printout of transitional words and phrases as a permanent component of your child’s writing folder. A quick Google search with the terms “writing transition” will give you plenty of options to choose from so that you can print out a list that is suitable for your child’s age level.
There’s nothing more distracting than trying to read something full of grammatical errors. I’ve had students write the most wonderful, creative stories, but the quality of the story is lost in the run-on sentences, the misspelled words, and the random capital letters. You’ll probably find that your child is not overly receptive to your asking for these errors to be addressed, but it is an important part of the writing process. A technique I like to use is to give the child a familiar piece of work (a fairy tale, poem, etc.) and fill it full of errors. It is uncomfortable to read and the student often sees the value in writing with correct grammar. It doesn’t make them any happier about having to correct the errors, but at least they know why they are doing it.
This is a set of writing tricks complied by a teacher from Texas (Mary Ellen Ledbetter). Using these tips in your writing adds life and depth to your writing. Some of these tips include using hyphenated modifiers (adjectives), using figurative language, and using parallel groups of words. (I just did that, did you catch it?) Again, you can do a Google search for “Smiley Face Tricks” to find many, many copies of Ms. Ledbetter’s tips.
My final tip is going to go here, in my concluding paragraph. Can you guess what my final tip is? End your writing. Even if your story has a cliffhanger, it should have an ending. Wrap things up. (There are tips for full-circle endings in the Smiley Face Tricks). Summarize and let your reader know that you are done imparting information or telling your story. In summary, teaching your child to utilize some of these tricks when writing will make their writing more interesting, more informative, and more likely to hold a reader’s interest.