Friday, August 12, 2011

Help With Writing

How can we get kids to use their spelling skills in their writing? I hear this question a lot. For some kids, it's hard enough to translate thoughts into the written word on paper. Add to that the need to think about spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, neatness, how to form their letters, organization, clarity, creativity...well, something has to give! What's a mom to do? Enter the COPS.

COPS is a catchy acronym for editing that I first learned from a copywork and dictation class I took on It stands for:

Organization (includes neatness)

So how do we use our spelling police?
One, if spelling is really tough for your child, you don't have to edit everything they write. Start with editing copywork and dictation exercises. Teach them what to look for in writing that is not their own. Sometimes it's hard enough for a child to put together their thoughts and write them down, and getting a paper marked up with needed changes can make them feel like their ideas were not good, or that it's all simply too much effort. Professional writers don't revise everything they write--some writing is just for fun. Let kids have some "fun" writing too. (I'll have to write more on this another time!).

Two, once you have decided that something is going to be edited, then have them read through their piece with the COPS acronym in mind. I used to write it out for my kids all the time, until they learned it. If the piece is more than a sentence or two, let them work on editing the next day. Some kids might be able to do it quickly, while others may need their whole language arts time just to do this. So gauge whether having an assignment on top of editing is appropriate for your child.

Three, if your child thinks something is wrong but isn't sure, have them circle or underline it in pencil. You can go over that one together. Praise them for any errors they find, and for any they find and are able to correct. NOTE: If a spelling error is because of a rule or pattern they haven't learned yet, you can choose whether to simply show your child the correct spelling, or focus on the other errors and "skip" this one for now. Some kids get discouraged when too many things are pointed out to them at one time, so don't feel you need to make a paper "perfect" if there are lots of errors; focus on the ones that they are ready to figure out now, and know the rest will come in time. If you do point out an error in a word they wouldn’t know, you can say, “We haven’t studied this one yet, so you wouldn’t know it…”

Four, if your child misses some errors that are concepts or patterns that they have learned in All About Spelling, or they are grammatical items they have learned in their LA, put a light pencil X next to the line for each mistake. Don't tell them right away what the mistake is, see if they can find it on their own. This gets them to take responsibility for thinking about the editing process and not just relying on mom to tell them what's right or wrong. Sometimes I'll let them know if they are looking for a spelling, capitalization, or punctuation error.

Five, for any spelling errors they don't find (but do know how to "fix"), get them to analyze the word. If the mistake is phonetic, have them sound it out. Let's say they wrote "firt" instead of "first." If they say the sounds they wrote, they can see what's missing and fix the mistake. Similarly if they use the wrong phonogram. If they can't identify what's wrong, sound it out for them and then ask if they know how to correct it. ie, "This says 'firt.' We want 'first.' Do you know how to change it to first?"

If the spelling error is covered by a rule they have learned, ask them if they know of any rules that might apply to this word. Maybe they write "kat" instead of "cat." Or "kichen" instead of "kitchen." If they know to try C fist, they can correct cat. If they know that we usually use tch after a short vowel, they can correct kitchen. See if you can get your child to think of the rule on his or her own--but if not, then give them more information. ie, "What do we try first, C or K?" or, "How do we usually spell the /ch/ sound after a short vowel?"

Six, if the spelling error is visual, have them use the scratch-paper spelling they learned in level 3, and see if they can identify the correct word. Sometimes I'll tell them they've used a homophone, and ask them if they know what that homophone means. Then I ask if they know how to spell the word they meant to use.

Seven, put any words or patterns that they don't identify as mistakes on their own back in the child's daily review tab. Include the related phonogram, sound, and/or key cards as needed. Something I like to do is to keep several blank word cards in the back of each child's review set. I can usually find a word that I want in just a minute or two--but if I can't, I don't sweat it, I just write it on one of my blank cards with a black marker. These are also handy for putting any new words into their review stack. Marie posted a template for blank cards.

Finally, be patient. You may not see results overnight, but over time you will. After 2 years with All About Spelling, I remember being impressed by my then 7th grade son's lab report. It was neat--no scribbling over mistaken words. It had few spelling errors; he even got some words correct that we hadn't studied yet. If you had told me two years prior that we'd be this far, I'd never have guessed it. Around that same time, he told me long words with prefixes were "easy" to spell. I had to ask him if he heard what just came out of his mouth! Truly--the differences were night and day. He still made some errors (firt vs. first was on his report), but he could often find and fix them, and they continue to lessen as time goes on.

Have fun with your friendly neighborhood editing police!


  1. Hi Merry,
    I've just come for a visit after you posted a link to this page on the SL forum.
    I just wanted to thank you for all the great advise you shared on the forum, and these tips here. We've had some struggles in the spelling department for a while with my DD, but she's be willingly writing in her journal more of late. This advice is fabulous on how I can approach her as we continue to look for improvements, step by step.
    Kindest regards,
    Catherine (aka alecat)

  2. Hi Catherine,

    You're welcome, glad I could help! How exciting that you are seeing her willing to write a bit more! I used to do interactive journaling with my kids--they would write and I would write back to them. I didn't correct their journals, but I would try to use words they misspelled in my reply, so that they could see the word spelled correctly. I also would put some of the words in their spelling review box. Have fun! Merry :-)