How to Improve Your Child’s Writing
In order to pass at age 11, a child’s writing must contain certain evidence of the use of a variety of techniques. These include: relative clauses, similes and metaphors, fronted adverbials, use of passive and active voice, coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, figurative language, alliteration, resonance, formal and informal language, spellings from a list provided and, obviously, correct use of a range of punctuation. On top of these, interesting verbs, adverbs, vocabulary and adjectives must also be used. I don’t know whether many adults not involved in education would actually know what half those things are; you just write, right?
That is what we should be allowing children to do: just write. The problem is that as older writers retire or stop writing, they will be replaced by a generation of writers that can only write technically, that have no flair or creativity, whose individuality has been squashed so they can achieve the test mark best for the school. Our education system—in my opinion—needs a complete overhaul, but here are some suggestions to make yourself or your child a creative writer.
Adjectives are words that describe a noun. For example: a big dog, the grey sky, the boring essay. The most common adjectives for children are colours and size, and they get into the habit of telling the reader the colour and size of everything. The trick is to describe something by not using its colour; give the reader clues let them work it out.
Thinking about colour adjectives, for example: the green grass could become the grass that was flourishing after the recent rain. Or use an interesting adjective, like verdant. Just don’t say verdant green as both words ultimately mean the same thing.
Moving on to size adjectives, how many humongous lorries have you seen? Very few, I imagine. Sometimes an object is just big. I have big feet—they are not colossal, gigantic, or even huge; they are just big. Try and describe an object without using a size adjective.
Challenge your children (an yourself) to describe something without using colour or size words, like, perhaps, a gorilla.
The creature approached aggressively, beating its fists on its chest. Standing my ground, I looked the almost man-like primate straight in the eye.
Writing this way not only covers more of the techniques that are viewed as “good” writing, it also creates a better picture in the reader’s mind. Taking a little time over description will really improve a child’s writing.
Verbs are doing words or being words or action words, and these require thought as well. Children are taught to not use said. I really can’t understand why. Most of the time I don’t shout, mumble, grumble, whisper, grunt, or scream at people; I just say things.
“Of course I’ll go to the shops with you,” I said to Fred.
I might change to grumbling at him, but at present I’m just talking to him. Try and say it in your head how you think your character would say it. Show your children the meanings of the different words. Say different things to them in conversation and ask them how you said it. Did you actually shout or scream? Did you murmur or mumble? Make it fun. Get them to say things to you in different ways and you have to guess what verb they are using. Did they grunt at you? It doesn’t just work for said, either. Do silly walks to help with alternatives for walk. Waddle, stroll, trudge, or tiptoe; it really will help.
Adverbs are words to describe the verb. They are one of the most overused and unnecessary parts of the English language, as most of the time a good verb already describes itself.
For example, then using the word whispered, you don’t need to say whispered quietly; whispering is itself quiet. The same goes for shouted loudly, crept slowly, or ran quickly. It is much better to use description rather than adverbs.
I shouted at him, the bitterness showing in my voice.
My dog growled, baring her teeth.
Having said that, children are required to use adverbs, so instead try to use them effectively. Sometimes things do need clarification. The wind was blowing. How? Gently? Furiously?
Not all adverbs describe how something is done, but also when something happens. So instead, use time adverbs like soon or tomorrow.
The best way is to use all adverbs sparingly and use a mixture of different sorts. Write a paragraph then go back and check it. Does the narrative flow? Are you bored reading it? Does it feel too over-the-top? If the answer is yes, change it.
Similies and Metaphors
That brings me onto similes, which is where you compare one thing to another. How often in the real world do we, as adults, use similes? I can’t remember the last time I said you look as cool as a cucumber (and what makes cucumbers so cool, anyway?). So don’t use them excessively in your writing and make sure they make sense.
Linked with similes are metaphors, which are phrases that describe something as something else
The candyfloss clouds drifted slowly across the limitless sky.
Instead of a comparison, metaphors are a direct statement. The clouds are not actually made of candyfloss, yet calling them candyfloss clouds implies they have that appearance and texture. If you want to use a metaphor, make sure it makes sense. Not everything needs to have a metaphor attached.
Adult writers, generally, shouldn’t concern themselves with this side to writing; if anything, adults usually have to unlearn the expectations and rules specified in school. By teaching children to write creatively—instead of basic creative writing—a lot of the advice can then translate to adult writing.
This, however, is about what is expected of children to get high marks in school. Ultimately, if you know, you can help children to write within the required parameters but to the best of their ability.
Perhaps challenge your children to write a story of any subject, and then write one with them. For children to consider reading and writing important, they need to see people around them engaging in these activities—if you don’t need to, nor do they. Set a time limit. If you want to stay in-line with school procedure give them 40 minutes: 10 minutes to plan and 30 minutes to write. Personally, I would just say you’ve got an hour at most.
Planning adds pressure. Don’t mention punctuation, adverbs, or any other technical jargon; tell them just to write. You could even provide an opening sentence as the first sentence is always the hardest to come up with.
A dark shape loomed across a stormy sky.
Bang! A loud noise woke the boy from a deep sleep.
“Where are we going?” asked John.
Check what you’ve written once you reach the end—and encourage your child to do the same—but don’t spend too much time on it; children don’t get a massive amount of time dedicated to this in school.
When you have both finished, you can each read your first paragraph aloud to each other. Discuss what you’ve just heard. Did you want to carry on reading? Have you got any questions about the story? Where do you think the story’s is going? What do you think is going to happen? Even what type of story genre do you think it is? Read the rest. Were you right?
Encouraging children to write by writing with them can be greatly improve their own writing, and maybe you’ll find it improving yours as well.
© 2018 Cassidy Cassandra
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Cassidy grew up in Thanet and lives here with her family.