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Fourth-Grade Writing Troubles

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My fourth-grader's writing is extremely sloppy and her words are often misspelled. She only writes in three and four word sentences. When I ask her to write sentences, she seems to find it very difficult to put words together. Is this common for this age group and should I use more word prompting to help her organize her thoughts in preparation for writing?

A: By the end of third grade, children should be able to write sentences of varied lengths and combine sentences by using conjunctions (and, or, but). They should know how to write a topic sentence with some detail in a paragraph and have started writing a concluding sentence in a paragraph. And all this writing should be legible. It does not sound like your child has these skills.

It's time for a conference with your daughter's teacher to find out more about your child's writing skills. Be sure to ask the teacher to bring samples of the writing others in the class are doing so you can get a better view of how your child's writing compares to her classmates. If your daughter's skills need improving, find out how the school will help her as well as what you can do. Before you leave the conference, make plans to talk with the teacher within a month to monitor the progress your child is making on improving her writing skills.

The more children write, the more their writing improves. Rather than turn into a writing teacher, you need to set up situations that will help your daughter become enthusiastic about writing. Turn her loose on the computer under your supervision. Is there a relative or classmate who would use email to communicate with her? Let her write school compositions, thank you notes, and invitations and help write family newsletters on the computer. Become a storyteller, weaving imaginative tales to your child. Then have her tell you stories, and write them down for her. The more experience she has in seeing her thoughts down on paper, the more she will learn about writing.

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Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

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