Ten Tips to Help Your Student with Writing!


By Monica O’Donnell

Ten Tips to Help Your Student with Writing

Drop the red pen. You heard me. Do it. You did not like it when you were in school, and neither does your kid. It may help your ego that you know more than your child, but to a writer, the red pen can stomp dreams and self-esteem.

May I make a suggestion? Grab a green pen, and yes your local office supply store sells boxes of them for a few dollars. I allow my students to use highlighters as well, and yes, you can teach them not to be “highlighter happy.”

Next, grab a comfortable spot for you and your student.

Finally, go ahead and fill up the cup of coffee or heat up your tea.

It is time for a writing conference.
Who is invited?
You and your student, of course!

You are about to have an experience that is positive and cherished for times to come with your student.

Possible problem: Your student does not enjoy writing and actually, you may want to use a stronger word. Your student may h*%$ writing.

Bring it on!
I love those kinds of students.
You can help your child appreciate writing and maybe even h*%$ it less.

Are you ready? Let’s go.

1.    Have your student read it to you. Yes, I know, it may take longer and you may have to suffer through some slow pronunciations and mistakes, but your student needs practicing reading out loud. If your student were in a traditional brick and mortar school, this would be an expected practice.

2.    Whip out the highlighter and have the student highlight the first word of each sentence. Ask your student, “On a scale of one to five, with five being the best, how did you do with your sentence beginnings?”

•    “Did you start every sentence the same way?”
•    If the answer was yes, or mostly yes, then suggest to your child to change the way some of the sentences begin.
•    Notice I said, “Suggestion,” because this process needs to be positive and you want your child to have some ownership of the decision making.
•    Take one of the sentences that your child wants to revise and show them a possible revision.
•    Showing your student an example can go a long way with what you are asking of them.

3.    Hand over the green pen and ask your student to circle all of the periods.
•    Ask your student, “How did you do here?”
•    This is a real eye-opener for some students because they either have several run-on sentences, or they have several simple sentences. I have even seen the one-big-long-sentence paper! It was awesome and exhausting to read.
•    Point out to your student one run-on sentence (two sentences joined together without a comma and conjunction or semicolon) and help them revise it. Again, the lesson here is “Show, not tell.”
•    If your student has several simple sentences (one subject and predicate) then help them revise and create some compound/complex sentences (two independent sentences joined together properly or independent and dependent clauses joined together).

4.    “Ding dong the tired words are dead!” You are allowed to have some fun with this one. Draw a tombstone at the top of the paper and tell your student that unfortunately some of their words have died. Tell them words that are overused and tired must die!
•    R.I.P. Words: fun, stuff, a lot, good, bad, nice, great, etc.
•    Make this part of the conference enjoyable. Have the student read it again, and when they come to a tired word, grab your neck and make a coughing noise.
•    Help them find some new words.
•    Do not even think of using the thesaurus. Try coming up with a new way to say it without just replacing the word.

5.    Vivid verb always beats the being verb!
•    Help your student lose the being verb and replace them with vivid verbs!
•    I also tell my students what my daughter’s kindergarten teacher always told her students. “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” I say it with my best Southern accent. I tell them using the word “get” or “getting” is informal and not very creative! They can do better.  Show them how.

6.    One of my favorite educators and presenters Barry Lane shows his students how to “zoom in with binoculars.” This is a visual way of having your students show and not tell the reader what is happening in the narrative.
o    Encourage your student to use their senses.
o    Have them close their eyes and observe for a moment on a sentence or section of their paper.
o    Another favorite educator and presenter Gretchen Bernabeiay, teaches her students to use “Ba-da-bings.”

  • Where did your feet go?
  • What did your eyes see?
  • What did you think?
  • Add all of those in a sentence.
  • Jumping down the stairs, I peeked around the corner and saw the presents piled under the tree and I thought, “Wow, I have been a good girl this year.”

7.    Remember, this experience is supposed to be positive.

8.    Compliment first, compliment again, then offer a suggestion.

9.    Work on a couple of things per piece of writing. It is not important to have it perfect. The writing process will work itself out and the writing will improve with time.

10.    I wish I can remember who told me this many years ago, but the best advice I give my students is that “Anyone can write but only writers can revise.”

Happy Writing — Revising!

Keep an eye out for links to our writing workshops in your online school


  1. The hardest thing that occurs to ME is finding a good topic to write about, and when I finally get one, I never seem to know HOW to start writing. And sometimes it turns up with so much fluff, and then I have to edit it all. But I love to write, even if its difficult!


    1. Hi, Juwairiah! Many writers suffer from the same problem, so you are not alone. I keep journals around the house for ideas. I even have a sticky note problem. If you toured my house, you could walk around and discover many writing topics. Ha ha! When writing for the composition course, follow the strategies listed in the curriculum on how to brainstorm for the topic. Once you start, make a list, word web, mind map, bubble map, outline, t-chart, etc., to help your ideas flow from mind to paper. Remember, anyone can write, but only writers can revise. Some of my best work is after I have revised the fluff about ten times! Even I can write “fluffy.” When writing creative fiction, this should be really fun. Write genres you enjoy and keep journals and a word list handy. The best writers are usually the best readers, so brush off those books from the shelf and get reading. 🙂


      1. Thanks so much for the tips, Mrs. O!! I’ll remember them. I LOVE READING, and I am usually found reading in my free time. But I am going to write an essay every weekend now to improve my writing skills 🙂 You are my favorite teacher!!!

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