Monday, April 28, 2014

Guest Post: Improving Writing Skills Through Journaling

The following is a guest post by Nikolas Baron - Grammarly. Enjoy! :)

If you are currently homeschooling middle-school-aged students, you understand how hard it can be to get them to write. For many of them, writing is a chore and a hard one, at that. Because of this perspective, those middle school students who hate writing grow into high school students who hate writing, and by the time they reach college, their only desire is to get through their required reading courses with a passing grade, so they can get on to the courses they really like.

This path, however, ultimately does our students a major disservice. By avoiding writing, students are not developing a lot of the critical thinking skills that will serve them well later in life – not just in their education but beyond as well. We should be encouraging our middle-school-aged students to write as much as possible, so that they can develop these skills early on, allowing them to further hone them as they continue through their academic career.

Of course, this is easy to say: get students to write more. How do you do that? In my work for Grammarly, I study how people write and the tools they use to become better writers, and I've found that, a lot of times, it isn't that students hate to write – though some certainly do – it's that they don't like what they have to write about in school. They don't like essays and research papers. The trick then, I think, is to assign them some writing that they will enjoy. If we can get them to write consistently, they'll not only develop strong skills, but they'll be able to transfer those skills when they do have to write an essay or research paper. They still won't like writing it, but at least they'll write it well.

In my experience, I find that one of the best ways to get students writing is to encourage them to write a journal. Every day, have them sit down, take out a notebook, and spend about 30 minutes writing whatever they want to write. If they want to write a story, let them write a story. If they want to write about an experience they had, let them. Encourage them to just let themselves go and write whatever is on their mind.

When students are given free reign over what to write, you'll be amazed at how much they write. It might take them a little while to get started, but once they figure it out, they'll be gone, and you'll see them write page after page.

If you really want to maximize this, tell them that you will not be reading or grading their journals. If they don't want to show anyone their words, they don't have to. When students hear that they not only get to write what they want, but that it's just for their eyes alone, they'll really get into the assignment.

You might be wondering how this type of writing is beneficial if you don't read or grade it. The reason is because writing is ultimately a skill that has to be practiced. Also, encouraging students to write whatever they want to write, away from the prying eyes of their teacher, gives them a chance to practice it and do so willingly. As they write, even if you aren't grading it, they'll be developing good writing skills and further developing those skills with each passing page. They'll learn how to organize their thoughts and express them in an understandable order. They'll develop the ability to think critically about those thoughts and how best to articulate them. On top of all that, they'll become proud of their writing, and in becoming proud, they'll develop a desire to write correctly, which should give you plenty of opportunities for teachable moments in terms of structure and grammar.

As they continue writing, it might even develop a desire in them to share their work with others—maybe not their innermost secrets, but perhaps some of the lighter and more humorous observations. When that time comes, it's important that you work to help them polish some of the more technical aspects of their piece so that their words can really shine through. Thankfully, over at Grammarly, we have you covered on that, with our online grammar check that examines a piece of text for over 250 common grammar errors. When you combine your student's words with solid grammatical fundamentals, you'll end up with a truly stellar piece that your student can be proud of.

By Nikolas Baron


Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online.

(Bull Rock Barn and Home doesn't necessarily endorse all of the author’s views or associations.)

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