Writing is one of the most difficult things to learn, since children require various skills to be able to express their ideas in writing.

Here are six skills necessary for written expression, and how to help children who have trouble writing.

1. Reading comprehension

One of the basic skills for writing is reading comprehension : the ability to read and understand a text. First you have to know how to pronounce words that are not familiar to the naked eye (decode) and immediately recognize many other words. Next, children need to understand the meaning of sequences of words in sentences and in paragraphs.

Having a good vocabulary helps with comprehension, but it is usually through reading that it is acquired.

Without these skills it is difficult for children to start writing. They probably have trouble spelling and developing text that makes sense, as well as proofreading and editing their work. These tasks require careful rereading to correct errors or improve the text.

What might help: Technology can help get around the challenges of reading. For example, if children have difficulty decoding words, the text-to-speech feature can read the words they have written aloud. Some text-to-speech tools read words aloud as they are typed, which can be very helpful when editing.

2. Transcript

Transcription is the physical act of producing words. This skill includes handwriting, typing, and spelling.

Children can have different problems with transcription. The handwriting of some is messy or illegible , even after they have been taught. Others write by hand very slowly. And there are those who write legibly by hand and type quickly and accurately enough, but have difficulty spelling many words correctly.

Using a keyboard often helps increase the speed of transcription. However, for some children the simple act of typing is difficult.

What might help: Multisensory instruction , or teaching using more than one sense at a time, can improve handwriting (check out multisensory techniques ), as well as pencil grips . Assistive technology like a keyboard can help children avoid their handwriting difficulties.

For those who have difficulty typing or spelling, tools such as dictation (speech-to-text) and word prediction can make transcription easier. Spell check is also a commonly used tool in school.

3. Sentence construction

Children need to know how to make sentences that make sense. However, they often have difficulty understanding and using correctly structured sentences.

They may not understand where verbs go or how they are conjugated. They might use sentences that are too short or incomplete, or connect many ideas into very long sentences.

Using correct punctuation (such as commas and periods) can be tricky, as can capitalization.

What might help: One way to help those struggling with this skill is to teach them basic, practical information. For example, the difference between a statement and a question, and between a subject and a verb.

It takes a lot of practice to apply this knowledge when writing sentences. For example, children could practice separating or combining sentences, and using sentence connectors (prepositions) such as and, in,  or  for .

4. Knowledge of genre and content

Knowing the genre means knowing how to use different types of writing. If the task is to write a story, children need to know what the narrative genre includes. It should include the situation (who, where, when) and the plot (what and why).

Another genre is the persuasive essay. To write it, children need to include their argument, the reasons, the facts that support the reasons, and a conclusion that summarizes the main reasons.

Knowing the content means knowing something about the subject being written about. To write a letter to a politician about pollution, you need to understand what pollution is and how it affects people, animals and the environment. Also, it may be necessary to know what causes the contamination.

What might help: Many children understand what gender is through being exposed to reading. Others need to be taught explicitly. For example, they must be taught the differences between biography and memory, and between fiction and non-fiction.

One way to do this is to find good examples of each genre. Then compare them with examples from other genres. You can also suggest a list of common elements that all examples of the same genre share.

Many children have gaps in their general knowledge, and this can hurt their writing. You can help them gain a general understanding of the world through reading, field trips, and family outings. Talk about what you learned before, during, and after the experience. Knowledge is also gained by meeting other people and trying new things.

5. Planning, review and edition

There is a process for writing. You have to plan, review and edit to be able to express yourself well through writing. Researchers have found that good writers mentally plan what they are going to write, or write brief notes before making a first draft. This requires the development of executive skills  such as working memory and attention.

Children have to turn over many ideas when they write. They then have to decide how to organize those ideas into paragraphs and within the overall structure. This requires remembering what they know about the genre and the content.

They also need to review what they have written to correct mistakes and improve it for clarity. That requires understanding why and how to make changes to the text to improve it.

What might help: There are specific strategies kids can learn about the writing process. For example, the “hamburger” strategy helps to plan a paragraph. A paragraph needs a topic sentence (top slice of bread), a main idea (the meat), supporting details (condiments), and a conclusion (bottom slice of bread).

A “spider map” makes it easy for children to think about a topic with supporting details. A “T-chart” helps them come up with reasons for and against an issue. And a timeline can help them map out a sequence of events to write a story.

Graphic organizers use many of these strategies. These tools help visualize how to plan your writing assignments. They also help generate content in an organized manner.

Download free visual organizers that help with writing .

Checklists also help children review and edit their work, and could include:

  • Content (the quality and accuracy of the ideas).
  • Organization (how the information is structured so that it flows from start to finish).
  • Language (the variety and accuracy of vocabulary and sentences).
  • Appearance (spelling, capitalization and punctuation).

6. Self-regulation

The ability to self-regulate plays a very important role when writing. When you set how many words your writing should include and then check the number of words as you write, that’s self-regulation. If you get to the end of a sentence and realize it doesn’t make sense and decide to rewrite it, that’s self-regulation.

This is another example. When children get frustrated they may give up writing. But if they tell themselves that they are making progress and that they can make it, that is self-regulation. Experienced writers do it naturally.

Children’s views of themselves as writers can affect their ability to self-regulate. Do they value what they write? Do they feel competent? How motivated are they to write?

Self-regulation is difficult for some children, especially those withADHDADHD. Self-regulation problems can affect other writing skills.

What might help: There are many strategies for teaching self-regulated writing . Children can be taught to review each sentence of a paragraph once they have finished it. You can also suggest that they take breaks after writing a certain number of words.

They can also be taught to say positive things to themselves to help with motivation. When they write they could say to themselves: “Even if it is difficult, I know that my effort will be rewarded.” The key to all of these strategies is repetition and practice.