How to Make Writing Fun: Practical Tips for Children With Dyslexia
Takeaway: With the right system, your child can learn to write without feeling confused and overwhelmed. The trick is to start any writing project with fun creative tasks like brainstorming new ideas or inventing characters to write about. That way, things like sentence structure, spelling, and grammar become just a tiny part of a larger, more exciting process.
Children with dyslexia often find it hard to structure their writing.
Dyslexia is a learning difference that arises when children’s brains use alternative pathways to process information. And this difference comes with an array of strengths and weaknesses. For example, children with dyslexia are extremely creative and often find it easy to look at the ‘big picture’ when solving problems and learning abstract concepts. But conversely, they also find it hard to structure and organise all their creative thinking, pay attention to minor details, choose (and spell) the correct words, and write legibly.
So, our task is to teach children with dyslexia how to develop a repeatable writing process.
When children develop a system for writing, it helps them harness their strengths and sidestep their weaknesses. And this makes writing seem less overwhelming. Here’s a sample system they can experiment with:
Step 1: Brainstorm new ideas.
This is a fun stage where your child gets to brainstorm and come up with creative ideas. Based on the topic, have her gather information and build on it with ideas of her own. For example, if she’s writing about dinosaurs, she can watch videos, read books, collect information online, etc. Or, if she’s writing a story, she can imagine some fun experiences for her characters to have. Try to keep this stage as visual as possible, though. So, rather than writing fully-formed sentences and paragraphs, ask her to jot down keywords and ideas on index cards, or build mindmaps and spider diagrams around them. Remember, she’s only capturing and connecting ideas at this point – not worrying about words and grammar.
Step 2: Write the first draft.
Now your child can develop her thoughts by writing a bit about each keyword from her brainstorming session. This way, she’ll naturally start creating sentences and paragraphs without worrying about how they fit together. And once she’s done writing about each keyword or idea, she’ll find it much easier to arrange them into a logical sequence simply by using linking words like ‘and,’ ‘so,’ and ‘but.’ But the rule is still: ‘Don’t worry about vocabulary and grammar!’ (As a practical tip, make sure she drafts her essay in a quiet room because children with dyslexia often have brains with overworked executive functions. And noisy or messy environments can intensify the overwhelm.)
Step 3: Get feedback.
This stage is critical because you don’t want your child to spend time perfecting a poorly structured piece of writing. So, go over her work (or ask her teacher to) and help improve its flow. But rather than telling her what’s wrong, ask questions that help her spot the errors herself. For example, if her write-up about dinosaurs doesn’t mention fossils, you could ask her how we know dinosaurs existed. Remember, you’re helping her structure the writing, but you’re not correcting spelling or grammar just yet.
Step 4: Revise and edit the first draft.
Once you’re both happy with the write-up’s structure, your child can tackle grammar and vocabulary. For spelling mistakes, help her create a reference list of high-frequency words that trip her up most often. For example, perhaps she keeps mixing up ‘hear’ and ‘here’? Or ‘whether’ and ‘weather’? It’s especially important to catch these types of errors because spell checkers are likely to overlook them. Teach her to proofread content three times – once to make sure it flows well, once to check for grammar and sentence structure, and finally for spelling. It’ll help if she creates an ‘editing checklist’ with items to tick off before handing in her work.
A big part of this process is taking the time to work through each step properly.
Have your child treat each of the above four steps as mini-projects, ideally tackling them on different days. That way, she can get the most out of each of them. For example, say she has to write a story by Friday. Ideally, she’ll want to brainstorm character and event ideas on Monday, string those into a story on Tuesday, rework the story (per your feedback) on Wednesday, and finish editing/proofreading on Thursday. A system like this takes all the mystery and anxiety out of writing. She knows that it takes her (in this case) a week to write a story, and she knows what each day of work will look like.
You’ll also want to encourage your child to monitor her mood and energy levels.
Since writing is to likely intimidate her, parents need to monitor stress levels. So, in addition to starting her projects well before their deadlines, parents want to be mindful of her mood and energy levels, taking breaks as soon as she feels frustrated or overwhelmed.
This is a system that even very young children can use. And it all comes down to practice.
It’s never too early for children to use this system. For example, say your 9-year-old is playing the Tell Me How game – where she writes a letter to an imaginary space alien, teaching it how to do an everyday task. She could start by brainstorming details about the alien – maybe borrowing ideas from videos she’s seen or books she’s read. Next, she could try solving the problems her alien would face with everyday tasks. For example, how would an 8-legged octopus-like alien brush its teeth? Will it use its legs, or is there another way to hold the toothbrush? As your child thinks this through, she can start sequencing the steps involved, giving her alien a clear ‘how to do it’ worksheet. You’d then review her work – perhaps suggesting that she swap some steps or replace them with others. And finally, your child can write out the finished version with proper grammar and spelling.
If your child needs a bit of extra help developing her writing system, consider consulting a specialist.
The right specialist can create a custom care plan (with new strategies and tools) to help your child harness her strengths and improve her writing. At The Ed Psych Practice, we offer face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:
- Phone: +44 (0) 78 3344 7356
- E-mail: Office@TheEdPsych.com
Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.
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