A Reading Rockets special video series

Writing SOS: Expert Answers to Family Questions About Writing

In this special Reading Rockets video series, experts answer real questions from families about writing and how to support their children's literacy at home.

The Writing SOS video series was produced in partnership with the National Education Association. 

COVID-19 has disrupted regular writing instruction for our K-3 kids. Families want to step in and help fill some of the gaps, but that can be challenging. That's where Writing SOS comes in — the help you need, right now!

Our experts are ready to answer your questions about handwriting, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, writing motivation, technology, and more.

Learn about our Writing SOS expert.

Question: How can I get my child interested in writing?

A parent is wondering what to do about the weekly battles she and her third grader have about writing assignments. Writing expert William Van Cleave talks about the importance of showing enthusiasm for the topic children are writing about and helping them get their ideas organized using graphic organizers and lists.

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Question: My kindergartner still says "mouses." Should I correct her?

A parent wonders whether to correct her kindergartner when she says “mouses.” Writing expert William Van Cleave explains that the child is showing that she understands how plural nouns work, but that she hasn’t yet learned that “mouse” doesn’t follow typical spelling patterns. He recommends pausing, saying the word the right way, asking the child to repeat it, and moving on. It will take some repetition, he notes, but will help her learn irregular words.


Question: How can learning to spell help my child?

A parent wonders why children need to learn to spell if we have spell checkers. Writing expert William Van Cleave explains that the link between spelling and literacy is important, especially when there are multiple ways to write a sound such as /k/, like in the words cat, click, and kite. He also notes that learning how to spell words automatically frees up space to concentrate on the ideas for writing, rather than just how the words are spelled.

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Question: Should grammar still be taught in school?

A parent asks whether grammar should still be taught in school. Writing expert William Van Cleave explains that understanding how sentences work helps to improve both reading comprehension and writing, especially when we want students to express themselves through rich language. In other words, the answer is yes — grammar matters!


Question: Is there value to having my child learn prefixes and suffixes?

A parent asks if learning prefixes and suffixes is helpful for children. Writing expert William Van Cleave explains that prefixes and suffixes are useful to learn because they help children understand meaning, build vocabulary, and learn how to spell and decode.

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Question: How can I get my third grader to use better words in his speaking and writing?

A parent asks what he might do to help his third grader use more interesting words when he is speaking and writing. Writing expert William Van Cleave explains that children may choose easy words that they know how to spell. He recommends that this parent encourage his son to use the words he is thinking about even if he isn’t sure how to spell them. He also encourages parents to talk about words with children so that they can choose the best word to express their idea.

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Question: How can I help my child organize their ideas to help them write?

How can a parent help his child who has a lot of a great ideas but trouble organizing them? Writing expert William Van Cleave suggests a few pre-writing steps to help children organize their ideas. First, it may help for parents to write the ideas down so that handwriting and spelling aren’t the focus, especially for young children. In addition, it may help to make a list of the ideas that can be cut up so the pieces can be moved around. With some pre-writing planning and organization in place, the ideas will flow more smoothly once the writing begins.

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Question: With today's technology is handwriting instruction important?

A parent asks if children today still need handwriting instruction since they do so much writing on computers and devices. Writing expert William Van Cleave explains that children need direct and explicit handwriting instruction in order to link letter names, the way letters look, and their sounds. These important connections help them with their reading, spelling, and writing, which is why handwriting instruction is so important in primary years.

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Meet our expert

William Van Cleave

William Van Cleave was in private practice as an educational consultant (W.V.C.ED) whose specialties included morphology and written expression. An internationally recognized speaker with an interactive, hands-on presentation style, William presented on effective teaching practices at conferences and schools both in the United States and abroad since 1995. Recent projects included consulting with three schools as part of a literacy grant in Montana; participating on the MTSS Writing Standards Committee for the State of Pennsylvania; implementing several Trainer of Trainers projects using his sentence structure approach; and writing a series of workbooks and a companion book on developing composition skills to complement his sentence approach. The author of three books, including Writing Matters and Everything You Want To Know & Exactly Where to Find It, as well as a number of educational tools and activities, William served as a classroom teacher, tutor, and administrator in the private school arena at various points in his career. William was a widely respected and beloved leader in our literacy community, and his work impacted the lives of so many. He passed away unexpectedly on April 20, 2021. He will be missed, and remembered.

In remembrance of William Van Cleave:

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