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.
Our Writing SOS experts answer your questions about writing motivation, handwriting, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, technology, and more.
To learn from the experts on how to help your child with reading, see our Q&A video series Reading SOS.
Click to jump ahead to each question and answer:
Question: How can story workshops help inspire kids who don’t like writing?
Children’s author Carmen Agra Deedy (Martina the Beautiful Cockroach) shares how she engages kids during writing workshops. She starts by working through the beginning-middle-end of a story out loud with the kids.
Question: How can I help my child figure out what to write about?
Children’s author Carmen Agra Deedy (Martina the Beautiful Cockroach) has some ideas on how to jumpstart ideas for young writers.
Question: How do I help my child organize their creative ideas?
Children’s author Carmen Agra Deedy (Martina the Beautiful Cockroach) shares tips for helping your child organize their writing. Start by talking the story through — the process of refining, and telling and retelling a story helps to make it stronger.
Question: How can I get my child to understand how important revising is in writing?
Children's author Carmen Agra Deedy (Martina the Beautiful Cockroach) talks about the revision process and why that stage is so important in writing.
Question: What are some everyday things I can do to help my child’s writing skills?
Literacy specialist Kyley Pulphus encourages parents to make writing fun and purposeful. With her own daughter, she sees more enthusiasm for writing when asking her to write lists, letters, emails, greeting cards, and text messages.
Question: What’s the most important writing skill to encourage in my child?
Ideas, organization, and clarifying, rich details are all important in writing, but literacy specialist Kyley Pulphus emphasizes voice when working with young writers. She encourages kids to write in their own unique voice, and shares “mentor texts” by writers from different backgrounds — authors like Jason Reynolds. Kyley talks about how writers use slang and dialect or mix languages to give their writing a natural, authentic voice.
Question: My child says she hates writing, but she has a wonderful imagination. How do I help her get comfortable with writing down her ideas?
How can a parent help their child who has a lot of a great ideas but resists writing them down? Literacy specialist Kyley Pulphus suggests a few ways for parents to encourage their children to find comfort and expression in writing.
Question: My son has lost his enthusiasm for writing. How can I help?
How can a parent help their child who has lost their love of writing reengage their enthusiasm? Literacy specialist Kyley Pulphus suggests a few ways for parents to make writing fun and take the pressure off of being perfect.
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.
Question: How can technology help my child with writing?
Curriculum and Technology Integration Coach Mike Carvella says that some kids struggle with the physical act of writing and others with organizing ideas and revising their drafts. Built-in writing tools like dictation and the ability to add pictures and other graphics can help kids improve their writing and enjoy it more.
Question: How do I encourage my deaf child to write more at home?
Dr. Hannah Dostal, an expert in Deaf education and literacy, says that writing opens up additional opportunities for deaf children to communicate with family, friends, and their community. Writing also reinforces the connection between language (signed and spoken) and print. Help your child to see that we write for a reason, and that there are many different kinds of writing. Give your child lots of interesting and positive experiences with writing. It could be as simple as signing your name to a thank-you card or adding a note to a family calendar. And build on your child's interests — if they love comics, encourage them to create their own. (Presented by Dr. Hannah Dostal, interpreted by Dr. Leala Holcomb)
More on writing motivation
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.
More on spelling
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.
More on word study
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.
More on vocabulary
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.
More on writing organization
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.
More on handwriting
Meet our experts
Mike Carvella is a Curriculum and Technology Integration Coach for Oak Ridge City Schools in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He was an elementary classroom teacher for 17 years before moving into his current role. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; an M.S. Ed. with a concentration in Urban and Multicultural education from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and an Ed. S. in Technology Management and Administration from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Mike is a trustee and co-author for the National Education Association’s Leaders for Just Schools program. Prior to moving into this role, he trained educators around the country on the NEA’s diversity, social justice, and cultural competence curricula for 10 years. In 2015 Mr. Carvella was the Tennessee awardee of the NEA’s Award for Teaching Excellence. This award enabled him to travel, along with other state winners, to Peru to meet with teachers and business leaders (and crossed off a “bucket-list” item by visiting Machu Picchu). Mike and his wife Jennifer have two amazing children, two dogs, and a cat. In those rare moments when he can find the time, he likes to play guitar.
Carmen Agra Deedy
Carmen Agra Deedy is a New York Times bestselling author and has been writing and traveling around the world telling stories for more than 20 years. Her books, including 14 Cows for America, The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet, The Yellow Star, and Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, have received numerous awards and honors. Born in Havana, Cuba, she came to the United States as a refugee and like most immigrants sees the world from multiple perspectives. Carmen has spent the past 20 years writing and telling stories. She has been an invited speaker at venues as varied as The American Library Association, Refugees International, The International Reading Association, Columbia University, The Smithsonian Institute, TED, The National Book Festival, and the Kennedy Center. In those 20 years, Carmen has told stories to hundreds of thousands of school children. They remain her favorite audiences. To learn more about Carmen's life, books, and her thoughts about the power of stories, see our video interview.
Kyley is the founder and principal of We Scribblin', a PK-12 consulting group that helps develop strong and thoughtful writers and writing teachers. Kyley is an award-winning children’s film writer/director. After working in children’s television in Los Angeles, she returned to New Orleans to pursue a career in education as a classroom teacher and teacher coach. Kyley was also a teacher consultant for the Greater New Orleans Writing Project, and was the founding program director at 826 New Orleans, the youth writing nonprofit. Under her stewardship, Kyley supported thousands of young people in strengthening their writing skills. She oversaw the publishing of 30 books of youth writing, worked with dozens of teachers, and facilitated many professional development workshops. Kyley is currently pursing her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction with a Literacy Education focus.
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: