The key to being a good writer is …

Here I am ending my 25th year in the world of education. Yikes. I don’t feel old enough to write that sentence. Year TWENTY as a high school classroom teacher is in the books in a few weeks. As I sit here grading final papers on Frankenstein and Othello and reading reflections from my freshmen and sophomores about their year, I am reminded of the key to being a good writer—be a good reader.

On the way to work this morning, I was making up a new grammar quiz for my freshmen. They were getting an assessment similar to the grammar section on their exam: 20 unpunctuated sentences where they had to label the coordinating conjunctions, dependent markers, conjunctive adverbs, and relative markers, punctuate the sentences correctly, and then write the punctuation templates for each sentence in order. My sixth grade daughter wanted to help me last week, and she wrote the first handful of sentences. I admired her work as I made the answer key and drove in; I had to actually “dumb down” her sentences because they were too complex—she used too many PTs (not knowing what they even are). Her writing beautifully incorporated complex and compound sentences while using specific detail. Why can she write so beautifully? It has nothing to do with her mom being an English teacher and has everything to do with her parents being readers and us believing that books should be as available as toys from the age of birth.

Go into my kids’ rooms today and you’ll see shelves of books. Walk into my house and you’ll find a wall of books that is a combination of my books, my husband’s, and my kids’. Look at the coffee table in my living and see a stack of books I’m currently reading. Head to my room, find another small bookshelf. Go into my basement, find another large bookshelf. Books are everywhere. My husband and I model reading, and when one of our kids gets stuck, we help them figure out what they can read.

We listen to Harry Potter in the car on long road trips. I buy the kids books at Scholastic Book Fairs. They have library cards. They take books, not iPads, to restaurants. For all of those reasons, my sixth grader has a real knack for writing.

Likewise, my best writers are also readers. One of my optional questions on their yearly reflections is this: I have told you what to read all year. Now, you tell me… what should I have on my summer reading list? The kids who have a recommendation almost always are getting an A in my class. They are also solid writers.

Set your child up for success early. If your kid is not little, it’s not too late. Go to the library. Help him or her find a niche. It does not matter what they read. It just matter that they read.

It also is amazing to watch their vocabulary grow because of the books they read. My husband and I marvel at our second grader almost daily. He chooses to word things in a mature way, using way harder words than he needs to. He always uses these words correctly, too. Example: He won’t say, “we were talking” … he’d say “we are communicating.”

I think all three of my children have mispronounced a word because they have only ever seen it in print; they never heard it. We make a point to NEVER make the child feel bad and compliment them on how amazing it is that know the meaning of it and remember it without having ever heard it.

So I say it again: the key to being a good writer is being a reader. ANY READER. ANY KIND OF READER. Just read.

If you really want to push your child, have him or her hold a pencil in her hand (obviously not with a library book) and encourage the child to interact with the text. Identify important lines with a quotation mark. Put a D in the margins next to a word that they don’t know the definition for. Put a “?” in the margins when something is confusing. Put an “!” in the margins when something is amazing. These are just ideas to get a start… get them interacting with the text.

You don’t need technology or anything to entice them. I actually find that students and my kids read better with old fashioned books. Get them started NOW. Because you can help them learn to write. The key to being a good writer is being a good reader.

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