Teach practical writing skills

Published Oct. 18, 1993|Updated Oct. 10, 2005

Parents often assume that children who earn good grades in English or creative writing will have no trouble with everyday writing tasks, such as filling out an application for their first job or writing a thank-you note.

However, judging success in school only by good grades is short-sighted. Of equal importance is helping youngsters develop the strategies and skills necessary to succeed in life beyond the school environment. Both measures of success are valuable, but the first without the latter can result in a child who cannot achieve independence.

Consider the life-skills required of job applicants. Candidates are judged not by who or what they are but how they demonstrate that, both visually and audibly. What they write creates a visual picture of them.

In order to get a job interview, they must write a succinct yet attention-getting letter. After the interview, they must leave behind a written application, which can contradict a well-spoken impression with a jumbled or simplistic representation of thought on paper.

Tomorrow's job candidate needs more than today's school success to earn the type of job that will lead to success in life, but schools can't do it all. As schools take on the task of teaching the "how-to's," parents must ensure that children have opportunities to use those skills in daily life. Here are just a few examples:

Writing notes: Have your child help you draft notes to the teacher, such as absence excuses or permission for field trips. In the evening, ask your child to write reminder notes to family members for the next day, such as "Don't forget I have a piano lesson at 4 this afternoon." As both a writing skill and a social skill, help your child write thank-you notes for gifts or special occasions or in appreciation for assistance on a project.

Writing letters: Ask your child to write letters regularly to a family member, a pen pal or an out-of-town friend. Help your child by discussing correct letter forms and correct parts of the letter that are not "private stuff" or assist your child in drafting a letter requesting information needed to complete a school project.

Writing lists: Most adults create a to-do list for themselves every day yet we forget that this is a skill that must be taught and not assumed. During the week, your child's list should incorporate school, homework, outside activities and family responsibilities.

On the weekends, have your child write a list for running errands with you, such as: Pick up dry cleaning, go to library, get present for birthday party, buy more notebook paper. Checking off the items on the list also provides an important sense of accomplishment.

Writing for applications: Before older children apply for a job, help by filling out a sample application. You might ask for an application form from your office or make one up for practice. Make sure your child understands all the "fill-in-the-blank" information and practice writing short narrative paragraphs for "describe" or "explain" sections. Help draft a letter of application and a thank-you letter for the interview.

Scripps Howard News Service