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Writing

Writing is a complex skill that requires a pupil to be able to combine a number of other sub-skills all at the same time. 

Download our writing checklist (Word doc 54kb) Opening a new window - an assessment tool to help you identify a pupil's writing needs.

Learning to write

Children need to learn to write so they can:

  • access and record their learning in school
  • do their job when they are grown up
  • communicate with others both formally and informally, and
  • record information just for themselves.

Many learners with Specific Learning Difficulties find writing very difficult and often struggle because they cannot easily master and combine some of the sub-skills needed. 

To be able to write effectively children need:

  • good posture and upper body muscle control
  • good fine motor skills
  • eye hand co-ordination
  • sustained concentration
  • a wide vocabulary
  • an understanding of the relationship between the letters they write and the sounds they represent so they can spell phonetically regular words
  • a learned bank of common sight words that they can spell without having to think
  • an understanding of grammar, punctuation and presentation
  • a purpose to write for
  • ideas
  • the ability to sequence their ideas, and
  • the ability to adapt their writing style to their audience.

Children with Specific Learning Difficulties may have difficulties with working memory, visual motor integration skills, phonological or processing skills and these will all impact on their ability to write easily. Using Herts SpLD assessments can help schools to identify specific difficulties in order to plan reasonable adjustments and put interventions in place.

Removing Barriers to Writing in Class

Supporting children who have a limited range of vocabulary

If a child finds reading difficult, they are not going to be getting the same exposure to a wide-ranging vocabulary as their peer through books and reading. Support them by:

  • Exposing them to a wider range of vocabulary  - Make sure they have opportunities to hear stories being read aloud instead.  Not only will this help develop their vocabulary, but it will give them ideas for story plots and characters to use in their own writing.  Encourage them to listen to audio books - these can be borrowed free of charge from local libraries or downloaded from the Hertfordshire libraries website and eAudiobooks.   Alternatively, they can listen to books on the Oxford Owls website www.oxfordowl.co.uk whilst reading the story themselves at the same time.
  • Pre-teaching new topic specific vocabulary and provide a word mat with picture clues that they can refer to.

Supporting children with copying from the board

Children with dyslexia often find copying from the board very difficult.  This may be due to tracking issues, concentration problems, having to multi-task (read, remember, then write) or simply the mechanics of the writing process.  Help them by:

  • Keeping the amount of copying to a minimum
  • Make sure they are seated close to the board and facing it
  • Use different colours for alternate lines on the board
  • Allow them extra time for copying
  • Give them a printout/photocopy of the text that is on the board
  • Allow them to take a photo of the board on an iPad and keep it on the desk to copy from.  They will also be able to enlarge the print this way
  • Giving them an angled writing slope so that their writing is at a better angle for them to read.

Supporting children with presentation of their written work

Children with specific learning difficulties often need explicit modelling of written presentation and frequent reminders.  Having well-presented work that they can feel proud of will help boost their self esteem.

  • Provide examples of what the finished product should ideally look like
  • Allow them to write on alternate lines so there is room for editing
  • Supply Stop/Go paper to make sure they start at the margin each time or draw a green dot in the left margin showing where to start and a red dot to show where to stop
  • Supply them with paper which has shaded horizontal lines to support the correct sizing of letters
  • Provide buff coloured paper to write on in order to reduce the glare (contrast between white background and black print) that some dyslexics suffer from
  • Encourage the use of rulers for underlining (try a rolling ruler)
  • Give them a small blob of blutak to place at the end of the word they have just written to make sure they leave a space between words.  Alternatively, download the SpLD Base Spaceman spacer for them to use
  • Provide grids, templates, frames on printed sheets to guide the layout
  • Give frequent, short opportunities to focus on presentation through the giving of dictated sentences
  • Offer a range of writing tools to find the one that suits best. 

Supporting children with planning their writing

Children with dyslexia often have wonderful ideas, but have difficulty in arranging them in a logical way when writing.

Support them with:

  • Lots of oral preparation/drama before writing
  • Use 'think alouds' while modelling writing to whole class
  • Offer sentence starters
  • Text maps (see How to Teach Story Writing by Pie Corbett)
  • Practising rewriting well known stories before trying their own version, just changing some details
  • Paired writing
  • Appealing to their senses to help add detail e.g. what can you hear, smell, see?
  • Writing frames writingframes.parkfieldprimary.com, or see the SpLD Outreach Link folder for lots of examples
  • Story boards
  • Visual stimuli e.g. photos that they can sequence and then refer back to whilst writing
  • Writing key words on post-its that will remind them what to write and they can resequence
  • Recording their sentences onto a Voice Pad or Talking Tin which can then be played back to remind them
  • Recording their ideas onto Pie Corbett's Recordable Story Mountain
  • Teaching them how to Mind Map (see Tony Buzan's book Mind Maps for Kids) or the Popplet app.

Using IT to support writing

Using a laptop or an iPad can be very motivating for children with writing difficulties.  It allows them to edit their work and to end up with a well presented piece of writing.  If using an iPad for writing composition tasks, it may be preferable to plug in a separate keyboard to facilitate typing.  These can be purchased reasonably cheaply.

There are various pieces of software that are particularly useful for supporting pupils with dyslexia.

  • Clicker 7 educational software adds in extra layers of optional word processing support for pupils in the form of predictive text, personalised word banks on screen and the opportunity for the writer to hear their text read aloud to them when they insert a full-stop.  This is also available as an iPad app (clicker docs).
  • Ginger Page app helps pupils to improve accuracy and meaning by making live corrections/offering spelling and grammar alternatives to select from and reading the text back aloud.  It also features an online dictionary and thesaurus.
  • Windows Speech Recognition - in Word 2007 and 2010 Docs - allows pupils to dictate the bulk of their ideas and then edit them via the keyboard.  Go to All Programs, then click on Accessories, East of Access, Windows Speech Recognition and record using the on-screen microphone icon.
  • BBC Dancemat, English Type Junior, Touch Type Reading & Spelling (TTRS) or Nessy Fingers are fun programs that teach touch typing.
  • Mind Mapping software from ThinkBuzan (iMindMaps) based on Tony Buzan's mind mapping concept or another program called Popplets allow pupils to produce a well-presented and colourful plan that they can keep editing if they want to.

Alternative ways of recording

If a child finds writing difficult, consider offering alternative ways for them to show their knowledge and understanding:

  • Drawing a picture or a diagram with labels
  • Making a poster
  • Making a model
  • Producing a mind map
  • Making an audio recording - e.g. an interview or telling a story
  • Giving a presentation
  • Performing a song/rap or poem they have made up
  • Making a short film
  • Multiple choice questions
  • Cloze texts, or
  • Scribing for them.
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