Four tips for teaching students to write clearly

Updated: Nov 17, 2021



Teach your students how to write clearly


Being able to write clearly is an important skill for children to learn in school. Clear writing, which is defined as concise, well-organized, and easy to understand, is an important skill that enables children to communicate their thoughts and feelings in a way that is easy for other people to understand.


It’s not easy to raise children who can write clearly. We all know that. But in this modern age, when the written word is more important than ever, teaching your kids how to write clear, effective sentences can give them a huge advantage when it comes to taking on the world.


Here are four ideas you can teach your students to help them learn how to write clearly, so they can better express themselves through written word.


1. Have them write about things they love.


It turns out that learning to write well is a lot like learning to play any sport: it's a lot easier if you're doing something you enjoy. When we learn to write, we realize we already know how — we've been writing for years. We write lists and labels and instructions and emails and stories and poems and songs, but because no one ever told us that those were "writing," we don't realize that's what we've been doing.


I don't want to suggest that every kid wants to write the Great American Novel or wants to be a professional writer. That's not true at all. But almost every kid has something he or she is curious about, something s/he loves.


Sometimes it's not even a person but an activity. Just think of students who are really into baseball or soccer — or a place — think of students who are really into the beach or the mountains. Or maybe it's a video game or a TV show or a movie, or some other subject related to their own interests.


If a student loves video games, have her write a story about the video game characters.


If she loves animals, have her write an essay about what pets teach us about human nature.


If he loves drawing, have him write an essay about what makes his drawings so great.


When you write about something you love, your enthusiasm shows in your words. And your readers will pick up on that enthusiasm and feel it themselves. In general, the most important thing in a student's writing is not necessarily the subject matter, but rather, the enthusiasm in the writing.


Have students write about things that interest them. If they love video games, then let them write about video games. If they love sports, then let them write about sports.


2. Teach them how to use their vocabulary.


One way to help young writers is to teach them how to use their vocabulary.

We learn words by using them. If you try to memorize a list of words, you'll forget most of them within days.


But if you have an assignment that requires you to use those words — to write a paper or an e-mail or instructions for assembling furniture — you'll remember the words better because they are now associated with something you care about.


Start with the meaning of words. It's not just that you should be able to put the right word in the right place, though that's important too. It's also important to know what the words mean, and what words related to it mean, and how they differ from each other.


I know there are courses that teach students how to look up definitions and how to use word lists. But no one should need courses like that; it's like learning to ride a bicycle by taking a course on pedaling.


Good writers frequently use precise language, but precise language is also precise thinking. It is an error to believe that students must first understand a new idea before they can write about it. If they already know the words that express it, they can write about it before they have a complete understanding. They may go on to revise their writing as their understanding improves.


It is important to teach vocabulary for this reason, but also because the process of learning new words helps develop memory skills and eases the acquisition of knowledge generally. In order to acquire a new word, students must be able to hear its definition, but the connection between vocabulary and writing goes beyond definitions. Students who have been taught how to choose precise words understand better what those words mean.


A vocabulary is a map of an idea landscape. If you don't know the meaning of a word, you don't know where you are in that landscape. And if you don't know neighboring words, you can get lost in that landscape very quickly and not even know it.


Teaching children this kind of vocabulary isn't about helping them to show off how much they know; it's about helping them find their way around in an idea space that is new and unfamiliar to them. When they do start using their vocabulary effectively, there will be plenty of opportunities (and pressure) for showing off.


3. Teach them how to form questions.


Asking good questions is a skill that requires practice. It is often more useful to have a student try to formulate his or her own question than to answer a question that has been posed. A good way to help students learn how to ask questions is to get them to formulate their own writing problems and then ask themselves what they need in order to address those problems. For example, a student, after reading a short story, might respond to these questions:

  • How did the author create suspense?

  • What clues did she use?

  • How can I make my writing more suspenseful?

When students formulate their own questions, they get the opportunity to think more deeply about what they are doing as writers and how they can improve their work. They also get the chance to develop their own ideas about why something is effective or ineffective in a piece of writing.


Asking questions is an important skill for students to develop. However, asking only "what" or "where" questions isn't enough. Students need to ask more complex questions in order to analyze constructively the information they are reading.


These four steps can help students move beyond simple yes/no questions and write more complex, higher-order thinking questions:

  1. Look for inferences

  2. Consider alternatives

  3. Seek evidence

  4. Challenge assumptions

Help students improve their writing skills and thinking by teaching them how to formulate and answer their own questions, and to use specific concepts such as inference, critical thinking, problem solving, and cognitive development. Encourage students not only to answer the questions but also to think critically about the answers and be able to explain them logically.


4. Encourage your students to write more often


The more you write, the better you get. There is no way around this, and there is no shortcut. Writing more means writing badly more — and for children (and many adults), writing badly is harder than writing well. It's more embarrassing to show someone what you've written if it's not very good, and it takes courage to keep going when what you produce is not up to your own standards.


And yet: The more you write, the better you get. If your students are like most people, they will need to be encouraged to write more often.


If you're like most teachers, you've spent months over the course of your career trying to help your students improve their writing skills — and probably spent hundreds of dollars on curriculum guides, workbooks, and classroom sets of paper.


But if you want to create great writers, there's something more important than any of that; encourage them to write more often.


Writing is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. The less you use it, the weaker it gets. That's true for every skill we have: physical, mental, or social. So if we want our students to become better writers, we need to give them opportunities to practice writing—more than just occasionally filling out an opinion survey or essay exam.


If you want your students to become strong writers, don't just grade their papers and assign them books to read. Help them find opportunities to write outside of school: for their church or temple or community group; for themselves; even just for fun. The most important thing you can do is provide your students with lots and lots of practice writing.


Every student deserves to write well


Once upon a time, people communicated by word of mouth. Then came letters and postcards. With the advent of electronic mail, telephones, and text messages, it’s hard to remember what words are written on paper, except for formal documents like contracts.


Many youngsters today do not learn how to put thoughts on paper; they rely on technology to communicate. By learning how to write well, your students will build self-esteem, gain confidence in speaking, and perform better academically because writing skills can improve one’s ability to communicate ideas clearly. Writing also builds brain power.


Developing writing skills in students opens a wealth of opportunities for them. Writing helps expressive, creative and expressive skills in children, allowing them to communicate in several ways. They learn to organize ideas, problem-solve and create dialogue among others. When developing these skills with kids, it’s important that they feel comfortable to express themselves freely.


Your students will learn how to write well, clear, and with proper grammar and punctuation. They will gain confidence in writing and may even gain confidence in speaking.