How Can I Help My Dyslexic Child Get Their Ideas Down on Paper?
Updated: Mar 12
This is a very common problem for a dyslexic learner and one that many parents find more difficult to help their child with. However, your child can become a better writer and find it easier to get their ideas down on paper if you help them learn a specific process, which I will outline a bit later.
At the outset, the most pressing problem can be that your child is actually very reluctant to write at all – perhaps because they have ‘failed’ at this and so they have ‘learnt’ that they can’t do it ( we should always be mindful of what someone is actually learning as opposed to what we think we are teaching them!).So, your first job is to prove that they can be a writer.
First: Just establish a bit of writing fluency before going any further. Do fun things such as ‘how many words can you write down in 2 minutes about …..’ and then choose something they are interested in, perhaps astronauts, dragons or pets? Tell them that spelling doesn’t matter – just write down as many words as possible. Read them back together, but don’t correct anything just praise them for the number of words and the quality of them. The point of this exercise is to boost confidence and prove they have something to say.
Another fun exercise I did this week was to get a child to list out 10 animals. Then , they took each animal and wrote a funny sentence about them, some using alliteration ( the snake slithers over the sand), some using simile ( the elephant was like a scared mouse) and some using adjectives. This was very useful to show that particular child that she could write a lot in a fairly short space of time – something she was adamant she couldn’t do.
These exercises have been inspired by Pie Corbett and his work on improving writing.
Second: Take some time with the above step, don’t be in a rush to move on before you have established that writing can be fun and not stressful. Once you are ready, you can now start to break down the writing process for your child so that they can get their ideas down on paper. I am going to take you through 6 steps that I use with all my learners (ranging from age 6 – 16).
Verbally talk about the subject your child is writing about with them. They may find it helpful to try and mentally picture what they want to write about. As you both come up with good words to use, write them down in a ‘brainstorming box’. To help you brainstorm ideas, generate questions about the subject using the 5 key questioning words of When, Where, Why, What, How and Who. See if your child can also come up with a few questions to ask themselves about a subject. If you consistently do this, in the end your child will generate their own questions but this takes time so be prepared to do most of it at first.
Step 2: Mind Map
Now you can start to use a mind map to write down the ideas you have been coming up with verbally. In a mind map, the topic goes in the centre and your ideas come out of this on ‘legs’. You don’t have to worry what this looks like, it is just a piece of paper with your ideas scattered on to it. There are 2 big advantages for dyslexic learners when using a mind map; 1) you end up with a ‘picture’ showing all of your ideas and 2) it decreases the strain on their working memory ( see my earlier post ‘Is Your Child Working Badly or is it Working Memory?’).
Step 3: Organise the Ideas.
Now we need to put some order into the mind map chaos! You can see all of the ideas in one place, so it is easy to spot where ideas are very similar or connected to each other. On a fresh piece of paper, put together another mind map from the first one but this time group all similar ideas together. You can use a different colour for each group if you like. Your mind map doesn’t have to contain lots of words, it could be pictures as well like the one below.
Step 4: Number the Points and Paragraphs.
Look at one group of ideas now. Decide which point sums up what the rest of them are about and put this as No1 ( as it will be the topic sentence). Then number all the other points ( this will be the order you put them in within the paragraph). Then do the same for all the other groups. Once you have done this, decide which order you are going to put the groups into and perhaps label these A,B,C and so on.
Step 5: Write It Up.
Now it is time to write up the piece, following your mind map. This is now going to be a fairly easy process because all the thinking and structure has already been done. Some children benefit from help with starting sentences here, but I often find that they are in a ‘flow’ now and can do this themselves.
Step 6 : Check It.
Do not be tempted to skip this step as it is vital for our dyslexic learners. Just get them to check for one thing at a time but make sure they cover:
Grammar (especially capital letters) and do the sentences make sense?
Get your child to become aware of mistakes they ‘usually’ make and specifically check for those ( some children miss words out or miss endings of words, you will get to know your own child’s uniqueness here.)
Can they use better vocabulary anywhere?
Can they vary how the sentences have been started?
I have found that you have to make processes explicit for a dyslexic learner and once they learn the steps to go through for writing this becomes less of a problem for them. I would love to hear about how you have got on with using this process for your child , click here to contact me.
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