Writing Without a Pen: Play Together to Improve Writing

The art of writing may have changed more in the past 5 years than in all of recorded history.  If one simply looks at the number of text messages sent worldwide (1.8 trillion in 2007 and more than 7 trillion in 2011) we can see the enormous amount of writing taking place in the world today. According to a series of studies, the average teenager in the US today sends between 1800-3400 texts per month. Beyond the electronic nature and novel syntax conventions of texting, it is defined by being a form of written, social communication.

In contrast, when I think about the authors of famous books, I often picture them pen in hand, sitting alone behind an enormous desk looking out over the ocean or a field covered with snow. This solitary image of a writer with pages of paper scattered over the desk, writing for a reader, is no longer an accurate portrayal. Today’s writers, and by that I mean almost everyone from best-selling authors to celebrity tweeters, are using a variety of technologies and interactive media for written communication. While some might argue  that tweeting and texting are not legitimate forms of writing, there is no question that these tools have opened up a world in which written communication is a far more common occurrence for young people than ever before.

Beyond the technology, one of the more interesting phenomena among written communication is that it tends to be more social than solitary in nature. In addition to frequent written communication seen in texts and tweets, tools or activities such as emailing, commenting on blogs, rating products on a website, and writing on a friend’s Facebook wall, are all directed at others to read. This provides parents and teachers with a great opportunity to comment and help children improve their writing skills. It also provides children with many other models for writing that they can emulate in their own written communication.

As a parent, there are a number of strategies that you can use to write together in order to improve your child’s writing skills.

  • Create a family blog. A family blog is great place to post pictures and information about what your family is doing. It can be a lot of fun when you go on a family vacation. Encourage your child to post pictures of their vacation experiences along with some written descriptions. You can model by discussing your own posts with them.
  • Text with your kids on a regular basis. If you don’t know how to text already, learn how. While texting is certainly not formal writing, there are a number of researchers who have described the use of texting and tweeting as “digitalk” and note that learning the conventions in communication skills necessary in texting and tweeting bear great resemblance to learning that of formal writing skills.
  • Write stories together. There are a number of very fun apps for younger children that provide a set of pictures for which the player needs to add the story.  And if you’re doing this together it can be great fun for you and your child and may result in a very creative story that you can later print.
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