Writing provides an opportunity for us to communicate with people we may never meet face to face. Helping children become effective writers will equip them to share their ideas and their feelings—and perhaps even influence others.

However, many people—children and adults alike—find writing to be a stressful challenge. Writing instruction can loom as an even more daunting task. 

Writing can be distressing, because it is an extremely complex process in which people must tend to many tasks simultaneously: form an idea, put the idea into words, spell the words correctly, capitalize and punctuate appropriately, and shape letters (or find them on a keyboard). In addition, while working on one sentence, the mind is probably racing ahead to consider the next one!

A key to successful writing—and to successful writing instruction—is to break the writing process into manageable parts in order to focus on one step at a time. This can dispel the panic or confusion that can otherwise paralyze the overburdened brain. The process approach provides a way to complete a writing task with minimal frustration. 

A word of caution regarding writing instruction: Teachers often replace the challenge of writing with the security of worksheets. Completing a worksheet is quicker and easier than writing a composition, and the worksheet is easier for a parent or teacher to evaluate. However, in the vast majority of cases, completing a worksheet is not writing. A worksheet may help to hone a particular skill, but unless it allows students to express their own ideas, it cannot truly be considered writing. 

The bulk of language arts time is best spent in genuine communication—listening, speaking, reading, writing, or thinking. The most effective way for people to improve their writing skill is to write. It is important to practice all steps of the writing process; however, students might not go through the entire process with each writing experience. 

The following tips for writing instruction apply to writers of all ages and abilities. Most of the tips relate directly to the writing process. While Tips #1-3 may not appear to involve writing instruction, they in fact establish a vital foundation on which to build. 

1. From the time your children are toddlers—or even before—show them that you value communication. Listen attentively when they talk to you. Expect them to listen attentively when you talk to them. When you are communicating something important, be sure you have eye contact with them. Be sure you are looking at them, and be sure they are looking at you. Your children's perception of your attitude toward communication will carry over from listening and speaking to reading and writing. 

2. Do some writing yourself. This serves a dual purpose. First, it provides experience with the writing process so that you will be a more effective guide for your children. Second, if your children see you write for a variety of purposes, they will understand that you value writing, and they will begin to identify situations in which writing will work for them as well. 

3. Expose children to a variety of genres—stories, poems, non-fiction articles, essays, plays, etc.—both for reading and for writing. Read to your children, and read with your children—even when they are able to read independently. 

Reading provides excellent preparation for writing. Sometimes a piece that has been read serves as a direct model for writing. Other times the influence is more subtle. All aspects of material read—content, structure, sentence patterns, imagery, sound—remain in the storehouse of the mind, often below consciousness but available for use, perhaps in a composition. 

Students should write in every subject, not just in English class. Writing provides a chance for students to demonstrate their knowledge, expand their understanding, and clarify their thinking. Following the same writing process in all subjects will help students see writing not as a meaningless drill but as a tool that will serve them well in a variety of situations throughout their life.