In this final installment in the Helping Struggling Writers series, I’ll offer more tips to accommodate writing problems.
Spelling dictionaries are easier to use than conventional dictionaries because they only list words—no definitions.They are available from many publishers, including Educators Publishing Service, which carries My Word Book and several levels of Words I Use When I Write.
Franklin makes many kinds of handheld electronic dictionaries, which are the size of calculators. Type in the first few letters of a word, and the dictionary will make suggestions. It interprets more “creative” spelling than word prediction software can. The speaking dictionaries are great for the voracious reader who wants to know how to pronounce the words and for the dyslexic who wants to hear the word to help choose correctly. There are Spanish-English electronic dictionaries available as well.
Accommodations for Composition
For my first big research papers in middle school, I remember writing facts on dozens and dozens index cards and sorting them out across the floor. I enjoyed amassing so much information, but with my slow handwriting, this took too much time and I got bogged down in details.
Using dictation software to dictate ideas and facts. Put each idea on a new paragraph. Print the content, cut apart ideas, spread the strips out, and organize them, all without having to push a pencil.
Later I learned how sketch out the connection of ideas and supporting details using a graphic organizer or a web. Personally I prefer a web—I don’t always have the same number of ideas as the graphic organizer wants me to have and my words don’t always fit in the spaces!
To create a web, you briefly write each topic and circle it. (Ideas fit in circles if you draw the circles after you write!) Then surrounding each idea, you write related facts, each with a small circle around it. Then you use lines to show connections.
Write the web on a huge piece of paper, or better yet, on a whiteboard, which makes erasing easy. Then take a photo. If the whiteboard gets smudged, don’t fret. I find rewriting the web is a great way to think it through a project and improve it. For a chapter or section that’s hard to organize, I may redraw the web several times to get the organization I like best.
Encourage your student to think of this as a craft. Many great writers have learning disabilities, but have a talent for storytelling, for organizing thoughts, for compelling phrasing. These tools can help them reach their goal.
I know of five programs to let you draw webs on your computer or iPad. These could be paired with dictation software to help those with dysgraphia or physical disabilities.
- Kidspiration and Inspiration software runs on both Windows and Mac (they also have iPhone and iPad versions). You type the phrases, it draws the circles, and you point, drag, and click to draw lines. Once your web is complete, these programs will convert them into outlines. Both offer 30-day free trials.
- Creately does similar work online, and it’s free.
- eDraw is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux users, and it also is free.
- WriteWell is a web-based tool that lets your student organize their writing projects visually. Onscreen, students can work on with one chunk of a document at a time, add sources, notes, and links. Templates can help provide structure, and projects can be exported as Word documents, PDFs, or to Google Drive. Both free and paid versions are available. (Thanks to Alisha Gratehouse for recommending it.)
Think Outside the Box
Your child can be gifted but have trouble with writing. In his book Learning Outside the Lines, David Cole describes his passion for sculpting (he made his first metal sculpture at age 4.) The assignment for his senior English project was “explicate your writing process.” He responded in metal. Later, he submitted the sculpture to Brown University to answer the application question, “What in your life has prepared you for the college experience?” and was admitted.
In homeschool, we can let our children creatively communicate their knowledge, rather than forcing them into an established system. How have you let your child express what he has learned? Please answer in the comment section below.