Low and High-Tech Writing Helpers

Writing is a complex activity that involves short-term memory, visual memory for spelling, fine-motor skill, executive functioning, and other skills. Tics, ADHD, and Dysgraphia can make the various components of writing a challenge. There are many ways to help your child get their creative ideas down, before they forget what they wanted to say.

  • Your child may have trouble getting started. Help him brainstorm.  If assigned the topic “what I did last summer” ask him to just tell you the story. When he is done you may tell him, “OK, now write what you just said. “  It’s not uncommon to get the response, “What did I say? I forgot.”  In that case, you might act as his scribe as he re-tells the story with your prompts, or tape his story-telling on a cassette or digital recorder.
  • First have your child get the story down. Ignore mistakes in grammar and spelling. That’s too much information to juggle in short-term memory.  Then revise for grammar only. Then revise for spelling only.  Have him do a final proofread before handing in.
  • Have your child write down ideas, adjectives, or thesis statements on index cards.  He can then shuffle them around and reject some.  The software program Kidspiration (for elementary school) and Inspiration (for middle and high-school) works as a graphic organizer and writing tool, is relatively inexpensive and can be purchased online.
  • Use a portable word processor. The Alpha Smart Neo is relatively inexpensive, weighs about 2 lbs, and no battery charging is required.  It is appropriate for younger elementary school children, fits easily into a backpack and can be transported to and from school. It automatically saves files, and connects directly to a printer or to your home computer for editing and printing.
  • Your child can learn to type using Type To Learn, Jumpstart Typing, or Mavis Beacon (better for older children). Typing can be taught as early as 2nd grade. Ten-minutes a day for 6 weeks will be sufficient to get them comfortable using a word processor.  (Middle and high-schoolers should get Xeroxed notes until their speed is proficient for typing notes during class.)
  • While your child is learning to type, he may want to use Speech to Text software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking for PC’s or iListen for Macs. The child talks into a microphone and his words appear on the computer screen.
  • Word prediction software such as Co:writer provides a drop down list of words from which a child can choose.  This speeds up typing, and helps with spelling and vocabulary.  It can be purchased as an add-on to the Alpha Smart or can be loaded onto your PC.
  • Franklin electronics (about $20) offers gadgets that will define a word and provide the correct spelling of words entered phonetically. Spell check is also available on the Alpha Smart and your child should habitually use it on the computer.
  • The Palm Z22 ($99)  is a PDA that your child can use if he has trouble writing homework into a planner and managing schedules.  If your child has a cell phone he can text his homework to himself or leave himself a voicemail.
  • Stock up on word games like Scrabble and Boggle to help build skills and associate making words with “fun!”

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