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Some children are returning to school after more than two months in lockdown

Make writing a positive experience and don’t force it, experts say

A team of experts at the University of Exeter have given their top tips for parents to support their children’s writing as they begin to return to school following more than two months of lockdown.

Many parents have recently spent their time adjusting to teaching their child at home, some balancing it with working from home or other commitments. Having changed the teaching of grammar and writing in the UK schooling system, Professor of Education, Debra Myhill and her team, have recommended some of their top tips to help support children’s writing as they return to school.

Professor Myhill, said: “Parents play a key part in a child’s development and this has become increasingly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown with many of them taking on a more full-time teaching role within their home. Whilst children will be returning to school in the coming months, parents will be key in supporting their child’s return to learning.”

Their advice is:

1. Make writing a positive experience and don’t force it – there is nothing worse for a child than feeling writing is drudgery!

2. Consider writing about things that have real relevance to your child. You could capitalise on the pandemic experience and perhaps capture thoughts and feelings as a historical record: a blog on lockdown; stories about lockdown experiences; an information leaflet on social distancing; making a time-capsule with records of the pandemic experience; writing as though you were a grandparent and remembering this period of your childhood… This writing could be the historical sources of the future.

3. If your child is really reluctant to write (and we know lots are!), consider writing something together. This can be really positive with younger children especially. Talk about your ideas together, ask your child questions about what ideas, what images what words you might use in your writing. As you write, try to scribe your child’s ideas as much as possible and talk about the choices they are making – but don’t impose too many of your own ideas! Perhaps get them to write a sentence and then you write a sentence. But even if you scribe it all, don’t underestimate the learning value of sharing the composing of piece of writing together. Teachers rarely have time to do this one to one in school, so as a parent you can really help here.

4. Link drawing and writing: getting children to draw the characters they have in a story; or drawing all the things that are in a dragon’s castle, and then encourage them to label them with descriptive phrases (blade-sharp teeth; a vase of wilting lilies). Avoid talking about using ‘better’ words, but do push for words that really work to describe the precise details of what your child can see in his or her imagination of these characters or objects.

5. When responding to your child’s writing, focus first on ideas and communication, and attend to spelling and punctuation later. When revising writing, look first at how well the writing conveys its ideas – the descriptions, the structure, how it engages with the potential readers… Treat spelling and punctuation as a proof-reading process.

6. Read with your children and talk about the reading. Reading is an imaginative and language resource for writing.


The team has worked towards improving the support available for children so that they are able to meet national standards for writing. Since 2008, Debra’s research has developed a new approach which links grammatical choice with shaping meaning in writing. This has changed the professional understanding of the role of grammar in writing; changed teachers’ practices in the teaching of writing and shaped the design of commercial and non-commercial training and teaching materials.

Through the use of free online resources, expert led workshops and keynote speeches, amongst other things, the team in Exeter has worked towards helping teachers to support the development of young people’s writing.

Date: 1 June 2020

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