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How to Write Clearly

How to Write Clearly

There seems to be two main concerns among homeschool moms (besides the ever-present “how do I get all of this done”) — math and writing. Perhaps our anxiety in these two areas stems from subtle doubts about our own math and writing abilities. Our fears tend to drive us deep into the curriculum maze — sampling nearly everything, liking nothing, and going deeper in debt!

What if writing, in particular, was actually very simple? What if the key was — much as we learn to walk by walking, or we learn to talk by talking, or learn to read by reading — simply to learn to write by writing?

Those familiar with Dr. Ruth Beechick will be quite familiar with this phrase and the natural method of learning to write it connotes. Many of Dr. Beechick’s ideas in this area are summarized in her book, How to Write Clearly: The Meaning Approach.

A long history of research has shown that grammar is not the route to good writing. The reverse order is more realistic: students should first learn to write acceptably and then study grammar. They can understand it then, and it will provide the vocabulary needed for reading and for discussing grammar and writing. That can begin in the teen years. Before that, students learn a lot of grammar, anyway, but by the meaning approach used in this book. They, of course, must learn the mechanics of punctuation, capitalization, and spelling as they write throughout the elementary school years.

There is quite a punch packed in that one paragraph. To numerate:

  1. First have your students learn to write — by writing. Have them write something every day.
  2. Make sure they learn the mechanics of writing in their younger years — punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. This can easily be accomplished if they are required to write something every day, whether that be copywork, dictation, or an original work.
  3. As the students learn to write, they will be learning grammar.
  4. Once they have learned to write, they will be prepared to discuss it — learn the correct terms and vocabulary for what they have already been using.

This is really the way we learn to do most things. No one teaches us to stand on our two feet, balance, put one foot forward, etc. We learn to walk. Then we learn that what we have done is to stand, balance, etc.

Of course there is more to writing than grammar — or there is if the writer is a good writer! How to Write Clearly starts with the message: finding a topic, getting organized, outlining, etc.

Then we begin writing, learning how to open a work, using abstract and concrete terms, and defining words for the reader.

With the purpose and plan clearly in mind, we move on to sentences — what constitutes a sentence, linking sentences, comma usage, using active and passive voice, incorporating rhythm and sound, and correcting “sick” sentences — those that fell apart in the writing and no longer convey the meaning we intended.

Learning to choose our words is covered next, focusing on tone, word pictures, and a variety of words that cause problems — long words, redundant words, and pronouns that have lost their antecedent. Correct usage is also discussed in this section.

Up to this point, you can see that the focus is clearly on the person who will ultimately be reading the work! A good writer should have as his ultimate goal serving his audience.

Finally, there is a very interesting section on how English came to us.

As a family that is firmly in the natural writing camp, there are two books that are required reading when it comes to language arts in the upper levels. One is The Elements of Style. The other is How to Write Clearly.

 

Additional Resources

You’ll find a variety of writing helps based on the natural writing method in our Writing Helps category.