Declutter your brain to improve your writing skills?

Christopher Paolini was 15 when he started writing Eragon, the first book in his bestselling fantasy series.

About 3/4 of employers are looking for candidates with strong written communication skills.

Harvard Business School describes how reading good writing actually impacts the circuits of our brains.

It’s easy to see how strong writing skills can open doors for people, even those who don’t plan to write for a living. But did you know that writing can help a student learn more right now? Reflective writing is a tool for laying out and examining one’s thinking. It can be helpful early in the learning process for capturing our thoughts and questions. Writing is also beneficial along the way as we start to make connections between ideas we are learning and things we have learned before. And after we master an area of learning, writing about it can help us clarify and solidify our knowledge. For this reason, writing skills are essential learning skills.

I would go so far as to say that writing can do for your thinking what a closet cleanout can do for your wardrobe.

Photo of a cluttered clothing closet with many items hanging close together. There are hat boxes on the shelf above, and other items hanging on the walls to the side.

No, wait, hear me out!

Why a closet cleanout?

I compare writing to learn to cleaning out your closet because they both involve taking things that already belong to you (sweaters or thoughts about Shakespeare), examining them, discarding the ones that don’t really work, and putting it all back together more neatly. And both processes can help you notice which things hanging around your closet/brain are useful, which need mending, and which are ready to be replaced with something new.

Oh, and both tasks can be totally overwhelming! So it helps to have help. If I don’t plan carefully, a closet cleanout could result in me turning the whole house upside down. I do my best cleaning when I have a partner, or when someone gives me a checklist to follow. One way to quickly improve writing is to give students some tools or structure. Knowing how to do the task makes it a lot easier to focus on what to write.

Examining your “wardrobe” of ideas

We think of learning as the process of taking in information. But learning is not passive. We use our existing knowledge to understand new ideas and form links between concepts. If we just keep adding new facts without organizing and connecting them, they aren’t very useful. It’s like your closet: Some old favorite items get worn all the time, but things can get shoved to the back, or buried under your winter coat. If you take some time and look at all of it, you may find some surprises!

By helping students develop strong writing skills, we give them tools to get their own thinking organized independently in the future.

One writing activity that can help us to clarify our understanding, or find out what we think about a topic, is a freewrite. In freewriting, you set a timer or other goal and write everything you can about the topic at hand. It may be short phrases instead of sentences. It may be repetitive. It may be missing details. Part of it might be a sketch or a diagram. But the purpose of a freewrite is to brainstorm all the things that are floating around your brain about the topic, and get them all together in one place.

I find that students can be rather stingy with their ideas in a freewrite. At first, they avoid writing things that aren’t “good.” I encourage them to write down all the bad ideas first, as quickly as possible, to get them out of the way and make room for the good ideas. We don’t have to worry about running out of ideas when freewriting. Learning when to write quickly and when to write slowly and carefully is an important writing skill that helps students prepare for a variety of writing tasks.

By laying out all the ideas in nice neat piles (I mean, paragraphs), you can see what still fits, what you have too much of, and what you might need to put on the shopping list.

Some things don’t fit

One hard truth of cleaning out the closet is that sometimes we have to let go of clothes that don’t fit right, even if we love the items!

The same is true for writing. Writing ideas about a topic makes it easier to see which ideas don’t fit in. Students might see that some details don’t fit the topic. Others might turn out to be ideas that are too small to get their own sentences. Some ideas can be combined into more complex sentences, and other ideas can be discarded. Knowing when to edit out weak ideas is one of the writing skills that takes time to develop. Deleting sentences they worked hard on can be difficult for students, but with practice they will see that it helps the best sentences stand out.

Some things are nice, but not useful

Getting rid of the clothes you like but don’t wear can be the stressful part of a closet cleanout.

In writing, getting rid of useless but lovely ideas is hard work! Maybe it’s something you thought was true, but when you look at it with the other facts, it doesn’t work anymore. Maybe it’s an idea for another time and place, better suited to a letter to the editor than a history essay. Or maybe you just don’t need to write that one idea 4 different ways. Just like your closet, your writing will work better if it’s not full of duplicates. (Except sweatshirts. One can never have too many hoodies!)

Go shopping!

There comes a point in most closet cleanouts where you say, “If those clothes won’t work, then what am I going to wear tomorrow?” If you are writing to clarify your thinking, you have to collect enough information to work with. If you try to write about something and realize you can’t explain it, it’s time to go back to your notes, or the original text, or your teacher, and learn more. For some students, audiobooks and text-to-speech technology can make this much easier. If your students need it, it is quick to set up tools to help.

It’s easy to think we understand what we’re learning when we are listening to someone else explain it. It all sounds great, and we don’t feel confused. When we sit down and try to write the explanation ourselves, we can see gaps in our understanding that we still need to fill. We fill the gaps with more learning. When you reread, or seek out new sources, you can ask more specific questions based on what you already know. You shop for more information discerningly, looking for new ideas that match, or complement, your knowledge wardrobe.

Putting together outfits

One really cool thing about a closet cleanout is it’s a chance to see different pieces of clothing together. Maybe you’ll get inspired to wear a different outfit!

In writing, placing ideas next to each other can reveal discoveries, metaphors, and sometimes glaring errors. Laying out our ideas, even in a quick, informal way, lets writers try out different combinations and connections. One way to create this type of writing opportunity for students is to use an open-ended writing prompt as a warm-up or closing activity.

Before a group discussion, writing can help students rehearse ideas and come up with examples to share later. After a discussion, students can capture their best ideas, including those they didn’t get a turn to say out loud. They can also adopt ideas they hear in the discussion and connect them to their own in new ways. Each type of writing has its own goals, and its own “rules” for structure. Students benefit from lots of practice with different writing skills within different parts of their day.

Why we write

We often think of a writing assignment as an alternative to a quiz or test, a way for teachers to collect information about what students know and evaluate them. But that’s not all it can be! Writing can be a valuable learning activity any time. Instead of thinking of writing as a final product, consider it a form of thinking. And, hopefully, we are thinking and learning every day, not just when it’s time to write an essay.

Writing for different purposes, throughout the learning process, can be instrumental in helping students develop bigger ideas and explain them more fully. For all those reasons, being able to write efficiently can make students better learners.

Want some checklists to help your child revise and edit their writing at home? I have those! Request them below.

I love when my students quit tutoring!

The most exciting part of my job as a reading and writing tutor is when I start working with a new student. Once we’re past all the paperwork and we can get to work. I love that part because I know we are about to start an exciting season of reading, writing, researching and talking about language and writing and stories. My job is great, y’all!

But my second favorite part comes later. It sometimes starts with a question, from either me or the parents, “What do you think about…” cutting back our schedule, taking the summer off, or shifting our focus to something else. And soon, I’m reciting my last minute reminders for the writers as I send them off to their next challenges.

Why it’s great

I know that the “self-regulated” part of SRSD is working when I see a student start to take more ownership over the writing process. In the first stage of practicing, I sort of interview them about their topic to fill in each part of the plan. “Hmm, you think agriculture was the most important development. Why do you think that? Ah, that sounds like an important detail. I’m going to put it here.”

After some practice, I can say, “And what are the supporting details?” or “What do those ideas have in common?” and they know how to use the information in their paragraph.

By the end of writing tutoring with a student, I can serve more of an editing role. I might read a paragraph and say, “This part confused me,” or “Can you explain more about why you said this?” They might be able to independently plan an essay and write a whole draft before meeting with me. In those drafts, I can see the planning that lies under their writing. They have started with the basic framework they learned with me and they And we can spend that bonus learning time refining ideas, finding synonyms, and studying the picky details of a formal writing style.

But in the end, they just plain don’t need writing help anymore! That’s the beauty of teaching flexible writing strategies that work for different years, different teachers, and different kinds of writing. Students learn not just the “how” but the “why” of writing techniques, knowledge which helps them to customize their writing approach for new assignments.

Maybe I’m weird. I mean, how many other professionals brag, “my clients keep leaving me!” But it really is my favorite to see students move on. They have reclaimed their evenings from homework frustration. They have set and achieved goals that demand strong writing skills. And they have done it with confidence because they know how to make a plan and get their ideas on paper.

If you want your child to have access to these tools and leave writing homework anxiety behind, I recommend you check out my mini-course, the Academic Writing Lifeline for Parents I wrote it for parents instead of their kids because I think young writers really do need to bounce their ideas off of someone else while they learn to organize them for writing. And these are the tools a parent needs to confidently support their children through any writing assignment that comes home.

Check it out here.

Private Tutor vs. Tutoring Center

Hiring a tutor for your child is not a decision most parents take lightly. Often, the family has tried having a parent help with homework, encouraging the child to stay after school to meet with the teacher, and extra practice in workbooks or on websites like Khan Academy. Sometimes, in spite of all these efforts, the child needs extra support to master the skills he is missing and meet his goals at school. There are many ways to find a tutor, and in this post I will outline some pros and cons of finding a private tutor and attending a commercial tutoring center. And I’ll try to answer the question, “how much does tutoring cost?” and give you some tips on finding affordable tutors near you.

Getting Connected

Unless you live in a very rural area, tutoring centers like Sylvan and Kumon are heavily advertised and widely available. You might drive by them in your errands or see their advertisements in your local paper or on Facebook. A tutor is just a click or call away. These big companies have a staff of people ready to talk with you about your request and match you to an available tutor. Other companies, often local franchises, use the same basic model as the big companies, so there are almost always lots of tutoring companies to choose from.

On the other hand, finding the right private tutor can take a little more effort. Local teachers often tutor students in their school community. Other parents hire high school or college students to tutor their children. For some students, this is enough. For students with greater needs, like kids with dyslexia or dysgraphia, or students who need help with executive functioning skills, it is important to find an expert who can offer your child the best strategies for learning. To find a tutor that is a good match for your child, you may need to email, call and interview more than one person to find the best fit. It is easy to use an internet search to find tutors in your subject in your area. Online tutoring is another awesome way to work with the best tutor you can find without having to worry about travel or geographical limitations. Meeting with a tutor through video conferencing opens up your search to the best available tutor in the world, not just the best tutor in your town.

Scheduling

Tutoring centers are flexible and convenient. They are often open all afternoon and evening and they usually have many tutors they can assign you to. You will be able to set up a tutoring schedule that can fit in with your busy life and your child’s schedule of sports and activities.

Independent tutors are individual human beings, so they may or may not be able to meet your exact scheduling needs. But while they may not have unlimited hours to offer you, independent tutors are often willing to be flexible to best meet your needs. Offering flexible arrangements like every other week tutoring, or changing your time slot if needed are benefits that you can get with an independent tutor. Instead of working with an employee of a tutoring company, who may have fixed work hours, you can choose an independent tutor who sets his own hours.

Curriculum

In my experience, curriculum varies widely for all kinds of tutoring. Some use off the shelf workbooks, while other large tutoring companies have developed their own proprietary curriculum. Something that may or may not be a good fit for your child’s needs. Before you commit to a tutoring center, be sure you know what type of curriculum they use, and also what kind of assessments they offer to make sure your child is learning what they came in to learn.

The same is true for individual tutors. While they often have more flexibility than tutors at a tutoring center, they may not have as many resources available as a tutor from a larger company. On the other hand, independent tutors can often work more flexibly, using the student’s homework or interests to work on skills.

The Personal Touch

Finding a tutor at a tutoring center can be a bit of a gamble. Maybe an attentive staff member will notice important details and assign the perfect match. Or maybe your child will meet with the next tutor who has an opening. While tutoring centers want you to stay with them, and for your child to be successful, they don’t all make it easy to find a tutor who is a good fit.

Private tutors see fewer students at a time than a large tutoring center, so they tend to know their students, and their parents, better than the staff of a large tutoring center would. One of my favorite things about the job is the connections I get to build with students and families over many years.

Cost

I saved this for last, because the cost of tutoring varies widely depending on what services you are looking for and where you live. Tutoring centers often offer group tutoring, which can keep costs lower. They may offer pricing deals if you buy a block of tutoring hours, enroll more than one child, or commit to a long-term contract. When you buy tutoring from a tutoring center, keep in mind that your fee pays for the physical surroundings as well as the support staff and administrative staff running the center. The tutor who works directly with your child probably will not be highly paid. As a result, these jobs don’t attract the most highly-qualified and experienced tutors.

The cost for private tutoring varies, too. You can hire a high school or college student for not much more than you might pay a babysitter. Hiring a professional tutor, someone with an education degree and teaching experience, or someone with a specialty like learning disabilities tutoring or test preparation tutoring costs more. And a cheap tutor isn’t always a good deal. An experienced professional tutor can assess your child and pinpoint the problem your child is having. She may be able to correct the problem in just a couple of well-planned lessons. An inexpensive, inexperienced tutor might put in many hours with your child without dramatic results.

The Final Decision

There is no one “best” or “right” kind of tutoring. Students and families can find almost any tutoring solution to meet their needs, from meeting with a local college student at the library after school to having a private tutor come to your home, to taking your child to a small group class at a large tutoring center. As you shop for a tutoring solution for your child, think about your child’s personality and academic needs. Consider your family’s schedule and other family members’ needs.

The bottom line is, tutoring can be a significant investment of money and time. Like with any big purchase, ask many questions and try out some options to see what works best. The right tutor for your family gives you the answers you are looking for. They were able to clearly explain what they will do with your child in lessons and why. They also ask you questions about your child as a learner, and as a person. In the end, that connection between a tutor and a student is one of the things that makes tutoring different from classroom learning.

Unless you live in a very rural area, tutoring centers like Sylvan and Kumon are heavily advertised and widely available. You might drive by them on your errands or see their ads on Facebook. A tutor is just a click or call away. These big companies have a staff of people ready to talk with you about your request and match you to an available tutor.

Finding the right private tutor can take a little more effort. Local teachers often tutor students in their school community. Other parents hire high school or college students to tutor their children. For some students, this is enough. For students with greater needs, like those who need tutoring for dyslexia or dysgraphia, or students who need help with executive function, it is important to find an expert who can offer your child the best strategies for learning. To find a tutor that is a good match for your child, you may need to email, call and interview more than one person to find the best fit. It is easy to use an internet search to find tutors in your subject in your area.

Online tutoring is another awesome way to work with the best tutor you can find without having to worry about travel or geographical limitations. Meeting with a tutor through video conferencing opens up your search to the best available tutor in the world, not just the best tutor in your town.

If you are looking for a tutor to support your child’s writing or reading, please contact us today for a no-cost demo lesson. See how online tutoring can help your child!

The best “recipe” for writing assignment help

Nothing is more frustrating than thinking you have taught a child to do something, only to watch the skills fall apart when they try it independently. I see this with writing instruction quite often. Students that could plug away and create a paragraph in class one day seem to forget everything when they tackle their music history homework the next night.

Often, we teach children to follow a process for writing, like: brainstorm, draft, revise, publish. We might even give them checklists or writing graphic organizers to do all the steps without skipping anything. But if what we have taught is “follow the list,” they may be lost if the list isn’t there. As an online writing tutor, the best solution I have found for that problem is an approach called self-regulated strategy development.

What is SRSD?

Self-Regulated Strategy Development, or SRSD, is an approach to writing instruction that was developed by Karen Harris and Steve Graham way back in the 90s. Originally, it was used with students with learning disabilities, and with struggling students. These days, many teachers are using these approaches with their whole classes, with impressive results.

There have been many research studies and articles and more articles written about using the SRSD writing approach with different students in different settings for different purposes.

Here is why I like it: I often teach students writing in individual tutoring sessions. I rely on them to tell me what they are working on in class, or what their teacher has said about writing expectations. If I layer on another graphic organizer, and it doesn’t match what the teacher wants, the student can end up more confused than before. The same can happen when different teachers, or different grade levels, use different graphic organizers.

Instead of handing them a tool and reminding them to use it, SRSD involves teaching the students why the tool is useful, describing how it works, modeling the process, supporting students as they practice until, finally, they move on to independent use of the strategies. In other words, over time, students need less help from me, and write better on their own.

Using a systematic approach to writing tutoring, like SRSD, helps students in a few ways.

  1. Motivation – with a coaching approach, we aim to build student’s self-efficacy, their belief in their own capability.
  2. Skill – Kids who aren’t skilled writers have trouble recognizing (and imitating!) good writing. They don’t know what to look for, or how to do it themselves, until they get some expereince and practice.
  3. Independence – One probelm with a graphic organizer is that if it has 3 spaces for important details, but the topic has 4 important details, the student has to decide. Do I squeeze the 4th idea on the side? Do I leave out one important detail? Do I smush them both into one box and hope I remember they don’t go together? With SRSD, students internalize a flexible approach to planning. At first, they may follow the steps very closely, but with practice they can learn to vary their plan to make the writing better.

How do we use it?

The cool thing about SRSD is it doesn’t require specialized materials or a specific workbook. We can use SRSD techniques to produce writing for any class. While it might vary from teacher to teacher, here’s my approach.

  1. Show them the process of putting together a paragraph using the SRSD tool you choose. I usually start with [TBEAR] for middle and high school, and [TREE] for younger students. I ask for their input, but I give as many prompts and suggestions as I need to to keep this process quick. I need students to see how quickly we can get from the dreaded blank page to something.
  2. Over the course of our meetings, we usually divide the time between writing and reading. First we read and talk about some mildly challenging, interesting reading. Some students come to me specifically because they have difficult schoolwork, so sometimes we reread or discuss their assigned reading.
  3. As we read, we use a few different comprehension strategies for making sense of the text. These vary by student and change over time, but one key step is asking students to predict what they think will happen in what they are about to read, or what a certain section will be about. Student-generated questions are also a very useful tool for developing an understanding of difficult reading.
  4. After we have read the text and I have modeled some ways to take notes (highlighting, notes in the margin, post-it notes, etc.), we practice writing about the reading, using the tool we have been practicing.
  5. Over a series of sessions, the student needs fewer and fewer reminders and reminders from me. They begin to talk themselves through the process of using the tool. That’s the “self-regulated” part and it can make the differnece between a child staring at a blank page helplessly and the same child finding a starting point and beginning to plan their writing.
  6. At a certain point, students don’t really need me to be there while they write their paragraphs. At that exciting point in their writing development, sometimes we change our schedule from weekly meetings to less frequent check-ins. Some students come back to see me again when they face a new writing challenge, like college application essays or college level classes. Others ask to meet when they have a first draft to show me, and I can give them feedback that they implement on their own. SRSD fosters independence because it includes steps to take when stuck. It’s pretty cool to see students take on the role of their own writing coach!

Does it take a long time?

That depends. Sorry.

I have taught a class of 3rd graders with dyslexia and other learning disabilities to use SRSD. They completed their first independent paragraph after maybe 2 or 3 hours of class time, over a week or so.

When I introduce SRSD strategies to some middle and high school writers, they take to them much more quickly. By the end of our first or second session, I provide the SRSD strategy and remind them of the steps, and they generate a whole paragraph on their own.

Other students, especially those who have complex learning needs – multiple learning disabilities, speech and language deficits, ADHD, autism, etc. – may need more practice with a higher level of support. And SRSD is an approach that allows flexible planning! It’s not a curriculum to follow page by page, so if we’re ready to try a new tool after 2 lessons, we do! If the student needs extra practice to gain confidence, it’s as simple as choosing a new article or short story together, and working through the read-discuss-plan-write sequence a few more times, until the student is taking the lead.

Who can help?

Teachers

Our local school has made SRSD their common approach to writing through the elementary grades. As a result, my son has been learning to write using specific details from his reading and a consistent paragraph structure since first grade. As he grows, the class’s approach to writing grows, too. But they started with a foundation of the basics, and they have common background to build on.

I highly recommend training in the SRSD approach for any teachers, K-12, who are in any way responsible for their students’ writing development. While there are lots of comprehensive profesxional development options available, these tools are simple to understand and teachers and students can get better at them together! No need to wait.

Tutors

If you are a parent seeking a writing tutor near you who can help your child develop their writing with SRSD, it can be challenging to know where to look. Although a tutor may not advertise that self-regulated strategy development is what they use, you can look for some key points in their description:

  • scaffolding/gradual release of responsibility/independence/self-efficacy – a good writing tutor understands that when they succeed, they are out of a job! The goal of writing tutoring is to help students master the writing skills that they will use to succeed on their own.
  • evidence-based – there has been a lot of discussion of the Science of Reading in recent years, much of it spurred by Emily Hanford’s reporting [link] about the state of literacy instruction around the United States. While the Science of Writing isn’t as widely mentioned, it exists. An experienced tutor gathers data from observing their own students, but they should also teach in a way that aligns with what we know from research. Ask them for some links and recommendations if you want to learn more about how they approach writing.

Parents

If tutoring is not in the budget right now, or if you need help on tonight’s assignment, you can help your child learn this, too! If you can follow a recipe, or build Ikea furniture, or follow driving directions, you can talk your kids through this process. Remember, it’s all about helping them to help themselves. You will model that naturally as you read a step, puzzle over it, and then figure it out together!

There are many free examples and tools online if you hunt around, but many of them are explained only briefly, and some are not clear enough for non-teachers. That’s why I put together my online course, the Academic Writing Lifeline for Parents. This course is designed to help you get your child past the confusion and fear of a writing assignment, and into a step-by-step process that will show them the light at the end of the writing tunnel.

To get you started as you help your child with writing at home, grab my free Revision and Editing checklists to walk you and your child through improving their writing one step at a time.

Writing Homework: Paragraph Ideas

There are few things I dread more than staring at a blanking page with a flashing cursor. There are just too many possibilities. Too many decisions. Too much potential. Too many ways it could go wrong. When your child has writing homework, getting some stuff on that blank page as quickly as possible can jumpstart their writing and build some momentum.

The other problem I see often is writing that gets started quickly and finished quickly. So quickly that it is brief and leaves the reader with many questions. That can be challenging too, because once some students believe they are done, there is little we can do to change their minds! So if you are trying to help your child find enough ideas for their writing, or ideas to expand their writing, read on!

I like to do this before they have tried to write a draft. If they tend towards short or undetailed writing, it helps to do this process before they write.

Here’s what I tell my students.

Content, not filler

Start by listing as many different ideas as you can about your topic.

If you have to identify a character’s traits, think of every word that might describe the character, or something she did. Hint: Google a list of character traits and see what sounds good.

If you’re writing about the causes of the Civil War think about each group involved (Union army, Confederate army, enslaved people, Abraham Lincoln) and try to list causes from different perspectives.

The important thing at this stage is to write down a lot of very, very bad ideas. Go for quantity here. You want as many ideas as you can because when you throw out the stinkers you will hopefully find some treasure! This also stops writers from using the first couple of ideas that come to mind, when there might be a much better idea in there somewhere.

If you are a parent helping a child with this process, you can help by offering to write notes while they brainstorm. You can also seed the list with some ideas of your own (but try to give your child time to come up with some the best ideas for themselves).

The list can be typed or written, but my brain has better storms on paper. Your mileage may vary. Post-it notes are nice for students who need help chunking information into individual facts or ideas, or for students who like to physically move information around to organize it.

Where do ideas come from?

Use the text you’re writing about (book, story, poem, movie, etc) to come up with ideas. If you’ve been taking notes while you read, flip through the text and read those notes. Anything important?

If you come up empty handed, how about your class notes? Did the teacher mention this topic? What seemed important?

Dangerous places to get ideas

The internet is also called “the information superhighway.” And just like an interstate highway, it can take you just about anywhere you choose to go. There is an unimaginable amount of information out there, including pages for people just like you who need more ideas for a paragraph. Stay away from:

Essay mills. There are lots of essay services that will sell you a finished essay for a price. Some even offer “free” help in the form of things you can download. This is a dangerous road to go down. It leads to plagiarism. Remember, if you can find these essays online, so can your teachers. Instead of spending your time looking for a way to not do the writing, just keep reading and we’ll help you get started!

AI. There are lots of options for artificial intelligence that will do your writing for you. Magical, right? Except, have you ever heard the expression “garbage in, garbage out”? ChatGPT can do some impressive things, from rhyming to generating sentences, or even a whole outline! But it also “hallucinates,” a term for when AI makes things up (including references with links that don’t go anywhere!) in response to a question.

ChatGPT or other AI writing tools can be useful brainstorming tools, though. I like to ask AI for a “list of essay topics about” whatever I’m thinking about. Or you can ask for examples, like “sentences using prepositional phrases” or something else you need ideas for. But please, please, rewrite any ideas you get from AI in your own words, and fact check any information it gives you.

Narrow it down

If you followed my plan, you now have a list of more ideas for a paragraph than you can possibly use. Now it’s time to narrow it down.

The first part of this is pretty easy. Remember those really bad ideas I told you to write down? If they are still the worst ones, cross them out!

Get your list down to 2-3 main ideas or pieces of evidence that you are going to use in your writing assignment. Sometimes your best ideas will jump right out at you. Other times, you will need to closely compare 2 ideas (which one has more evidence?). You might also combine two related but wimpy ideas into one MEGA-IDEA (what do they have in common?).

Then take your best ideas and organize them into a paragraph. You can use a simple paragraph structure, like:

  • Main idea, 3 important details, conclusion
  • TBEAR for writing with text evidence

Keep it up!

Once you have picked out your best ideas and identified the main idea that connects them, you are more than halfway there. If your paragraph still looks too short, read each idea in your paragraph. After each one, ask yourself “So what?” or “And then what?” to see where you might be able to expand or add detail.

Once you’ve got your ideas organized into a paragraph, don’t forget to revise and edit. Download my revision and editing checklists below.

How long is a paragraph?

Here’s the scenario. It’s a regular weekday evening until your child says, “They said I have to write a paragraph for homework.” This is new territory. Sure, you’ve written paragraphs, and so has she, but you’ve never seen your child do it. All her writing has happened in the classroom, until now! Buckle up! With your support, she can write this paragraph! ….but how long is a paragraph supposed to be?

How long should it be?

Many things can affect the length of a paragraph: the writer’s age, audience, topic, purpose, context, and the teacher’s preference. Here are my general guidelines:

Grades 3-5: 5-7 sentences. Often a predictable structure like main idea, 3 details, and a conclusion.

Grades 6-8: 6-8 sentences. Often asking for evidence from a text, source or learning.

High school: 6-10 sentences. Almost always using some kind of evidence. Often asking students to compare or reconcile multiple perspectives or sources. Assignments increasingly call for multiple paragraphs, or even pages, on a topic.

Purposes for writing

Text Analysis

  • This type of writing is a staple of middle and high school ELA classes. Assignments calling for close reading, or analyzing details from the text, are common as homework assignments as well as on-demand writing assessments. They are often used to respond to assigned reading.
  • Teachers are often looking for specific points they have taught, such as properly introducing a quote or using transition phrases. Because of that requirement, they are often formal writing.

Reflection

  • Reflection writing seems to be universally challenging for young writers. To reflect, kids need to be able to think about two things at the same time: their experience and their thinking about their experience. That’s not easy.
  • Adolescent writers tend to go wrong in two main ways: not personal enough, or not relevant enough to the text. In either case, it helps to plan out the major ideas before writing. Make sure to match each detail of the experience (I saw, I heard, I felt, I read…) with a reflective statement (phrases like: made me think about, I realized, grow/change/different/learn).

Knowledge reporting

  • Call this expository writing, or a research report, or an essay question on a science test. The goal for students to report what they know in an organized and detailed way.
  • A question that asks us to describe, compare, identify, or list some information fits well with that classic “main idea and 3 important details” paragraph students learn early on.
  • If the question asks “why” or “how” something happens, you might need a different paragraph format, like the TBEAR.

Why writing matters

Writing has become a greater focus across the whole curriculum in recent years. This is reflected in the Common Core State Standards, which are the basis for many states’ standards. These standards call for more writing, and writing in more settings, for more purposes. And with good reason!

Reading a student’s writing can show a teacher how much they know about the topic, what vocabulary they are able to use, how they manage the complexities of sentence structure, spelling, and attention to mechanics like capitalization and punctuation. A single piece of writing can tell the teacher many different things about his students, so writing is a valuable use of instructional time.

As students grow older and their thoughts become more complex, their writing will become longer and more complex, too. A paragraph is the basic building block of all kinds of writing!

But even better, I think, is what the writing process does for the writer. When we write about our thinking, we are forced to clarify our thoughts and put them into words. We have to get very specific about the relationships between ideas (cause and effect? what happened first?) and we have to choose precise vocabulary that conveys our ideas. We ask students to write because writing helps them consolidate what they have learned and organize the information in their minds.

So as challenging as this writing assignment may be, learning to take on different kinds of writing prompts will set your child up for success in school and beyond!

To help your child revise and edit their paragraph, once they get it on paper, grab my free Editing and Revising checklists!

Make a paragraph longer in 30 minutes with better writing skills

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Dr. Seuss told the story of the home-invading Cat in the Hat in just 1,626 words. So how can the English teacher expect a 300-word essay on something as brief and simple as Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech? If you find your child staring at a blank screen when they have writing homework, or if you know the pain of eking out a paragraph one sentence fragment at a time, you may be wondering what to do to make a paragraph longer. Let’s help your child boost their writing skills and make their paragraph longer, and more complete!

Why it’s hard to make a paragraph longer

Many of us know all the tricks. You can use a slightly bigger font (12.5? 13?), add adjectives (very, really, and unfortunately are three common and particularly tired ones) and replace words with longer synonyms (use becomes utilize, tried is now endeavored). Once in college, a guy tried to impress me (yikes!) by telling me you can just make the punctuation font larger. Professors can spot an essay with large print or wide spacing, but are they measuring your punctuation!?

OK, but all these goofy hacks don’t make a paragraph better, only very slightly longer. They ignore the fact that (hopefully!) the teacher is reading this paragraph and looking for important ideas or particular writing skills. The real problem when writing is too short is that it doesn’t have enough ideas in it!

Teachers give a word count with a writing assignment because, in their assessment, that is the number of words needed to express the ideas that they want to see students write about. It’s actually a giant clue from the teacher about the kind of writing they want to see. “Write a paragraph about the causes of the Civil War” will get a very different kind of answer from “Write a 5-8 page report about the causes of the Civil War.”

What may start as a quest to make a paragraph longer will hopefully lead to making a paragraph more interesting, more detailed, and more clear.

Who cares if it’s 300 words exactly?

Let me tell you a secret. If you turn in a crisp paragraph with a clear thesis statement and relevant examples, explained thoroughly, the teacher is not going to take points off your 300-word assignment if it has 275 or 325 words.

If you turn in a paragraph that has the same idea three times, or if your details aren’t related to each other, the teacher isn’t going to use your word count to decide the grade, either. When a paragraph is too short, it’s usually because the student ran out of ideas.

That means that instead of focusing your attention on adding word and visual tricks to make your writing longer and longer, you need to focus on your writing skills and the content if you want to make your paragraph longer.

Writing skills to make a paragraph longer

OK, OK, so any way we measure it, your paragraph isn’t long enough yet. Check and make sure it has all its parts:

  • Main idea/topic sentence
  • Examples/supporting details
  • Quotes or examples from the reading, if needed
  • Your own words about the topic (not just quotes, in other words)
  • A conclusion that reminds readers of your main point

Once you have the basic parts in place, you can make your paragraph longer by adding more (related, important) ideas to your paragraph. Here’s how.

Ask yourself “Why?”

Many sentences can be improved by adding a “because.” It is also a great way to put more of your own words into a paragraph that has too many quotes. Hamlet said, “To be or not to be.” OK, sure. Hamlet said, “To be or not to be,” because he was struggling to understand the meaning of life. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Other sentence extenders

One of my favorite writing exercises is called “because, but, so.” I got it from the excellent book The Writing Revolution and I use it with students from grade 2 up through high school. You can try this to figure out the right way to expand an idea in your paragraph.

First, pick, or write, a short sentence about the topic.

The three branches of the U.S. government are executive, judicial and legislative.

The three branches of the U.S. government are executive, judicial and legislative because the founding fathers wanted a system of checks and balances among the powers.

The three branches of the U.S. government are executive, judicial and legislative but many decisionmakers disagree about exactly which powers should be held by which branch, which leads to conflict.

The three branches of the U.S. government are executive, judicial and legislative so no one person or group has the power to make decisions affecting the whole country on their own.

Would you look at that?!

Each of those extended sentencers is at least DOUBLE the length of the basic sentence. So make your paragraph longer by finding several places to add because, but, so, or another conjunction, to more fully explain your ideas.

Still not happy with your paragraph?

If this kind of writing is new to you, or if you find that you think you’re writing everything, only to get feedback that your writing is unclear or disorganized, I have a tool for you.

My Editing and Revising checklists will take you through the steps of clarifying and expanding your thoughts, and catching spelling and punctuation errors, too. Oh! And they’re free. Grab them below!

What is visual dyslexia?

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What is dyslexia?

According to the International Dyslexia Association , dyslexia is: 

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Dyslexia looks different for different people and even the same person at different ages. It can be quite severe, making it difficult for a child to read or spell at all, even after lots of teaching and practice. Dyslexia can also be very mild and students might “fly under the radar” for years or just be considered “careless” spellers or “reluctant” readers. Students with this profile are sometimes identified as having “visual dyslexia,” to distinguish them from students who have difficulties with the phonological (sounds) part of reading and spelling. But what is visual dyslexia?

Are there different types of dyslexia? 

The International Dyslexia Association is widely recognized as an authority on the subject of dyslexia. They do not recognize visual dyslexia as a subtype of dyslexia. In fact, they emphasize that dyslexia is not a vision problem. And therefore, glasses, colored filters and vision exercises are not treatments for dyslexia. But just the same, kids with dyslexia can be very different from each other. Terms like “visual dyslexia” and “phonological dyslexia” have gained popularity with some professionals because they describe how students are unique and help evalutaors and tutors communicate about what students need.

What is visual dyslexia?

Visual dyslexia is also known as surface dyslexia or dyseidetic dyslexia. These terms describe a reader who has difficulty remembering how to read and spell words, but who does not have significant problems with the phonological or sound parts of language. There is some research that shows this is a true distinction and may help us understand causes and improved treatments for dyslexia. However, these subtypes of dyslexia don’t completely explain differences between different students and there isn’t enough evidence to support giving these readers a different kind of treatment or intervention.

What is phonological dyslexia?

Phonological dyslexia is a term used to describe readers who have difficulty with the phonological or sound parts of reading. The might struggle with oral language skills like rhyming or repeating multisyllabic words when other kids their age are mastering the skill (kids who say pah-sketti for spaghetti beyond preschool, for example). Readers with this profile might not include all the sounds when they read or spell a word or might say the wrong sound for a letter they see.

Are there other types of dyslexia?

While there are not clear cut “types” of dyslexia, students can have varying degrees of need in different skills. They are similar, the same way a pink striped sock and a pink polka dot sock are similar. They might both match your sweater and be made of wool. That doesn’t mean they’re a perfect match!

Some people with dyslexia mainly have weaknesses in their phonological skills. They might need a lot of practice to learn to read long science words or a lot of practice counting the sounds in words and making sure to include all the letters.

Others might have no problem with phonological skills, but have a great deal of difficulty rapidly and fluently applying rules and patterns they know to words on the page. This often shows up in testing as a weakness in Rapid Automatic Naming (RAN), the ability to quickly and accurately recall knowledge, like letter and number names. 

Still other students have difficulty in both of these areas. This profile is known as “double-deficit dyslexia” in which students have difficulty in both phonological skills and RAN. These students often make slow progress and need more repetition and review than those with only one deficit.

What helps with visual dyslexia?

If a student is evaluated and given a diagnosis of dyslexia, the chief recommendation is usually an explicit, sequential, program of reading instruction that includes instruction in letter-sound relationships, spelling rules, vocabulary and comprehension. Orton-Gillingham (OG) is one approach for teaching dyslexic readers. These approaches may also be known as “structured literacy” and, while OG is older and well-known, there are many other programs and instructional approaches that can also be quite effective.

Students whose signs of dyslexia are mostly visual (poor spelling) and not phonological (segmenting and blending sounds in spoken words) might need more spelling and morphology instruction, and less practice with phonemic awareness exercises or letter-sound drills. But this is still done effectively under the umbrella of structured literacy or Orton-Gillingham instruction. As an educator certified in Orton-Gillingham, I’ve taught students who fit each of these profiles, and some who didn’t quite fit any. I’ve had other students without a dyslexia diagnosis at all. For all of these different students, the Orton-Gillingham approach has been effective, as long as we are accurately recognizing the skills they need.

As different as these profiles seem, their needs are very similar, at the core. We use the language parts of our brain for reading (not the same visual parts we use to recognize faces or objects). So whether a reader is struggling with mostly spelling or mostly decoding or mostly fluency, the answer still lies in studying the English language. 

For example, I work with some middle grades students (4-7th grade) who are adequate readers and are good at spelling the sounds in words, but they forget which there/their/they’re or to/two/too to use. Their writing might be phonetically readable for other words, but not correct. They may spell compete as cumpeet or walked as wockt. It helps tremendously when they learn the patterns and rules behind English spelling. They learn about words that come from Anglo-Saxon, and those that come from French, Latin and Greek. They learn how often a certain spelling is used in English words so they can start to make educated guesses about words they aren’t sure of. They learn how meaning impacts spelling. Walk + ed sounds like /wokt/ but it means that someone did the action (walk) in the past (-ed) and that’s how we spell it.

So is it wrong to say my child has “visual dyslexia?”

I wouldn’t say it’s wrong to use the term “visual dyslexia,” but I would say it’s imprecise and sometimes not a useful piece of information. Our scientific understanding of dyslexia and reading development has come a long way, but it is still growing. Scientists use brain imaging and studies of people with dyslexia over the course of years to learn more about what kind of instruction is effective. We may learn something different through this research that helps us help students more promptly and more efficiently by tailoring instruction to their needs.

But for now, no matter how your child’s dyslexia presents, the most important thing is to get connected with teachers or tutors who are experts in the process of learning to read. Finding a tutor certified in Orton-Gillingham or an OG-based program (Wilson, Sonday, etc.) is one way to make sure the person has sufficient expertise. It’s more important to recognize that a child is struggling and give them the instruction they need than it is to give that struggle a specific label. 

And that’s what we do at Deep Roots Learning Solutions, Inc. We offer Orton-Gillingham instruction in a convenient, effective, online format. If your child needs explicit, systematic reading instruction, contact us for a free consultation and demo lesson . Let’s talk about how we can help!

An Orton-Gillingham Tutor Near Me

As the school year comes to a close, many parents are thinking about using the summer to help their children catch up on skills with the help of a tutor. But if you are looking for something specific, like an Orton-Gillingham certified tutor, you might have to do a bit of digging. Often, searching for “Orton-Gillingham Tutor Near Me” gets you search results for large tutoring organizations or referral services. Sometimes you even end up in the weeds, with information about how to get OG certified instead of how to find a tutor that is already trained! Here are my top tips for finding an Orton-Gillingham tutor near you!

Finding an Orton-Gillingham tutor near me

Some of the best local Orton-Gillingham tutors I know are totally invisible online. They built their businesses on referrals from parents and schools and so they don’t come up in a search when you look for “tutor near me” online. The best way to find these hidden gems is to ask around. Your local Decoding Dyslexia branch, Facebook parent groups and local teachers are three great sources of information about local OG tutors near you. 

If you’re not ready to ask about your child’s needs in a public forum, you can also search any Facebook groups you are in for older discussions about tutors in your area. 

Finding dyslexia therapy near me

The term “dyslexia therapy” is used to describe structured literacy instruction done by a highly-trained expert who has passed an exam through the Academic Language Therapy Association (ALTA) and completed their certification requirements. Some states also license dyslexia therapists, such as the state of Texas. In other states, certified dyslexia therapists are difficult to find. If your “dyslexia therapy near me” search leaves you empty-handed, there are other trainings and qualifications that can help you find a highly skilled dyslexia tutor for your child. 

How do I find tutoring for dyslexia

I’ll tell you how to find tutoring for dyslexia, but a word of caution, first: Many teachers and principals, and some whole schools, are completely uninformed about dyslexia. If a teacher that hasn’t helped your child grow significantly in reading this year is recommending something like, “Just go to the library and read to her plenty! She’ll catch up!” smile and nod and find a more knowledgeable source of information.

Tutoring for dyslexia should be done by a person with training (certification is even better!) in Orton-Gillingham or another structured literacy approach to teaching reading. Orton-Gillingham is a systematic, sequential, diagnostic, multisensory approach to teaching language skills. While some large, national tutoring companies offer tutoring for dyslexia, make sure the staff is certified in OG or another approach before signing up. There are a few people qualified to offer tutoring for dyslexia on any large directory of tutors. An exception is the Literacy Nest’s Tutor Finder directory. These tutors are not all OG-certified but there is a good concentration of them.

What is Orton-Gillingham training?

Orton-Gillingham training is an intensive combination of both classwork and a practicum supervised by an Orton-Gillingham trainer. Certified OG tutors study the structure of the English language, learn about dyslexia, and practice assessing and teaching children with dyslexia and measuring their progress. My program ran from January to December and offered the equivalent of 6 graduate credits of instruction, and a 100-hour practicum. That means I submitted my first 100 lessons to my trainer for feedback, and she also observed some of my lessons and gave live feedback.

What are certified tutors?

While there are options for shorter OG tutor training programs, such as a 30-hour training, these do not give tutors the depth of knowledge and experience needed to effectively help dyslexic students. Certified tutors have completed a supervised practicum. During that practicum, certified tutors have had their lessons critiqued by a trainer. They have also assessed students and planned and taught lessons that moved them along the sequence of skills. While OG training is an excellent option for many, especially classroom teachers, certification makes a difference. Certified tutors, in my opinion, are the best choice for students who are dyslexic or struggling greatly to learn to read.

At Deep Roots Learning Solutions, we choose tutors who are certified, or who are in the process of completing their practicum for certification, to work with our students. An OG tutor that has completed a rigorous training and practicum program for OG certification is qualified to assess a student’s changing literacy needs, bring in additional teaching resources as needed, and recognize needs that may best be referred to other professionals. 

Are all OG tutors the same?

Find a certified OG tutor: check. Should be pretty easy, right? You know they need to complete a practicum, and that certified is better than trained. But there are several different organizations that provide OG tutor training, and they all use slightly different terminology. And Google does not know the difference, so when you search for “Orton-Gillingham tutor near me” you’re going to get a mixed bag of different training backgrounds. Here are some of the big ones:

Orton Academy

The Orton-Gillingham Academy (OGA), formerly known as AOGPE, is one of the largest and most well-known of the organizations training OG tutors. They train individuals at four levels: Classroom Educator, Associate Level, Certified Level and Fellow Level. An Associate Level OG tutor works under the supervision of their training fellow, and a Certified Level OG tutor is able to teach and tutor independently of their fellow. So if a tutor you are considering is OGA Certified, they have cleared a pretty high bar of training and supervision! The Academy offers a directory of tutors it has trained.

International Dyslexia Association

The International Dyslexia Association also certifies OG tutors through an affiliated program, The Center for Effective Reading Instruction (CERI). Tutors can complete an IDA Accredited Program and become Dyslexia Interventionists (formerly known as Dyslexia Practitioners) or Dyslexia Specialists (formerly known as Dyslexia Therapists). These OG tutors have also passed an exam and completed a supervised practicum. CERI also certifies people at the classroom teacher level.

OG reading programs

Orton-Gillingham is an approach to teaching, rather than a specific curriculum. OG tutors often follow a specific sequence of reading skills introduced in their training, but compose their own lists of practice words and decide when to practice a skill more and when to move on. They may use materials from many different sources, with a focus on teaching the next skills a child needs, rather than getting to the next chapter or unit of a program.

In addition to these “pure” OG tutors, there are many different programs that are based on the principles of Orton-Gillingham or structured literacy. Some are taught by teachers who receive live training in using the materials. Others are designed to be used without explicit training because the instructions are in the lessons.

Barton tutoring

One popular program for dyslexia tutoring is the Barton System. Barton is an “Orton-Gillingham influenced” program that consists of 10 levels. It is designed for parents, or other individuals without teacher training, to study and teach on their own. Each level includes training DVDs for the tutor and lessons and materials for the students. The upside of choosing Barton tutoring is that everything is laid out and the lessons are explicit and systematic. The downside of choosing Barton tutoring is that it’s not as flexible as OG because students need to begin at Level 1 and progress through all the levels, regardless of their starting skill level.

Wilson Reading

Wilson Reading (WRS) is another Orton-Gillingham based program that is commonly used in some parts of the country. In Massachusetts, where I live, it is commonly offered both in schools (usually in special education) and by private Wilson tutors. Wilson certifies teachers in its program, so make sure if you are selecting a Wilson tutor they are certified at the appropriate level. The Wilson Reading website also provides a directory of certified providers. 

Final thoughts

Children with dyslexia, or with characteristics of dyslexia, need specialized literacy instruction to gain skills and become successful readers and writers. Finding a tutor can be quite challenging in a world where dyslexia is often misunderstood, even by those in the education field. If your family is investing time and money into tutoring for your child, it’s important to find a person who is the right fit, someone with the skills and training to help your child succeed. 

If you are looking for a certified Orton-Gillingham tutor to work with your child online, contact us today! We have spots open. We would love to give you a demonstration of what our online lessons look and feel like and help you decide if working with an online OG tutor is a good fit for your child.

Where to?

Tutoring services – find out how we can help students reach their reading and writing goals with online tutoring

Small group classes – get the benefits of specialized instruction at an affordable price with book clubs and writing classes.

More resources – learn about reading instruction, dyslexia, and tools to try at home.

Can kids with dyslexia learn to read faster?

Even with lots of good reading instruction, some readers with dyslexia still read very slowly. While the Science of Reading is pretty clear about the best ways to teach students to decode words, improving reading fluency for dyslexic students is another challenge, and one that can be harder to overcome. Here’s what it takes to help students with dyslexia read faster.

It takes knowledge and patience

Do all dyslexics have trouble reading?

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as “a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Many students with dyslexia struggle to read from the very beginning of their schooling. They may be slow to learn letter names and sounds, and even have early difficulties with conversational language, like recalling specific words or pronouncing multi-syllabic words. 

For other students, strong visual memory capabilities and lots of practice can memorize an impressive number of words. They may read slowly, or mix up similar words (saw/was, though/through/thorough/tough) but can often read well enough with these so-called compensatory strategies to read “at grade level” through second or third grade. Students with this profile are sometimes diagnosed with “stealth dyslexia,” meaning they have dyslexia but it is very difficult to detect. These readers may find reading exhausting or unpleasant, or be known for their poor spelling, but don’t get any specialized instruction because their needs aren’t recognized. 

In one example that really changed my thinking, I assessed a fifth grader who was pretty successful in class, but his parents had long-standing concerns about his reading and spelling. I found that, while he was passing grade-level reading assessments, he did not know the sounds of the short vowels! When he encountered unknown words or nonsense words, he did not have the skills to decode them. That severely limits a person’s ability to gather information about an unfamiliar topic through reading. 

So do all dyslexics have trouble reading? I’d say: eventually, without support, most will.

What is the best reading program for dyslexia?

The recommended reading approach for students with dyslexia is structured literacy. This can include lots of different programs, including Orton-Gillingham and OG-based curricula, like Wilson Reading or Barton. But structured literacy describes any program that teaches literacy skills in a comprehensive, explicit, sequential manner. It includes instruction in phonemes (sounds in spoken language), sound-symbol correspondence (phonics/”sounding out” words), orthography (spelling patterns), morphology (including prefixes and suffixes), semantics (vocabulary and comprehension) and syntax (grammar).

If your child is struggling with decoding and reading fluency, we can help! Our Orton-Gillingham tutors are available to plan and carry out a customized tutoring plan for your child. Contact us today!

Improving reading fluency dyslexic students

While the core problem for most readers with dyslexia is in the phonological (sound) part of reading, some students also have trouble quickly identifying letters (and/or numbers, colors or objects). Students who don’t perform well on this rapid naming task, in addition to having phonological awareness deficits, are sometimes described as having a double deficit. When readers have low scores in both areas, they take longer to develop reading fluency and may always be slower than average readers.

For these students, I often use a fluency-focused program in addition to Orton-Gillingham to help them develop these skills. There are many different possibilities for improving fluency, but the basic principle is that students benefit from repeated reading with feedback, and from hearing a model of a more fluent reader. 

While we often think of reading fluency as “reading fast enough,” there are actually three components of fluency and they are all important. Fluent reading is reading that is accurate, expressive, and fast enough to allow for good comprehension.

  • Accuracy – it should go without saying that for reading to be considered fluent, the words have to be read accurately to understand the text.
  • Speed – reading fluency assessment too often focuses on fluency, getting kids to read faster. Kids become aware of these speed goals and focus on zooming through the text, at the expense of accuracy or understanding.
  • Prosody – prosody is the most challenging component of fluency to explain, but you know it when you hear it. I tell students it’s reading “like a storyteller,” using phrasing and intonation to express the emotions of the story. Lots of the feedback we give students – stop at the periods, notice the quotation marks, act out what the characters are saying with your voice – promote prosody. 

It’s not glamorous

Teaching the early stages of reading can be really exciting. Students go from non-readers, struggling to remember individual letter names and sound, to slowly joining together sounds and then having that a-ha! moment when they recognize the word they’ve just read. My son used to giggle uncontrollably every time he sounded out a word successfully. This stage is lots of work, but rewarding!

Building fluency can be a slower, less glamorous process. Even with the best types of instruction, improving reading fluency for dyslexic students can take years. Take data, like counting how many words per minute a student is reading, or take a short audio recording of them reading now, and again in a few months, so you can celebrate that growth, even when it takes a long time!

If your child is struggling with decoding and reading fluency, we can help! Our Orton-Gillingham tutors are available to plan and carry out a customized tutoring plan for your child. Contact us today!