It may seem backward to worry about getting your student to write concisely. After all, some students have trouble just getting started! But until your student develops the skills to plan, organize, and write cohesively, you’ll need to help them stay within a manageable length. Otherwise, they may become overwhelmed with the task of revising such a long piece of writing.
Here are four writing strategies you can use with your student to keep their assignments concise.
Concise Writing Strategies
1. Create an Outline
Outlines are useful tools to encourage writing concisely. Students can lose focus and meander around on tangents, but creating an outline ahead of time can help them stay on topic as they write.
Wordy writers often choose topics that are too broad, and they don’t realize how ambitious it is until they’re in too deep. To help your student avoid feeling overwhelmed, encourage them to narrow their focus before they begin drafting. Their writing should answer a single question or tell one story.
For example, instead of writing about a week-long family road trip and everything that happened, they should focus their story on one aspect of the trip, such as getting a flat tire along the way.
2. Set Limits
When planning their writing, students should limit what they include, whether it’s characters, settings, or plotlines. While they may have an abundance of ideas, help them pick one item to fit within the parameters you’ve set.
Sometimes students need defined boundaries to help rein in their writing. It’s up to you to decide an appropriate length based on your student’s ability and the type of writing they’re doing. If they’ve already created a meandering document, it’s usually easier to start over than try to whittle it down.
3. Choose Details Wisely
We know details are important! They add interest and engage the reader, so be sure to encourage your writer to include concrete descriptions. Adding too many details, though, starts to weigh down the writing and distracts from the main idea.
Descriptions often become redundant as the writer tries too hard to paint every detail. For example, your student can be wordy and say “the shaggy gray dog with the long hair hanging in his eyes,” or they can simply say “the gray sheepdog.” In this case, less can definitely be more.
4. Keep It Simple
Beginning writers mistakenly think big words and complicated sentences are impressive, but effective writers use simple, straightforward language. Of course, we want our students to include some well-placed vocabulary and sentence variety, but too much can make a piece difficult to read.
A helpful strategy is to have students write a skeleton of each sentence that includes a subject and predicate. Once they have the basic structure in place, they can carefully choose modifiers, sentence variations, figurative language, or other details to expand each sentence.
Time to Practice Writing Concisely!
Now that you have some new writing strategies in your teacher tool belt, you’re ready to have your student practice with 100-word stories. This exercise helps drive home the importance of writing concise sentences. Here’s how it works:
- Read a few familiar folk tales, fairy tales, or fables together.
- Ask your student to choose one of their favorites and place it in a new setting (in the past, the future, outer space, or a laboratory, for example).
- Next, have them add a new character, such as a robot, scientist, detective, or superhero.
- Instruct them to write a story that has exactly 100 words. It must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Try doing this exercise several times. Then, ask your student to pick one of their stories and turn it into a polished final piece. Feel free to let them use a little more than 100 words, as long as they can justify the use of those extra words.
Writing concisely can take some time to become effortless, but once students grasp the idea, their writing will flourish. Few people become novelists, but everyone needs to communicate effectively in their daily lives. Using these writing strategies will help set up your student for writing success in the future.
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