When your student begins to protest, “But I like it this way!” or “It looks okay to me,” it’s high time to introduce the concept of writing conventions.
We can define conventions as a set of generally accepted standards for written English. We use conventions to make our writing more readable. In other words, we do things in a certain way so the reader can figure out what we’re trying to say.
Conventions include spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and sentence structure. Students should:
- Apply spelling rules correctly.
- Use correct punctuation to smoothly guide the reader through the paper.
- Use verb tenses correctly.
- Write sentences that express complete thoughts.
- Demonstrate paragraph organization and use smooth transitions.
In addition, each kind of writing has its own conventions. For instance:
- Narrative writing must have characters, setting, and plot.
- Descriptive writing must appeal to the senses through use of vivid, colorful, precise vocabulary.
- Expository writing must inform, clarify, explain, define, or instruct.
- Persuasive writing must present an argument based on facts and logic, and attempt to sway the reader’s opinion.
As a rule, you probably won’t teach a lesson on “conventions,” per se. There are just too many conventions, so it’s better to deal with them independently. Besides, individual concepts stick better when students can apply them in a practical way.
For example, it’s just natural to introduce character, setting, plot, and conflict when you’re teaching your children to write a narrative. You wouldn’t teach these as isolated elements and not have your kids actually write a narrative; the instruction and application makes sense because they’re including these elements in their story.
Similarly, instead of teaching grammar in isolation, make sure you’re providing an immediate way for students to apply their grammar lessons to a writing assignment. If your grammar program is introducing appositives, let’s say, require your child to include an appositive in the history report he’s working on.
Diligently reinforce concepts by making sure your children are following conventions in their writing.
As they get older, there should be no more excuse for things like comma splices, incomplete sentences, and homophone confusion. These are the problems you must nip in the bud now, because they’re the very issues that will identify your students as poor writers later on—both in college and on the job. Therefore, give recurring problems focused attention.