The news is not fantastic. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) keeps tabs on how we are doing as a country in teaching our kids to write. The NAEP uses a scale that places student scores in one of 4 categories: Below Basic (poor); Basic (below average); Proficient (average); and Advanced (above average).
Sadly, only 24% of students in 8th grade and in 12th grade scored at the Proficient Level in the most recent survey. The vast majority of students in public schools in the United States …a whopping 76% are only able to write at a Below Basic to Basic Level. (You can even search specific states or school districts, so we looked up our home state. Yep, Texas, it’s even worse.)
In recent years, research has begun to point to a causal relationship between oral language instruction and student writing outcomes. This makes so much sense when you really think about it.
Kids develop written language later because of the fine motor mechanics involved in holding a pencil. And also because it takes some time to learn to turn beginning squiggles into letters. But the ideas kids need for writing start to form much earlier. As we learn to talk and understand what people say, we build vocabularies and patterns for the way words fit together to construct meaning. It’s no wonder that kids who have rich oral language experiences end up with a win for two of the very best predictors of being a strong reader and writer: vocabulary and grammar.
Fortunately, there are ways to create rich oral language experiences for our kids! As always, our #1 recommendation is retelling. We love picture books for this, and you can find a list of picture books that follow a strong plot-based story structure HERE. (By the way, picture books are great for building vocabulary and story organization all the way through 5th grade!)
Grab our Story-Walk Ruler to guide your retellings, and to give your student a visual support to organize their ideas. For more advanced or older students, try retelling a sitcom episode or even a movie. Watch out for retellings that literally give you a step-by-step replay of the entire show (you’ll be up all night)! Retellings require a little bit of summarization skill (another reason we love to retell).