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What Are Prewriting Skills for Elementary Students?

by Christi O'Donnell

Before they learn how to write in school, young children love to write notes, keep journals, draw treasure maps and try to communicate their ideas on paper. All of these actions are ways of demonstrating they have already mastered some prewriting skills. Parents, caregivers and teachers can help prewriters in the early elementary grades prepare for the rigors of writing by helping them build their confidence and skills in a variety of fun and exciting ways.

Pinchy Fingers

Sharp fine motor skills are a prerequisite for all of the writing that elementary school children need to do. Fine motor skills start when babies are very young -- managing to get a tiny ring of cereal from the tabletop to his mouth is one of the first fine motor achievements parents celebrate. Learning how to control the small muscles in his fingers and hands help a child properly grasp a pencil when it is time to write. Games and activities that encourage young children to grab, grasp, pinch and trace with their fingers and fingertips are extremely helpful in developing fine motor control.

Playing Catch

Believe it or not, gross motor games like catch, volleyball and basketball encourage children to develop the hand-eye coordination and strength that is important when they begin writing on paper. Children who are learning to write will constantly be exercising the pathways between their eyes, brain and fingers as they try to copy the intricate shapes, lines and angles that make up letters. Playing games that help children to coordinate their movements and develop an awareness of their own bodies starts training those pathways early.

Making Waves

Before students start forming numbers and letters, help them practice tracing straight, curved, looping, jagged, wavy and dotted lines. Though they aren't making actual words, learning how to control their pencil or crayon on paper is preparing them for the act of writing. Tracing pictures and shapes with tracing paper, and coloring and drawing pictures are all encouraging children to use the proper grip on a writing implement and helping them practice how to control small movements.

Silly Stories

Prewriting skills are not limited to skills which help children practice the physical act of writing. Once students begin putting pencil to paper, they are going to need something to write about. Encourage children to retell stories they have heard or to tell original stories about their day. Make the storytelling fun by changing or adding details -- or just try making up stories that are as silly as possible. Most kindergarten and first grade writing curricula will encourage children to illustrate most or all of their writing. Start out in reverse. Ask children to explain what is happening in the pictures they draw, and let them watch you record their answers. This process helps the child make connections between spoken words and printed words.

About the Author

A lifetime resident of New York, Christi O'Donnell has been writing about education since 2003. O'Donnell is a dual-certified educator with experience writing curriculum and teaching grades preK through 12. She holds a Bachelors Degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a Masters Degree in education from Mercy College.

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