To create better writers, forget the formula

November 18, 2011

Jay Mathews made several good points in his column about the sorry state of student writing [“Writing lessons? Start over,” Metro, Nov. 14]. The phrase in his column most to the point was “while reading great writers.” Nothing can better prepare a student for writing than reading. Promoting reading develops lifelong learning and better writers.  

Students should be encouraged to read widely: fiction (short stories, novels), nonfiction (essays, articles), plays and poems — humorous and serious, classics and not so classic, “real” (paper) and virtual (the Web). Students should read deeply: Explore a writer or subject with passion, from Harry Potter to Stephen King to Henry James. Students should work to read critically (to interpret): dissect and summarize all kinds of writing for the gist and the argument. Get a feel for how great writers put it all together: subject, audience, purpose, tone and style.

Formulaic teaching of the five-paragraph essay doesn’t produce better student writers, promoting reading does. A student who is tone-deaf to language will find it difficult to write well. As a writing teacher for 25 years, I can spot a reader when I grade that first essay.      

Stephanie Demma, Lanham

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