At a glance
Breaking down writing assignments can help kids manage the work.
Kids with learning and thinking differences may not know how to break an assignment into chunks.
The smaller the “chunks,” the more manageable they may be for your child.
Writing assignments can be overwhelming for students with certain learning and thinking differences. Kids may have an overall plan for how to manage big projects. But when they sit down to start a writing assignment, they may not know how to break it down into smaller tasks.
The key is to identify specific chunks that will make the work manageable for your child. The chunks may vary from one assignment to the next. But the ones listed here can serve as a guide.
Chunk #1: Review the type of writing.
Examine the assignment carefully. What type of writing is involved? Is it a research paper, a personal story, or an analysis of something your child has read? Look for keywords in the assignment, such as “compare,” “discuss,” or “share.” Make sure your child understands what they need to do for that type of writing.
Chunk #2: List the tasks and create a timeline.
Before your child can start the writing process, your child will need to know all the tasks involved. These will make up the chunks of the assignment. Depending on the type of assignment, some of the tasks might require students to:
- Gather information.
- Do research and/or read.
- Take notes (a graphic organizer may help).
- Decide on a thesis statement or theme.
- Create an outline (a graphic organizer may help).
- Write a first draft.
Once your child has decided on the tasks, your child can develop a timeline for getting them done. Help your child figure out the time required for each one. Work backward through the tasks to come up with a timeline for producing the assignment. (Build in extra time for tasks that may be especially hard for your child.)
Also, plan to check in after each task at first. Once your child gets going, you can check in after a few tasks.
Chunk #3: Gather resources.
Discuss what your child needs to know and where that information needs to come from. If it’s a book report, make sure your child has a copy of the book. (If an audiobook is required, make sure your child has that too.) If it’s a research paper, help your child find reliable resources at the library or online.
Chunk #4: Read and highlight information.
Encourage kids to find information that they feel is crucial or that interests them. This is a two-part task: reading and highlighting. If your child doesn’t know how to highlight information, work with your child to develop this skill.
You can start by asking your child to tell you what they think is important after reading each page. Then you can highlight that information for your child.
Chunk #5: Decide on a thesis statement.
The thesis statement is the argument or the main point your child’s writing assignment will be making. Help your child explore and sift through thoughts and ideas. Be sure to ask your child to tell you a few of the details that led to that particular argument or point. Depending on your child’s learning and thinking differences, you may want to build in extra time for this chunk.
Chunk #6: Create an outline.
Many graphic organizers create outlines for different types of papers. But if your child is using one that doesn’t, your child can arrange their notes to make one. Your child can even copy each note onto an index card and arrange them that way. The outline should tell the story (or make the case) from the beginning to the middle to the end.
Chunk #7: Review the paragraphs needed.
If your child is using a graphic organizer, it may include a template for this. You can also help your child do it on their own. (Be sure to ask if the teacher has given a rubric or a handout that describes the assignment.)
For instance, there’s a common form that research papers take. The first paragraph contains a thesis statement, followed by an explanation of what’s coming next.
The next three paragraphs support the statement by going into more detail and using quotes or facts. The last paragraph sums up the thesis and recaps the supporting details.
Chunk #8: Write the draft.
Certain learning and thinking differences may make this chunk difficult to do all at once. These include , and , and slow processing speed.
It can help to decide how your child will tackle the actual production of the paragraphs. Set a schedule where your child can successfully get through the writing. For instance, your child could write in half-hour increments with breaks in between. Or your child could write one or two paragraphs at a time.
Chunk #9: Review, revise, and reread.
Go over the paper together to make sure it meets the criteria of the writing assignment. Help your child mark where they need to make changes, add details, or correct errors.
This is actually a three-part process, so you may choose to break it down into separate steps. If so, return to the overall timeline and factor that in.
More tools and strategies to help with writing
Make sure your child understands the assignment and the type of writing involved.
Creating a timeline can help you build in extra time for chunks that may be harder for your child.
Graphic organizers can help kids break down assignments and keep track of ideas.
About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Bob Cunningham, EdM has been part of Understood since its founding. He’s also been the chief administrator for several independent schools and a school leader in general and special education.