Special Education

How to Deal with Learning Disabilities in Basic Writing Skills

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Basic writing skills include learning handwriting, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. For children with learning disabilities, the first step in helping them learn writing is to have a positive attitude about writing and to motivate the children to write. After that, one of the most effective ways to teach writing skills to children with learning disabilities is spontaneous written expression. This means children are encouraged to write whatever they would like about a certain topic. Then their writing samples are used as a basis for developing basic writing skills.

Children need to recognize correct sentence structure. Have them read interesting stories at their own reading level. This will expose them to good sentences in others' writings. Also, through oral reading or tape-recording stories, children are more likely to notice sentences that are not written/said correctly.

Schumaker and Sheldon (1985) developed a sentence-writing structure that has been used successfully to help children with learning disabilities understand sentences better. The acronym PENS helps children remember the steps in writing a sentence:
P - Pick a sentence type and formula.
E - Explore words to fit the formula.
N - Note the words.
S - Search for verbs and subjects, and check.

Welch (1992) presents a strategy to help children write paragraphs, with the acronym PLEASE:
P - Pick a topic, an audience, and a format (such as cause and effect or comparison and contrast).
L - List information about the topic.
E - Evaluate whether the list is complete and plan how to organize the ideas.
A - Activate the paragraph with a short and simple topic sentence.
S - Supply supporting sentences based on items from the list.
E - End with a concluding sentence that rephrases the topic sentence, and Evaluate for errors.

As the children are developing basic skills, they should be taught how to look for errors, edit, and revise. A good error-monitoring strategy (Schumaker, Nolan, & Deshler, 1985) is asking the COPS questions:
C - Capitalize: Have I capitalized the first word and proper nouns?
O - Overall: How is the overall appearance (spacing, legibility, indention, neatness, and complete sentences)?
P - Punctuation: Have I put in commas, semicolons, and end punctuations?
S - Spelling: Have I spelled all the words correctly?

Children should be encouraged to share their written work as much as possible because the goal of writing is to communicate. All of these strategies have been shown to help children with learning disabilities develop good basic writing skills.


Mercer, Cecil D. & Mercer, Ann R. (2005). Teaching Students with Learning Problems. (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall.

Schumaker, J. B., Nolan, S. M., & Deshler, D. D. (1985). Learning strategies curriculum: The error monitoring strategy. Lawrence: University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning.

Schumaker, J. B., & Sheldon, J. (1985). The sentence writing strategy. Lawrence: University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning.

Welch, M. (1992). The PLEASE strategy: A metacognitive learning strategy for improving the paragraph writing of students with mild learning disabilities. Learning Disability Quarterly, 15, 119-128.


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