6th grade English Language Arts tips: Here's how to help your student

Here's how you can help your sixth-grader master reading and writing outside of the classroom.
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By Aisha Labi

Hoping to help your sixth-grader with reading and writing skills? Here are some basic tips that experts suggest.

Give your child space

Find a regular place for your child to read and study. Some people like to read and work in a quiet area while others prefer to hear background music. The most important thing is to make sure that they have a space where they can read and study effectively.

Explore short novels

Now that your child is in middle school, they will be given longer reading assignments, such as short novels. These might be classics you remember, like "The Witch of Blackbird Pond" or newer works, like The Hunger Games trilogy. Try to read these assignments yourself, if you have the time. You’ll enjoy them and will be able to discuss them in detail with your sixth-grader. Ask questions that go beyond just talking about what happened in the book. Ask them what motivated different characters or how they think they felt in different situations.

Identify essential information while reading

As the amount of reading material your sixth grader is assigned increases, they will need to develop new strategies for synthesizing all that they are learning. Help them figure out how to process information by asking questions such as “What was the main idea in the article you just read?” “What are the most important things you want to remember about it?” Learning how to identify and focus on essential information will be an important skill throughout their life.

Look up new words

Keep a dictionary and a thesaurus accessible in the house, so that when an unfamiliar word comes up your child can easily consult these handy reference books. Encourage him to always look up words your child doesn’t know.

Ask “what if” questions

Ask “what if” questions about the books and stories your child is reading. What if the author had decided to change a specific plot point? What if a character in a biography had made a different decision at a key moment? Ask questions that prompt them to think through the motivations behind the actions of different characters.

Join a book club together

Parent-child book clubs are becoming increasingly popular. It takes just a handful of enthusiastic readers and a good book to generate a lively discussion. If doing this with some of your child’s friends and their parents doesn’t seem practical you could also try a family book club. Just search parent-child book club to find plenty of online resources offering suggestions.

Encourage debate and discussion

Encourage discussion as much as possible in your house. Ask your sixth-grader for their opinion about political and social issues, or about books, movies, and TV shows. Listen carefully and prompt him to express their ideas thoughtfully, backing up their claims with evidence. Having dinner together as a family may be harder to do as your child gets older and there are more demands on their time, but this is one of the best ways to stimulate these kinds of conversations.

Suggest fun writing projects

Keep an eye out for fun projects that involve writing. If your child made a family tree when they were younger, they can update it with a companion piece of writing in which your sixth-grader provides short biographical entries about each person. They can make these as simple or as involved as they like. An especially interesting relative’s entry could become a longer profile, incorporating information from an interview with that relative and external published sources.

To find out what your sixth-grader will be learning in English Language Arts class, check out our sixth grade English Language Arts skills page.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Joyce Epstein, Director, Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships, Johns Hopkins University; Pamela Mason, Program Director/Lecturer on Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Barbara Stripling, Senior Associate Dean, Syracuse University; Linda Gambrell, Professor, Clemson University; and Cathy Fleischer, Professor, Eastern Michigan University, and align with the Common Core State Standards.