Entries Tagged 'Reluctant Writers' ↓

How to help a child with writer’s block

How to help a child with writer's block is a big concern for parents. These 5 tips will help when perfectionism or writer’s block strikes.

How to help a child with writer’s block … It’s a common concern for many homeschooling parents.

  • Some kids identify writer’s block as those fleeting thoughts and ideas that tease around the edge of the mind but never find their way to paper.
  • Others know it as the panic that wells up any time pencil and paper are involved.

Though many stumbling blocks litter the road to writing success, perfectionism—the biggest contributor to writer’s block—is the mother of them all. Perfectionism can hold kids back from doing their best by seizing them with fear. The ideas they scratch out on paper just don’t seem good enough.

Your Kids Are Not Alone

Once asked about the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, novelist Ernest Hemingway replied, “A blank sheet of paper.”

When kids are in a stare-down with that blank page—and the page is winning—it’s easy for them to believe they’re the only ones who ever wrestle with writing down a thought. I hope they can take comfort knowing that everyone—even Hemingway—has suffered from writer’s block at some point.

I love these quotes from other famous authors who really understand!

Quotation Marks“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” ~James Thurber

“People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.”
~Anna Quindlen

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
~Margaret Atwood

When perfectionism or writer’s block grinds your kids to a halt, one of these suggestions may help them gain their footing again.

1. Start Small

How to help a child with writer's block is a big concern for parents. These 5 tips will help when perfectionism or writer’s block strike.When you bake a cake, it doesn’t pop out of the oven ready to serve to the birthday girl! You have to begin with a plain cake and build from there, adding frosting and decorating with icing flourishes and colorful sprinkles.

It’s just as unrealistic for your child to expect a brilliant composition to appear on paper the minute he starts forming words. As with the cake, it helps to start with a few plain sentences he can add to and embellish later.

For example, he can start with something like this:

I am on a baseball team.
Yesterday we played our best game.
I drove in two runs.
Gabriel scored the winning run.
It was a close game.
Our coach took us out for pizza.

Later, he can ask who, what, when, where, and why questions to help him add descriptive details and sentence variety:

          I am on the Red Rockets baseball team with my friend Gabriel. Yesterday we played our best game of the season against the Mud Ducks. In the bottom of the sixth, I hammered the ball and drove in two runs to tie up the score. During the last inning, Gabriel slid into home plate and scored the winning run. What a close game! Afterwards, Coach Dan took the whole team to Sammy’s Pizza to celebrate our victory.

2. Write Now, Revise Later

A rough draft is a place to test out ideas and play with words. Getting those unpolished ideas onto paper is an important part of the process.

If your child realizes this sloppy copy gives him permission to be imperfect, he’ll be more willing to allow himself the freedom to make mistakes. Urge him not to do any editing at all during the rough-draft stage.

The first draft will eventually need some tweaking; there’s always room for improvement. Even revered authors such as Steinbeck, Tolkien, and Rowling have faced the task of revising their work! This is the time to encourage your kids to rework their paper so it shines.

  • Younger children shouldn’t labor over a revision. It’s enough to add a few details, substitute stronger words, and polish up spelling and punctuation.
  • Teens, however, should expect to rewrite a draft several times before it passes muster, beefing up arguments, supporting with additional facts, embellishing with description, and improving both word choice and mechanics.

3. Write Out of Order

If the “perfect” introduction eludes your student, let him start writing a different section of the paper. He can always come back and add a topic sentence or develop an introductory paragraph.

4. Write to Music

Put on some music during writing time. It could be lively or calm, jazzy or symphonic, classical or contemporary—as long as it’s instrumental. Poke around Pandora till you find a station that appeals to your child, and then encourage him write as the music inspires!

Even if you’re assigning a specific topic, background music can focus your writer, helping him to get “unstuck.”

5. Use a Writing Prompt

When ideas languish in the corner of your student’s mind, a writing prompt could be the very thing that blows him out of the writing doldrums. A text prompt is a word, phrase, or short paragraph that provides a springboard to writing about a specific topic.

As an alternative, an interesting or unusual photo—with or without accompanying text—might be all the inspiration your child needs to break out of his slump.

No one is immune to writer’s block. Which of these ideas will inspire your reluctant writer?

 Photos: Cillian Storm and D. Sharon Pruitt, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Why do we need to revise writing? {Show, don’t tell!}

Kids who ask "Why do we need to revise?" can discover for themselves how much better their writing sounds when they take time to improve it

Only at Your House?

Picture yourself at the kitchen table with the kids gathered round. Everyone is working on their latest writing projects, scribbling out a story or article, when this conversation happens:

Child: I’m done, Mom.
You: Great! Let’s set it aside for now. You can revise it tomorrow.
Child: Whaaaaat? Why do we need to revise?
You: Because revising is an important part of the writing process. 
Child: But, Mom, I like it the way it is! I don’t want to change anything
You: Every paper can be improved. Did you know even professional authors revise their work?
Child: {scowling} You just don’t like anything I write.
You: {sigh}

Dear homeschool mama, if it makes you feel better, you are not alone. It’s the rare child who actually enjoys revising a paper. When it comes to writing, frankly, many children see Mom as the bad guy, that mean old parent who’s never satisfied.

Let’s take some steps to change that impression, shall we? Read on…and make sure you {and your kids} catch the fun video at the end.

A Call to A.R.M.S.

A story isn’t finished until the writer has read it through and made changes. There’s always a way to improve what we’ve written.

Revising is a call to A.R.M.S.

  • Add description and detail.
  • Remove words, phrases, or sentences that don’t fit or make sense.
  • Move words or sentences that would work better in another spot.
  • Substitute vague words with stronger synonyms, dull words with interesting ones.

Why Do I Need to Revise?

Until kids finally “get” the value of revising, they’ll probably resist—but that doesn’t mean it will always be the case. Though they need to be taught the benefits of self-editing, they must also discover for themselves how much better their writing sounds when they replace dull words or rephrase an awkward sentence.

More importantly, they need to realize you’re in their corner. Like a piano teacher or soccer coach, you can encourage their progress even as you help them hone their developing skills.

Working together to revise a paper gives you a chance to do more than find fault! Start by pointing out things they’ve done well (such as making strong verb choices or writing an especially descriptive phrase).

Believe me, knowing you’re not just looking for their mistakes is highly reassuring.

Show, Don’t Tell

Pinterest is pretty amazing sometimes (okay, all the time) . . . and all the more so when I discover a gem like the little video below, in which two students act out the process of revising a story. This entertaining 5-minute clip will “show” much better than I can “tell.”

I’m sure your own kids could relate to the child who made the shift from “I’m all done” to “Well, maybe there are some things I could fix” to “Wow! It really does sound better now!”

Not only that, now you have some fresh ways to make suggestions that build up your children and encourage their writing efforts. Happy revising!

Copyright 2013 © by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Image: Denise Krebs, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Helping your child write thank you notes

interesting thank-you notes, writing center, avoiding procrastination

THE PARTY is over. Balloons have popped, streamers are down, and birthday presents spill out of gift bags across the floor. Do you and your child find yourselves dreading what comes next? Perhaps you whisper the words and cringe: thank-you notes.

Why Does It Matter?

Writing sincere, thoughtful thank-you notes is a valuable habit. As any college graduate or young bride knows, this skill is still highly relevant in our electronic age. My mother, my grandmother, and even my first employer taught me that nothing replaces the personal touch of a hand-written note. Remind your children that just as they enjoy receiving mail, their friends and family do, too! Oh, and don’t forget that April is National Card and Letter Writing Month. That should be enough of a reason right there.

When to Send Thank-you Notes

It’s tempting to forget about mailing notes when time and energy are limited. I can’t claim a perfect track record, but I’ve loosely adopted this rule of thumb:

  • If the gift-giving is mutual (a friend and I exchange presents at a Christmas party), thank-you notes are optional.
  • If the gift giving is one-sided (a relative sends me a check for graduation), thank-you notes are mandatory. Gifts for elementary children are usually one-sided, so your kids should probably be writing a lot of notes.

Avoid the Procrastination Bug

Most kids would rather do almost anything than write their thank-you notes. There are ways parents can avoid turning these little notes into power struggles. Try these tips, and the grandparents and great aunts will happily receive their notes in the mail long before next Christmas.

Set Up a Writing Center

Nothing beats distraction and procrastination like a well-stocked writing center. You can transform any corner of your house into a writing center with a few simple steps:

  • Make sure the area is well-lit.
  • Arrange the seating and writing surface in a comfortable way that encourages good posture.
  • Keep thank-you note supplies in easy reach (colorful stationery, pencils, stamps, address book, etc.) Let your child know that everything is ready to go.

Make It a Family Activity

Write thank-you notes alongside your children. Youngsters want to be part of mom and dad’s activities, and they will remember what you do long after they forget what you say. If a friend sends you a surprise package, or your neighbors bring a meal when you’re sick, sit down next to you children and write a thank-you note.

Decide on Standards Ahead of Time

Decide ahead of time if you’re going to correct grammar and spelling. Inventive spelling is cute when a child is six, but you may not be ready for every relative in town to critique your 10-year-old daughter’s writing skills.

Just remember that writing two drafts of the same note by hand can be overwhelming for a young child. If your son is not a strong speller, perhaps you can let him dictate the rough draft. Then, allow him to rewrite it in his own handwriting.

Tips for Writing Interesting Notes

When it comes to creating a personal touch, our words are just as important as careful handwriting and a first-class stamp. Teach your children simple ways to make thank-you notes fun to write and entertaining to read.

  • Include interesting verbs to tell how I used the gift or how I plan to use it.
  • Include a surprising fact about the gift, such as I’ve always wanted a butterfly net, because I want to be an entomologist when I grow up.
  • Include a personal reflection about the gift-giver, such as You always choose the perfect gifts for me, and I really appreciate your thoughtfulness.

What tips would you like to share about writing thank-you notes? What ideas have worked for your family?

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.wordpress.com.

Photo: Kate Hiscock courtesy of Creative Commons.

Building confidence in reluctant writers

Building confidence in reluctant writers or kids with special needs

I’m guest blogging over at Home Educating Family today. Join me?

Has your child been diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, autism, or ADHD? Maybe he has an auditory or visual processing disorder. Or perhaps your child doesn’t have special needs at all, but is simply a reluctant, resistant writer

Even a slight hiccup in a child’s ability to learn can cause daily struggle. Whatever the root cause, all you know is this: writing is a source of contention at your house, and the mere mention of it reduces your child to tears.

Rest assured it’s not just your child. Most students struggle with writing at some level, but when a child learns with difficulty, the challenges are magnified…

Read the complete article here, and find encouragement for teaching your struggling writer.

 

 

 

10 ways to reduce writing stress

Does writing stress out your kids and challenge you as a homeschool mom? Reduce writing stress by making simple adjustments to your teaching routine.

TEACHING WRITING can seem complicated and stressful—and for many homeschoolers, it’s the most challenging, stress-inducing subject you teach. But you can lighten the load with a few small, simple adjustments to your normal teaching attempts. Try these ten tips on for size!

1. Don’t let your child go it alone.

At every age, your child needs your involvement in the writing process, not just to give editing feedback, but to instruct and model. Like teaching your child to wash the car, crochet a hat, or clean the hamster cage, you’ll need to remain involved until she is confidently and successfully progressing.

2. Give guidelines for the assignment.

What’s one of the most frustrating assignments you can give a reluctant child? Believe it or not, just ask her to “write about whatever she wants.” While it seems that this should inspire her, it can actually shut down her creativity altogether. Why? Because without guidelines, she feels like she’s been tossed into a vast ocean and told to swim for shore!

Instead, provide clear instructions and lesson boundaries, which make her feel more secure.

3. Offer choices.

An unmotivated student may benefit from having choices, such as deciding between several writing topics or choosing whether to do his writing assignment at his desk or the kitchen table.

4. Plan before writing.

When a student goes off on rabbit trails, he loses his focus and ends up with writing that’s awkward or hard to follow. Help him create an outline or use a graphic organizer before he begins so he’s less likely to wander off the path. Work together, modeling the brainstorming process for your child.

5. Just write!

Though it’s tempting for your student to try to correct everything as he goes, have him finish his rough draft without wrestling with every word, phase, and sentence. That’s what revising is for!

6. Kick perfectionism to the curb.

Perfectionism—personal pressure to “get it right the first time”—is the mother of all stumbling blocks and the key contributor to writer’s block. Don’t get hung up on perfection. Your child can always improve the rough draft. Remember: the creative process isn’t always neat, tidy, and measured, and it’s certainly not perfect!

7. Give your teen frequent essay practice.

Regularly assign essays related to other subjects of study such as literature and history. Practicing often with essay writing of all types—including timed essays—will make college writing that much less stressful.

Read About It Later

8. Give deadlines.

Establish a due date for each writing assignment. When you don’t give a deadline, you imply that your child can put the task off indefinitely. Set a cut-off date and stick to it.

9. Use writing checklists.

Children should begin using a checklist as a guide to help them identify errors in content, style, and mechanics. A checklist makes self-editing more objective by offering specific expectations to meet.

10. Bless your student’s writing efforts.

Before you make a single correction on your student’s paper, affirm her by helping her discover what’s right about her story or report, not just what needs fixing.

Your Turn!

Be brave! Which of these 10 tips will you try this week? Share in the comment section below.

Photos: Patrick Lim, Caleb Roenigk, and Alena Navarro-Whyte courtesy of Creative Commons.

Are you turning your child off to writing?

Your child hates writing! Do you expect too much independence? Give open-ended assignments? Focus on mistakes? These tips will encourage you!

“My child hates writing!” 

Know what? I can totally empathize with you—my son was the poster boy for reluctant writers! These children approach a blank sheet of paper with emotions ranging from boredom to fear. Each attempt produces frenzied erasures, gray smudges, or tears of frustration.

They don’t get why writing is so hard (or worse, why they’re so bad at it), and they wallow in a whole heap of failure.

Homeschooling mamas want to create an atmosphere that fosters a love of writing. We want our kids to feel comfortable around paper and pencil—to know how to organize a brainful of lively thoughts and express them in written form. But sometimes we get in the way of our own goals.

YOU MAY BE TURNING YOUR KIDS OFF TO WRITING IF …

> You expect too much independence.

Younger students may not be ready to write on their own. After all, there’s a lot involved in getting an idea from brain to paper! By the time a child wrestles with spelling or punctuation or a cramped hand, he’s completely lost his grip on that “great” idea, and it vanishes into thin air.

So how much help should you give? As much as your child needs to feel successful.

While our girls were comfortable with writing at a young age, Ben had a terrible time forming words—let alone writing entire stories—even at age 10. Instead of squishing the life out of his creative thoughts, I let him dictate his stories to me as I wrote them down. In time, as he gained confidence and skill, he took over more and more of the writing until he was able to work independently.

> Writing assignments are too vague.

Want to sound the death knell for your child? Tell him to write about anything he wants!

While some children have the confidence, creativity, and interest to embrace this freedom, most just stare glumly at their paper as anxiety mounts:

I can’t think of anything to write about!
How long does it have to be?
What if I do it wrong?

A good assignment always includes clear goals; you’re establishing boundaries for your children when you provide specific guidelines.

1. Define the nature of the assignment

  • Write a book report.
  • Describe a place.
  • Explain how to do a task.

2. Explain the assignment’s purpose.

  • Is it an exercise designed to build skills, or will it follow the writing process and become a polished final draft?
  • Will this become a report to accompany a science project, or is it simply an explanation of a concept to demonstrate his understanding?

3. Make sure tasks are specific and clear.

  • Write one 5- to 7-sentence paragraph.
  • Include a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Using all five senses, describe your favorite dessert.

4. Break the assignment into bite-size steps.

  • Give mini due dates along the way.
  • Check your child’s work so you can offer encouragement and suggestions.

> You consider games and crafts “fluff.”

Most children learn best through hands-on activities, which help your child associate writing with fun! So rather than look at pre-writing activities as busy work, think of them as vital teaching aids. Let them play Mad Libs® or other word games to improve vocabulary, boost creativity, and teach skills.

Start here to find loads of writing activities for different ages.

> You focus on their mistakes.

As you edit your child’s paper, resist the inclination to draw blood from it by attacking every error with your red pen. Yes, you will be distracted by spelling errors, run-on sentences, and misused apostrophes, but don’t let them prevent you from getting to the heart of your child’s message.

Whether or not writing comes easily and naturally, your child has a great emotional attachment to his words. If you criticize his writing, he feels personally attacked.

Instead, search for the good!

  • Identify areas of growth.
  • Offer encouraging comments.
  • Point out places that show improvement over earlier assignments.
  • Highlight examples of strong word choice or proper sentence structure.

Writing is definitely a fluid process—and it can be taught many different ways. But with a few adjustments in attitude and approach, you can help your reluctant writers turn the corner. Where will you begin?

Photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc

Publishing with flap books

Manila file folders are the darling of both teachers and homeschool moms, who love to turn these ordinary, commonplace office staples into all sorts of fun projects.

Let’s look at two ways you can use manila folders to help your children publish their writing!

1. Reveal Parts of a Story

Try showcasing your children’s writing projects in a lapbook-style flap book. Flap books work especially well when a child wants to reveal one part of the story at a time or hide a surprise ending. They’re simple and fun, and even the least crafty among your kids will enjoy producing a final draft like one of these!

Numbered Flaps

A younger child’s short story can be displayed in a flap book that contains one numbered flap or mini book for every sentence in the story.

Depending on the child’s level of interest, you could cut the flaps from brightly colored scrapbooking or construction paper, and then affix the sentence strips to the colored paper.

Lift-the-Flaps: Beginning, Middle, and End

This flap book is perfect for revealing the beginning, middle, and end of a story.

Cut the front cover of a file folder horizontally to form two or three flaps.

Then cut the story into strips and glue the strips into the file folder under the corresponding flaps. If the story is longer than one page, simply staple additional (uncut) pages onto the back cover of the file folder.

Your child may also enjoy gluing special clip art, magazine pictures, or a small map on the inside of each flap.

2. Showcase a Report or Narrative

Open up a manila folder and fold the edges into the center to make a different type of flap book. Your student can publish a nonfiction report by stapling it in the center and adding photos, illustrations, charts, maps, tables, or graphs to the two outside flaps.

Your child could also use this idea to publish a narrative, using photos or drawings that illustrate parts of the story.

Your Turn

How do you use manila file folders to display your children’s writing assignments?

.  .  .  .  .

Each of these flap book activities comes straight from the pages of WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior, two elementary writing programs that incorporate clever publishing ideas into every lesson.

 

Hope for your struggling writer

Hope for Your Struggling Writer ... and encouragement for you!

DID YOU know that my own reluctant, struggling writer is the real face behind WriteShop?

The Boy Who Couldn’t

My son Ben (and Debbie‘s son Brian) were buddies before they even started kindergarten. Peas in a pod, they were: fidgety, kinesthetic, active, smart little guys!

But unlike their older sisters, they didn’t catch on to reading and writing.

Deb and I each had our own methods, products, and ways of approaching these subjects—yet we both struggled to help our boys make progress toward independence. We started and stopped, started and stopped, seeing little fruit.

Has this ever happened to you? 

Thinking Outside the Box

Ben had no lack of words or ideas, but he had a hard time holding a pencil (or sitting still, for that matter). Rather than keep waiting until that magical day when he could write the words down by himself, I let him dictate as I wrote.

This was long before I’d ever heard of Charlotte Mason or narration. But it just made sense that if he couldn’t write on his own, all his great ideas would just smolder inside his busy little brain.

MatchI wanted those thoughts to burst into flame! So having him dictate his stories and short reports to me (with lots of prodding, prompting, and questions on my part) was key for us, as it allowed him not only to make up stories, but to express his knowledge and understanding of the different things we were studying.

By the time our boys were 12, however, Debbie and I had become more desperate to see some independence in this area. Allowing them to narrate was all good and well, but they really needed to develop personal writing skills!

We had no idea what we were doing, but figuring it could only help, we committed to teach a writing class for a handful of homeschoolers our boys’ ages.

At first, we drew from a variety of writing materials to teach our students, but to our dismay, they still had trouble putting cohesive thoughts on paper. Clearly, something had to change!

Armed with goals and ideas, Deb and I began creating our own lessons. Imagine our joy when all the children—not just our own boys—began to write with improved content and style.

Cling to Hope

Our girls were intuitive writers, easy to guide and easy to teach. But we didn’t have much faith that our reluctant 12-year-old sons would be able to write. Our journey was hard, and we experienced more than our share of frustration. But diligence paid off. Today, Brian is a high-achieving sergeant in the US Army, and Ben is finishing up his Ph.D. How thankful we are that our exploration of new ideas—coupled with time, patience, trial and error—kept us on the path and allowed our sons to blossom and mature in their own time.

Some of you are just starting your journey. You can’t even begin to imagine that one day your struggling writer will come up with an articulate, coherent thought on his own.

If you’re feeling anxious, take heart. You can learn to teach your children that writing is more than random thoughts tossed onto paper. You can help them learn to use important tools that lay a foundation for future writing—writing that will take shape and mature as their knowledge, life experiences, vocabulary, and thinking skills develop.

Your children may not become scholars . . . and that’s okay. But good writing skills will take them far.

I’m glad you’re here. And when you feel frustrated, remember that I walked that path too. I hope you can take encouragement from my story that a great deal can—and will—happen between now and adulthood!

What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. 

Photo credits:  Karah Fredricks (“Discouraged”). Used by permission.
Creative Commons photo (“Match”) courtesy of Flickr.

10 writing truths for reluctant teen writers

10 Writing Truths for Teens: How can you encourage your teen when he feels stuck?   What should you tell him when he can’t seem to get started writing?How can you encourage reluctant teen writers when they feel stuck?

What should you tell them when they can’t seem to get started writing?

What advice can you offer when perfectionism rears its ugly head and they have trouble accepting their own mistakes?

Typically, you can’t say or do much—especially if they’re already in a funk. But if you can bite your tongue and sit on your hands till a teaching moment arises, they might be willing to consider one of these ten truths.

1. It’s not just you. I promise.

Writing isn’t always easy. I’m sure you think you’re the only one who suffers from writer’s block, but it might help to know that even famous published authors will agonize over a word, a sentence, or a paragraph.

2. There’s no penalty for a bad first draft.

“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” ~Robert Cromier

3. If you’re stuck, explain to someone what you’re trying to write.

My adult son is a former reluctant writer. But even to this day, as a Ph.D. student, he’ll call me from time to time when he hits a writing roadblock. Often, I do nothing more than listen and offer the occasional “Mm-hmm.” But the act of thinking aloud and tossing around ideas can open up the floodgate, and he finds that the log jam of words will finally loosen.

Time's Up!4. Set a timer.

Having trouble getting started? Grab a kitchen timer and set it for 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes, right? And some days, you may not even hear the beep.

5. To write well, it helps to read well.

Reading teaches you how words work. You can become more attuned to detail, imagery, voice, and sentence construction. There’s no guarantee that being an avid reader will automatically make you a polished writer, but reading certainly lays a foundation for writing in many ways.

6. Style comes with practice.

Writing may not be second nature to you, but you will learn to develop your own writing style over time.

7. It’s better to write poorly than not at all.

You can always improve your rough draft. Don’t get hung up on perfection. Everyone revises!

“The first rule of writing is to write. The second rule of writing is to rewrite. The third rule of writing is the same as the second.” ~Paul Raymond Martin

8. Don’t write and edit in the same sitting.

I can’t tell you how many little errors I catch when I revisit a piece of my own writing even one day later! I know it’s tempting to just “get it over with.” But really, you’re much wiser to let that essay marinate for a couple of days. When you come back to it, you’ll be more likely to see it with fresh eyes and be willing to make changes.

[Of course, this means you can't wait till the last minute to write your rough draft. 'Nuf said.]

9. Learn to edit your own work.

This is one of the most valuable writing skills you can acquire. The more adept you become at self-editing, the less you have to rely on others to point out flaws. Before you turn your paper over to your parent or teacher, proofread and revise it first.

  • Am I being too wordy?
  • Repeating myself?
  • Making my point?
  • Varying my sentence structure?
  • Using descriptive detail?
  • Punctuating properly?

Your writing will always benefit from a second set of eyes, but learning to edit your own work is a lifelong skill every student needs to develop. While you’ll never be completely objective about your own writing, the ability to self-edit is equally important as having another person do it for you.

10. Edit your writing as if it were someone else’s.

Take an emotional step away from your paper. Imagine that it was written by the kid who flips burgers at McDonald’s, and begin to look for ways the writing could improve. It’s much easier to be objective when you pretend that your composition isn’t actually yours!

Copyright 2012 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

WriteShop  provides schedules, checklists, and detailed instructions that give teen writers direction and help them stay on task. Choosing WriteShop I and II will help you equip and inspire successful writers!

Freewriting exercise: The Writing Well

When students have a deep “well” of words and ideas from which to draw, their compositions becomes more vivid and concrete.

Although it’s is one of the most necessary and helpful steps of the writing process, brainstorming can stump a reluctant writer—even if she’s using a worksheet, graphic organizer, or parent prompting.

You:    What comes to mind when you think of the beach?
Child: Sand and water.
You:   
Great! What else?
Child: That’s all I can think of.

And that’s on a good day!

Prime the Pump

When students have a deep “well” of words and ideas from which to draw, their compositions becomes more vivid and concrete. That’s why WriteShop repeatedly emphasizes the need for adequate brainstorming as a routine part of the writing process. But if their well is dry and they can’t come up with enough words or ideas, their compositions will fall flat.

To keep ideas fresh and flowing, students need to prime their writing pumps on a regular basis. By practicing frequent brainstorming—especially when there’s no added pressure to write a composition—they’ll discover that they can think of words more quickly and abundantly. An freewriting exercise like the Writing Well is a perfect training tool!

The Writing Well

The “Writing Well” is a freewriting exercise designed to stimulate vocabulary, ideas, and impressions on a particular topic. It makes a good pre-writing activity, but it’s really brainstorming practice in disguise!

Kept in a small notebook, these brainstorming results can also become a “seed book”—a resource, word bank, or collection of ideas—when writing future compositions.

Student Directions

  1. You will find it helpful to keep your “Writing Well” in a spiral notebook for easy reference.
  2. Use a separate page for each topic. You may use both front and back if you wish.
  3. Before beginning, choose a topic and write it at the top of the page. Then set the timer to write for five full minutes.
  4. The purpose of this exercise is to write down all the words, phrases, or sentences that come to mind about your chosen topic within the five minutes allotted.

If you get stuck, try some of these ideas:

  • Picture the topic in your mind. Use your five sensessight, sound, touch, taste, and smell—to describe details.
  • Ask yourself questions about the subject matter—who? what? when? where? why? how?
  • Use a photograph or magazine picture to jog your thoughts.

At first this activity may seem difficult. You may wonder: How can I write about one thing for five whole minutes? Relax! Over time you’ll find that it has become more natural to transfer ideas from your head to your paper.

Some of these exercises will lend themselves to becoming compositions. Put a colorful star at the top of the page if you might like to develop this into a paragraph or story in the future.

Parent Tips

In the beginning, your child may have trouble writing for five full minutes. Perhaps you could set the timer for three minutes, then increase it to four, and finally to five over the course of several weeks.

If your student brainstorms very generally about a topic, you might suggest next time that she narrow her topic even further. For example, if she writes on the topic of animals, she’ll probably include a list of many kinds of animals. Next time, have her select just one of those animals (such as dogs, monkeys, or whales) and make a “Writing Well” for that subtopic, including as many details as she can.

Should your student repeatedly make lists of words only, challenge her to begin writing descriptive phrases, too. Sometimes these will be factual and sometimes experiential. For example:

If she’s writing about “red,” words and phrases might include:

  • ketchup
  • stop signs
  • making Valentines for my family
  • embers glowing in the fireplace
  • fire engines
  • Dorothy’s ruby slippers
  • the crimson sunset on our vacation in California

If she’s writing about Grandma, phrases might include:

  • baking chocolate cookies together
  • lives in an apartment in Miami
  • smells sweet like roses
  • takes a ceramics class in her clubhouse
  • silver hair
  • favorite color is pink

The random list of “red” words and phrases probably won’t ever be developed into a paragraph. On the other hand, the “Grandma” list definitely has potential to become a great descriptive composition at some point.

Writing Well Topics

Are you ready? Dip your ladle deep into the Writing Well and pull up a full, soaking draught of words and ideas. Then spill them over a fresh page—and let the writing begin. Here are some topics to get you started!

  • a famous place I would like to visit
  • my dream car
  • gardens
  • books
  • animals (farm animals, jungle creatures, pets, birds, insects)
  • birthdays
  • the beach
  • fishing
  • obeying
  • snow
  • sounds that make me happy (nervous, afraid)
  • my childhood toys
  • my favorite meal
  • my grandpa (or other family member)
  • our pantry
  • Saturdays
  • things I like about myself
  • heaven
  • the color blue (orange, yellow, gray, green)
  • things that make me feel cozy
  • new uses for duct tape
  • If cars could fly…
  • If I had to live underwater…

Copyright © 2012 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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“The Writing Well” is one of the supplemental writing activities tucked into the appendix of the Teacher’s Manual for WriteShop I and II.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr. Other photos courtesy of stock.xchg. Used with permission.
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