Entries Tagged 'Teaching Writing' ↓
June 8th, 2011 — Teaching Writing
Are you uncomfortable with the idea of teaching your kids to write? Maybe you think you can’t teach writing because you never really learned yourself. Or maybe you’re a confident writer, but you don’t have a clue how to pass that on to your kids.
One thing I do know: Regardless of skill or background, you can model and teach writing with confidence. Even though you may not believe it—you really do know more than your children.
Why Model and Teach Writing?
Simply, it’s unfair to expect our children to do something that hasn’t first been demonstrated.
Modeling writing in front of your children matters, but be encouraged that you don’t have to be perfect or have all the right answers. As homeschool parents, like it or not, our job is to teach and model the process until our children get it. They need to see and hear us thinking through our ideas. It’s good for them watch us struggle to come up with a topic sentence or find the words to make up the lines of a poem. Why? Because they struggle too!
But let’s step out of writing mode for a moment.
Students learn geometry because you show them over and over how to do it, right? They rarely get it the first time. Or the second time. Or even third.
Imagine saying, “OK, Ryan, find the hypotenuse of this triangle. I’m not going to teach you different strategies to solve the problem. Just get started . . . and good luck!”
We’d never dream of throwing our kids to the math lion, yet when it comes to writing, we want to assign a topic and say “Go!”
For whatever reason, we just expect them to write intuitively. It’s pretty silly, really, because there are many strategies and skills involved with writing a good paragraph or story.
Model and teach through Guided Writing Practice to provide your young child with a daily, predictable, shared writing experience. Together, write several short sentences about simple, familiar topics such as animals, friends, the weather, or upcoming events.
During this time, you’re modeling important writing skills such as:
- Left-to-right progression
- Letter formation
- Correct spacing
- Punctuation and capitalization
Most importantly, Guided Writing gives your child the freedom to put together ideas without the limitations and fear of having to write them down himself.
A simple way to introduce writing skills is through predictable sentence starters. Young children thrive on repetition, so they’ll enjoy the consistency and routine of using the same sentence starter all week. Just draw out a different response each day.
Hello, _________.(Mommy, Jamie, Mittens)
Today is _________. (Tuesday, Friday, my birthday)
It is _________. (sunny, cloudy, foggy)
We are going to _________. (bake with Grandma, play Legos)
I think _________. (we will have fun, I will build a tower)
As your child’s writing skills increase, use your Guided Writing times to gradually introduce new concepts such as beginning, middle, and end; writing a friendly letter; or thinking of a problem and solution for a story.
This is often the point where moms drop off the grid: You go from nurturing the writing process to feeling guilty that you’re getting in the way of your child’s progress or creativity. Ironically, this is when most kids come to hate writing!
Instead, recognize that this is the phase of writing where you and your child can work together to produce the final project. Model and teach writing skills through examples and prompts. Keep things moving by continuing to do most or all of the writing, but share in the process. Because some of the work is yours and some is your child’s, it’s a collaborative effort. Let this free you instead of tether you to your guilt!
Middle and High School
Even if your teen is now working quite independently, you should still be modeling new writing skills and methods. As you work together, modeling helps familiarize her with the lesson’s expectations.
On a white board, demonstrate and teach writing skills through dialogues, prompts, and questions, but also show examples of the targeted writing. You and student should both contribute to the paragraph.
Again, you’re not modeling a polished final draft, you’re modeling the thinking process. When your teen heads off to write her own paper, your time together will have set the stage.
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 make a bed, knit a scarf, or build a birdhouse, you remain involved until she is confidently and successfully progressing.
Collaborative writing takes time, too—to coax, encourage, ask questions, and discuss possibilities. Together, you and your child will grow comfortable with these writing sessions, and before you know it, you’ll watch her begin to apply the same thinking process when she works by herself.
So stay connected and involved. It’s crucial to your child’s writing success!
Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
June 2nd, 2011 — Encouragement, Teaching Writing
My kids have come such a long way in their skills using WriteShop, but they still don’t enjoy writing. It’s still “work” to them, and they’d rather be doing something else. ~Marisa, SD
Fun vs. Fruit
As parents, we toggle between wanting to use a curriculum our kids like (even if it’s less effective) and using something that’s more “work,” yet clearly produces results. For two of my own kids, math was our bugaboo. The “fun” program I used one time set them back a year, so it was back to Saxon for us, even though they didn’t especially like it.
Moment of Clarity
I love when homeschooling moms have an epiphany, that “Aha!” moment when they realize—and accept—that writing does need to be taught, and how this often means sitting with our kids and coaxing the writing out of them.
The wise parent makes the commitment to brainstorm one-on-one with her children as needed, asking leading questions and encouraging them in what they write down. She knows that their efforts would be half-hearted if she left them to work on their own.
Later, when it’s time to write the rough draft, she sometimes needs to go through the process with each one individually as well.
She sticks with her curriculum and holds her kids’ hands—not just for the sake of commitment, but because she sees fruit! Marisa adds:
Again, I worked with each of the kids individually to get their [brainstorming] done… Though it takes a little more time than I like, the end result is far more satisfying for all of us!
I too have walked in Marisa’s—and your—shoes. When my son finally began working independently in high school, all those hours and hours of side-by-side efforts paid off. I pray they will for you too.
May 17th, 2011 — High school, Reluctant Writers, Teaching Writing
My child is a high school freshman, and thus far, our homeschool experience has not gone well where writing is concerned. Every program we’ve tried seems to fall by the wayside by Christmas break. Normally, she’s an independent worker who does well with most self-directed assignments—except for writing. We just never finish.
Does this sound familiar? If so, let’s see if I can offer some advice to help you and your teen get back on track!
Parent Involvement vs. Student Independence
I’m all for fostering independence. As students enter the high school years, it’s especially wise to train them to become more and more responsible for their own schoolwork. This means teaching them to break assignments into chunks, work on multiple projects, and stick to deadlines.
But even if a self-directed child is successful in most academic subjects, she may still be floundering when it comes to self-directed writing assignments. This is largely because, for most students, writing must be taught. Good writing is the result of a partnership between a parent/teacher and the student.
A child who rarely finishes a writing assignment can’t be left to learn writing on her own; clearly this approach is failing her. If this is true of your child, you may need to step in and become more involved in teaching, guiding, editing, and grading her work. She may not appreciate your “interference,” but if she’s not succeeding on her own, something needs to change.
Begin by working closely with her to introduce, model, and teach new concepts. After that, let her work independently on her assignment. If she continues to struggle, misses deadlines, or fails to give her best effort, recognize that you’ll need to spend more one-on-one time together while she writes. As she throws herself more fully into her writing and gives effort to assignments, you can start backing off again.
Learning to Stick It Out
Sometimes a curriculum just isn’t working and you need to take a different approach. But if you keep abandoning ship—specifically where writing is concerned—it’s time to ask yourself why. This is especially important if you’ve tried several writing programs but find you never seem to finish any of them.
Is it a character issue—or an academic one?
Does your student:
- Complain about other subjects, sports, music lessons, or chores—or just about writing?
- Put up enough of a fight (about anything) that you toss up your hands in despair and give in to her complaints?
- Make such a fuss over writing in particular that it’s easier to give up without finishing the program?
If this describes your home, consider working on the character qualities of diligence and perseverance. Students need to learn that sometimes, even though a curriculum is less than ideal, they can’t just quit as soon as it gets too hard.
In the real world, they won’t always have choices, but if they’ve gotten into the habit of abandoning something partway through when the going gets tough, it will be hard for them to practice stick-to-itiveness in the future. (For example, they’ll be more likely to drop a college class the minute it begins to get challenging.)
Even if this stop-start-stop-start habit only applies to writing, I would still encourage you to decide on a course of action and commit to seeing it through. You’ll probably agree it’s time to make follow-through a priority.
Taking a Different Tack
Perhaps you simply need a new approach to teaching writing. It’s a legitimate possibility that your child’s learning style just hasn’t meshed with other writing programs you’ve tried in the past. In this case, WriteShop might genuinely help you overcome the hurdles you’ve experienced.
For one, WriteShop expects parent involvement yet fosters independence. Furthermore, WriteShop promotes the writing process through:
- Prewriting activities that set the stage for the writing assignment and get creative juices flowing.
- Brainstorming worksheets that help students develop ideas before it’s time to write.
- Step-by-step instructions for writing that never leave them wondering what, exactly, they’re supposed to do.
- Short assignments (rarely longer than a paragraph) so that they can work on sentence and stylistic skills.
- Activities and assignments that are broken up into bite-size portions over two weeks per writing lesson so as not to overwhelm a student.
- Detailed, lesson-specific self-editing checklists that enable students to proofread their own work and make corrections before handing their paper in to you.
- Parent checklists and grading keys that help you give objective feedback.
Have your student’s writing efforts fizzled? Past writing failures don’t have to be accurate predictors of future success. With a few adjustments in attitude and/or method, your teen can get back on track—and with time to spare.
Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
January 21st, 2011 — Teaching Writing, Writing Across the Curriculum
Writing across the curriculum is a phrase homeschoolers hear more and more. With many students struggling under the weight of their various courses and moms juggling lesson plans and schoolwork for their large families, your response may well be, “That’s nice. But can it simplify my life?”
This article contains affiliate links for a couple of books I’m confident your family will love!
Two Birds with One Stone
Unfamiliar with the expression “writing across the curriculum”? Simply put, it means using writing assignments as a vehicle to help kids explore other areas of study.
Those who use a writing program “as is” tend to teach writing as a separate subject, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But if you’re teaching many children or you want to streamline your schedule, writing across the curriculum may be ideal for you.
Rather than approach writing as a separate discipline, students apply generic writing lessons to subjects like history, literature, or science. Not only does it boost writing ability, it helps them better understand the content and specialized vocabulary of a particular subject.
Writing across the curriculum increases knowledge of the subject matter while helping students develop critical thinking skills. To prepare for the assignment, they must do a bit of reading or research. As they take in the information, brainstorm, and write, they gain greater understanding of the topic.
Second, it makes everyone’s life simpler. Instead of a “writing” assignment here and a history or literature composition there, the two can be easily combined. The result? Less writing for the kids and less grading and lesson planning for Mom. Here are some of my favorite tips for writing across the curriculum.
Students can use writing across the curriculum to write descriptively by examining details of food, costumes, or objects from a culture they’re learning about. They can write about an oriole’s nest for science, a carved African antelope for geography, a coonskin cap for literature, or a Peruvian flute for music.
If you don’t have the object on hand, a vivid photograph can serve as an acceptable substitute. DK Eyewitness Books make excellent choices because of their clear, intricate photos.
Consider a news article. Students can use the five Ws—who, what, when, where, why—to explore an incident they’re studying in another subject. What a great opportunity to learn more about a historical event, archaeological find, or scientific discovery and write a short article about it.
Other kinds of informative writing, such as biographies, short reports, or historical newspapers can also dovetail with current areas of study. That’s what writing across the curriculum is all about!
Great Wall of China
Looking for more ways to write across the curriculum? Look no further than the personal narrative.
Encouraging children to write stories loosely based on their own family tree provides opportunities to study an earlier era.
Or, how about writing journal entries using the voice of a famous person from the past? Your student might choose to become Joan of Arc (history), Albert Einstein (science), the Apostle Paul (Bible), or George Frideric Handel (music). After reading about an especially exciting event in her subject’s life, the student must personalize the information to write a brief first-person narrative as if she herself were that individual. It’s journaling with a twist!
Alternatively, she can “interview” this historical figure and write a third-person narrative. Writing from a different point of view challenges critical thinking skills.
In junior high and high school, you can incorporate essay writing into just about every subject. It’s important for your teen to articulate an argument, write a defendable thesis statement, and support it with facts, logic, and examples.
Essays can describe, define, persuade, or discuss cause and effect. Students can compare and contrast battles, Bible characters, or ideologies. They can write an exposé on the Virginia Company and its dealings with Jamestown, an opinion about whether the earth is round, or a letter to the editor complaining about the conditions in London factories during the Industrial Revolution.
Projects and Activities
Look for projects and activities that involve writing but don’t necessarily result in formal compositions.
Here’s one idea: ditch the traditional—and boring—book report (“This book is about…”) and ask your child to make a mobile by cutting shapes from sturdy paper. On the front, have him color pictures of significant characters or scenes from the book, and on the back, write a colorful description or brief character analysis. When finished, he can string each shape with yarn and dangle the papers from a wire hanger. Such an activity can be adapted to all ages.
Your student’s talents and interests can also play a part in creating out-of-the-ordinary projects. Instead of explaining a process the traditional way, one clever student created an unusual instruction manual for a literature assignment based upon The Lord of the Rings: she explained how to make an Elvish sword. Rather than use notebook paper or a computer printout, she copied her final draft onto parchment paper whose edges she had carefully burned. Then she embellished each page, writing runic characters with a calligraphy pen to create a beautiful project worth keeping and treasuring.
- Draw and label a diagram for science to explain photosynthesis, a volcano, or the water cycle. Include a short written explanation of the process.
- Make a scrapbook of a historical period, famous person, or country (Renaissance, Vikings, Australia), or create one featuring art, music, or science. Depending on the nature of the scrapbook, elements could include daily life, journals, maps, timelines, sketches, flags, plant taxonomies, pressed leaves, photos, biographies, summaries, definitions, and news articles.
- Design a brochure about an historic location. Include drawings and brief descriptions about key events, people, and places.
Inside of “Come to California” brochure
Colonial newspaper advertisements
If “writing across the curriculum” has thus far been a mystery to you—one of those terms that everyone tosses around about but never actually defines—hopefully you now feel better equipped to give it a try with one or more of your children’s writing lessons.
You may decide to use each and every writing lesson for the purpose of writing across the curriculum, or you might only apply a couple of assignments in this manner. Regardless, everyone in your family will benefit.
Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
. . . . .
If you’re a WriteShop I or II user, you’ll be excited to know there’s a Writing Across the Curriculum section in Appendix B to help you tie each WriteShop assignment into other subjects you’re studying. No projects here, but at least you can direct the lesson toward history or science and kill two birds with one stone! WriteShop Primary for your little ones and WriteShop Junior for upper elementary also offer Writing Across the Curriculum ideas with each lesson.
November 29th, 2010 — Teaching Writing
Most of you are a few months into the new school year, and by now you have a pretty good idea of whether writing is humming along nicely or stubbornly dragging its heels. Now is a good time to evaluate this often-neglected subject and decide if you need to make any mid-course corrections.
It may help to ask yourself: Do I really need a formal writing program? Surprisingly, you may not. Here are some things to consider.
Do You Need a Writing Curriculum?
No, if you . . .
- Are a self-starter.
- Provide your kids with a variety of writing activities and projects.
- Feel comfortable taking your children through the steps of the writing process.
- Include writing as part of your unit studies.
- Regularly incorporate writing across the curriculum.
- Enjoy thinking up writing lessons for your children.
- Are good about remembering to have your children write several times a week.
- Don’t worry too much about whether you’re missing something.
Yes, if you . . .
- Tend to push writing to the back burner.
- Feel uncertain about what to teach and when.
- Worry about not doing enough writing with your children.
- Prefer a bit more structure.
- Like a more systematic approach to teaching.
- Are more comfortable following a schedule.
- Feel overwhelmed at the thought of coming up with writing assignments or creating your own lesson plans.
Did You Answer Yes? Read On!
What to Look For in a Writing Program
- Clear teaching directions.
- Step-by-step student instructions.
- Creative, engaging ideas for prewriting, brainstorming, and publishing.
- Ungraded materials that allow you to teach several children.
- Materials that will encourage a reluctant writer, yet challenge a stronger or more eager writer.
- An approach that appeals to different learning styles.
- A program that builds the writing process into the lessons.
- Lessons that offer models or examples.
- A program that teaches self-editing.
What to Avoid
- Materials that just tell children to write rather than teach them HOW to write.
- Rigid lessons with very specific writing topics and little room for flexibility.
- Comprehensive curricula that attempt to fully teach both writing and grammar.
- Generic or all-purpose grading rubrics that require too much guesswork on your part.
. . . . .
When you’re comparing writing programs, WriteShop is a good place to start. Whether you’re teaching elementary ages or teens, WriteShop products meet many of the above recommendations for a solid, parent-friendly writing program.
October 25th, 2010 — Reluctant Writers, Teaching Writing
You’re in good company if you think teaching writing is downright painful. Many homeschooling moms feel completely inadequate and unequipped for the task. As a matter of fact, if I were to take a poll, most of you would probably say you’d rather have a root canal.
Frustrations of Teaching Writing
Sometime we dream about how nice it would be just to plunk a workbook down in front of our kids and watch clear, engaging, organized stories and essays take shape before our very eyes. But in reality, writing needs to be taught.
Yes, a handful of us have children who will figure it out all on their own, but most children need modeling, teaching, and feedback in order to learn and improve as writers.
Beyond your own self-doubt, you may be struggling to help your kids overcome issues like writer’s block, laziness, perfectionism, or other hurdles that prevent progress. Typically, students want to scribble out a paper and call it done. Then they want you to rave over it! But at the first sign of a suggestion from you, watch out—here comes the meltdown!
This creates tremendous frustration for the parent because you can’t seem to figure out how to make this whole writing thing work. Your kid is a mess, and you feel like a failure.
Isolate the Source
- Do you feel overwhelmed?
- Are you trying to teach many children at different levels?
- Are you disorganized and flying by the seat of your pants?
- Are you unpredictable in your editing and grading?
Alone or in combination, these factors can contribute to incredible stress, irritation, and discouragement.
Make Simple Changes
You can take small steps toward reducing the level of frustration in your home. These ideas work wonders with all types of learners:
- Keep writing assignments short and specific.
- Use brainstorming worksheets and graphic organizers to help your child think his ideas through before he begins to write.
- Break the assignment into bite-sized chunks, giving mini deadlines along the way.
- Choose writing materials that are flexible enough to use with several children at once.
- Have a plan: Know what you want to teach and when, and then schedule writing into your week.
- Use objective, lesson-specific editing and grading tools to help you evaluate your children’s writing fairly.
Small successes will begin to usher frustration right out the door, leaving encouragement and accomplishment in its wake!
Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
October 5th, 2010 — Encouragement, Teaching Writing
Middle to upper elementary children express a really wide range of writing abilities.
Some children still struggle to hold a pencil or write words.
Some have strong verbal skills yet remain weak in writing. They can spin a great story and tell it orally, yet they’re not yet able to write independently.
Others are beginning to emerge as writers, still depending on you a great deal (as much or more than ever, it may seem). These children need to dictate ideas and sentences during both brainstorming and writing, though they’re also able to contribute more and more to the actual writing itself.
Finally, there are those who are progressing well through the stages of writing and now work fairly independently.
Encourage the Writing Process
Continue to encourage the writing process so it becomes natural. This starts by helping your child view writing as a multistage process:
- We plan.
- We write.
- We make changes.
- We write our final draft.
Ultimately, our kids begin to understand that the paper is the product and writing is the process.
How Much and How Often?
For children in grades 3-5, the focus remains on improving sentence structure and writing a solid paragraph.
- On average, they should spend about 30-40 minutes per day on writing, depending on both age and attention span.
- In my experience, 8-10 quality writing projects per year is plenty of writing (meaning the piece will be taken through each step of the writing process). That’s roughly one complete writing project a month. Meanwhile, lesser assignments such as book narrations, journaling, and so forth can fill in gaps.
- A good target is 1- to 3-paragraph stories or short reports. Take care not to rush your child into longer assignments too soon. A concise, concrete, short piece beats a long, rambling, disjointed, dull, repetitive, tedious essay any day—no matter what age the child!
Remain an Involved Parent
These are bridge years, when most students go from largely parent-supported writing pieces to more independent writing. The biggest key to success with this is lots of practice. Fostering independence doesn’t mean you give an assignment and disappear! Even if it seems counterintuitive, continue working closely with your middle and older elementary children. Your 3-5th graders need you to:
- Model and teach.
- Oversee their work.
- Participate with them as needed.
- Praise their efforts.
- Give helpful feedback.
Make Writing Fun
Start writing now! If you wait till junior high to begin teaching writing, by then it’s time to get down to brass tacks, and your children may have missed the delight of writing during their elementary years, when they learn that writing is something to enjoy and anticipate.
So most of all, for any elementary child in grades K-5, the writing experience should be fun! Motivation, excitement, and a positive learning environment all help children build confidence in their writing skills as they acquire the ability to write.
Helping your K-2nd grader with writing
Helping your 5th-8th grader with writing
Helping your high schooler with writing
Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
. . . . .
In Spring 2011, WriteShop will introduce WriteShop Junior Book D, the first in a series of writing curricula for middle and upper elementary ages. Children have so much fun playing writing games, learning to use exciting writing tools, and writing appealing stories such as adventures and mysteries that they hardly realize they’re learning!
We’ll continue posting details and info here at the blog, but if you’d like to be among the first to get the scoop about the book’s release—or even preorder, join our mailing list by visiting www.writeshop.com and looking for the newsletter sign-up box.
September 28th, 2010 — Encouragement, Teaching Writing
I’m sure it’s no secret to you that children develop at different rates. One child possesses remarkable fine-motor skills, yet she struggles to speak a coherent sentence. Another talks circles around his siblings, but his handwriting leaves much to be desired.
This disparity is often more obvious during the primary years, when most children are either emerging writers with little or no ability to write or beginning writers who are developing early writing skills.
Let Go of Expectations . . . and Stress
Because fine-motor skills vary from child to child, don’t be distressed if your youngster has a hard time holding a pencil correctly, writing on a line, forming letters and words, or demonstrating neat penmanship.
These early elementary years—typically kindergarten through third grade—produce a great deal of growth in most children, but if your little one doesn’t seem to be following the pack, take a deep breath and accept that it’s okay.
Meanwhile, make sure your writing time is spent together, and that you build instruction from your child’s own efforts rather than from artificial expectations. For example, if he’s great at telling stories, but cries buckets if you make him write anything down himself, let him dictate to you as you write his words.
My youngest child definitely had his own timetable. He had the hardest time with any writing-related activity, so most of our “writing” time happened orally, with me doing the writing as he narrated. The good news is that with much mommy patience and perseverence, he eventually did “get” it.
Embrace Repetition and Routine
Have you ever noticed that your littles never tire of reading the same book or singing the same songs over and over and over again? It’s one of the main ways children absorb information, and the sooner we accept that, the more likely learning will take place.
Repetition, routine, and consistency play a major part in nurturing young writers. Since primary-age children thrive in this environment, you may have to sideline your own fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants tendencies as you devote yourself to keeping a schedule, building bit by bit on their emerging skills, and nurturing your young writers in the way they learn best. Someday you may be able to let spontaneity reign once again, but until then, routine is your friend!
Focus on Age-Appropriate K-2 Writing Skills
Too often, parents neglect teaching children how to think about and plan a story. They just assign it. Instead, give your young children tools to experience success as they develop the ability to write by teaching them to brainstorm; plan a beginning, middle, and end; and then write or dictate the story.
Take care not to jump into advanced writing too soon. Instead, watch for and encourage this progression in your youngsters:
- Writing a letter, word, or group of words on their project according to their ability.
- Writing a complete sentence.
- Understanding the concept of a paragraph.
How Much and How Often?
- At this age, it’s enough to devote 3 days a week to the writing process.
- Spend 15-30 minutes max per day on writing activities, depending on age and attention span.
- Expect your child to write 5- to 7-sentence stories. A more articulate child may show interest and inclination to write longer pieces—and that’s great. Just don’t force it. Make sure your children crawl before they walk!
Be an Involved Parent
Children cannot learn to write on their own. A parent who participates one-on-one with her child inspires success! To effectively develop basic writing skills, your child needs some important things from you:
- Your presence
- Your example
- Your encouragement
- Your daily guidance
Teaching your young child to love words and writing—or even the idea of writing—comes from purposeful instruction in a fairly structured environment. Your child may not absorb everything you say and do. He may not exhibit the skills your friends’ kids exhibit. And he may alternately drive you crazy and break your heart with his moans, groans, and tears.
Just remember that this is springtime for your little one, where you’ll see both subtle growth and explosions of learning. Take your time to nurture with patient care, and your budding writer will bloom and blossom in time.
Helping your 3rd-5th grader with writing
Helping your 5th-8th grader with writing
Helping your high schooler with writing
Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
. . . . .
WriteShop Primary is the perfect way to gently introduce writing skills to young children using repetition, routine, pre-writing games and activities, crafts, and storybooks. Perfect for most children in grades K-3. For help choosing a starting level, visit this link.
August 5th, 2010 — Teaching Writing, Writing Lessons
When assigning writing to your children, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel with a brand-new lesson. Sometimes it’s fun to approach a familiar assignment in a fresh new way. For example:
- Tweaking an existing lesson instruction by adding different elements.
- Having your children revisit an earlier composition—either a recent story or one they wrote a year or two ago) and changing it up somehow.
Here are some simple ways to add variety to your children’s writing by using lessons you already have lying around!
Change the tense
Using the same composition they wrote before, have students rewrite it, changing the tense. If it was written in past tense, ask them to write it in present, and vice versa. If the story was written long ago, you may also want to have them increase the length, add more sentence variations, or expand description.
Change the point of view
Have your child rewrite a story from a different point of view by writing as another character in the story. For practice, have him retell a familiar story such as David and Goliath, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, or a fable or fairy tale. Have him “become” one of the characters in the story and rewrite the story in first person. A younger child can do this exercise orally.
Describe a food
Instead of describing a food, students may write a restaurant review in which they vividly describe an assortment of foods—from appetizers to dessert. Expect this composition to be several paragraphs in length. Suggestion: Visit a restaurant and have students take “brainstorming” notes as they sample various foods.
Describe a place
As an alternative to describing a place, your child can design travel brochures about a favorite vacation spot, famous landmark, city, country, or geographical region she would like to visit. Include text and pictures.
Write a biography
Every student writes biographies at some point. To change it up a bit, have your kids write an autobiography of a famous individual instead (autobiographies are written in first person) as if they were that historic person. Alternatively, you might ask them to assume the role of an historical figure and write one or more journal or diary entries or letters. Any of these exercises should be historically accurate, perhaps fitting in with a current topic of study.
Create a newspaper
A newspaper format lends itself well to a history unit. Why not have your child write an entire newspaper about a historical era? Include a wide assortment of the following:
- Local, national, and international news stories
- Comic strips
- Doctor’s column
- Literary news
- Vital statistics (births, deaths, marriages, crimes)
- Editorials/opinions/letters to the editor/exposés, etc.
This newspaper activity should be spread over a longer period of time. Some research will be required to ensure historical accuracy. This also makes a wonderful group project, with all your students contributing to one newspaper.
Encourage your children to take their writing in new directions by trying some of these simple ideas. It won’t be long before you—and they—are thinking up different twists all on your own!
July 13th, 2010 — Brainstorming, Reluctant Writers, Teaching Writing
When you set a sheet of blank paper before your child and tell him to write, you might as well toss him into the absolute blackness of a yawning cavern without rope or flashlight and have him find his way out. Either way, he faces a slew of unknowns, and without the right tools to assist him, he’ll be lost.
Just as a spelunker, or caver, uses specific equipment to help him safely explore a cave, every student needs writing tools to help him feel more confident and successful.
So, how are writers like spelunkers? You’ll be surprised at the similarities!
They Need Clear Boundaries
Unless you’re on a tour, there are no handrails or paved walkways in a cave. A first-time cave explorer facing the unknowns of a dark cavern usually has no idea how to start, which direction to take, or how to get back at the end of the day.
That’s why novice cavers go with an experienced guide who can give direction and establish boundaries. When the boundaries are clear, the caver won’t worry about things like winding up in an endless passageway or falling into an underground stream. He also won’t huddle fearfully against a damp wall, paralyzed by the dark, unknown surroundings. Boundaries provide safety to explore.
Writers need boundaries too. It’s pretty intimidating to most kids to face a blank page and have absolutely no idea what they’re supposed to put on it. Students who lack skills and tools either hover anxiously over the page, unable to write at all, or they write in a disorganized, sidetracked manner.
To help your child feel more confident and secure, establish boundaries using some of these ideas:
- Define the nature and purpose of the writing assignment, such as describe a food, explain a process, tell a personal story, or compare and contrast two novels.
- Give specific requirements for length, such as number of words, paragraphs, or pages.
- Provide topic options with the framework of the assignment. For instance, if the student must describe a food, give her several choices from which to pick, or let her come up with her own. When she’s interested in the subject matter and has a say in the topic, her confidence rises.
- Give clear instructions so the student knows exactly what’s expected.
They Need Supervision, Structure, and a Plan
To practice caving safety, novice cavers need a leader with experience to oversee the expedition. He has a plan, makes sure everyone follows directions, and is responsible for bringing his group of explorers back on time.
Students also need an overseer—a parent or teacher—to ensure their writing success. Even if you establish boundaries for the assignment, your child can still get lost, delayed, or overwhelmed without direct supervision.
- Break the assignment into parts to ward off procrastination, dread, and hyperventilation. Just as a caver wears a head lamp to help light the way, your student needs to know where he’s going with his writing assignment too. Illuminate his path by showing him the steps of the writing process. They include prewriting, brainstorming, writing, editing, and revising.
- Give a deadline for the finished piece—and stick to it.
- Create a schedule or plan to promote timeliness. Ask your student to turn in each part of the writing assignment on its proper due date along the bigger timeline.
- Monitor progress. Supervision and follow-through are key to his success. If you don’t check your child’s work each step of the way, you may impede his progress. He’s waiting for your OK before he moves on to the next part of the assignment; failing to follow up with him only encourages procrastination.
They Need the Right Equipment
Unlike a newbie, a seasoned caver would never dream of entering a cave with nothing but the clothes on his back and a pocket flashlight from the Dollar Tree. He knows that as he meets various obstacles during his adventure, the right equipment will serve him well: proper clothing, a good helmet, a helmet-mounted light, spare batteries and bulbs, food and water, and basic survival supplies.
On the other hand, novice writers think nothing of approaching a cavernous writing assignment equipped with nothing but pen and paper, when in truth, they need a well-stocked chest of writing tools.
It may take some time to fill that toolbox, but eventually they’ll have a wide assortment of proper tools to help them write with confidence and skill.
- Graphic organizers and brainstorming worksheets for planning and sorting ideas
- Stylistic tools, such as transition words to connect ideas and paragraphs and sentence variations to add interest to the writing
- A good thesaurus to help them choose strong, accurate words.
- Checklists or rubrics that remind them what to look for when proofreading and self-editing.
They Need to Develop Their Skills
Much of what a person learns about cave exploration comes through . . . cave exploration! He can study caving techniques day and night, but until he enters his first cave and starts scrambling over rocks, traversing ledges, and crawling through narrow passageways, all the book learning in the world won’t make much sense.
Writers also learn by doing. As they discover new techniques and skills and put them into practice, they’ll gain confidence in their ability to write—and they’ll show noticeable improvement. Here are five important skills your writers will need to develop:
- Teachability. They must be willing to take instruction and receive feedback.
- Observation. Excellent writing samples and parent or teacher modeling can provide positive examples for students to follow.
- Concreteness. Students need to avoid dull, vague writing by learning to choose strong, vivid words.
- Conciseness. They also need to learn the art of using fewer words to make their point.
- Practice with different kinds of writing. Finally, they need a variety of writing lessons so they can learn to describe, inform, persuade, argue, write poetry, tell stories, etc.
Simple tips and tools like these can set your student on the path toward success. And when you provide your child with boundaries, guidance, writing tools, and useful skills, he’ll be better equipped to conquer that once-terrifying abyss of a blank page.
Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.