“Let the wild rumpus start!”
― Maurice Sendak,
One of the challenges many parents face is that their kids either don’t like to write or don’t think they write well so they refuse. What I have found is that these two issues go together. I have a lesson that will help your hesitant child become a writer, and you will all have fun at the same time!
I have noticed that younger kids are usually willing to write, but as they get older, they tend to enjoy it less. Often, older kids are more concerned about getting it right. The focus shifts from expressing themselves to getting it grammatically correct, and that can be stifling to their creativity.
This is a simple lesson that has worked for me with as few as one child and as many as 32 children. All grade levels seem to enjoy this lesson.
To begin, the important part is to focus on creating, not perfecting. Don’t worry about handwriting, spelling, or using grammar expressions. There will be time to look at grammar when it is completed. For now, lets just have fun.
I like to use a whiteboard. It gives me lots of space and it’s easy to see. But this can also be done on a sheet of paper if you are only working with one or two children. I will be explaining this lesson as if I am using a whiteboard and several kids, various ages. Follow this link to find a whiteboard perfect for your family.
Write “It went.” at the top of the whiteboard. Explain that this is a complete sentence because there is a subject and something that the subject does. Remember, try to stay away from any grammar terms.
Ask what “It” could be. If there is any hesitation, start writing a list of possibilities: cat, dog, my sister, a tree, the sky, the color red, etc. They will quickly get the idea that “It” can be anything.
Write a list of every possibility that is suggested, as fast as they are suggested. If you don’t know how to spell something for sure, don’t worry about it. One of the potentially great teaching opportunities here is for your kids to see that there is a time to worry about grammar and a time to simply create.
You can even challenge them to catch any misspelled words. Keep it fun!
After a list has been created for “It”, ask them to choose their three favorites. When I work with more than one student at a time, I start at one end of the room and ask each child to vote on three, and I make a check mark beside each word chosen. I repeat this process with each child – choose their three favs and mark them. They can choose ones that have already been chosen. This makes it easier for you to see which ones they would like to write about.
When each of the kids has had a chance to choose their three favorites, I erase all of the items with no checks beside them. (Sometimes I like to write the list of items left on a sheet of paper and use that sheet for writing ideas later.)
Then I erase all of the marks and ask each child to choose a single favorite topic for “It.” Again, they can choose ones that have already been chosen. When everyone has chosen a single topic, I save only the one/ones with the most check marks beside them. I repeat the process until we have narrowed our topic to one.
At each stage, I encourage the kids to write down ideas that they may want to work on later. Just because it is erased from the board doesn’t mean they can’t write about it!
Depending on the number of kids you are working with, this can take quite a bit of time.
Now you have a topic chosen by your children, and you have had a bit of fun along the way. Write their chosen and final topic in the center of the board or paper. I’ll use “horse” for this example. Ask them what it looks like, and write down everything suggested, no matter how ridiculous it may seem.
tall, fast, lonely, young, brilliant, loud, dancing horse with a long tail and purple spots, wearing purple pajamas and straw hat
You get the idea. If they get stuck, ask questions to help them come up with answers. What color? How old? City or country horse? How does it sound? What does it smell like? What size? Keep asking questions until you feel they are beginning to slow down with their ideas.
By the time they are finished with “It” the board should be pretty full of ideas.
So far, you are doing all the writing and they are giving suggestions. I find that if you try to write as fast as they give you ideas, they will think it’s funny and keep throwing out ideas to see if you can keep up. Don’t worry about spelling and handwriting.
I like to write all this detail and description out into one long sentence, always asking where the person who suggested it wants you to insert the word or phrase.
Make sure you save all this creating. You will be using it again.
Do the same thing with “went,” except now they know what “It” is so there is no need for the initial list. Ask them where the horse was going, why, how did it get there and any open ended questions you can think of to help them add ideas to the sentence.
fearfully, with a heavy heart, pranced as he ran down the road hanging his head, heading to his home in the country so he can . . .
This goes on as long as they still have ideas to give you. And it all goes into one terrifically, wonderfully long, creative sentence. Whew!
When we have gathered all these wonderful and creative ideas, I like to have the kids read this crazy sentence aloud. They always seem to get a kick out of the silliness of trying to put it all in one sentence. Now is a great time to discuss sentence structure and length. It’s also when I like to point out details and how we use the five senses to describe.
After a discussion of what we have and what we need to do to make this into something even more wonderful, if possible, I ask them to get out a sheet of paper and write it down. For the younger ones, I ask one of the older kids to write it out for them. Or if you have a copier, you can ask a volunteer to write it out and get a copy to everyone.
Copying what is on the board has no purpose other than as a way for them to save the information.
Now comes the time to pull this marvelous sentence apart and make it into a story. Model the process of taking the information gathered and making it into sentences. I like to add details that aren’t on the board to help them understand that they don’t have to stick with what’s on the board. This is their story!
The majestic palomino pranced down the gravel road. With a heavy heart, he was making his way home to the mountains.
It’s their turn to write. They take this fun sentence and make it into their own story. If they don’t want to do an entire story or add any extra details, they should simply write a scene using the details on the board. If there is anyone who thinks the entire sentence is silly and they don’t want to write about any of it, there is always the list you copied in step three.
Remember that it doesn’t matter what they write, only that they write!
If they have another story they want to write that has nothing to do with what’s on the board, that’s okay too. The purpose here is to get them to write, and to make it fun along the way.
The Final Step
Be sure to give them a chance to share their own stories. I’m always amazed at how different the stories are, even though they all started with the same information.
Don’t feel that every piece needs to be polished and rewritten. Kids often quit writing because of this final step. I would rather work with a child who writes with pleasure and enjoyment but struggles with grammar, than to try and get a child who hates writing to complete a writing project. It is very true that practice makes perfect. Get them writing and they will get better!
This can be a lesson that goes beyond one day. I like to keep the momentum going and at least get them started on their writing. One of the great things about homeschooling is that you can take all the time you need or that your kids can handle.
- “It Went” on the board
- suggestions of what “it” could be
- start with three favs and narrow it to one
- write any/all details provided, not worrying about spelling, handwriting, etc.
- repeat process with “went” excluding the initial list
- kids read crazy sentence aloud
- model pulling info from board to create sentence
- children get time to write
- share – a very important step in the process!
It is also a lesson that can be taught several times with the same kids, and they never seem to get tired of it. I hope you have many fun writing adventures using this method. It has never failed me!
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