No, my children don’t learn how to write by osmosis! 🙂 I do have to teach them and here are some tips…
Young students can initially feel a little lost when there is an assignment such as, “Write a character sketch about your favourite character is this book.” They need some direction as to how to write a paragraph. This post is just about how to give that sort of guidance…. and keep it simple and happy for everyone! 🙂
1. Model it. A child needs to see someone else do it first. If you have modelled it and they forget, just model it again with a new topic. Don’t get impatient. Keep the issue of writing a delight or you could add to the issue of writer’s block. You want your child to feel like this is easy and can be done smoothly. So take a wee bit of time and write something yourself AT A CHILD’S LEVEL with them watching you!
2. In your own mind (see step #4), pick something your child knows A LOT about for your model topic. I mean – A LOT! Pique (intrigue/stimulate) their interest A LOT so they will be more willing to follow what you are going to do with it (even if they are feeling frustrated at the time). Even if they are following you due to wanting to make sure that Mommy has the facts straight about something they [might] “know better than Mommy”, that is enough motivation because you’ve got their attention on what you’re doing!
3. Print in large enough print. Even draw a quick sketch of your topic (around step#4 or#5) (like a 10 second sketch) which your child might even giggle or groan at – of course, your child knows that he (or she) can do much better than that! (My son quickly informed me while I was drawing my two balls for head and body with semi-circle ears, a happy face, and a tail that “Curious George has no tail” – but hey, it showed he really was paying attention! ;-D) Using just scrap paper and a crayon or marker to scratch down this model is perfectly acceptable. This teaches them that it is OK to make a rough outline and rough draft – literally. (If you make this into something that appears that you expect perfection at this stage of writing, then the “I can’t do this” attitude can creep in again and you don’t want that at all!)
4. Make a simple title as you read it out. This is where you reveal the topic to your child. Don’t tell them you’re going to do a model about airplanes or a friend or pizza until this step. Keep it a secret, a surprise, so that they keep being attentive to your task and what you’re about to show them!
5. Write IN POINT FORM a handful of simple, really obvious character traits (for example), but nothing really debatable here. You want this to look extremely easy for your child to understand. (If you get bogged down instead with details upon details to show comprehension of the topic, they could miss the point of how the format of writing complete sentences goes in a reasonable order and flow, which is the main lesson you’re trying to teach this time.)
6. Now, say, “OK, let’s just put these points into sentences instead of point form. Writing a paragraph can be as simple as that. We can mix up the points and put them in a better order as we go. Let’s see, um, what point should we put down first, um, maybe that one (point with your finger to the most obvious point because that is a good beginning sentence) and maybe we can even combine a few points so that we don’t have to write as many sentences.” What you are doing here is talking aloud at the speed of a slower thinker, a child-level of speed for grasping the task at hand and comforting down their fear of needing to write the length that YOU normally write.
7. So then, you start to print your sentences (not your child’s input for sentences unless they are excitedly bursting out with them). This is modelling a complete example for them – to see how it is done. As you print, talk the words aloud. Keep referring back to your point form list by actually touching those lines of words yourself, each time you come up with a new sentence.
8. Combine some ideas into one sentence.
9 . But make sure at least one of your sentences is based only on one of your points. With THAT sentence, expand it a little with more information than what you wrote in the point form list (to show that it is perfectly fine if you add more detail as you are writing. (I did this in 2 of the sentences shown in the below example paragraph.)
10. Finish off with a very simple concluding statement. You’re not trying to show elaboration or catchy conclusions at this point – you just want it SIMPLE. As your child practices the skills of writing, those expansions of thought will be of importance, but not at this level. Of course, applaud them if they do come up with such on their own but don’t aim at this level for your children to write with rich, vivid vocabulary, even if they read it or listen to it. Keep it simple in tone of expectations so that they can learn the pattern of learning to write and work (“play”) with sentences.
11. Bonus: If your child is reviewing this level of skill and wants to move onto the next stage of writing a paragraph for a project or assignment, try teaching him or her how to go back to edit each sentence to be maybe a better sentence. I’m not meaning about spelling or grammar or capitalization here – you should already have met those factors by writing out the model paragraph yourself. Instead, I’m meaning to look at each individual sentence and decide, “Could it be written in a different way that sounds even better? How about rephrase the idea into a question format or putting a phrase at the beginning of the sentence or adding a phrase to show more detail at the end of the sentence?” Show an example of each of those easy (underlined) ways to make a paragraph have more variety in sentence structure and sound perhaps more interesting to read. Tip: If you are planning to get this far in teaching paragraph development, it is very helpful to “write every other line” so that you can have some space to write differently underneath and show a comparison between the original sentence and the new sentence.
Joy’s Example of Modelling a Simple Paragraph
(for someone who knows how to write a complete sentence but isn’t comfortable at
writing multiple sentences in a paragraph yet)
About Curious George (topic=a character who is very familiar to my son yesterday)
– lives with man with yellow hat
– curious about anything anyone does
– solves problems in an unusual way
– very creative
(then I drew that 10 second sketch of a monkey – imagine it drawn here 🙂 )
Curious George is a very creative monkey who gets into a lot of trouble. He lives with the man with the yellow hat in an apartment in the city. He is curious about anything anyone does such as a boy, a scientist, or a dog named Huntley. But he is very smart and solves problems in an unusual way. Everyone likes Curious George!
After this lesson, my son went back and happily wrote a good paragraph on his own, using a very different character from an allegory. Now, he had seen it, understood it, and could do it all on his own very well! 🙂 Another lesson that sticks!
P.S. When I first started to teach writing to our oldest child, I chose 2 very sequential, mastery-type curriculum programs/books. In a sense, those remind me of learning how to drive a car but in order to do so, having practice after practice after practice of learning how to turn the key, change the gear, drive in a driveway and then start the next phase with driving in perhaps a relative’s driveway (e.g. a different writing skill or topic) for lots of time, and eventually, mastering enough little steps through filling-in practice sheets to get to drive down the road to town.
Now, on the other hand, I have heard of someone getting his beginner’s license downtown in a huge city and then being surprised as his mom handed him the keys and calmly said, “Drive me home safely.” (Yes, both of them survived that first time of him being behind the wheel!) I’ve heard of a comparable teaching method for writing too and it might work for a few folks (especially perhaps older beginners) but I don’t think I prefer it for most children. That would be a method where details and elaboration are expected right from the start instead of using simple sentences. It sounds like more intensive effort/time than what I’m comfortable with.
Yet, to offer no direction other than “just start writing/typing a story/report”, no guidance to help students learn to outline first, then make the sentences, then go back to read it to see if anything could be improved, seems like driving without the beneficial rules of the road!
I became much happier with teaching writing after I did 2 things which indicated the wisdom of a more of balanced approach:
One change was to make writing more hands-on and visual with a “big picture” for my children (and me) to see year-long. You can see my first edition here (while quantities last) and my second edition here (a downloadable, printable e-book). All of our children have loved this visual method for writing class and I have found it very refreshing to use as well! (They have to get up from a desk and actively dig into an envelope pocket to get an assignment too so it also gets them to change their position and walk. At least two of my kids need(ed) that active part.)
The other change I did was to ask my mom for advice 🙂 and check back into my boxes of old schoolwork at how I had learned to write from my primary level teachers. Do you know something? Those teachers taught in a similar manner as each other! First, they modelled simple stories, talking it out as they wrote in big print. In addition to “experience stories” (models), my grade 1 teacher also occasionally wrote a few sentences to a story picture I would paint and then dictate to her and I would copy the words under her printing. In grade 3, I was able to research in encyclopedias, library books, ask older family members about some details, and outline a good amount of information to write a couple of pages of paragraphs for independent study projects. (My early writing projects (grades 3-5) were about a mouse, a famous skater, my dad’s workplace, Niagara Falls, etc. – our class wrote a lot of independent writing report-style projects. But it started back with modelling and keeping to simple sentences. My vocabulary didn’t really expand much in vividness until around grade 6 and up.)
Although my oldest could read novels since the beginning of grade 1, she struggled with writing anything much. Only 3 of our kids have shown an extra giftedness in writing. The rest of them have other strengths. BUT when I changed to teach like my mom and old-fashioned teachers had, teaching writing was no longer as challenging in our family and it became much more enjoyable to pass this skill onto the next generation.