Do you have a student who struggles with knowing how to write thoughts down on a piece of paper? Or perhaps your student isn’t struggling but rather just needs some motivation and tips to continue writing paragraphs, reports, essays, speeches, stories, etc..
Here are some tips and ideas for what YOU might try…
She had imagination – I could tell that by listening to her stories in play. She knew how to form very neat letters – so printing/penmanship was not the issue. She had a quieter personality – so dictating sentences to copy afterwards was not a method that was as appealing for her (although that does help many students and is one of the parts of our Tell Me: Modelled Writing for the Very Young (creative writing curriculum found in our shop here).
Some advice said to provide a picture as a prompt for writing. I tried that. One memorable picture, intended to spark a lot of writing response from a child, was a tent with a person in it peeking out and a bear approaching from behind.
“Write a story about THIS picture,” I encouraged.
“There is a tent. There is a man. There is a bear.”
That was all. Nothing else. No matter how I tried to prompt with further questions about what might happen, she’d reply that perhaps stuff like that could happen but since the picture wasn’t giving that information for certain, she didn’t think she could expand on writing any ideas beyond what she actually was seeing.
Her strength was in factual writing. Tip: For some students, it is better to have them gain confidence in writing sentences and paragraphs by assigning topics related to non-fiction report writing and leave the elaboration of imagination in writing stories until a future step. Not all children like to write fiction first, even if they love to read it!
Now, I can happily say that through the ups and downs of the years that followed, she did learn to enjoy a variety of writing formats and to do well. She especially loved the Creative Writing for Primaries curriculum (or click here for a link) which put her assignments in envelopes on a board. But what needed to be strengthened was knowing how to E X P A N D a piece of writing into something that was long and interesting enough.
(A few siblings are quite the opposite, at least at times – they might need to know how to make their writing more concise. They might naturally write on and on. “Being Concise” is also a topic taught within PSLC’s writing curriculum but for this post, I’d like to focus on the skill of being able to write sufficient amounts, which is I think, a more common struggle.)
But I like that story of the bear and the tent. It helps ME to teach a few tips of writing to younger students.
So, in a few seconds, I draw a sketch for my boys – a tent (simple triangle with a railroad-style line downwards resembling a zipper) and a boy’s head peeking out of the tent with an open “O” mouth, eyebrows as high as his hairline and one arm below the head holding a flashlight (2 lines for the arm plus a circle with dashed lines showing the circle is a shining light). Oh, then, of course, I draw A BEAR (just a cute-looking bear with a circle for the head, circle for the body, half-circle ears, a couple of legs and a tail – just keep it simple and not too scary).
I tell them there is quite a bit that we could write about this picture. And I talk a little slower while I write down my words.
By the way, this is known as “modelling a story” – in other words, taking time to actually write something WHILE the students are watching you. For best results, it has to be personal – not watching a video or reading something in a book but rather, watching someone personally in the same room. It is a very important step that sometimes people forget but I think it can make a big difference, regardless of what age your students need help or motivation in being able to write. (How often might you need to model something? Maybe just once per type of assignment. Maybe just a few times a year. Maybe just a few times throughout the years. It depends on if/when the confidence of writing sufficiently needs perking up or more direction.)
So I write the obvious:
“There is a tent.
There is a bear.
There is a boy.”
We all agree that’s a good start but Mom can do better than that ’cause that ain’t all that interesting of a story, is it?! So, I add 3 more words and 2 more sentences…
“There is a green tent.” (They can help me by giving me a colour name – pretty easy.)
“There is a mean bear.
There is a scared boy. He peeks out with his flashlight. He sees the bear.”
Again, we all agree, that is looking better. What I’ve done is just about adding more details to the facts.
Now, it’s time to add some sound and action to our story so I write 2 more sentences, expressing the words in my tone of voice while I read the entire story AGAIN. (I’m showing them that it’s perfectly OK to take some time and rework things. We don’t necessarily get things really good the first time through or even the second time. Writing well will take time and thought.)
Finally, I change two of the words to something much more elaborate and read it again, still using lots of expression in my voice to read them our story.
Here it is:
“There is a green tent.” (spoken quietly)
“There is a mean bear.” (spoken just a little bit less quietly)
“There is a scared boy.” (I try to put a bit of a tremor in my voice to show empathy.)
“He peeks out with his flashlight. He sees THE BEAR. He screams “Ahhhhhhhhh!”” (at which point, they startle and giggle)
“Suddenly, the bear
goes away. zooms as fast as he can with his tail between his legs into the forest and NEVER, EVER comes back!” (first part of sentence spoken very fast but last part of sentence spoken very deliberately/slowly for a calm conclusion.)
I read it one more time and they like it. 🙂
Thus, they have learned how to take simple sentences, add detail, add emotion, add sound or other “5 senses” words, and how to read with expression – all in one fun lesson where modelled writing shows them that writing can be not-so-hard-after-all if you can break it down into little steps like this and then rework it as you read it to find some things to “fix”, making it more interesting and/or longer.
That tiny story can get you started. There is a slightly different writing lesson on my blog from last year that might help you too. (Click here for that post – “How to Teach Writing a Paragraph”.)
But there are even MORE fun and useful tips for expanding writing in our creative writing curriculum. See our shop here and click on the category of “WRITING” to see the unique resources we offer for any level, K-12!
If you have questions about teaching writing, you’re welcome to comment on our Facebook page too. 🙂
I’m adding a few FREE SAMPLES pages (click below on the first graphic to download the sample pdf) which show some tips, taken from our e-book curriculum Writing Stories, Letters, Reports, Essays, and Speeches. Try them and see if they work for YOU! 🙂
To purchase the full 52-page book, please click on this link: Writing Stories, Letters, Reports, Essays, and Speeches. It could very well become a favourite writing resource in your family!