Listen to any author interview and eventually he or she will give the advice to “write what you care about.” It makes sense that having a passion for a topic enables us to write about it more vividly. The hard part is convincing kids that anything can become a great story.
The Problem with Prompts
As teachers, it is in our nature to want our pupils to succeed. We prod, we scaffold, and we conference. It is hard to watch them struggle and bemoan their shortcomings. When children sit down to write, the biggest complaint they have is that they have “nothing to write about.” To ease their pain, teachers often provide them with a topic to help them get started. The problem with this practice is that when we offer young writers artificial prompts, we are, in a sense, agreeing with their own beliefs that they have nothing worth writing about.
Growing Significant Moments
Children, and even some adults, mistakenly believe that authors live more exciting lives than the rest of the population. In her book, The Art of Teaching Writing, Lucy McCormick Calkins points out that authors respond to ordinary events with extraordinary excitement. Children must come to learn that significance isn’t found, but rather it is grown from the small and seemingly insignificant moments that fill their lives.
The library is full of books that spring from tiny events. Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee, The Rain Stomper by Addie Boswell, and Kitchen Dance by Maurie J. Manning are each about everyday moments that are elevated to importance by the author’s rich details. Put these books on your summer reading list as examples of how to grow a significant moment.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Summer break is ripe with opportunities for pupils to exercise their writing muscles. Following are a few ideas to help them practice turning the mundane into the marvelous:
- If children travel anywhere this summer, ask them to send you a postcard. Encourage them to focus on one incident from their trip but to include several details so you will feel like you were there. Print up premade address labels so they will know where to send their postcard.
- In poetry, every word is important. This forces the writer to choose very precise words in the creation of very crisp images. Contact a local nursing home whose residents might like to receive mail. Since writing personal letters to strangers can be awkward, this is a good time for children to practice haiku or another form of poetry.
- Most of the joy of writing comes from knowing someone read and liked what you wrote. To give young authors an audience, have them enter a story or poem in a contest. Scholastic publishes student-written book reviews and features contests throughout the year. Anorak and Stone Soup magazines feature short fiction, book reviews, and poetry by young writers.
- Digital photography has opened a new arena for children who would like to “publish” their own books. Sites like Shutterfly are the perfect vehicle for young authors to upload photos and write the story behind them.
Continue the Lesson Next Fall
This summer, challenge your class to find the extraordinary moments in their lives. Encourage them to write about these events and save them in a notebook. When school resumes in the fall, they will already have an abundance of ideas to expand upon.
Lesson Ideas to Build On Their Creativity:
Pre-emergent writers practice recalling events from their day to share at home. As the year progresses, they are asked to provide more details about their day.
Writing practice for those in the intermediate grades. Learners practice descriptive writing by providing details about a person they know well. After their paragraphs are written, classmates try to guess who it is about.
In a Lesson Planet article from last summer, Shay Kornfeld offers several ideas to keep writing skills polished over the summer. Ideas include online publishing, Post-It note stories and practicing grammar with colors.