Writing Can Be Difficult for Students of All Ages and Abilities
Students of differing ability and needs levels often approach writing with the same amount of anxiety and trepidation. The act of putting your thoughts and experiences on paper or creating a story for others to view can be intimidating. There’s an uncertainty attached to the final outcome that can affect all learners. As a friend recently explained, “Writing is the act of creating a work of art. As with all art, the creator cannot control how others will react to or interpret it. That can be scary, even for accomplished writers.”
Most teachers and parents alike recognize the value of reading and being read to every day. Elementary schools often require minimum nightly reading times for this reason. The same should be true for writing. Encouraging children to write, see you write, and share work daily is incredibly valuable. Writing for pleasure while exploring the different purposes of writing, on a regular basis, can help remove some the apprehension and improve quality. Even better yet, it may help inspire a future author or lead to a life-long love of the subject.
Getting started is often the most difficult part of the writing process. The solution, though simple, is very effective: just write.
Lead by Example
As with reading, modeling is a powerful tool. Write with your child and share your stories from time to time. We’ve already acknowledged that writing can be very personal, criticism can quickly lead to resistance. Fortunately, children enjoy catching our mistakes. If you find your child often leaves out key details in a story, excitedly share something you’ve written that has important events left out and ask for feedback. Odds are very little prompting will be needed before suggestions are made. Your child is likely to remember the experience and include more information in his or her own work in the future as well.
Make a List
Most of us have uttered or heard the words “I don’t know what to write” numerous times. Instead of focusing on the uncertainty, provide your child with a starting point. Ask him or her to make a detailed list of everything they’ve done since waking up or that they did the day before. You can even provide a sheet with hourly times or specify morning, noon and night, verbally or with pictures, for younger students to fill in. Lists should include basic things, like woke up, brushed my teeth, or let the dogs out, ate breakfast, and walked to school.
Once the list is complete, ask your child to circle 3 or 4 items on the list they think they could say more about. For example, what did they eat for breakfast? Who made it? Did they enjoy it? Who did they walk to school with? Was it a long walk? What was the weather like? What did they talk about and see or hear on the way? This can be followed up by turning the details into complete sentences, then add descriptive language. Remind them to share what things look, sound, feel or taste like to help paint a more vivid picture with their words. These steps can be completed the same day or broken up over several, depending on how long each takes.
Make it Personal
One of the reasons a list works as a starting point when writing is that students are sharing about what they know. Start with personal experiences. Creative writing may seem more interesting, at first, but an engaging, believable work of fiction takes time. Students often begin with a wonderful idea, but are unsure where to go from there. The more practice a child can have at developing thorough accounts of events, the more prepared that individual will be to craft a compelling imaginary one later.
Writing about things that have happened recently, emotional memories, or future plans also solves the I don’t know what to write problem. Most of us have a number of things on our mind constantly. Describing how much a child wants pizza for dinner, why a recent trip to the movies was disappointing, or how nervous and/or excited one felt at a social event are some potential topics. But it’s also alright to let your child choose the topic and limit instructions to write and the subject should be nonfiction. The best part about expository writing is that your child won’t have to spend too much time wondering what comes next. It’s also a life skill, needed for assessments, applications, and evaluations as they get older.
Let It Out
It may sound like a cliché, but writing can heal. It’s a way to get things out and express feelings we may be uncomfortable or unable to say aloud. Creating a list of things you miss or enjoyed about a lost loved one, writing a letter to that same person about life now, explaining reasons you’re frustrated, or problems you’re hoping to solve, can go a long way in relieving the weight that can accompany these subjects. Sometimes having an opportunity to let things out is all that’s needed to diffuse a situation, see things differently, or move on.
Make it Fun
There are so many interesting opportunities to write. Try having your child write a paragraph or more convincing you why the family should go see the latest Star Wars movie, visit a specific place on the next family vacation, try a new sport or even attend a concert. Ask your child to explain why he or she likes a specific athlete, writer, or entertainer. It can be an opportunity to look at things differently or help others understand and share in their enthusiasm.
Ernest Hemingway said, “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one becomes a master.”
As I mentioned in the beginning, writing is personal. First, second, and third drafts don’t need to be perfect. Teach your child to draw a simple line through a word or phrase when catching an error or making a change, then move on. The most important thing is to keep the writing process fluid. Focus on the positive, and limit the number of constructive comments for each piece. Targeted writing practice can have the same positive impact as targeted reading practice. In writing, practice doesn’t make us perfect, but it can make us more comfortable with a skill that will be necessary for future success. One day your child may thank you, perhaps in a well constructed letter!