The Challenge: A child is struggling to generate topics for a writing assignment.
Concrete Example: The assignment is: “Write a narrative piece about something you did this week.”
The Strategy: Pre-Writing Verbal Questioning Exercise
I want to preface this post by saying that a strong writing assignment gives a more specific prompt than the one listed above. Unfortunately many writing assignments can be vague much like the prompt above and from my classroom experience these pose as the most challenging for hesitant writers. Please modify this strategy as needed to fit the prompt that your child comes home with.
Setting the Stage: You go to check on your child and find him/her staring at the ceiling as if he/she can see something that you cannot. You ask your child “What are you doing?” Your child replies, “I don’t know what to write about.”
How it Works:
Step 1: Understand that topic generation is a challenge for many hesitant writers and it’s often a matter of confidence rather than focus or effort that may be holding your child back. Be patient and use an understanding tone with your child.
Step 2: Pose a question to make sure that your child understands what the prompt is asking them to write about. For example: “What is the assignment asking you to do?”
Step 3: Using a conversational tone, ask a series of short questions such as the ones listed below. Start by saying “Hmm…that is tricky! Let’s see if we can come up with something together.”
Step 4: Chances are that once the child is engaged in a verbal conversation, he/she will be able to think of a story to share. Encourage your child to tell you more about what happened. You may even want to jot down some key points in your child’s story as a reminder for when he/she sits down to write.
Goal of this Strategy: Some children who struggle to generate writing topics do not struggle when generating speaking topics. A lot of children actually love sharing stories about themselves verbally. A child’s struggle with topic generation can be due to low confidence in any of the many aspects of writing including spelling, punctuation, and/or handwriting. The goal of this strategy is to encourage your child to tell you their story verbally so that they realize that they have a story to share. Once they have said it, they will be more likely to believe that they can write it too.
Special Note: Writing can be a beast! For me, it is the best beast because I absolutely love writing, and even more than that I love teaching writing. The most important thing to remember is that there are multiple components that go into writing, which means that there are multiple areas that can lead to struggle and/or difficulty with writing. Here is a list of some of the trickiest types of writers I have worked with in the past. You will probably notice that what makes them tricky is that their clear strengths blur their areas for growth.
Remember that as frustrated as your little writer may seem, they have something that they are doing right! Out of all of the different writing components your writer surely has strengths and areas with room for growth. The best thing you can do as a teacher or family member is to support your child in finding his/her strengths so that he/she can use them to improve those areas with room for growth.