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Teaching kids to write: three tips (and a truth)

Posted on June 10, 2014

Untitled designI’m in the process of creating a series of children’s writing workshops, part of an ongoing writing group that I have at the boys’ primary school. In my dreams, I turn up each week to expectant faces, ready to soak up whatever writerly wisdom I throw their way, a whole lot of ‘Captain, my Captain’ ringing in my ears, inspiration hovering like a buzzing cloud above our heads.

The reality can be quite different, particularly when I start saying things to them like ‘this is a great idea, but part of your job as a writer is to ensure that the reader can actually read what you’re writing’. Everybody is keen to fling ideas about and read their work to great applause. Nobody is that keen on listening to me bang on about the correct use of a quote mark and the importance of legible handwriting (I know… given the appalling state of my handwriting, I am a fine one to talk… but I can type).

I know that I should be going with the inspiration. Teaching them to follow their dreams, get their wild ideas down, and hang the consequences. And I do – but, you know what, I’d be doing them a disservice if I did only that. You can’t fully explore the beauty of the English language unless you have an idea of how it works. Nobody will get to the essence of your inspired story if they can’t understand what you’re trying to say.

So we do the quote marks. And I mention the importance of the spelling. Not every time. Not over and over. Writing group is a place to write, not a place to be bogged down in grammar. But I do mention it often enough that they know it’s important.

Three other things that we talk about regularly:

1. Use the best words you know in your descriptions. We do an exercise every week where I give them a word (tree, sand, road, green, nose, hair) and they must write down three words to describe that word. The results are always very interesting – and the third word is always better than the first one they come up with.

2. A fragment is not a short story. Aim for a beginning, a middle and an end, even if you’re writing 200 words.

3. Writers write. Each of the students has a journal, and, to keep their place in the group, they have to write in it at least once a week. I don’t read it unless they ask me to (and they usually do). I just check to see that it’s done. The point of the exercise is to create a writing habit. Some of them are writing ongoing sagas in their journals. Some of them write a three-line description of their weekend. Both of which are fine.

Once we’ve got through doing what writers do best (talking about writing), we also write. There’s nothing like a five-minute writing sprint to open your eyes to the truly inspiring thing about a writing group like this one – I can give the same opening sentence to eight children and the eight resulting stories will be completely different. And always surprising.

Now, that’s inspiring.

Do your children like to write?

If you’d like to read more about teaching kids to write, check out this post I wrote for Planning With Kids

UPDATE: Thanks Helen for letting me know that some of the links in PWK post are not redirecting. I’ve listed them below if you’d like to read more of my ‘writing and kids’ posts:

When the going gets tough

In writing, as in life, ride your own race

It’s all mystery from here

Another step on the writing path)

 

14 Comments

  1. London City (mum)

    Love this.
    Are you looking at expanding the idea to secondary schools (in due course)?

    LCM

    • Allison Tait

      Hello! I do take my workshops to secondary schools. I often find that we’re talking about the same stuff, and doing similar exercises, but the conversation is at a different level. The basics never change! A

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  3. Kate Morell

    Thank you for these tips Allison. My seven year old loves writing now they do a ‘big write’ each week. They bring home some ‘talking homework’, where they discuss the style of writing and topic chosen by the teacher, then the next day, lights are dimmed, fake candles placed on each table, and they just write, write, write. This week she begged her teacher to photocopy her seven page story so she could bring it home for me to read. I think I might just do her ‘big write’ at home myself!

  4. Helen K

    Hey Allison – I just read your post on the Planning with Kids site (which I enjoyed – more handy hints to employ – my kids are going to love Europe when they see the things I have planned!) but was interested in the links to other posts you have prepared. I am not sure if it is my computer, or whether they are old posts and not linking well – but each time, they flash open for about a second and then close. Most frustrating. Do you know if they are still accessible from your blog?

  5. Helen K

    I love this, Allison! My son does like to create stories. He doesn’t love to hand write them though because he is a perfectionist and apparently, although he is only 9 year old, he doesn’t think his writing is up to scratch. No matter that there is only one way to improve – no, he won’t handwrite ‘for fun’. So we do find him from time to time writing some great little stories on the computer (slightly longer if he coerces me to type for him – but then we get a bit niggly with each other as I try to ‘refine’ his stories – I must learn not to do that). My six year is starting to enjoy developing her stories although she largely focuses on her drawings (and proudly demonstrated each time she has refined her ‘style’).

    But we are going overseas for a month in August, so it would be a great opportunity to develop these skills more strongly, not to mention the fact that the school would like them to journal given they will be away for so long. I’m looking forward to reading your post on Nicole Avery’s site!

  6. Vanessa

    Some great tips here and I am going to borrow them as I’m one of those parents that has offered to run a couple of Writer’s Worshops AND a Book Club next term at my children’s school. Need all the help, ideas and advice I can find!

    • Allison Tait

      Good luck with that Vanessa!

  7. Janelle

    Is there a group like this for adults? Sounds like fun! What better way for kids of all ages to indulge their imaginations than to write?

    • Allison Tait

      So true Janelle!

  8. Monique @Write Note Reviews

    Great advice, Alison. I wish I’d have done one of your workshops when I was a kid!

    • Allison Tait

      They are so much fun!

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