For some children, writing comes easily. Others, it’s the dreaded white sheet of paper. And openness with no end in sight, no complete ending, no right or wrong answers. For children who see writing this way, a writing assignment can cause them to lose sleep, moodiness and become distracted in the classroom. It’s also extremely easy for children to lose focus and procrastinate.
Questions to ask before beginning the assignment
Is there a rubric?
Many teachers and school systems provide a rubric, or a chart that explains expectations. Typical rubrics cover the basic expectations for children in the grade and focus on style or voice, expression, editing, organization and content. (See sample writing rubrics here.) The rubric expresses expectations and provides students a checklist to be used later. It helps kids and parents to understand the critical expectations they’ll be graded on. However, because the rubric is usually generic, it rarely expresses specifics regarding the assignment.
Did your teacher give you an assignment sheet or did you take notes while she explained the assignment?
An assignment sheet should explain the objective, such as, “write a 3 paragraph adventure story with a beginning, middle and end.” Oftentimes, the assignment will begin with a writing prompt, or a lead. If the teacher didn’t assign a story starter, here are a few examples to help lead your child:
- It was a dark and stormy night…
- The little boy looked up at the sky and was surprised to see…
- Yesterday, the strangest thing happened…
- The path was long and windy…
- I never expected to see a …
First steps in creative writing
Some writers never have to do it, but many writers start with a brainstorm session. Starting with a basic brainstorm session helps kids to get an idea of their story before writing it. The most important rule of brainstorming is that nothing is wrong. The writer may not use all of the information her brain storms, but it’s important to write down every idea.
While many writers brainstorm thoughts on a blank piece of paper, kids are easily guided by graphic organizers. Graphic organizers lead children to organize their brainstorms and help them to keep their thoughts focused. Here’s a helpful Brainstorming Graphic Organizer to get your child started.
Plan out the basics
While older children are taught to plan out the story elements including introduction, plot, climax and conclusion, younger children are taught a more basic beginning, middle and ending. After your child has brainstormed and has an idea of what will happen in the story, next guide him to the steps of the story, reminding him that there should be a problem that needs to be solved. Breaking a story into beginning, middle and end helps the children to see where the story is going. If your child needs more guidance, a Beginning Middle Ending graphic organizer may help.In fact, kids who are writing 3 paragraph stories can easily plan each paragraph this way. This storyboard graphic organizer helps children to plan and organize the story and is helpful for children writing longer stories.
Add the details
Now that the story has a structure, it’s time to add details. The amount of details to include will depend on the student’s abilities and level in school. If the kids have learned about adjectives, help him to remember to include a few describing words to describe the feelings or how things looked. It’s helpful to remind children that the reader wasn’t there when it happened, and he also wasn’t in the head of the writer. This is a very difficult concept for younger children who have difficulty understanding that not everyone envisions exactly what the writer envisions and that the writer has to show what his happening with words.
Proofread and edit
Proofreading isn’t fun or easy—kids often feel that when they’ve written the final period in the story, they should be finished. Remind them to try to focus on one sentence at a time. It’s helpful to read the story aloud when proofreading, as the writer is forced to read every word.
Oftentimes, a student will edit at the same time, but an additional editing tip is to have a friend or relative read the student’s writing to the student, so that the student can hear the story he’s written. Oftentimes, he’ll catch something then that doesn’t quite work.
Check the rubric and assignment sheet
Remember the rubric and assignment sheet? Circle back and have your child grade himself, making changes if he sees them necessary, to do the best he can on the assignment.
If only it were so easy
It’s so easy to have the writing process for children laid out here as a guide. But kids will often get lost along the way. Breaking up the assignment over time and taking breaks in the middle refreshes the writer.
Writing is a difficult process and can be helped by many activities beyond graphic organizers. Some children brainstorm and plan stories better by reciting their stories into a recording or voice memo, while others benefit from illustrating the story prior to giving it words.