“I don’t know what to write about.” Typically, this is the statement most young children respond with when asked to write a story. Very young children, ages 4 through 7, will draw pictures and add a few letters or use inventive spelling as a caption to their stories as part of their writing process. By the time a child reaches third grade, writing expectations move away from a focus on the pictures with a couple of words to using words, rather than pictures, to tell their stories.
Many 8- and 9-year-olds have stories to tell, but are afraid to put those stories down onto a piece of paper because they don’t feel adept at writing. To encourage third graders to write, they must be put into a writer’s frame of mind. There are so many wonderful books they can read, or that can be read to them, to show them that writing is not a scary process, but instead, is exciting and fun. Children see themselves as readers much more easily than they see themselves as writers. They should be encouraged to explore many topics of interest, and to see writing as a tool to communicate with a chosen audience.
Where to Start
Show children that writing is all around them. Signs, billboards, store fronts, advertisements and menus are all forms of writing. Explain that writing has a purpose that depends on the audience and the reason for writing. Whether he's writing for himself, as in a diary or journal, or writing a letter to his uncle or best friend, makes a difference. The purpose for writing is established first as this helps to determine what is going to be written. This also helps the child determine if the piece of writing has to be edited or revised and rewritten. Make it a point to model writing for the student. Children will often copy what they see. If they see adults using writing to convey ideas, they will often copy that behavior. It also encourages them to see that adults make mistakes and have to revise and edit their own work.
Caulkins, in her book "The Art of Teaching Writing," feels that writer’s notebooks should be introduced very early, even in kindergarten and first grade. “Children are encouraged to look, listen, notice, wonder, question -- and to record all this in drawings, lists and entries in their notebooks." In third grade, there should be more of a shift to drawing less and writing more in these notebooks. She believes children will be able to use these ideas and thoughts they’ve recorded to help them come up with story ideas, poetry and a picture book, or to perform research for a science article. They are encouraged to refer to and update their notebooks often throughout the year as they discover themselves as writers.
The Right Way
Children at this stage are very concrete in their thinking. They want to know the rules and they expect everyone to follow them. When a child has the opportunity to share his writing with others, he wants it to be perfect. They are eager to please adults and their peers. They need to be helped to find the right way to say things without overwhelming them with details and make them afraid of making mistakes. When they are ready to edit and revise, carefully show them words they can use, or how to use proper punctuation. Encourage them to read aloud to listen to their own writing. You will be the most important audience they are writing for during this time.
- The Art of Teaching Writing; Lucy Caulkins
- Literature Based Mini Lessons to Teach Writing: Susan Lunsford
- Guiding Readers and Writers; Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell
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