When do children start writing?' in which I discussed children's earliest efforts to scribble and draw and the gradual transition to more conventional writing.
I concluded that for the very young child (0-5 years) we need to:
- Take their early drawing and scribble seriously - look at it, enjoy it, discuss it with your children (e.g. "What's this?" "What does this mean?" etc).
- Encourage children to write - give them blank paper and tell them to "write"!
- Let them see you writing and talk about your writing.
- Look for patterns in children's early drawing and scribble and expect to learn things about your child from it.
- In short, encourage writing just as much as you encourage reading and celebrate their drawing and 'writing' - put it on the wall, date it and keep it, make up a folder etc.
Key Pointer 1 - Creating the right environment for writing
Writers also need access to (and the ability to use) key resources like a dictionary and thesaurus, spelling books, spell checkers if using computers and word banks. For teachers it also includes access to an extensive class library of children’s literature (a major source of inspiration for narrative writing) and a well-stocked school library.
Key Pointer 2 – Give children authentic audiences for their writing
Key Pointer 3 – Give them support
One of the advantages of the Internet is that often children can find virtual readers (see my post on ‘Children as bloggers’ for one application that offers authentic audiences and response).
Key Pointer 4 – Provide writers with time
Key Pointer 5 – Allow young writers (as much as possible) to choose their own topics
While in school it is important that students learn to respond to imposed topics and writing tasks, teachers and parents should encourage young writers to choose their writing topics whenever possible. When topics and particularly writing forms are imposed, try to offer some internal choice.
Key Pointer 6 – Give young writers help to learn the writer's essential craft knowledge
Just as a potter, pianist or painter needs to learn the essential craft knowledge of his/her discipline, so too the writer needs to learn the essentials of writing. The writer needs help to build knowledge of writing in three main areas:
a) Surface features – They need to know about the mechanics of writing that enable them to be able to write in conventional forms, including spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, grammar and word usage.
b) Text knowledge – They need help to understand written register and genre. Register refers to the use of language appropriate to the situation in which the language is meant to be used. Children need to know that you use different language to write a letter (or an email) to an aunt who sent $50 as a birthday present than an SMS message sent to a mate asking them to meet you after school. Genre is a style of text that reflects its purpose and intended audience (who it was written for). Children need to understand that texts have distinctive forms that are generally accepted as having specific features such as their structure that influence the use of language. For example, writers need to know how a narrative is different from a piece of expository writing.
Key Pointer 7 – Give young writers the opportunity to observe more experienced writers
This might be achieved simply by children seeing teachers and parents writing, sharing their writing with others, and using writing for varied purposes. In the home this will probably occur spontaneously while in the classroom it might be done more systematically and deliberately. For example, a teacher might demonstrate their writing processes on a Smart Board for the whole class to see. But children also need to observe other children – the ideas they use, the things they write about, the way they present their writing etc.
Key Pointer 8 – Help young writers to keep a record of their writing
All writers store their writing, save drafts, date writing samples and build up a record of their writing achievements. Having a portfolio of work is the way writers can see that they have made progress. It is never too early to encourage young writers to keep their work, record writing ideas and look back over their work to see progress and learn from their past writing.
Key Pointer 9 – Raise interest in writing
Learning from books, film, the Internet, and life experience fuels good non-fiction writing. Encourage your children to learn, to be inquisitive and to explore things in their world.
Key Pointer 10 – Maintain the pursuit of writing
Children need help to persevere as writers, because it can be hard. This can be achieved in four ways.
a) Simplifying the task of writing by - helping them to choose topics and the right genre for writing; and providing help as part of the writing process in content, clarity, and mechanics.
b) Monitoring progress in writing by noting inconsistencies, flaws, strengths and new things.
c) Providing supportive feedback and constructive criticism of their work
Always try to be as positive as possible at first. For example:
"I like the use of the word muddle."But constructive criticism is also necessary. This might take the following forms:
"That's a good opening line."
"That was great. You've taught me a lot about frogs."
"I like the way you started that sentence."
"You've paragraphed well. It's good to see that you start a new one for each new idea."
"Read that to me again; I'm not sure what you meant. Could you tell me more?"d) Help children to self-assess their writing – teach them to re-read their work and revise to improve it. Here’s a simple personal revision checklist. You can develop a checklist that reflects the needs of your children. However, such a checklist might include the following.
"The opening sentence is very important in any story. Your story might have been even better with a different lead-in sentence."
"Read that the way it's written. Isn't something missing?"
"What word could have been used instead of 'rain'?"
"It's hard for me to read and understand this first part; it's a very long sentence. Read it again and show me where you pause."
"You've started these sentences the same way. How could you change some of them?"
"Do you need that sentence? Haven't you said that before?"
Does each sentence start with a capital and end with a full stop?Other Resources
Are the sentences clear?
Have I left any words out or included unnecessary words?
Have I used words correctly, e.g., was/were; is/are?
Are there any words that should be checked for spelling?
Is a new paragraph started for each new idea?
Are the ideas in the correct sequence?
Do the sentences start in a variety of ways?
Are some words used too often?
Does the story have a beginning, a middle, and an end?
Is it clear exactly what the writer means?
Is more information needed to make the meaning clearer?
Are the first and last sentences effective?
Have words been used in unusual ways?
I have written about this topic at length in other publications such as "Pathways to Literacy", Cassell: London, 1995.
All posts on writing (HERE)