The Writing Process Transcript
This is Susan C. Anthony speaking. Welcome to my workshop on The Writing Process for teachers and home schoolers. I personally write all the time. Writing is an integral part of life for me, but that isn’t the case for most kids these days, partly because of our media-saturated world. Writing helps kids shape and organize their thoughts. It helps them learn to think as well as to communicate. It’s one of the basic 3 R’s, but it requires a different approach than reading and ‘rithmetic. I hope to encourage you today and share some ideas you’ll be able to use right away to overcome whatever resistance there might be in your situation that keeps writing from being an everyday part of education.
I should start by telling you a little about myself, so you know who’s talking.
I grew up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and went to a tiny rural school with excellent teachers. Upon graduation, I got a full National Merit Scholarship that enabled me to earn the first university degree in my near family, a B.A. in Elementary Education, in 1976. I moved to Alaska in 1979 and taught in the Anchorage School District for 10 years before resigning to write and spend more time with my husband who had retired after 20 years of teaching.
I have more ideas than I will ever have time to write down. I wrote 17 books for teachers and home schoolers, then a series of what I call “Little Books” on religion and philosophy. My current project is a history of our homestead, which will basically be a biography of my amazing husband.
I like to write, but when it came to teaching writing, I was almost, not quite, at a loss. Over time, I took classes and tried different things, the best of which I’ll be sharing today.
I’ve written only a couple of books pertaining to writing as distinct from spelling. Poetry from the Heart contains much of what I’ll be talking about today as far as using poetry to teach the writing process. It’s a compilation of children’s poems that I used to get the poems you’ll see in this presentation.
I found that the secret to getting good poetry from kids is to share kids’ poetry. If you use adult poetry, kids tend to think it’s too hard for them, that maybe someday when they grow up they’ll be able to write like that.
When you use kids’ poetry, kids think, “I can do that!” You want them to have that thought.
I have two books of handwriting masters, Manuscript Handwriting Masters and Cursive Handwriting Masters. These are just exercise books to teach kids how to correctly form letters. Once they demonstrate to me that they know how to do that, I teach them keyboarding. Then I let them use manuscript or cursive, as they prefer. I personally didn’t learn cursive until 4th grade and I still write mostly in manuscript. I think an educated person needs to know HOW to read and write cursive, even if they personally choose to use manuscript or a keyboard.
My goal is for you to leave here with:
- At least one idea you can't wait to try out with your kids.
- A philosophical framework through which to view the teaching of writing.
- Greater confidence that you can teach kids to write.
A handout is available for free download on my website. The first page summarizes the steps in the writing process. The second page shows some of ideas I’ll share in this workshop for brainstorming ideas in preparation for writing. On the bottom is a list of traits of quality writing. Whenever your kids write, you want to find as many positive yet honest things to say about their writing as you can. You can refer to this list as you learn to do that.
I’ll be emphasizing throughout that you should water what you want to grow. Your attention nurtures whatever it falls upon. Pay attention to what you like and you’ll get more of it.
The last two pages illustrate good, average, and poor student writing for each of the grades 1-6.
Home school parents often don’t know what to expect from kids at different ages. Often their kids are doing better than they think compared to others their age. Teachers see a lot of kids’ writing, so are more familiar with what’s average, below and above average. If you're home schooling, this resource will help you more accurately compare your own child’s writing with what is normal for his age group, so your expectations will be more realistic.
Why this Workshop?
Writing is not taught effectively for several reasons.
- People aren't sure how to teach it.
- Results are unpredictable, unlike in math.
- There's pressure to bring up standardized test scores, which until recently didn't test writing.
- Writing is difficult to grade.
- Students are often resistant.
Facts, Skills and Creativity
Facts, skills and creativity require different approaches to instruction. It helped me to realize that creativity itself cannot be taught. Some people naturally have more creativity than others. It’s easier to teach math or science than writing because they're more objective. Answers are right or wrong.
Teaching creativity is different than teaching facts or skills. Let’s use art as an example. In art, there are facts kids have to learn: how to mix colors, the kinds of media they can use, etc. There are also skills, such as how to use a brush to make fluffy clouds, how to incorporate three dimensional perspective, how to do a watercolor wash. You can directly teach facts and skills. But a child’s final product is less dependent on facts and skills than creativity, which is an individual thing related to talent, personality and ideas. You can’t teach creativity, but you can foster it and nurture it.
A couple of analogies might help. Farming and fishing.
Farmers can control some things. They can plant quality seed, plant at the right time, fertilize, irrigate, control weeds, etc. But there are important things they can’t control, mainly weather. A good farmer gets better results than a poor farmer, all other things being equal, but there are no guarantees of success even for the best farmer.
Fishing is another analogy. I personally don’t like fishing much even though I live in Alaska, a fisherman’s paradise. I’ll fish if fish are biting. A good fisherman knows the best bait to use, the best time to fish, exactly how to present the fly. But unless there are fish in the stream, the best techniques won’t help. The best fishermen are persistent. They move around and keep experimenting until they get results.
It finally occurred to me that even bad fishermen like me catch more fish when their line is in the water. The more writing kids do, the better they will get. Keep trying. Use different ideas. Some will flop. Don’t be discouraged. Try something else. Be persistent and don’t give up. Keep your line in the water. Focus on any success there is. Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed anything 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” That’s the attitude you want. And remember that something that doesn’t work when you first try it might work a year later or with a different child.
Most people know that the right hemisphere of the human brain operates somewhat differently than the left. The left brain is more logical, time oriented and factual. The right brain is more creative, free flowing and artistic. I first read the following paragraph in a speed-reading class. It changed my approach to teaching language arts and writing.
Creative thinking leads to the birth of new ideas, while critical thinking tests ideas for flaws and defects. Both are necessary…yet they are incompatible—creative thinking interferes with critical thinking and vice versa. To think creatively, we must let our thoughts run free. The more spontaneous the process, the more ideas will be born…. A steady stream of ideas furnishes the raw material. Then critical judgment selects and refines the best ideas….
Though we must engage in the two types of thinking separately, we need both.
Read the last sentence again: Though we must engage in the two types of thinking separately, we need both.
I sat down and listed what aspects of writing fall into each category. The creative aspects are concerned with ideas and expression. The “critical” aspects are concerned with form. We’ll be talking about creativity in this workshop. My workshop Spelling for Success addresses the critical aspect of writing.
The idea is to teach each part separately and concurrently, then tie them together. Transfer doesn’t automatically occur from a curriculum into student writing and kids don’t learn to spell, punctuate and capitalize just by writing. You have to build a bridge from both sides to the middle.
The eventual goal is for both aspects of writing to be united into one process, with the critical aspects having been learned to the point that the mind is free to think, even to switch smoothly from one hemisphere to the other and back.
Think about basketball. Players need to learn the rules of the game, which are facts. They spend a lot of time practicing on isolated skills, such as dribbling and shooting, with a goal to master those skills so they become second nature. Then, during a game, the player’s mind is free to think about the particular situation he’s in and how best to get the ball into the basket. In a way, his mind is free to think creatively because everything else is automatic.
The Writing Process
In the course of figuring out how best to teach kids to write, someone had the wonderful idea that they should observe what real writers actually do. Although different writers approach their work differently, there are commonalities, and that how this outline came to be.
- First, think of an idea or topic.
- Write a rough draft
- Read and revise.
- Share and revise.
- Write a final draft and
Keep in mind that not everything a child writes needs to go through all the steps. You can stop at any point, and sometimes follow through later if you like. Early success is important so make early lessons easy and success oriented.
The first step in the writing process is to think of an idea, using your imagination and creativity. I'm a Calvin and Hobbes fan. Here's Calvin, trying to think of an idea:
Calvin: I can't believe it! Homework already! I just got back to school! I have to write a paragraph on what I did over the summer! A whole paragraph! I'll NEVER be able to write that much. It's not FAIR!!
Calvin: How's it coming?
Hobbes (sitting at a desk writing): Not so good. What did you do besides watch TV?
John Dewey, an American philosopher who said a lot of things I don’t agree with, said one thing I agree with wholeheartedly: "There is all the difference in the world between having something to say and having to say something."
Generating ideas is a foundational part of the writing process. Kids need things the want to write about. Even if you just have kids generate ideas orally, without a pencil or piece of paper in sight, you’re teaching this aspect of writing. You want to develop their mental fluency and flexibility.
Here are some things you can do to help kids collect ideas they can use in their writing:
- Have a place to "catch" ideas on the wing.
- Clip and collect articles of interest.
- Keep a daily log or journal.
- Picture file.
- Collections of real things.
- Travel logs.
- Book with lists of ideas, or curriculum materials.
A place to "catch" ideas. Sometimes your kids will say something brilliant. You want to catch those fleeting phrases or ideas before they flit away, so designate a notebook or file folder and write those things down immediately. You might think of this as collecting seeds that might later grow into stories. Articles and clippings of interest can serve the same purpose.
Daily log or journal. For Christmas in 1982, my cousin gave me a calendar book. I was visiting her in Washington D.C. at the time and it was a nice book, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. I already had a small appointment book in my purse. I decided to write a little about what happened every day, after the day concluded. I’ve been doing this since January 1, 1983 so I can tell you what was happening on any day of my life for the past 30 years. I recently typed all of the entries so I can easily search by location, name, or activity. Most entries aren’t particularly interesting, but like a checkbook register that helps track where money goes, a book like this helps track where time goes. It’s also useful in tracking down something that shows up lost. My husband has mixed feelings about these journals because when we remember something differently I can go back and check the facts. He prefers I just accept his version of events, of course.
One of the things I do with logs at the end of each year is read through to decide what’s most interesting and could be included in my Christmas letter. In 1984, I wrote this Christmas newsletter, with news, opinions, sports, and even classified ads. It was a big hit with my friends. I only did a newspaper once, but it’s something you might want to consider. Have kids write articles about various things that happen in your family during the year, including opinion pieces, and compile them with art and photos into a newspaper to mail to friends and family.
As often as possible, you want kids to write for real audiences.
Picture file. A photo file can also be a source for ideas. An easy beginning writing assignment I used was to have each child choose an interesting photo, in this case from National Geographic. The assignment is to research the ten most interesting facts they can find related to the photo, then write them in list form entitled Did You Know? Because the final product is a list, there is less tendency to copy verbatim from a reference source.
I also used the picture file to help kids write poetry. A good thing about poetry is that it’s short. You can use it to teach kids to write well without burdening them with a requirement to write a lot. Quality over quantity.
Crashing down the mountain
A river of red flowing into the sea.
The Earth is bleeding. —Rich, grade 5
There’s a story to this poem. The boy who wrote it was a challenge to engage in any way. It was difficult even to get his attention when I was right in front of him talking to him. He wasn’t disruptive, but I didn’t feel I was connecting with him. Rick's little three-line volcano poem was selected to be published in an anthology of student poetry in the Anchorage School District called Pencils Full of Stars and chosen as one of only nine poems whose writers receive the Margaret Mielke Memorial Award for Promising Young Poets. Margaret Mielke was the first poet laureate of Alaska. Rick was one of just nine children in a school district of 50,000 children to receive a beautiful trophy from the Mielke family, awarded to him in front of the whole school.
As you can imagine, this gave him a new lease on life. It certainly increased his confidence and willingness to write!
Treasure Chest. Speaking of volcanoes, here’s some volcano stuff from my Treasure Chest. As a kid I collected interesting stuff I found in what I called a “Treasure Chest”. It was an actual chest until I got too many things to fit in one box. In this photo are some items relating to volcanoes: Obsidian, also called volcanic glass, volcanic dust from different eruptions that kids can look at under a microscope, sulfur they can smell, pumice they can float on top of water, and so on. The rock on the top right is what’s called a Dotcero diamond. I found it at the Dotcero volcano in Colorado. The white mineral surrounded by black is not actually a diamond. It’s glass formed by the melting of sand within hot lava.
Eventually, I organized my treasure chest into boxes so I could find what I wanted without too much digging.
As a teacher, I continued collecting things to pull out and use whenever appropriate, to teach vocabulary, to illustrate a science lesson, or to teach writing. I collect bird nests, cotton bolls, fossils, seashells, bird bones, foreign money, anything interesting. Kids learn from seeing, smelling and touching real things.
For one writing lesson, I give each child a stalk of wheat and tell them to draw it and note as many observations as they can. Then I have them separate the wheat from the chaff and continue to write observations. They don’t know what “chaff” is, but they soon learn. I let them put some wheat kernels in their mouth and chew on them. That makes a kind of “gum” because wheat contains gluten. Then we grind the wheat to make flour and bake bread. For my Alaskan students, it was a big deal to learn that bread comes from flour which comes from wheat. We don’t have any farms up here.
Travel journals can provide a source for ideas. Kids can later go back write more deeply and descriptively about particular incidents. I still have my journal of our very first family trip to California. I was seven.
Partly what I want to show with this is that things have changed since I was a child. I was a good student, but not extraordinary. This kind of work was not unusual for a second grader.
Why the difference between then and now? When I started school, my mind was basically empty. These days, when kids start school, their minds are packed with fragments, pieces of advertising ditties, flashing images, and lots more. I think it’s easier to teach kids with very little in their heads than to teach kids with chaos and confusion in their heads.
There’s not a lot we can do to change the cultural situation. Just be aware that it’s harder to teach kids to think and write these days than it was in the past. There's so much competition for their attention.
Book reports. Of course, kids can write about books they read.
This is my first book report, assigned in the month of September of my 4th grade year. We had to do one major book report a month, and I kept all of them. In case you’re wondering, I didn’t draw the horse. I still can’t draw.
Our teacher didn’t teach us how to write a summary. He just told us to write one. All 4th graders had the same assignment. When I tried this with 6th graders in a new generation, the results were dismal. I knew I had to do more than just assign and let kids figure it out on their own like my teachers had done.
Looking at this book report from the perspective of a teacher, I’d give it an A. I got an A-. I didn’t copy the questions.
Curriculums and books with lists of ideas for writing can also be used to help kids generate ideas.
The point is to start building a collection of ideas so when it's time to write, they don’t have to start with a blank piece of paper and an even blanker mind.
Once a central idea has been chosen, writers brainstorm. Basically, brainstorming is generating ideas about the central idea. Students can list, cluster, map, use cards, and/or outline. Here's Calvin with a writing assignment.
Calvin: I've got to write a report for school.
Hobbes: What's your topic?
Calvin: Bats. Can you imagine anything more stupid. Heck, I don't know anything about bats! How am I supposed to write a report on a subject I know nothing about? It's impossible!
Hobbes: I suppose research is out of the question.
Calvin: Oh, like I'm going to learn about bats and then write a report?! Give me a break!
Calvin: What am I going to do about this report on bats? You've got to help me, Hobbes!
Hobbes: OK, ...Um, first let's make a list of what we know.
Calvin: Yeah! That's a good way to start! Great!
Hobbes: Number One: What are bats?
Calvin: They're bugs, aren't they? Yeah, put that down.
Hobbes (writing #1 Bats = Bugs): Are you sure?
Calvin: They fly, right? They're ugly and hairy, right? C'mon, this is taking all day!
Bubbling. Making a list as Hobbes suggested is one good way of brainstorming. For some people, making a list works better than anything else. I’m going to share some different brainstorming ideas you can show your kids, so they can explore and find what method they like best.
Bubbling is one way of brainstorming. On a large blank piece of paper or white board, write the central idea in the middle with a circle around it. In this case, BATS.
As you generate ideas about the topic, draw additional circles, each containing one or two words to remind you of the idea or thought. After generating all the ideas you can think of, go back and use color to highlight ideas that belong together. Look for categories, such as “What Bats Eat”. Circle all ideas relating to what bats eat in one color, all the facts relating to where bats live in another color, and so on. This is the basis for an outline.
Clustering. Clustering is much the same. Again you start with a circle in the middle around your central topic, Bats.
In this case, though, you first think of categories and then details, where as with bubbling you think of details and then categorize them. Draw a line and circle from the central topic for every category and note it in the new circle you draw. Connect subcategories and details to the categories using other lines and circles. Ideas can be connected to more than one category if appropriate.
A cluster on the topic of bats might look something like this.
Mapping is similar to clustering, but uses straight lines. Maps can easily be made into formal outlines once brainstorming is complete.
- Write the central topic in a circle in the middle of the page.
- Write main ideas on lines connected to the circle.
- Write supporting ideas on lines connected to the main ideas.
- Write details related to supporting ideas.
- When finished, go back and number the main ideas, supporting ideas, and details you want to be the sequence in your writing.
80% of good writing takes place in the writer’s head, before pencil touches paper.
Kids who are fluent and flexible thinkers find learning to write a lot easier. A writing "lesson" can consist of nothing other than brainstorming. For example, list everything you can think of that is green, everything we'd need for a trip to the beach, etc. Time brainstorming. Make it fun!
Small pieces of paper of backs of old worksheets can reduce "brain freeze." It's OK to stop after brainstorming. Not every idea has to go on to become a published piece of writing.
3. Rough Draft
By now the writer should be prepared to write a rough draft. Do your best to get kids to double space. It’s amazing how resistant they are to doing that. It can save them a lot of time and trouble in the long run.
Calvin: I think we've got enough information now, don't you?
Hobbes: All we have is one "fact" you made up.
Calvin: That's plenty. By the time we add an introduction, a few illustrations, and a conclusion, it will look like a graduate thesis. Besides, I've got a secret weapon that will guaranteeme a good grade! No teacher can resist this!
Hobbes: What is it?
Calvin: A clear plastic binder! Pretty professional looking, eh?
Hobbes: I don't want co-author credit on this, OK?
I still have the report with my first clear plastic binder. It was a really big deal to me back then!
I use a sample of my own rough draft writing to show kids what a rough draft with revisions looks like. There’s something about a clean blank sheet of paper that can give blanks out people’s brains. Some kids see a beautiful white piece of paper and think they have to get everything perfect from the start. I want them to see that writing is a messy process. The final products look nice, but the drafts don’t.
Remember when I mentioned fishing? Even if you do everything right as a teacher, you might not catch fish.
Early in my teaching career, I thought I was supposed to grade everything. What kind of a grade could I have given a paper like this? (The paper is blank except for Tony's name and the date.) The assignment was to write a poem on the topic of silence, so maybe he’s onto something, but I sure wouldn’t have given it a passing grade early in my career.
By the time I got this paper, I knew that some days you catch fish and some days you don’t. No big deal. That day, February 25, no fish from Tony.
The next day we wrote on a different topic, colors. This time, I got a "fish" from Tony.
His first draft is on the top. After reading through kids’ papers and sorting out the "fish", I called each child who wrote a promising poem up for one-on-one time. I told them how much I liked their particular poem and why, then asked if we could edit it together. In this case, we used Tony's exact words. My only changes were putting it into poetry form and correcting misspellings.
This poem was published in Pencils Full of Stars.
Now, do you think if I’d given Tony a hard time the day before about not writing anything, he’d have written this the very next day? Probably not. He’d have been discouraged. He’d have felt like a failure. Those thoughts would have hampered his ability to think creatively.
Be happy when you catch fish and don’t worry about it when you don’t.
If kids write anything at all, even if its really bad, I say “good job” or “thank you”, noncommittally. When they write something good, I get really animated in telling them how great I think it is. Water what you want to grow.
For most writers, the hardest part about doing a rough draft is getting started. You might consider having kids scribble a bit on the paper just to get the juices flowing.
Poor writers edit out most thoughts and words before they reach the page. Encourage kids to get things on the page, good or bad. They can always edit them out or change them later.
For a rough draft:
- Double space. Revise as you write.
- Don't erase. Cross out.
- If writing on a computer, print drafts and revise them by hand.
- Focus on ideas.
- Don't worry about spelling, style, or mechanics.
- Circle a word if you're not sure of the spelling.
- To discourage perfectionism, use old paper.
4. Read and Revise
The fourth step, after a rough draft is done, is to read the piece aloud to yourself and revise it. Keep in mind the difference between revising and editing. Revising is adding words, taking out words that aren't needed, changing words to make the meaning more clear, rearranging words, and changing or combining sentences. Revising is not correcting spelling, punctuation or capitalization.
As adults, we revise and edit at the same time. When you’re teaching kids to write, it’s better to emphasize revising at this point of the process and not be too concerned about spelling and the rest until later.
The first poems the kids wrote that year were poems about Alaska. Most of them were utterly unremarkable so I said “good job” noncommittally. In this one, I saw something special.
Do you know what I liked? The word slither. That word forms a beautiful picture in my mind.
I asked Crystal if I could use her poem to teach kids what revising means and she agreed. First, I asked the class what they liked about this poem. They all liked the word slither, too. We talked about how the words nice and “beautiful” are clichés, words that have been used so often that they’re worn out. Because it’s best not to use clichés in poetry, and because they aren’t really necessary in this poem, we can just take them out. That’s revising.
We then talked about poetry form and rearranged the words into poetry form.
Because it’s light almost 24 hours a day in the Alaskan summer, you can’t often see northern lights when the grass is green. So we changed the last two words from green grass to white snow.
This is revising: adding word, taking out words, rearranging words, and so on, to make your meaning more clear.
One boy wrote lots and lots and lots about colors. Most of what he wrote wasn’t very good, but, of course, I would never say that to him. I read through looking for fish.
And I found one. It took very little revision to get a prize-winning poem from "Brown."
Brown is like cinammon
with its soothing taste.
It tickles your tongue
with its warmth.
From quantity can come quality. Don’t worry if your kids write a lot of bad stuff. Focus on what’s good and they’ll try hard to earn more of your praise.
Some kids write on and on and on and on.
I tell kids poems are like snapshots. You want them sharp, clear, and concise. Stories, by contrast, are like movies.
I got together with Kim and we looked through the three pages she wrote to find the strongest words and images. She then combined them into my all-time favorite poem about fog.
in the untamed world.
She leaves soft footprints in the air.
Her wispy hairs cool down the sky.
She slithers past me on the ground
and wraps around the trees.
Notice the word “slither”. After Crystal’s poem, the kids knew I liked that word and everything started to slither! One little boy wrote that he slithered down the stairs to breakfast. But kids soon branched out and looked for other descriptive words, and their writing improved as a result.
Mark Twain, an excellent writer, said: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." To get lightning, you need to revise. The best writers revise the most.
So, to revise, you:
- Read what you've written aloud to yourself.
- If you don't like something, cross it out and change it. (Don't erase it!)
- Don't recopy the paper unless it is impossible to read! This is why you double-space, to save yourself work.
- If composing on a computer, print out each draft to revise. Sometimes you'll decide to go back to the first way you said something, so you don't want it to be deleted!
5. Share and Revise
After reading what you’ve written to yourself and revised, it’s time to share it with someone else. Many professional writers meet with other writers to critique each others’ work. They want to hear everything bad someone has to say before publication so they can work on the troublesome parts to make them better. Kids who are learning to write don’t have the thick skins of professional writers, so you want to move gently and gradually from applause toward constructive criticism.
- Don't force sharing on an unwilling child or group.
- Teach children how to encourage each other. Model.
- To start with, tell the writer what you like best. The writer can highlight those parts.
- Next, the writer may request assistance. "I had a hard time with.... Does anyone have an idea?
- Third, the audience may ask questions if something is unclear to them.
- Once trust is strong, the audience may make suggestions.
- Be careful not to let kids tear each other down with criticism. Focus on what's good.
Some groups of kids can become excellent and fully functional writers’ groups. Don’t be discouraged if that’s not the case with your kids, but don’t assume it can't happen. You never know.
Every bit of revising can make a piece better. Dr. Seuss wrote 600 pages to get 20 final pages in And I Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. The best writers revise the most.
After you have the words you want and they’re saying the things you want to say, it’s time to edit, meaning proofread to correct spelling, capitalization, punctuation and form. I have a whole different workshop on that, Spelling for Success.
Until kids learn to edit their own work, you can ask their permission to serve as editor. Otherwise, the writing process bogs down on this step. You want kids to get through to a final draft and publication.
I tell the kids my goal is that they’ll eventually be competent editors themselves, but until that time, I will sometimes edit for them. I keep them right beside me while doing that and see if they can spot misspellings or mistakes before I do. I talk them through the process as I do it, so they can follow how I’m thinking.
7. Final Draft
For a final draft, everything counts. You don’t want to let kids’ writing out to be seen by the public until it’s right. People are extremely judgmental!
You saw how with poems I’d arrange them in poetry form until kids learned to do that themselves. I taught kids how to copy precisely, using the “check and correct” procedure from spelling. I insist that every word they can see be correctly spelled, meaning correctly copied and checked.
I don’t insist that final drafts be in ink. With pencil, kids can carefully erase and correct tiny errors that might make their way into an almost-final draft.
"Oh, how I hate the rewriting!" At least kids these days don’t have to chisel in stone to rewrite.
The writing process itself hasn’t changed with computers, but technologically we’re about as far beyond the way things were when I was young as we were then compared to these guys.
The final step of the writing process is publication. After all the hard work, this is the reward. It can be a great reward that makes all the hard work along the way seem more than worthwhile.
Publishing means sharing with an audience. Creativity is nurtured when kids write for real audiences.
- Send a letter.
- Post on a wall.
- Use special pretty paper.
- Reproduce and distribute.
- Post online.
- Make a book
The whole point of writing is communication. The audience is who you communicate WITH. That can be just the teacher or mom, but it’s best to find real audiences outside the school setting whenever possible.
It’s been my experience that when kids know the potential rewards for writing, they sometimes take off on their own without any pushing or prodding by the teacher and the teacher is hard-pressed to keep up with them. I once had a fifth grade class that begged for time to write the whole last month of school because they wanted to finish their books. One girl from that class called years later, after she graduated from college, to tell me she’d just been published and to thank me for getting her started writing.
Calvin: Hi, Susie! Did you write your report?
Susie: Yeah, I spent all last evening on it. Did you?
Calvin: Well, when you know as much as I do, it doesn't take as long. Mine took about 15 minutes.
Susie: 15 minutes? Let's see.
Calvin: I guess you won't be setting the grade curve this time, Susie! Read it and weep.
Susie: "Bats: The Big Bug Scourge of the Skies."
Calvin: Notice the professional clear plastic binder.
Susie: Bats arent bugs!
Later, in front of the class:
Calvin: My report is on bats. ... Ahem ... Dusk! With a creepy, tingling sensation, you hear the fluttering of leathery wings! BATS! With glowing red fangs and glistening fangs, these unspeakable giant bugs drop onto..."
Class, in unison: BATS AREN'T BUGS!!!
Calvin: Look, who's giving the report? YOU chowderheads, or ME?!
Teacher: Calvin, I'd like to see you a moment.
Here are a few possibilities: thank you notes, books, journals or diaries, pen pals, travel logs, family history, Christmas newsletter, calendar, book reports, reports, adventure book, learning logs. Always be on the lookout for REAL opportunities and audiences.
Learning logs. A learning log might describe the steps for doing a math problem or a science experiment. It’s wonderful review and closure to recall and write what you learned. It’s also a good way to keep Dad in the loop if you’re homeschooling. He can take time each afternoon to read the kids' logs and talk to them. Kids can close their learning log each day by listing questions they have about anything at all. Kids’ questions provide opportunities for further learning.
Learning logs can help you discover misunderstandings. After pacing out the relative distance between the planets in the solar system (having shrunk the sun down to 1/4” diameter), I asked how big the earth would be on that scale. Microscopic. That afternoon, one child wrote in his learning log, “Today I learned that the earth is microscopic.” Had he not written that, I wouldn’t have known there had been a miscommunication!
Letters are always a good opportunity to write for a real audience. People used to write letters all the time, because they didn’t have alternatives! If they wanted to communicate with someone not present, they had to write. This letter was written by my paternal grandfather to his father in 1905. He was 8 years old at the time.
It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad for an 8-year-old. Remember what I said about it being easier for empty brains to think and organize thoughts than for brains that are cluttered. I didn’t have a TV for almost 20 years of my adult life. My husband likes TV, so I had to relent. My brain immediately began to feel cluttered, and the situation hasn’t improved with time. It’s much harder now to force my brain to focus and concentrate.
These days, because of e-mail and texting, it’s more special than ever to receive a handwritten, well-thought-out personal letter in the mail.
Thank you cards and notes are a great way to write for a real audience. I tell kids to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Adults actually like to do things for kids, for the most part. When kids express gratitude, adults want to do more nice things for them. It’s a win-win situation.
Cookbook. One home school group put together a cookbook. Each child chose a favorite simple recipe and wrote it up. The final book was printed and given to every family in the group.
Directory. Another homeschool support group included a parent who worked for a printing company. They compiled and printed a directory of families. Every family had a page to fill with photos, favorite sayings, and so on. You might consider having kids write a short family history to include in a book like this to share with others in a co-op.
Newsletters. After I presented this workshop one year at a conference in Minnesota, I received a note from one of the moms. She wrote: “I was delighted to hear you speak at the conference in April. We have started journals now and the kids are enjoying them. I was so inspired that I’m going to collect writing from children in our support group next year and publish a newspaper for them.” She sent me a copy of The Student Pen, published quarterly. The kids in her large support group loved it and were motivated to write things that other kids in their group would enjoy reading.
Newspapers. The mom of this boy told me that dictation had led to a breakthrough in her son’s excitement about writing. Dictation helped him get used to putting words on paper. One day he decided to write a family newspaper. He included news stories, cartoons, puzzles, editorials, everything. He wrote it all down and asked his mom to make copies, which he then sold for 25 cents. I paid 25 cents for my copy.
Mom’s question for me was, should I edit it to make sure this doesn’t go out to a harsh judgmental world. I replied that it was so great that her son thought up this idea and followed through on his own that she should just rejoice and take note of what he needs to learn (like margins) to feed back into dictation. Since this newspaper only went to members of the family (and me), she shouldn’t risk discouraging her son. Just let him bask in the glow of a great success.
I didn’t have to pay for his little sister’s dictation paper. She loved writing, gave me a beautifully written paper, and told me that when she grew up, she wanted to write dictation sentences.
Post on the wall. In my classroom, I made a “Writing Star” for each child to post it with their best writing on a wall where people could see it.
Family history. My paternal grandpa, whose childhood letter you saw earlier, got me started writing family history because he died before he finished the autobiography he was writing for his grandkids. In the course talking to my grandma and my dad, I got excited about my other grandparents’ stories as well. I eventually wrote all their stories and published them as books to give away at Christmas gifts to every individual in the family, even little babies. Someday those babies will grow up and will hopefully be interested in their family history!
I read Grandpa’s story to my 4th graders the year he turned 90. I’ll just read you one of the stories from the book.
An unlikely tale was told by Ernie. After a storm, some neighbors were surveying the damage. They kept hearing a rooster crow, so began looking for it. It was not to be found anywhere! After a great deal of puzzlement, they finally tracked the sound to an old whiskey bottle. The wind had blown the rooster “clean inside the bottle and he was still alive in there”!
After I read Grandpa’s stories to the kids, I had them write to him with any questions they wanted to ask, and with an interesting story of their own.
This letter was from Chris. Here’s part of what Chris had to say:
Mrs. Anthony told us about your adventures when you were a kid. I don’t really believe that story that your brother told about the chicken that the tornado blew into the bottle. Your family was lucky that the closest bar was fifty miles away. I would of liked to live when you were a kid, being self-sufficient, growing your own food.
Frank, I’ve got a question for you. Would you rather be a kid now or be a kid in 1898?....
I took the kids’ letters to Colorado that Christmas, set up a video camera, and read each letter aloud to Grandpa. He laughed at their stories and answered their questions thoughtfully. The kids loved watching the video I brought back again and again. The circle was complete. As much as possible, you want that to happen. If your kids write a letter, ask the recipient to write back (preferably) or respond in some way.
I write all the time, but I really don’t like the process of writing. It’s hard work. It’s worth it because of the reward I get by connecting to an audience. Once your kids experience how great that feels, they’ll be a lot more inclined to want to write.
Book of Class Records. One year my class made a book of class records in September. This helped them to get to know each other. Each child had a page. This entry was kind of funny. Hiedi wrote: "I have a brother who could stick a whole egg beater in his mouth when he was 4. He is now 23. I am 10 and I can not even do that."
I edited, laminated, and bound the book, then circulated it to the principal, other teachers, and parents, asking each to write a comment on the blank pages in the back of the book. Kids couldn’t wait to read the comments when the book came back to the room.
Idea generation and brainstorming can be a lot of fun and serve to “push” kids into writing. Publishing and getting a response from an audience is fun and can serve to “pull” kids into writing. The hard part is the middle, getting your thoughts on paper, revising, reworking, and polishing. That’s why, early on, I do lots of brainstorming and then do what it takes to get kids published so they can know firsthand the rewards that come at the end of the writing process.
Class Directory. Here’s a variation on the last idea, a Class Directory. Each child wrote a paragraph or two about him or herself, talking about their family, pets, background, interests, favorite things, and so on. I took a photo of each child and compiled a book, which I reproduced. Kids had each other sign their personal copies kind of like high schoolers do with their yearbook.
Then we brainstormed all the people in school who help in some way to support them in receiving an education: crossing guards, cafeteria workers, night workmen, speech teachers, librarian, etc., as well as all the teachers in the school. I talked about how so many people work behind the scenes to make it possible for me to be able to just teach them, and how many people who care a lot about their education don’t know them personally or get much acknowledgement and appreciation. We even sent copies to the school superintendent and school board members!
Each child chose someone to write to from that list, preferably someone they personally knew or worked with. There were names left so faster writers wrote two letters. After the letters were in final draft form, the kids personally took their letter and the book to the recipient as a gift.
This is part of Jessica’s letter to our art teacher, Mrs. Cress.
My class wants to tell you how much we appreciate you teaching us about art. We want you to know you’re a great art teacher. This book that is attached is our Class Directory. We made it so you can get to know more about us. We hope you will enjoy it.
As you can imagine, this was a hit with adults in the school and I got lots of good verbal feedback. I urged all recipients to WRITE back to the kids! There is something special about a WRITTEN response and thank you, and if kids know how good it feels to get a thank you note, they’ll be easier to convince of the importance of writing thank you notes. We posted the responses we got in the classroom so all the kids could read them.
The art teacher wrote was on beautiful colored art paper. Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince Jessica to let me keep the original.
I am honored to have received such a letter, and the opportunity to know each and every one of you better. Although I teach thousands of students, I very rarely receive any recognition in letter form. I plan to give a copy of it to my boss. I also don’t get the opportunity to get to know any of my students in any way other than art....
The Great Alaskan Adventure Book. Here’s another variation, The Great Alaskan Adventure Book. The idea for this came in a year when the Great Mail Race was popular. Kids in competing classrooms across the country wrote postcards to “Any 4th grade, any elementary school” in a named town or city of every state, then counted which class got back the most responses in a given period of time.
For some reason, I got so many of these one year that responding took an inordinate amount of time. So we wrote a book to just stuff in an envelope and mail whenever we got one of those cards. The kids brought in good Alaskan pictures from the newspaper and we kept them in a box so we could include a couple photos as well (moose on the street, northern lights, etc.).
We brainstormed the kinds of adventures kids have in Alaska so we’d have a variety of stories in the book. Everybody then wrote a story about their adventure and illustrated it. I edited and published the book.
This story written by James is one of my favorites. He called it A Sledding Adventure and this is just part of the story.
So we went, on and on. Suddenly my sister yelled, “Watch out!” By the time she said that, I was halfway down the hill. The reason she said watch out I didn’t know at that moment, but I did after that. I had slid right under a mother moose. The calf was behind her, eating away. She didn’t see me at all. I’m glad for that.
The Great Alaskan Adventure Book traveled all over the country. We marked a map to show every place the book went. The kids were soon nationally-known authors and then internationally-know authors as copies were sent overseas.
Teachers from many states wrote back that their students loved the book. Kids wrote packages of letters to my kids, and sent us packages and photos of gifts from their state. We ended up with so many pen pals that year our heads spun trying to remember who was who. The very last day of school, we got a big package from a class in South Dakota. The kids there had made a video to show us their school and introduce us to their teachers. They wrote a history of their town including interviews with some old-timers. They each wrote letters. Their teacher said our book had inspired the whole project and she’d spent the last month of school racing to keep up with the kids as they worked hard to get this project done before school ended.
That’s a good problem to have if you’re a teacher. We spend lots of time trying to motivate kids, then sometimes squash their motivation when they get excited about something that isn’t in the curriculum right then. We feel pressure to “cover” the curriculum. If you have a sense of Hitchhike on kids’ energy and motivation when it’s there.
Another year we published “Sparkles”, an anthology of poems written by kids in my class. Again, I asked everyone who got a copy of the book to WRITE back and thank the kids for the book. This letter came from a substitute teacher.
I read your poems from Sparkles and I thought they were beautiful. You are a fine example of the tremendously talented students who attend Inlet View. I especially liked the poem about fog. I don’t believe I’ve ever read a prettier description of fog. I could almost see it curling around trees and feel its icy fingers.
One of the things you want to do as a teacher is build kids’ confidence. Their confidence soared. He’s referring to Kim’s fog poem here, the one I liked so much. It’s especially good that he noted specific things he liked in their writing in addition to making the general comment about what talented kids they are.
Special pretty paper can make writing and publishing special. You want kids to be proud of the quality of the final product.
I had a home school writing group one year with 11 kids. We made a calendar on special, pretty paper to give away for Christmas. Most kids in the group were intermediate and junior high kids, but there was one second grader. He was competitive and it was hard to convince him that he didn’t have to keep up with the older kids, that he was WAY ahead of where those kids had been when they were his age. He wrote this poem on the topic of silence, besting his 7th grade brother who didn’t have a poetic bone in his body, I don’t think.
Some kids have poetry inside them just waiting to be released. Some kids don’t. The brother could probably have become an excellent technical writer. Part of your job as a teacher is to expose kids to a wide variety of things for the purpose of discovering their unique interests and talents. Then follow up on the things that attract them. I know a young man who wasn’t exposed to drama until his senior year in high school. He loved it. He was very talented, and it became an important part of his adult life. We’d never have known he had that talent without him trying out for a play!
Everybody is different. You can’t know in advance what your kids will love and be passionate about. Think of it as kind of a treasure hunt, and set out to find their areas of interest and ability.
My Experiences at Stone Lake. This little boy was a late bloomer when it came to reading. His mom and I were on the verge of panic. He visited our homestead and wrote a book about his experiences that I edited and published.
He took pictures to accompany the text. Mr. B, whose photo is on the top left, was substituting in the Anchorage School District. He took the book to every classroom he visited and read it to the kids. This helped close the circle. The boy came to our church to visit one day and kids he didn't even know came running up to him saying, “Hey, you’re the kid who wrote that book.” What an affirming experience for him!
Look for audiences for your kids’ writing and urge the people to WRITE back to your kids. With the push and the pull, hopefully they’ll begin wanting to write. That’s when you can move in with lessons or a curriculum to help them become better writers.
The process isn’t always fun or easy, but it’s important that kids learn to write. Even the best writers sometimes have to simply discipline themselves to sit down with pen and paper and start scribbling something. Some ideas turn into finished pieces. Others don’t. If you know about the writing process, and teach your kids about it, you can just do the best you can do and feel OK about it no matter what the results. Keep your line in the water. Keep trying one thing after another. When you get a fish, celebrate. Don’t worry if you don’t, just persist.
A Book from a Single Sheet of Paper
Now, just in case you don’t have an idea you can’t wait to go back and try with your kids, here’s your last chance. I’ll teach you how to make a book from a single sheet of paper.
- First, fold the paper in half lengthwise (a “hot-dog” fold).
- Now open it up and fold the paper in half width-wise (hamburger fold).
- From there, fold it into a sort of accordion that looks like this.
- Now cut (or carefully tear) from the fold line to the accordion line along the lengthwise fold.
- Fold it down, fold it together, and voila, you have a book. You can use larger paper for a larger book.
This is one of many ideas you can find in Dinah Zike’s Big Book of Books and Activities for using paper in a variety of ways for kids’ reports and publications.
If what you’re doing isn’t catching fish, change the bait.
Hopefully at this point, you have:
- At least one idea you can't wait to try out with your kids.
- A philosophical framework through which to view the teaching of writing. (Think "farming", "catching fish.")
- Greater confidence that you can help kids learn to write.
Please take any of these ideas and use them or spin them to fit. The objective was to get your creative ideas flowing.
Have kids write as often as possible without it becoming a dreaded chore. Keep trying different ideas. Expect progress to be in fits and starts. Don’t get discouraged. Keep your line in the water. It can can take awhile to see results. When they finally come, you might see a lot of progress in a short time.
Be cautious if kids are resisting. As much as possible, when it comes to writing, tempt them rather than fight them.
I’d recommend that you view the Spelling for Success workshop if you haven’t already done so. You want to build the bridge from BOTH sides toward the center.
I’ll sign off here. Thanks for your interest! Go forth and catch some creative "fish"! Please contact me to share your success stories and maybe e-mail some photos of your kids' creative work!
Source: www.SusanCAnthony.com, ©Susan C. Anthony