We’re always told that kids write the best if they write what they know, but then we’re also told that they need to write to answer this prompt. So, how do we give kids a chance to have some control of their writing topics, and also prepare them to write for the prompts that show up on standardized tests all the way up to the college level?
The first step is to give them some sense of control in each and every writing task. Emphasize for them where their choice lies, so that they can look at the various ways to answer a question, providing their own voice along the way. If you need them to practice writing a summary, let them choose the passage. If you need them to practice information writing, let them pick a topic they know a lot about. If you need them to practice fiction writing, let them include characters or settings that are familiar to their life or books or movies that they enjoy. When we grade writing prompts, we are always looking for “voice”, so we have to teach kids what their options are within the confines of the writing prompt, giving them the place to put their own voice.
Use a writing journal – like my Narrative Writing Journal – that gives students 9 weekly prompts, but let them choose the prompts they want to work on. Let them identify the prompts that make a connection for them and help them find their voice within each prompt.
Next, focus on organization. Model organization for students in whole group setting, and have students use an organizer, like an organized bubble map or an outline each time they write, so that they get the feeling for grouping their ideas together. Once students have a sense of organization, they are ready to break “out of the box” and add in the extra dialogue and examples that create voice. However, if we develop voice without organization, we get funny writing pieces that go nowhere and say nothing, which is not helpful to our students or their grade on those writing prompts.
Improve revision and editing skills with the use of a specific checklist. Let kids peer – edit. Kids often find mistakes in their friends work, that they won’t find in their own. After kids peer-edit, conference with each pair to help students provide constructive criticism without hurting feelings. This may also be a good time to point out where one student is strong and may be of help to other students.
Finally, let kids choose what pieces they want to publish. Not every piece we write needs to be published, and students should start evaluating their own writing to choose which ones are their very best. Once they have picked their best work, they can “polish it to a spit shine” with extra revising and editing, as well as a fun way to publish – like typing it into a blog post or creating an online storybook at www.storybird.com.
Here are a few writing pieces my kids have come out with recently, both done with only some very general parameters given and a good focus on structure and revising and editing: