As a professional tutor I work with students of all ages and abilities. Although each student has different interests, strengths, and weaknesses, what many new students have in common is a reluctance to sit down and write. I have observed students avoid writing because they don't want to “do it wrong” and/or they are afraid they have “nothing to say.”
This blog post explains my methods for turning reluctant writers into reveling writers. I use the term reveling on purpose - to revel is a verb meaning to whoop it up. To me a reveling writer is the ultimate term for a happy and expressive writer. I love watching my students go from reluctant to reveling writers.
Fear of Doing it Wrong
Over the years I have worked with students from grade school to graduate school. I have worked with college bound homeschool students working on their GED’s and public school students working on AP classes and SAT’s. The common denominator throughout, regardless of grade level or grade point average, has been the students’ confusion over grammar and punctuation rules mixed with a general lack of confidence in their writing skills.
Contrary to what your eighth grade teacher told you, punctuation and grammar rules do NOT have to be difficult. When students learn that rules to good writing can be simple and fun, it eases their stress. Writing becomes a joy and the pen is no longer frozen in mid-air.
There are many fun ways to strengthen grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Here are a few suggestions:
Schoolhouse Rock offers videos on punctuation and grammar. I get these at our local library. The videos are fun and memorable.
On You Tube there are many short videos illustrating and explaining comma usage. Most are made by middle school and high school students as assignments for English classes. Parents, you'll want to preview these videos and choose the most appropriate ones.
The best computer game for strengthening spelling skills is called Bookworm Adventures Deluxe available at www.bigfishgames.com. I have been amazed at how quickly students learn to spell long words in order win the Boss Battles. This game has wonderful graphics, humor, and sound effects. It is G rated.
Board games such as Scrabble and Upwords are wonderful spelling building tools. They are a staple at my house.
Using fun and creative ways to teach grammar, punctuation, and spelling will help you build strong writers. Transforming reluctant writers to reveling writers is easy when students are no longer paralyzed by the fear of “doing it wrong.”
Fear of Nothing to Say
Many students report that writing is hard because they have nothing to say, they feel their opinion doesn’t count, or the topic chosen to write about is boring. To transform these reluctant writers into reveling writers, I encourage you to strengthen their creative thinking skills. My students love to build creative thinking skills with the game In A Pickle by Gamewright. Played as instructed, this game is a blast. But played our way, it is a tool for creating reveling writers.
How we use the game In A Pickle to Encourage Creative Thinking:
Before we can write creatively, we need to be able to think creatively. This exercise nurtures creative thinking.
First, you, the parent, draw three cards from the In A Pickle deck.
Okay, so you just drew France, Fire, and Dryer.
Tell your child a story (verbally) with these three words in it. Make sure to model a story that is silly but believable. It does not need to be true. I literally just drew those three cards, so I’ll make up a sample story. Notice that I make the story longer than one sentence. I want to model a complete thought:
Last summer a friend of mine went to France. While she was there she visited the circus where there was an international fire dancing competition. During the show one of the trash cans caught on fire. My friend was standing too close to the trash can, so she got all wet when the fire truck came and sprayed water to put out the fire. My friend had to go back to the hotel and put all of her clothes in the dryer. I wonder if my friend will wear a rain coat next time she attends a fire dancing competition.
Okay, so it’s silly, it’s wordy, and it isn’t true - but that’s okay - we’re getting the creative juices flowing.
Now, ask your child to draw three cards.
She/he draws Cavity, Light Bulb, and School.
Now it is his/her turn to tell you a story.
Give your child a lot of praise for creativity. Remember, thinking creatively is a skill that needs to be nourished. If he/she can only come up with three sentences, that is okay. The skill will grow each time you play.
Now it’s your turn: Draw four cards and make up a story. Speak it.
Then, have your child draw four cards and make up a story. Speak it.
With each round draw one more card. Try to model a longer story each round. Play about three rounds. Laugh together and praise your child for his/her effort and imagination.
Encouraging Creative Writing
Now, it's time to get out paper and pencils.
Ask your child to draw three word cards.
Both of you will write a story using these same three cards.
Make sure to tell your child to write the first thing that comes into her head and not to worry about punctuation, spelling, or grammar – say to your child, "We can always fix grammar, punctuation, and spelling later. What is important right now is expressing your creative voice."
In writing your story, try to mirror the length of your child’s paper. One or two sentences per card is a good start. Read the stories out loud and laugh.
If you have time, do one more round of writing. This time draw four cards.
This exercise makes writing fun. Children of all ages enjoy being silly and creative.
Laugh a lot about what you both wrote. Do NOT fix punctuation, grammar, or spelling at this time. The goal here is to strengthen the creative voice and confidence around writing. Your child needs to feel free to express him or herself without the censure of the grammar police. There will be plenty of time for proofreading after your child has gained that much needed confidence.
Repeat this game over several lessons until your child shows greater confidence in his or her writing voice.
Extend the game by drawing five, six, or even seven cards. I’ve had students take half the deck and tell me a story with the whole pile. It is wonderfully creative and it’s great fun. In no time you will have creative confident writers who can think of plenty to write about on any given prompt.
When my students come through the door they call out, "Shawna, are we going to write with In A Pickle today?" How can I say no to that? Notice they say, "Are we going to write?" not, "Do we have to write?" Yippee!
In a nutshell, you can create reveling writers by strengthening spelling skills through play, and by developing creative thinking and writing skills by using games like In a Pickle. As you model enthusiasm around writing, and play with words together, you will be building the skills your child needs to be a strong writer. I have had many a success with these methods and I hope that you do too.