Use every opportunity to write.
Show students that writing does not have to be the confined, pre-fabricated way to use a formula to say something. The learned formulas may be a foundation, but being able to accurately express your self is an important life skill. Not only will people understand better what you ask, and who you are, but also, they will be more easily persuaded to your point of view. Writing templates are a starting point. Creativity combined with descriptive words is the paint that a writer uses to draw. The world is a blank canvas. Paint!
The idea is not to ramble without a point or purpose, but to carefully craft the path and direction you want to lead the reader. Use colorful, descriptive words. Learn what the variety of words are through a thesaurus. Understand the context of the words by reading other writers.
Think of twitter — 140 characters to say what you have to say. I love this challenge. I think of the tightest most meaning packed sentence to express my thoughts. Use this for your students-have the class tweet a conversation back and forth. Challenge students to express a thought in 140 characters.
Children are natural story tellers, so why not play on what is innate. Give students a sentence or an idea, or let them make up their own. There are no rules except correct grammar and spelling. Tell me what happened today on the way to school. Last night I saw my mother …. My sister and I created a new invention.
The formulaic way in which kids learn to write is okay. You have to start somewhere and many kids don’t come to do this with ease. The best thing to do to become a better writer is to read. I don’t accept that you can’t find something you like to read. It doesn’t have to be the suggested, correct books. Just read. Please, teachers, whatever it is a child wants to read, it is OKAY! Don’t make them stick to the list you think they need to read, or read certain books because there is a test for comprehension. Let a student write about what he or she read. This is a great way for students to develop writing skills and, at the same time, test their comprehension of what they read. Worried-maybe they won’t read the book? I think you will know if they read the book when you read what they write.
Can you tell that is a pet peeve of mine? Been there done that. If a sixth grade boy wants to read The Odyssey, don’t say no. Let him try. Show him how to seek help to understand. Believe me, if it isn’t interesting because it is too difficult, he will try something else. Don’t tell the same student he can’t read the epic biography of John Adams by David McCullough, don’t say no. And your reason for saying no? Because there is no test on it? Seriously. I am not making this up.
What this type of instruction does is to put a limit on a child’s creativity, curiosity, intuition and desire to learn. It has a negative long-term effect. Eventually that child will just not try to discover, will not want to read new things, especially if they are not on the list. Learning is for learning’s sake. It has intrinsic value. Passing a test gives learning extrinsic value. Do you get a cookie too, if you pass?
The goal is to read and to write. Write for anything. Write a note, a tweet, a Facebook status update, just write. If you can read and write, you can learn anything.