My daughters are still at a beginning phase in their writing. They do have wonderful, creative spurts in which they write page after page of fiction or diary entries. However, more often than not, when it comes to homework, they sigh or groan when they hear that they must write a paragraph or two in response to a history chapter. In a previous blog entry, I wrote about how they loved “hands on” science experiments or science-themed field trips. they love to verbalize all about their experiences and new found knowledge. But if I ask them to write a paragraph explaining their new-found information, the thrill is gone. Their love of learning suddenly deflates.
And of course, that makes it tempting for me to just avoid asking them to write. After all, as long as they are retaining and processing the info, why do they need to write a paper about it?
Then I answer myself: Because writing is an important means of communication. So, write they must. However, when it comes to writing about tricky subjects (and certain chapters of history have been a bit touble some for them — now that we’re starting to get into the economics of Europe and so forth), I am not yet expecting them to write a full fledged essay. Instead, I have them make lists.
The girls create a bullet point style list of the most important points from a chapter. This first stage is basically note taking, but then I have them make another list. In the second list, they create sentences: A topic sentence and three supportive sentences, each one based upon the original set of notes. We worked on this yesterday, and by the time they were done with their list of four sentences, they were rather cranky. But before we wrapped up the assignment, I asked them what other details they might be able to add between the sentences.
Hopefully on Monday we’ll return to the list and be able to flesh out a somewhat eloquent paragraph. This seems to work a bit better than just instructing them to sit and write a paragraph from scratch. Why? For one, the girls love to make lists anyway, about anything. My ten year old just made a list of the summer movies she wants to see. But another reason it works is because they see that writing is an on going process. It doesn’t have to be a beautfiully constructed essay from the get go. It can evolve gradually.