I frequently hear that parents are having a difficult time getting their children to write or enjoy writing. There are several strategies that can make writing more accessible to every learner, and in this post I will address several of them--including how to transfer ideas from brain-to-page, poetry writing for children with technical or mathematical interests, and journaling.
Brain to Page
The most common statement I hear from parents about their children is "they have great ideas and can say them, but they don't write how they speak!" The reason is because when speaking, a child's mouth can keep up with their brain. When writing, children often get so bogged down on the technical details of letter formation, capitalization, punctuation, sentence structure, etc., that their hands cannot keep up with their brains and their brains are working overtime to organize more than just content.
To overcome the "Brain to Page" challenge, start by having a conversation with your child about what they want to write about. If writing from a prompt, read the prompt out loud and ask them what it makes them think of. As they are speaking, make a list of what they say. This list should incorporate both important and more tertiary ideas that they may have. Use only 3-4 words per item on the list that is sufficient to remind them of their ideas, but not so much that you are writing sentences for them.
Once you have your list, review it with your child one item at a time. Encourage them to pick the 3 or four most important ideas--these will become the topics of the body paragraphs of their essay. This process will help your child wade through their ideas in a way that allows them to see which ideas are the most relevant and which ones may just be filler. Put stars or some other symbols next to the most important ideas, then rewrite them so there are no "filler" ideas left to consider.
Continue your conversation with your child by addressing one idea at a time. Say "you said that (idea 1)...tell me more about that." Ask "how do you know?" (For older children, ask them to find quotations to support their idea). Then ask "why is this idea important?" Guide them in their answers, and during each answer help them formulate a sentence that addresses their speech. As they are writing their sentences, do not correct for grammar, spelling, punctuation, or any other technical element of writing. Remember that all we are looking for here is to transfer sentences from brain to page. It can be helpful to have your child dictate a sentence to you, then repeat it to them while they write. Repeat this process for each idea and soon your child will have formed multiple paragraphs.
After you model how to create a list of ideas for your child several times, pass this responsibility on to them. Explain that they do not need to write full sentences for their list; rather they only need to write enough to remind them of what they are thinking. Encourage them to talk out loud to themselves to help formulate ideas. This can seem silly, but hearing their ideas out loud will help them choose the most important words for their list. Again, ask them the guiding questions (above) about each idea so they can formulate sentences and body paragraphs.
Once your child has written this rough draft of their body paragraphs, go back and guide them in writing an introduction. Emphasize that an introduction tells the reader what the essay will be about. Guide them to include sentences in their introduction that will include quick synopses of what their body paragraphs will address without going into details. You can also teach your child about how to write a "hook"--something that will grab the readers' attention immediately in the first sentence. Good hooks include descriptive language, beg a question, or provide insight about a topic or opinion that may not be commonly known.
Finally, assist your child in writing a conclusion. A conclusion should relate back to the insight from the introduction, summarize the main ideas of the body paragraphs, and leave the reader with a sense of closure. To provide this closure, the last sentence of a conclusion could offer a final insight about the readers' new knowledge or create a relevant connection to the real world.
Once the rough draft is complete you can begin working on technical aspects of your child's writing. Teach them how to proofread and edit their own writing with the standard proofreading symbols. You can also use this opportunity to directly teach spelling, grammar, and punctuation that they may not already know. It can be helpful to maintain a separate grammar notebook that is divided into sections regarding rules for specific punctuation, spelling rules, paragraph format, etc.
Sonnets for Technical/Mathematical Learners
One of my favorite writing activities for technical and mathematical learners is sonnet writing. Sonnets themselves are highly technical as they require a specific number of syllables per line and have a specific rhyme scheme. In addition, the students I have taught in the past always feel a sense of pride when they have completed a sonnet and say "I write can Shakespearean sonnets." Most children know who Shakespeare is, so relating to the most famous writer who ever lived is definitely draws interest.
Begin by giving your child a topic that is of interest of them to be the topic of their poem. Shakespearean sonnets have 10 syllables per line. If you haven't taught your child about syllables yet, this is a good opportunity to introduce the subject. I encourage children to place one hand on below their chin and one hand on their chest to feel syllables as they speak them out loud. When doing so, have your child pronounce the words quickly but in an exaggerated fashion so their mouths open wide for vowel sounds. The number of times their chin pushes their hand down is the number of syllables in a word. They can also pat the syllables on their chest when their chin moves. Such a practice makes a sensory, kinesthetic connection for learners. Children have to think critically to adjust what they want to say about their topic in each line of a sonnet to fit into ten syllables.
The rhyme schemes of sonnets provide an additional layer of technical, mathematical challenge to learners. A sonnet is made up of three quatrains (a stanza with 4 lines) and ends with a couplet (a stanza with 2 lines). The rhyme scheme is as follows:
The first line ("A") rhymes with the third line (also "A"), the second line ("B") rhymes with the fourth line (also "B"), etc. It can be helpful to write the rhyme scheme above in the margin of a page so your child can easily see which lines should rhyme with each other. Each line should refer to the topic of the poem. Organizing writing in such a way can be challenging, but it invariably produces an impressive poem. Encourage your child that it is okay to be silly in their writing of sonnets--after all, Shakespeare embraced comedy.
Journaling is an effective way for learners to get writing practice every day while also building their social/emotional intelligence. The biggest stumbling-block with journaling is getting children to do it consistently. To accomplish this goal, it is first important to allow your child to select a journal they like the appearance of. If they enjoy looking at their journal, they are more likely to open it and add to it.
Additionally, I have found it helpful to use daily planners for journaling as opposed to blank notebooks. Daily planners have a page (or part of a page) for each date of the given year, which helps children's consistency because it will be very evident if they have not journaled on a given day. For younger children, one to two sentences per day is plenty for journaling. For older children, you may want to encourage them to write a paragraph or more daily. Check in with their journaling progress each week. If any pages in the planner are blank, you automatically know they did not journal on that day which creates accountability. It is also helpful to have a specific time of each day that is dedicated to journaling time. I still keep a personal journal in a planner and my nightly ritual is to write in it just before I get into bed. It is a nice way to put a cap on the day, reflect on what went well and what I could improve upon tomorrow, and gives me a sense of closure before sleep.