Monday, January 23, 2012

Authentic Writing Opportunities

Most students would benefit from extra practice with writing. Even informal writing can really boost skills by helping kids get more comfortable shaping letters, searching for words, and composing sentences - but many students find it hard to get motivated. They may wonder why they have to write three sentences explaining why they liked a book or a summary of their history reading assignment. Writing for authentic reasons, however, can be motivating to students because they can easily see the purpose, and luckily there are plenty of “real world” reasons to write!

We hope the ideas below will get the kids in your life on the 'write' track!

Note: While it’s tempting to allow students to type everything, younger students would probably benefit most from writing by hand when they practice. For extra motivation, try pens with colored or sparkly ink, thin-tipped markers, or pencils with a child’s favorite character on the side.

For younger children or those who need help with handwriting, helping to make the grocery list a parent will use in the store can be a very motivating experience. Kids can also make lists of gifts they might like to get for an approaching birthday or holiday, things they think the family should do on a planned trip, guests to invite to an upcoming party, or they can keep track of fun ideas to pass the hours during summer vacation.

Pen Pals
In the age of email, there’s nothing quite like opening a handwritten letter, and this is an experience many kids don’t have very often. Writing to a friend or family member – preferably around the same age as your child – in another place can be a fascinating experience, particularly when they are from another country or culture. Encourage your child to ask about popular foods, common modes of transportation, what their pen pal does to cope with the weather in their area, slang words, etc.

Put your child in charge of communicating with the family during a trip or encourage them to tell friends about their vacation by helping them to buy and write postcards. This activity is great for kids who aren’t sure what to write when they sit down in front of a large blank page.

Book Reviews
Writing about books when one’s teacher is the audience may not seem like fun, but helping other kids make book decisions may motivate some kids to get typing. Check out the Spaghetti Book Club, a site that allows kids of all ages to write book reviews for other kids to read. Kids can review books on Amazon, too!

Giving Advice
This activity allows kids to use their personal expertise. Children can write letters or lists of tips for younger siblings or friends who are about to try something new that the child has experienced him/herself. A few possible topics: what to expect from third grade, how to be an awesome soccer player, why sleep away camp is fun and not scary, or what pitfalls to avoid in a new video game. Remember, this kind of writing is best used for authentic purposes, so make sure the advice actually gets to the intended recipient!

Thank-you Notes
Writing thank you notes for gifts is a great habit to encourage, but you can also urge your child to let the special people in his/her life know how wonderful they are. A note to the teacher after a field trip, school play, or at the end of the year; to a baseball coach after a great game or season; or to grandma just because your child is grateful for her, can be a good way for your child to express him/herself and reflect on the reasons we appreciate people. Of course, the recipient of the note will treasure it, too!

Pass-Along Story
This is a fun family game that helps with sentence building. Begin by sitting in a circle. Each player should write the first sentence to a story, then pass the paper to the right. The second person adds a new sentence to the story, then folds the paper so that the first sentence is hidden and only the new sentence can be seen and passes the paper to the right again. The third person to get the paper should read the visible sentence, add a sentence of their own, then fold the paper so that only their own sentence is visible. Pass the papers around as many times as players wish, then unfold and read the crazy stories!

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