Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Teaching Writing: Starting Late

A reader asks:

I was wondering what your advice would be to get a 12 yr old going in writing. I have neglected this a bit (Ok maybe a lot) and now heading into 7th grade I really need to get him going :) I've been looking over all your narration/composition posts trying to come up with a plan for my 8 yo so we don't end up in the same situation. Thanks for all the great info on your blog!

My response:

Looking back over the years, I attribute my children's writing successes to the following.

1. DAILY oral and written narrations
When each of my children turned nine years of age, they began writing narrations. By ten years of age they were writing narrations daily; and ALL of my children are as different from one another as night and day when it comes to talents, interests and capabilities . In order to become a good writer, everyone must put in their time. That means children must write, write, write. CM mommas need to be particularly careful in this area to be diligent because many of us don't use formal grammar and composition programs. But then we can become too lenient with our children and think the gentle approach means let them write only when they feel like it. This is NOT what Miss Mason had in mind and, in my experience, is not the way to go if you want to produce good writers in your home. Often, when first learning to write, children struggle with the process, but if they keep at it, they seem to jump a hurdle and begin to enjoy it immensely. This is because writing is hard work. When my children sometimes balked at writing, I simply smiled and ignored them. They still had to write. Now, ALL THREE of my girls have thanked me for doing this. They now absolutely love to write. So I suggest you have your son begin writing on a daily basis. Start slow, maybe beginning with just a paragraph a day, but keep raising the bar.

BUT, no one wants to write about something that bores them, so...

2. I let my children write about their interests as much as possible.
For example, my 10 year old loves horses and really wanted a book about them that she saw at a local book store, but she didn't want to spend all of her money on this expensive book. I told her that if she bought the book herself, read it and wrote down what she learned, I would replace the money she spent on it. She happily agreed and has been working on her 'Horse Encyclopedia' all summer. Eleven chapters are completed. They include essays on various types of horses, labeled drawings and poetry. She is proud of this 'masterpiece' because she put her whole self into it. It is her passion right now.

My other daughter, Raora, likes the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I encouraged her to write her own story. What started off as a short story has turned into a 130 typewritten page book. She has been working on it for four years now. It has gone through multiple revisions but in the process her writing has improved 100 percent and her appetite for writing is now insatiable.

*By the way, if you are using a writing program, don't be afraid to change the topics to suit your son's interests. We often change the topics in our Writing Strands program. (please note: we only used this program briefly then dropped it after writing this article because we felt it was unnecessary with a CM style learning environment)

2. Children need an audienceWhen I agreed to let my daughters start a blog, it heightened their interest in writing even further because now their writings were being published. Knowing that they have an audience from all over the world has made them keenly aware of their spelling and grammar errors (DO teach your son to use spell check). They have become careful and thoughtful writers through the blog medium. My daughters are not allowed to just chat on their blog and waste time but must write with a purpose. However, I don't tell them what to write. They write about their interests. Even though they write mainly for themselves, they appreciate the feedback from others.

Have you thought of letting your 12 year old blog some of his narrations so that he has an audience? If you do decide to allow him to blog, I suggest that you give him limited freedom. Set some basic ground rules for the type of posts allowed but do not quench his enthusiasm by making the blog just a collection of assigned written narrations.

I hope this post gives you some fresh ideas.

one step at a time...


  1. Hi Lindafay,
    When your children first begin writing narrations at 9 yo, how much time do they spend crafting one written narration? Is it in a single sitting?
    Thank you,

  2. Anonymous22.8.08

    What are your thoughts on Jennie Fulbright's blog post about writing v. creative writing?
    Tarheel Mama

  3. Ok, I'm going to relax some now. My seven year old hates to write anything. I just bought an old copy of Learning Language Arts Through Literature. Would it be too much to ask of her to copy the short quotations? Or should I just be happy she is reading anything she can get her hands on? I steer her toward good books. And I read aloud to her. This year's homeschooling seems so different for us!

  4. Thank you for sharing this. :O) My oldest enjoys writing silly stories and although they're silly, she always adds a biblical moral to them.

  5. Katharine,
    That depends if your child has spent time providing oral narration and copying great literature. If she/he has, then I'd expect a child to begin with a paragraph, double spaced. This shouldn't take more than 15 or 20 minutes in one sitting. There should be no revision process. Mom should only correct a punctuation error or two and provide mostly positive feedback. You can read more about this here:

    I wouldn't have my child begin writing narrations without the prep work of oral narration and copywork for a season.

    I would only have her/him do very short copywork from single sentence passages in books that she is enjoying. I would also let her help choose the passages she really liked. This makes writing more enjoyable. LLAL wouldn't provide her this opportunity of 'choice.'

    Tarheel Mama,
    I think her article is excellent and recommend it. However, I agree with the comment made by Dr Davis:

    "You are quite right when you say that college teachers want the facts. However, a single or couple well-used metaphors can brighten an English teacher's day. I would not say we are looking to avoid all creativity, just to channel it and limit its use to effective levels."

    One of my daughters tends to do just what Jeannie warned against. She likes to add 'fluff' and opinion to academic writing. She is in highschool and we have been working on improving this particular weakness for about a year now.

    I do not feel it is important to teach the differences in academic and creative writing to younger --that is those who have not reached high school age.

  6. Thanks for your input on this. I have started having ds do freewriting a la Bravewriter this week just to get him to put pen to paper ;) When we start school I am going to have him write in a journal during his morning quiet time and write a paragraph from his science or history selection. BTW, I am following your book selections for years 1,3, and 6. I am getting really tired of planning though! I have read and reread and compared and shopped and am having a hard time wrapping my brain around all that I feel needs to be fit in. Can you tell I have a tendency to complicate things? Well I need to go ruminate over some more books. Have a great evening :)


  7. We've employed copy work, and I see the purpose in it. We've employed narration, and clearly it is beneficial on so many levels.

    But what about dictation? What is your opinion about this exercise? Is it useful?

    Thanks, too, for your encouragement about blogging. My 13 year old is getting one underway and I've wondered if I'm doing the right thing for her in feeding his inherent desire we all have to want an audience. When she's posted a few, maybe your kids can visit her with an encouraging word? :)

  8. Hello,
    I'm new here but I've been visiting with StrongJoy and Raora on their blogs for a while now.
    I just wanted to say that I am the "reading teacher" to my younger sister (who I call "Bunny" online.) She was adopted from Haiti and has very poor language skills, seeing as English is her second language and Haitian Creole is a very primitive dialect.
    She is just creeping up on a first grade reading level, since she had no education to speak of until she came to us two years ago. It has been a long and winding road! But, I just wanted to say, that if anyone else is in any situation like this where they have a child who is "behind" on reading but is old enough to form stories, reports etc, dictation is a great option. Often times at the end of a lesson (which is very stressful, if you can imagine) I let her dictate to me so that she doesn't have to worry about spelling or handwriting. That way she feels as if she's accomplished something. I loved to dictate when I was little, because, as a very young child, writing is often such slow-going that the child loses interest before she/he has completed the job. Even if it isn't helpful (though I think it can be,) it is fun!

  9. You continue to encourage my heart toward excellence!

  10. I often teach homeschooling courses on writing (I'm a writer myself) and one of the things I warn parents about, especially with boys, is to let writing be writing.

    Often a child will labor to write a paragraph, and then what's the first thing we do? We start correcting spelling and grammar.

    These things are important; don't get me wrong. But writing is a skill, too, and if you dishearten your children they won't like it.

    So what I suggest is choosing one big writing assignment a week that you polish and edit and check for spelling and grammar, etc. But the rest of the time just let them write. Amazingly, the more they do write, the more the spelling improves.

    Visit To Love, Honor and Vacuum today!

  11. Grafted Branch,

    I have written quite a bit about dictation and its benefits. Try looking on my sidebar for that category.