Writing comes from your brain.
Writing comes from your ear.
Writing comes from your mouth.
You hear something.
You say something.
You know something.
You write something.
~ Daniel, age 9
Around the world there is a natural impulse for children about three or four years old to mimic writing by scribbling. In Kindergarten, they sing the alphabet song and begin learning the names of the letters and their sounds. As they learn to read, they are also learning to write. Reading and writing reinforce each other. Some children even learn to read through writing. They need the hands-on experience of sounding out and writing words and then transfer that learning to reading.
Words and pictures go together. Early writer begin with labeling their pictures with the first letter of the word, such as “v” for volcano. They learn to write short sentences. At the same time, they have much to say! You can write down some of their stories briefly to read back to them. Then they can illustrate the story. This honors their storytelling, models writing, and when they can read some of the words, they can do shared reading with you.
There are three steps in writing:
- before (making a plan),
- during (writing the “sloppy copy” rough draft), and
- after (“making fixes” or editing).
- Before: thinking about and planning what to write (writing a table of contents, story mapping, or thinking out loud while you take notes)
- Table of Contents: Set up a page with Table of Contents written at the top and numbers for the chapters on the side.
Children can write a Table of Contents as they think about what each page of their short story will include. For example, from First Grade on up, a child can write a “how to” story on the care of a pet to include chapters like Feed Your Dog, Walk Your Dog, Play with Your Dog, Vet Visits. First Graders write a sentence for each page and illustrate it. The illustration of a Table of Contents here is by a Third Grader. You can do this at home with your child too. “How to” stories can be about cooking, gardening, etc. Other kinds of stories that have a beginning, middle and end can use this form too.
- Story Maps: Help your child make a story map for his plan.
You can fold a page twice to make four sections that answer”who, what, where, when, why” (the 5 W’s) and “how.” The “who” or “what” are the characters or topic. The “where and when” is the setting. The “why” is the problem, and the “how” is the plot or action ending with the solution to the problem.
4 Part Story Map form
A bubble story map has a circle in the middle with the theme or character written on it. Then lines radiate out for the details to be covered. After brainstorming the details, help your child decide what order they will go in for writing his story or essay.
- Taking notes: As your child thinks aloud about what to write, take notes or even complete dictation. This makes it easier to think through what he wants to say and often encourages more writing than your child would do on his own. If it’s too much for him to write as much as he’s said, help him summarize the most important parts.
Then feed back to him what he told you a bit at a time so he’s not copying, but writing for himself and learning in the process. Generally, save “making fixes” for afterwards.
- During: Doing the writing.
Your child can usually do the actual writing on his own, and ask for help if he needs it. You can also check in to see how it’s going and make suggestions if it looks like it would be timely. Making mistakes is part of learning, however, so most of the spelling errors, etc., can be dealt with afterwards.
Spelling: Allow your child to make spelling mistakes during the writing. In the early grades, children move from sounding out words to write them phonetically, then to transitional, and, finally, to standard spelling. If your child is in the early stages of learning to write, pick just two or three corrections for editing afterwards The great thing about phonetic spelling is that it allows children to be independent writers, without having to have help or correct spelling. Making “fixes” can come afterwards.
- After: “Making fixes” (editing)
Always have your child read back to you what he wrote! This is a very important practice. Children often catch some of their own mistakes or decide to change what they want to say. You can also let them know if something is confusing or needs to be added. When one of my students edits his own writing, I tell him, “That’s what a good writer does. He fixes mistakes and makes his writing clear.” Of course, the level of editing will depend upon your child’s age and ability. Here’s an example of an edited page with illustrations. When Michael skipped a line at the beginning of his writing but forgot to do it afterwards, he made designs to fill in that line. Creativity can come from mistakes!
In the classroom, there is a time for unedited writing so the students can relax about spelling, etc., and write more. Having a journal, diary, or writing folder at home for personal writing without editing also encourages more writing. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney may be an inspirational book for this.
The letters “b” and “d” are often confused in the primary grades. That’s normal. By third grade, if your child continues to confuse and reverse these and other letters often, as well as omitting, substituting and changing words as he reads, he may have an extra challenge. If you have a concern about your child’s reading as well as his writing, talk to your child’s teacher.
Your child’s own voice in his writing is unique! Celebrate your child’s writing and treasure these early stories.