Teacher to Teacher
By Mary Emma Allen
So often we or our students think of writing as composing poetry and fiction stories. Usually we don’t consider non-fiction pieces, interviews, reports, essays, letters, and other similar forms. When youngsters say, “I can’t think of a story,” suggest other types of writing which might dispel their “writer’s block.”
Many teachers use journals to start children writing. Sometimes this is a routine morning activity to quiet the students as they come into class and to get them into the mood for learning. The younger students usually draw pictures to accompany their daily journaling. Sometimes the journaling is free write. Other times the teacher will assign them a topic. Some students have no problem thinking of something to write about whereas others draw a blank and need a prod from the teacher.
Writing About their Pet
When children draw a blank about writing, they usually can write about their pet(s) if they have any. They may write a description, how they acquired it, how they care for it and play with it. (If the pet died, you’re almost assured to get a very sad story about this.) This topic of pets also can be turned into fiction as you encourage youngsters to write about an adventure they could have with their pet. Or it may be an adventure their pet encounters. When using this lesson, I often read to them my story, “The Live Christmas Tree Ornament,” that was published in magazines and an Animal Tales anthology. This fiction story is based upon an incident from my childhood. I discuss with the students how they can write a story about an adventure with their pet.
Report of a Sports Event
This usually is an enjoyable activity for youngsters who participate or watch sports. They can write a report about a a game they played in or watched. Study with them newspaper stories on the sports page which report games or give interviews of players. Then encourage them to write their own stories.
From this they can delve into fiction, either by using the report as a springboard for their story or coming up with something completely new. I often use my story, “Tim’s Big Race” which appeared in Jack and Jill, as an idea stimulator. After reading the skiing story to them, I discuss how I came up with the idea for the story and the way I wrote it.
Report on a Family Trip
This topic may seem a variation of the old “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.” However, study travel articles in newspapers and magazines and see if your students can write a travel story of their own. Since I’ve done a great deal of travel writing, I keep a file of my stories to use with the students. If you don’t write travel articles, clip some you enjoy from newspapers and magazines to use as models for the youngsters. The young writers can accompany these stories with photos or sketches.
Book reports often seem boring to many students. However, there are others, like my granddaughter, who enjoy writing them. Last summer, she was reading books voraciously so her parents suggested she write a report for each one.
My son-in-law found a format for a book report which, at first the third graded simply filled in. Then they suggested she elaborate and write a more descriptive report of the book. She enjoyed this and now doesn’t mind book reports at school.
Youngsters can find fascinating people among their ancestors to write about. They may not even have to go so far back. They can talk with their grandparents and gather stories from them. The young writers might be encouraged to compile a book of family stories, complete with accompanying photos and sketches.
When they research their ancestors, they may find interesting people. I tell them about my great great uncle Buffalo Bill Mathewson, who was a fur trader on the Santa Fe Trail. By exploring my family history, I found this fascinating person and others to research and write about.
Write about recipes? Yes, writing about cooking and food history may interest some children. After all, I’ve been writing cooking columns for 30 years and still find much of interest. Have your young writers study cooking columns in newspapers and magazines. Look at cookbooks that contain background information about the recipes. Compiling a book of family recipes is another form of family history.
Letters constitute a type of writing which is becoming a lost art today. I treasure letters written by my great grandmother and other ancestors. My mother was an avid letter writer and I’ve saved many of her letters over the years. When I moved away from my hometown, she regaled me with family happenings.
I read some of the humorous events to youngsters to let them know they can write letters about funny happenings in their lives. Sometimes they write more freely if they feel they’re telling others something through a letter rather than an essay or report.
These also can be letters to the editor in which students write to express opinions. Help them study these letters in various newspapers.
Writing a Class or Neighborhood Newspaper
This can be a fun project and encompass many of the above activities as youngsters produce the various sections of a newspaper. Frequently your local newspaper will give students tours with reporters and editors explaining and showing the students their jobs.
Some newspapers will even have a student department where youngsters can furnish articles. When I worked on a weekly newspaper, we had students write a column of school events and opinions. (Actually the students came to us and asked if they could do this.)
Since I was a teacher as well as reporter, my editor gave me the assignment of working with the students and editing their work. Our statewide newspaper publishes students’ work each Monday. These are just a few of the different types of writing students can undertake, along with fiction writing and poetry. So when they have “writer’s block” have some of these activities in mind for them to try.
For more information about Mary Emma and her writing visit her web site: http://maryemmallen.blogspot.com