Monday 18 April 2016

Notes for helping children write

I offer the following as a group of possible strategies when helping primary school children to write. They are not meant to be ‘criteria’ for what makes good writing, but they are intended to help teachers, parents and children to get writing to say what you want it to say. It’s not intended to be a substitute for whatever’s in place at the moment. It’s simply meant to be a contribution.

At any given moment - at the beginning, in the middle or towards the end of a bit of writing - we all get stuck. We all need triggers and nudges to keep us going. That’s what these are, expressed in terms that are meant to be accessible to young children, but of course you can adapt them in any way that you think would be better.

So, imagine the situation of a story, or a recount, or some persuasive writing. At any given moment there will be a person, a creature or a thing who is the focus or focal point. It might be the ‘I’, or a ‘you’ or a ‘she’, ‘he’, ‘it’ or a ‘we’ or 'they'.

As we write, we can ask of this 'focus'  some questions and write answers to these questions as a way of either making notes or of making a draft or of ‘final copy’.

This, then, is a kind of checklist, for you to use to help clarify and focus a bit of writing. We never need all of them. We only need some of them.

You could think about putting it up on the wall of a classroom, and saying to the children:

if you get stuck, do any of these questions help you into the next bit? 

(Reminder: the questions below are for children to 'say' to characters in the piece they are writing, or even to the person who might be being written to.  They are not questions being asked directly of the child doing the writing.)

Who are you?

What can you see, hear?

What are you thinking, saying, doing?

What if you could see, hear, think, say, do something? What would that be?

Where are you doing your seeing, hearing, thinking and doing?

Where are you coming from?

Where are you going to?

When are you seeing, thinking, saying, doing these things?

How are you thinking, saying, doing these things?

How often are you thinking, saying, doing these thing?

How much are you thinking, saying, doing these things?

Why are you thinking, saying doing these things? 
[This question is sometimes the most important of all, because it shapes what you're writing.  It's a great question to discuss, because out of the question will come more writing.]

In order to help decide which of these questions is the best or most useful to use you can ask:

Can this person do these things?

Would this person do these things?

Should this person do these things?

Could this person do these things? 

[ps - if anyone wants to make this into a poster for teachers and schools,  can you let me know, and we can discuss...]

Author and very experienced "workshopper", Antony Lishak, adds this one:

You may also want the child to ask: "Who am I writing this for and what do I want my reader to feel when they're reading it?"

Here's Antony's website: