As teachers of language and literature, we’ve all had those frustrating moments grading our students’ creative writing pieces and swallowing huge chunks of patience so you don’t squeeze all the damn scripts and toss them into the bin. Yes, the struggle is real. Getting kids to write is one difficult task, from dealing with mechanical errors like punctuation and capitalization, to sentence structure, organization and then creativity. But I’ve learned that the easiest way to teach kids to write, after all else has failed, is by imitation.
People, generally, learn better through imitation. I’ve found that my kids’ writing seem to improve when I model it for them. So if I expect them to turn in a four paragraph work, I start off by providing them a graphic organizer: labelled paragraph one to four, indicating how many sentences each paragraph should have and outlining what ideas each paragraph should contain. Then I go ahead and provide a sample, paragraph by paragraph and encouraging them to produce something similar.
Sometimes, it is through reading. Yesterday, my students and I read a short story about growing up and a particular sentence stood out for me (story is available on CommonLit). While we examined the author’s use of similes, I highlighted that sentence and we discussed it. Next, I assigned the kids a task to write a similar sentence, describing what growing up means to them.
Here is the prompt:
In paragraph 3, Rachel says, “Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other.” In one similar sentence, describe what growing up means to you. Use the guideline below:
‘Because the way you grow old is ____________________________ or like ______or like _____________________________.
Now, here are some of my students’ responses, which completely blew me away:
1. Because growing up is like bundling up to go outside when it’s cold, or like a jawbreaker candy or like making your bed in the morning.
2. Because the way you grow up is kind of like a zigzag sharpener, or like medium bowls or like rubber donuts that fit inside one another .
3. Growing up is like the past mistakes you make or like keeping secrets to yourself or like not doing your homework and letting it pile up.
4. Because the way you grow up is sorta like a tier cake or like floors in a building, or like a stack of papers.
5. Because the way you grow up is kind of like a burrito, or a lasagna or even baked spaghetti.
Now, imagine if I’m able to consistently model a full length essay for these ten to twelve year olds, they would get to a point where they would be such good writers. It appears tough, yes, but it is worth the try. After all, that’s what growth is about. 😉