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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Help Your Child Become a Better Writer: 3 Easy, Fun Prompts to Try!

Guest Post by Dallas Woodburn

I’ve been a writing teacher for the past eight years, working with a range of ages: kindergarten through senior citizens. I’ve led writing workshops for public schools, private schools, home-schooling groups, community centers, and more! I also taught undergraduate writing courses at Purdue University for three years.

When I talk to parents and teachers, two questions come up again and again:
1. How can we make writing FUN for kids and teenagers?
2. How can we help our kids become better writers?

The answers to these two questions are tied together: like anything, people become better writers with practice. The best way to help your child become a better writer is to encourage him or her to write, write, write! Well, how do you do that? By making writing a fun activity.

Here are three popular writing prompts I use often in my work with young writers. These all can be tweaked to a variety of ages; they all facilitate development of descriptive writing and increased vocabulary; and they have all been extremely well-received by young writers as “a whole lot of fun!”

Use Your Senses to Explore a Place
1. Think of a place that you know very well and is vivid in your mind. Natural places work well for this activity. Be as specific as possible: for example, if I want to write about the beach, I should think of a specific beach I’ve been to, like the Ventura State Beach, instead of generally thinking about “the beach.”
2. Set a timer for one minute. Try to write until the timer dings. Don’t worry about editing yourself. Don’t worry about being “perfect.” Just brainstorm! List all the things you SEE when you are at this place.
3. Do the same thing for the other four senses: HEAR, SMELL, TASTE, TOUCH.
4. Lastly, set the timer for one minute and freewrite about how you FEEL when you are at this place. Do you have any memories that are surfacing?
5. Read through your list of sensory details and emotions. Now, use these words to write a story or a poem about this place.

Adjective Alphabet
1. Write your first name at the top of a piece of paper.
2. Set a timer for one minute. For the first letter in your name, brainstorm all the adjectives you can think of that start with this letter.
3. Do the same for the rest of the letters in your name (you can skip duplicate letters.)
4. Now, for each adjective you’ve written down, try to come up with one or two synonyms. If you get stuck, break out the thesaurus!
5. Write a story or poem using adjectives from your brainstormed lists.

Character Clusters
1. In the middle of a piece of paper, write down an animal or person who could be a character in your story. Draw a circle around the word.
2. Around the circle, write down words that could describe this character. It’s okay if they contradict each other: for example, a cat might be sweet and cuddly, or it might be skittish, or it might be mean. Brainstorm all the possibilities you can think of.
3. Also write down facts you know about this character. Where does it live? What does it eat? What are its favorite things to do?
4. Do the same thing for two other characters.
5. Popular characters from previous students: bear, tiger, lion, pigeon, squirrel, snake, whale, deer, dog, cat, grandfather, grandmother, boy, girl
6. Now use your brainstormed characters to write a story.

The number-one best thing you can do to make writing fun and fulfilling for your kids? Be encouraging and excited about what they write! It doesn’t matter how silly or goofy their ideas are. What matters is that you are supporting them. Have them read their poems or stories aloud to you; cheer loudly at the end. Hang their work on the fridge. Make copies to give to friends and relatives. Ask them questions about their works-in-progress.

If kids enjoy writing, they will write more and become better writers. In practicing the art of writing, they are accessing their creativity, expanding their vocabulary, and gaining confidence in their own ideas and self-expression.

Happy writing!

BIO: Dallas Woodburn blogs about joyful, healthy, simplified living at Day-by-Day Masterpiece (http://daybydaymasterpiece.com) where she recently spearheaded a Year of Kindness Challenge. A Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University, she is the author of two children’s books and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today’s best youth writing, available at http://dallaswoodburnpr.com/books. Dallas offers online guided mentorships and tutoring for young writers. Learn more at http://dallaswoodburnpr.com.

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