'Write what you know' doesn't mean writers are limited to writing just
what they know. It means they use their life experience to provide details or as a sort of
jumping off point for their writing. My Life Among The Aliens, A Year
With Butch And Spike, and Club Earth are all full of examples of
writing from children's experiences. They can be used in a writing program to help explain
that concept to children and to give them something to use as a model for their own
writing. Is the chapter about Halloween in Butch and Spike just about a bunch of
funny things that happen at Halloween or is it also about a boy who needs to lighten up in
order to start enjoying himself? Is the baseball chapter just about a baseball game or is
it also about learning that following the rules can mean hurting someone else?
Timelines or Journals:
All self-respecting kids will tell you that they can't write from their own experience
because they have no experience, nothing ever happens to them. Be prepared to show them
they are wrong! Start keeping a timeline for the class. Do it any way you want to--from
ceiling to floor or all around the room or any other way you can think of. Put it in a
place that's easy to get to or add on to. Then jot down events that occur in the class as
they happen: field trips, parties, special projects, visitors to the classroom, etc. Be
sure to include the more interesting things like outbreaks of head lice, the toilet in the
boys' room overflowing, and equipment failures. Do it as a class. You be the initiator,
but let your students know that if something comes up that they want to include, they can.
If a timeline seems too unwieldy, keep one journal for the whole class. A lot of kids
hate keeping journals, so you keep this one for them. This will be an idea journal not a
tell-me-your-deepest-secrets journal. Put it in a good-sized notebook of some kind that
won't get lost in the classroom. Enter the same kind of material you would have put on the
timeline. You can also include newspaper clippings regarding local events--fires,
celebrities coming to town, etc. Again, you do the initiating, but let your students know
they can come up with ideas, too.
When you are ready to assign writing, your students can turn to the classroom timelines
or journals for material.
A Couple Of Writing Assignments:
Do you have students who still say they can't do this, that they can't get from an idea
to a story? Brainstorm with the class. Even if you feel that your students are old enough
and experienced enough to write on their own, take them at their word and back up in the
writing process. It's possible they truly can't make the leap from idea to product. Or
it's possible they'll enjoy brainstorming enough that they'll be left with some enthusiasm
for the job ahead. Keep generating ideas until you've created an outline together. Just
because everyone has the same outline, it doesn't mean their stories will be identical. In
fact, it could be very interesting to see what the different writers in your class do with
this same material.
Don't feel you're wasting time brainstorming. Writing doesn't occur when marks are made
on paper. It's done in the writer's head. Getting it on paper comes later, it's just the
mechanism for communicating.