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Gail Gauthier   www.gailgauthier.com
Teaching Writing

 

Writing What You Know    

'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?

Classroom 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:

Your Life Among The Aliens: Tell your students to take one of the events from the timeline or journal and combine it with the arrival of an alien of some sort. Bring an alien along on a class trip or have one help out with a science project.

A Year With (student's name): Tell your students to take one of the events from the timeline or journal and throw in some rough and rowdy kids to create a chapter in their own Year With book. Or if they want to, they can eliminate the rough and rowdy kids and just do their own perspective on something that happened. Their chapter can be from the book A Year With Allison or Kyle or …

Brainstorming:

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.

[ Teaching Literature - My Life Among The Aliens ] [ Teaching Literature - A Year With Butch And Spike ] [ Teaching Literature - Club Earth ]
[ Teaching History - With The Hero Of Ticonderoga ]

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February 7, 2015