Imagine your kids’ reaction if you said, “today’s writing lesson has no writing.” You’d definitely have their attention. When you remember that writing is just thinking on paper, this makes total sense! You can teach basic composition by having what I call “observation conversations” – by helping kids organize what they see around them and having them verbalize why order is relevant. Once they begin to see in “clusters,” they’ll have a great visual of how ideas are supposed to look in writing.
Here’s how to teach writing without writing:
As you’re going about your daily routine, start conversations about the things that are in their logical places around the house. For example, ask the kids to imagine what would happen if their beds were kept in the backyard instead of in their bedrooms (“and if it rained?”), what would happen if the milk was kept in the toolbox in the garage instead of in the kitchen refrigerator (“do you suppose it would taste like the garage smells?”), or what would happen if everyone in the house started their days at 6 pm (“remember that businesses close at 5…”)? Have them think about what life would be like without order. It’d be crazy, right? They need to see that.
It’s wonderful to be able to tell kids that order is order no matter where you find it, that life works because we have it, and writing works the same way. It’s not complicated.
Remind the kids that in real life, there’s a rule that says “like attracts like:”
- cold stuff is stored with cold stuff
- water molecules “stick” to other water molecules
- ducks hang out with other ducks
- hardware stores sell hardware store items
- clouds “stick” to other clouds
Take a minute to think about what would happen if things didn’t work this way. “What would happen if water droplets didn’t stick together?” “What would happen if ducks hung out with foxes?” “Think you could get a good haircut at a hardware store?” Everything works in an unspoken, but assumed order.
Writing works in an order, too:
- Groups of words that share a common subject “stick together” to make sentences
- Groups of sentences that share a common subject “stick together” to make paragraphs
- Groups of paragraphs that share a common subject “stick together” to create chapters, etc.
Try having your kids invent sentences that don’t make sense. Here’s one:
“Yesterday under birthday full trash can rhinoceros”
You really have to work hard to NOT say things in logical order! That kind of silly statement proves the point – even to the most reluctant writers – that it’s harder to write without logic and order than it is to write with them. And remember: it’s not complicated. It’s as simple as putting ideas together on a page. Writing is just thinking on paper.
So the next time you go into the grocery store, ask your kids where you might expect to find the milk. “Shall we try looking on the hairspray aisle? Maybe they’ve moved it to the toy section?” Why is it in the dairy section?” “What else is kept there?” The obvious answers will begin smart conversations, and don’t our kids love it when they know the answers? The logic behind organization presents itself whether it’s with ducks or cheese or water molecules. Kids get this. They just don’t know what they know or that a thing that they know in one area is also smart in another.
Pointing out your child’s brilliance makes the best lessons of all.