4 Moms Teach Writing Part 2: Composition

moms of many manageTeaching Writing Part 1: Grammar

Teaching creative writing or composition is the scariest academic homeschooling task that I face.

I graduated from college with honors, receiving only three B’s. All three came in English classes. All of them because of my writing or composition grades.

So now you know the truth, I’m not a writer and I have the grades to prove it.

Mark and I have pieced together our “creative writing program” from those who are more qualified than we are.

One of the “light bulb’ moments came when I was speaking with Denise, wife of R. C. Sproul Jr..  I was asking about homeschool writing curriculum and she told me that they had not yet started teaching writing to their children (their oldest was around 10 or 11). It was another moment that I realized that we don’t need to follow the pattern of the government schools.

Teaching Composition

Be patient

Creative writing requires a confluence of several complex skills and it’s quite possible that a child may not have mastered all those skills by the time they are 9 or 10. In my first post in this series I laid out the steps that we take to get our children ready to learn composition.

We do have our children write before they are 10-13 (and some of our children have chosen to write long before that age), but when we do, we focus on composition and overlook most of the grammar and spelling errors.

Read, read, read

If children are accustomed to hearing and reading great literature, they will have a pattern to follow to produce good literature. Reading will also give them something to write about.

Three year old Nick 'reads' to one year old Isabella

Read aloud to your kids. Set aside a regular time each day for them to read themselves. (We have one hour each afternoon when our children who are too old to nap have the opportunity to read.)

Write, write, write

Writing is a skill that takes practice, lots and lots of practice. We like to have our children write something several times a week (ideally daily, but that doesn’t always happen).

Give them something interesting to write about.

Often the most difficult part of writing is figuring out something to write about. Having an interesting topic is the first step to enjoying the process of writing.

I often turn questions that they ask into writing their writing assignment. “Good question. Why don’t you look that up and write about it?”

We recently found an Eastern Fence Lizard in the woods and the children decided to keep him for a pet. Their assignment was to write a paper about the lizard and it’s care.

I often ask the children to ‘narrate on paper’ something that we read aloud during the day. Apologia Science is well suited to this type of review and so are descriptive passages from quality literature books and even simple story lines within a complex story.

A couple of my children are excellent pen pals and get lots of practice writing letters. Others enjoy journaling daily or writing stories.

Relax

Writing is an art and it is learned through practice.

Do you remember as a child that every paper you turned in had to be a masterpiece. You would turn in a paper with the dread knowledge that you were going to have to spend the next several days to several weeks re-writing that paper until it was ‘perfect’.

We don’t do this with our children. We very rarely require a revision, but rather offer ideas of how they can make the next paper a little better. We also, re-write portions of their paper right on the original, demonstrating how the improvements may look in this paper.

Think of it as teaching art. Would you take a picture that your child turned in, mark all over it showing them how they did it wrong or how it could be better and then hand it back to them expecting them to draw the same thing all over fixing their ‘errors’? Do you think it might quench their passion for art?

Sometimes there is a topic or paper that warrants the effort to revise and rewrite and going through that process occasionally is beneficial practice.

Our process:

1.) Our children write something. If it’s a ‘paper’ we have them double space to leave room for notes and corrections.

2.) We read our child’s paper and praise them for the areas of improvement. “Good job with varying your sentence structure this time.”

3.) We may ignore ‘appropriate’ grammar and spelling errors. (Errors that are appropriate to our child’s skill level.) Our goal is not to overwhelm the child with negatives. We will work on these grammar and spelling errors during our times of dictation/copy work.

4.) We have the child correct ‘habitual’ spelling or grammar errors right on the paper. If a child tends to struggle with being lazy in their writing we will have them re-write the entire paper, but this is extremely rare as we reserve it for persistent laziness.

Remember, that when your child starts putting all these writing skills together to compose their own papers, you probably will see an increase in errors simply because they are having to concentrate on content. Be patient, the improvement will come.

5.) We point out one or two ways that our child could improve the paper. “I would like to see you using better quality descriptive words. Let me show you how to get ideas from a Thesaurus.” or “This passage seems unclear, how could you have communicated that idea more clearly?”

6.) The next day we assign our child another topic on which to write a paper and we remind them of the improvements that we expect to see.

7.) Repeat. You will have to remind them more than once to vary their sentence structure or use better quality words. However, you will find that they will begin to apply these principles more and more as they continue to practice.

Make use of some teacher training

Years ago Mark and I purchased IEW’s Teaching Writing Structure and Style. This 10 hour seminar teaches the teacher how to teach writing.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not this formulaic approach is beneficial because after all writing is an art. This is my two cents as a non-writer who employs very few of Pudewa’s techniques myself, this training is extremely beneficial and since you can implement as much or as little of it as you like, it need not be formulaic at all.

It provides:

  • Confidence for a non-writer
  • Understanding for how difficult the process is (this helps with mommy’s patience)
  • Insight into what needs improvement (varying sentence structure, improving the quality of words used)
  • Helps on how to help your student with those improvements
  • All the types of papers your child should learn how to write and the proper forms for each of them

It’s a fun seminar that your children will probably enjoy going through with you.

IEW offers a lot of programs and student helps, but all anyone needs to teach writing is the course on Teaching Writing Structure and Style. If you are a writer yourself, you certainly don’t need this course. However, as a non-writer,  I’ve found it extremely helpful.

How do you teach creative writing in your home?

Visit the other moms of many to read about how they teach creative writing.

Smockity Frocks
Life in a Shoe
The Common Room

For more Moms of Many posts including all of our past topics visit the 4 Moms page.

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8 Responses to 4 Moms Teach Writing Part 2: Composition
  1. Renee
    March 1, 2012 | 7:48 am

    All great tips. thank you for sharing!

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  2. Ruthie Heider
    March 1, 2012 | 10:09 am

    Thank you for this post. I really enjoyed reading it. Our youngest child struggles with writing and I now realize it is me not her. I need to relax a bit, thanks for the reminder ☼!

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  3. Heather
    March 1, 2012 | 11:38 am

    I was the total opposite, I graduated Summa Cum Laude and English classes were always my easiest. I am not perfect with the tehnical side of writing, but I have always had a flair for the creative side. However, when I think of it too, writing was the first thing I ever remember being told that I was good at, and I can’t help but feel, in retrospect that what that actually did was make me live up to it.
    So the technical side is what makes me more nervous about teaching. I feel like we are at that stage ( and not unacceptably so in terms of development) where we struggle so much with the technical side that I cannot really do anything to help develop the creative or fluent side of writing yet. I wouldn’t worry too much, except that I know that my husband, who struggled with learning differences in public school, still struggles with the technical parts of writing- spelling and grammar in particular.It gets hard at times, knowing that, to think that we can overcome things that might just seem like age-appropriate mistakes at their ages.
    Reflecting on my own experience and your suggestions, I think that I need to keep in mind that encouragement is key. If I encourage them for improvement, in any area, they might try to live up to that.

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  4. Lisa Leemgraven
    March 1, 2012 | 1:59 pm

    Hi! We purchased the “One Year Adventure Novel” program for our highschool age children this year. The initial cost was kind of expensive, $199, but each additional child is only $25 to cover the cost of another workbook. We have been really happy with the program. The kids learn a lot about story writing and actually write their own novel. We have made a number of purchases over the years that didn’t work out, but this is one that we have really been happy with. If the price is something you can afford, then I highly recommend checking it out. The website is http://www.oneyearnovel.com/.
    Lisa

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  5. abba12
    March 1, 2012 | 5:23 pm

    Considering writing like an art gives me a whole new way of looking at it, I might be a little stricter about spelling and grammar depending on the age but the idea of not perfecting every piece of writing, but rather practicing often, is a foreign one to me, but sounds far more reasonable.

    Creative writing is one area that many early homeschoolers seemed to fall down in, finding it too ‘formal’ and too ‘assignment-like’. I have tutored numerous homeschool graduates who were completely unable to write an understandable essay or report. All for different issues, one could not stay on topic and would bounce from idea to idea with no logical structure, another LOVED commas, resulting in a total of about 3 full stops (periods) in an essay of almost 1000 words. Another could speak perfectly, but on paper could not get their tenses to line up. Writing is an important skill and one that needs to be practiced often.

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  6. Ellie
    March 2, 2012 | 12:36 am

    I’m just getting to this stage with my oldest two and although I am not the best creative writer, I had an excellent teacher. My mom had us reading poems, stories and speeches aloud to each other long before we ventured into writing. She taught us to read aloud with every bit of inflection and expression that the work called for by its punctuation. Once we began writing she had us read our works aloud. We quickly learned the importance of effective punctuation. Having an audience proved the content and delivery of our written assignments.
    Similarly, a young lady studying art at our local university set her easel up in our yard to paint the view. I was impressed with the tedium of sketching, sizing, color blocking, shading etc…. Painting is an art and her final product both portrayed the scene and the artist’s personal style. She had to be meticulous and exacting to achieve those results. I believe that grammar and the “nuts and bolts” of writing are vital elements in producing written art. The editing and re-writing pay off in a work that makes the artist particularly fond of it.

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  7. Kylee
    March 2, 2012 | 10:27 pm

    Hi Kimberly!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! I think it is so interesting that God gifts each of us in different areas. I love writing, but am not a math/science person. I am currently struggling my way through my biology class. : )

    I was wondering if you have ever written your thoughts about college/higher education, and if so, if you could point me to that post. I know you said in this post (and previously) that you graduated from college, but I was wondering what your thoughts are on higher-education either in general or for your children. I know that some of your older girls are getting close to that age (okay, still several years!) and am wondering if that is something you expect of them, discourage, or completely leave up to them. I am currently a college student, but was home schooled growing up. I certainly have seen plenty of home schooled students go to college, and others go straight to marriage/mothering. I am so glad I am getting my degree, but I sometimes sit in my dorm room dreaming of the day I can be a momma : )

    Have a blessed weekend!

    [Reply]

    Kimberly @ Raising Olives Reply:

    I haven’t written about college or higher education.

    Here are a couple quick thoughts about college.

    For many children, college may be a waste of time and apprenticeship would be a better option.

    For many children, college may be a necessity.

    There are some additional things to consider (protection and authority) when sending a daughter to college, but this is a responsibility that God clearly gives to parents. For us, if our daughters were to go to college we would prefer for them to live at home or with a Christian family.

    I think that in today’s society it is the default position that ‘well-educated’ people will have a college degree. I’d like to see this presupposition change and for everyone to consider whether or not a college education is the best use of a person’s time. (I think it will be for some and won’t be for others, depending upon an individual’s calling and goals in life.)

    [Reply]

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