Everyone is a writer, but many factors can stop people, especially new or young writers, from realizing that potential. Too often kids have stories to tell but don’t have the tools to tell them. If you want to encourage a budding young writer, start early and use effective strategies.
Demonstrate Effective Writing
In my classroom, I always encourage my students to show, not tell. I try to follow my own advice, so I work to inspire good writing by showing what effective writing looks like through mentor texts.
A mentor text is a piece of literature that children can study or imitate. For example, to write great poetry, one might study Emily Dickinson or John Keats. Mentor texts display mastery of the craft for new writers to imitate and give them a standard to strive for. They can also be an effective way to introduce budding writers to a variety of styles. Children can try new methods and find what fits them best.
Picture books make great mentor texts, so don’t shy away from using them for older children! Picture books are short, which makes the examples they offer easy to absorb. They also show mastery of a certain genre or skill in a simple, easily understandable way.
See the bottom of this article for a list of good mentor texts by genre.
Gather Inspiration Everywhere
I love getting my students’ attention for writing activities through a variety of media—anything from photos to videos to, if you can believe it, pieces of garbage! Yes, even garbage I found in the hallway can be fodder for inspiration. Giving young writers something to look at or listen to helps jump start their creative thinking.
My favorite prompts to encourage creative writing are photos and videos because they allow students to freely experiment. A good rule of thumb is to use photos and videos about subjects that already interest your young writer. Even a quick search for “haunted house pictures” or “shark videos” will yield interesting results that can spark creative writing. Expanding to both show different genres and prompt your child to write in different genres, including non-fiction, will help beginning writers expand their ideas and abilities.
If your child is still struggling, try creating a thought question based on the photo or video that they can respond to in their writing. Simple thought questions usually start with who, what, when, where, or why. For example, if showing a photo, you could ask your child to write about who is in the photo and the relationship between the photo’s subjects or what happened in the past to bring their story to this point.
Focus on the Process
As a teacher, I find that most students believe that they can spill all their thoughts onto paper and then their writing will be complete. Usually this is because they just aren’t familiar with the drafting process—revising, editing, polishing, and perfecting. It’s not that inexperienced writers are unwilling to put in the effort—they simply don’t know how.
Here are a few tips to get new writers invested in the process:
- Use easy mnemonics to help them remember how to edit and revise. My favorite revision acronym is ARMS, which stands for add, remove, move, and substitute. Again, these global revision areas help young writers understand the overall effect of their writing while greatly improving it with a few simple changes. My favorite editing acronym is CUPS, which stands for capitalization, usage, punctuation, and spelling. Those are the easiest and most effective areas to focus on when editing, and they yield significant results.
- Be willing to revise with your child and make sure to point out what they’ve done well in addition to what can be improved. This will show them how to engage in the writing process without discouraging them.
- Have new writers read their writing aloud. They will catch many errors this way. If they feel self-conscious about reading their writing in front of someone, whispering it to themselves can be just as effective.
- Finally, have children revise and edit in small chunks so that the work does not become overwhelming. When the writing process is new to a child, revising can quickly become tiring and seem as though the piece will never improve. Have your young writer redraft a small piece of their writing and then compare it to the first draft to see the improvement. To figure out the ideal amount for your child’s age and ability level, you can ask their teacher. A good rule of thumb is about one paragraph per year old the child is. This comparison gives them more immediate satisfaction, encouraging them to continue.
Ultimately, while editing and revising are not often considered the most fun part of writing, they are important for new writers because they illustrate the fact that writing is an ongoing process rather than a “one and done” activity. Remind your child that writing is never really completely finished, that even small improvements can have a big impact, and that revising is something that all writers—even the famous ones—have to do.
Create a Challenge
If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a teacher, it’s that children respond very well to challenges in the form of competitions or rewards. You can encourage your young writer with these sorts of challenges as well, either on a group level or individually. A quick internet search for “youth writing contests” yields several results for writing competitions of all genres that your child can enter. Even if they don’t win, the promise of some sort of opposition will often get new writers excited and invested.
Also, try creating individual challenges for your child, like a simplified NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and provide a reward if they rise to the challenge. Often, all it takes to get a young writer started is the promise of some sort of competition or reward.
Writing is a skill that anyone can improve and learn to love. Creating new writers can often seem daunting, especially when one doesn’t know how to begin. Using specific strategies and incentives, I have made my classroom a place where ideas can flow and creative writing can begin to take place. You can prompt your child to be a better writer—and to love it—through use of mentor texts, varied inspiration, a focus on the writing process, and challenges and rewards. Encouraging a young writer to develop passion and skill is a process, but implementing these strategies will help you put your child on the path to creating something you can both be proud of.
Mentor Texts by Genre
Personal Narrative: Fireflies by Julie Brinckloe
Narrative Fiction: Owl Moon by Jane Yolen or The Promise by Nicola Davies
Persuasive Writing: The Perfect Pet by Margie Palatini
Non-Fiction: Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs! by Kathleen V. Kudlinski
Mentor Texts by Skill
Onomatopoeia: The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington
Imagery: Come On, Rain! by Karen Hesse
Alliteration: The Great Fuzz Frenzy by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
Figurative Language: A Chocolate Moose for Dinner by Fred Gwynne
Sentence Fluency: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Characterization: Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Point of View: Voices in the Dark by Anthony Browne
Dialogue: The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear
Plot: Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola