With a little bit of thought, we can encourage kids to enjoy writing and even have a few giggles along the way.
- Buy a journal: Journaling is so important because it gives kids (and adults) a safe place to express themselves. They can experiment with language, or even just doodle, without anyone judging or grading.
- Let them see you write: When your kids see you journal, or even write a thank you note, it becomes a normal part of everyday life. Give yourselves the same writing prompt and see what happens.
- Play with your words: Make language a game. If you are out to dinner and something tastes particularly good (or bad) challenge each other to come up with similes to describe it. I’m pretty sure you can all come up with something more creative than, “this pasta tastes like cr@&.
- Create a new ending: The next time you go to the movies or watch a tv show together, ask your child to come up with a different ending. This reinforces the notion that real people have written the movie, show or video game, and they can write their own stories, too. This stuff doesn’t just magically appear.
- Take a spelling vacation: Encourage your kids not to think about spelling or grammar while they write. Obviously, spelling and grammar are very important, but the brain is not designed to write and edit simultaneously. This advice goes for adults, too. If you stop to wonder about a comma placement or look up how a word is spelled, you are stopping your train of thought.
A lot of what holds kids back from writing is that same as what holds their parents back. Follow these steps along with your kids, and you might just find yourself enjoying writing, too.
“The rankest compound of villainous smell that ever offended nostril.”
Shakespeare, “The Merry Wives of Windsor”
For some reason, I’ve been in the mood to focus on villains and describing disgusting things. People think that writing teachers should be full of flower metaphors, but with Halloween approaching, I’m going to focus on the gross. What better way to illustrate the power and joy of language.
What’s the most disgusting odor you’ve ever stumbled across? An mildewed orange forgotten in a backpack? A pair of socks? Pickled Herring? Pick one and go with me, step by step, as we gross each other out.
- Step 1: Name the offending object. I’m going to use some leftover tofu that I had placed in a plastic bag and forgotten about.
- Step 2: Come up with an adjective to describe the object. For my tofu, I’m going to use “moldy.” Here are some suggestions: funky, foul, rancid, bitter, burnt, nauseating, rotten, sour, repulsive, disgusting, decaying. There are many, many more, so don’t limit yourself to this list.
- Step 3. Use a simile or a metaphor to describe your object. (Quick refresher: A simile compares two objects using “like” or “as.” A metaphor makes the comparison directly.) For example, a simile would be, “my tofu was like fungus covered vomit.” A metaphor would be, “my tofu was fungus covered vomit.”
- Step 4: Here’s the best part. To truly describe an offensive odor, you need an action verb. If the stench is really all that bad, it will throw, kick, slam, hurl, etc.. Continuing with my tofu, “as I opened the bag, I was slammed to the ground.”
You can mix and match. Shakespeare used two adjectives and an action verb in the above quote. Shakespeare was a master of everything, but nothing illustrates his genius more than his insults and witty descriptions of unpleasant things.
Go ahead and put your disgusting description in the comments. Let’s see who wins the grossest odor award!
What’s your favorite prewriting strategy? At the Cal State Northridge Writing Project’s Summer Institute, we discussed a lot of teaching and writing strategies, but there was a clear winner. Chris Perigue, a 7th grade teacher at the Los Angeles Leadership Academy, did a presentation on looping. I loved it so much that I’m even using it to write this!
Prewriting is like planning a trip, and different strategies work for different people. The only constant is that everyone needs to prewrite. The famous basketball coach, John Wooden, used to say that “failing to plan is planning to fail.”
What is looping? It’s a strategy where you write for a few minutes, then look over what you have written. Take the kernel, sentence or phrase that jumps out at you and use it to start your next few minutes of writing. Chris calls this the “center of gravity” sentence. Look over what you have written and ask yourself these questions:
What is your best sentence?
What sentence is holding your free write together?
What is your most unique sentence?
What is your most compelling idea?
Take that sentence and use it to start your second loop. Do this one more time. What do you think? Is this a good prewriting strategy for you? Maps, charts, and lists are some other strategies you can try. Personally, I think it’s good to mix it up depending on your mood.
I chose the roller coaster image because it’s a great metaphor for looping. Sometimes when you start, it’s like chugging uphill. It can be laborious and slow. Then, you get to the top and really start to roll. Once you’re in that zone and the words are flowing, there’s no stopping. Just throw your arms up in the air and enjoy the ride!
I usually stay in my lane and focus on writing, but as we get head back to school, I’m going to swerve a little bit. The transition from summer vacation to school is tricky, but if you keep it simple and focus on the things you can control, it gets easier. Here are the four most important things you can do to start the school year off right.
- 1: Nutrition. Provide nutritious meals and snacks. Learning is a physical activity. Have you ever noticed how tired you are after you’ve really concentrated on something? When you fuel your body, you fuel your mind. I’m not going to get into the vegan, paleo, keto, etc., debate, but I think the key is to provide as many unprocessed foods as you can. An apple is much better than a bag of potato chips.
- 2: Sleep. It can be difficult to make sure kids get enough sleep, but the studies are endless and irrefutable. Sleep affects every single aspect of life, from immunity, to growth, to memory, to everything else. I can’t stress enough how important this is. And parents, you need to figure out how to get enough sleep, too.
- 3: Space. Make sure that your child has a dedicated place to do homework. It should be comfortable, quiet and have good lighting. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a corner of the dining room table, or a desk in a bedroom. The most important thing is that it’s a comfortable space with easy access to pencils, paper and any other needed supplies.
- 4: Routine. When we’re busy, time has a way of slipping by us. I get that schedules vary depending on afterschool activities. However, it’s important to keep things as consistent as possible. When everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing and when they are supposed to be doing it, things run a lot more smoothly.
It’s important to realize that every child is different and every family is different. It takes some trial and error to settle into a routine and it’s important to give everyone some slack as we settle back in.
I’m going to end with a Dr. Seuss quote that’s perfect for going back to school
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any
direction you choose.
Jonathan Gold, the only restaurant critic to ever win a Pulitzer Prize passed away this weekend. It’s a tremendous loss for the city of Los Angeles and the world. He made a sprawling, compartmentalized city seem a little friendlier by exploring different cultures, all defined by their food. As food writer Ruth Reichl said, “He was really writing about the people more than the food.” But, oh, how he wrote about food. Reading his reviews was like watching a concert pianist in action. His use of sensory details, similes, and metaphors was something most of us can aspire to but will never match. I’ve picked out a small sample of his writing and posted it below. I also added a link to his book, “Counter Intelligence.” Happy reading and Happy eating.
Best Jonathan Gold lines:
“The thick prime rib steak sings with the flavors of blood, age and char; the tagliatelle with white truffles perfumes half the observable universe when its glass dome is whisked away.” Spago
“If you’re into that sort of thing, the braised chicken feet in abalone sauce are as soft and juicy as a lover’s tenderest sighs, and the casserole of crab roe is suave.” Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
“A chile relleno is served on a sloppy, juicy bed of ground-pork sauce that tastes a bit like Texas chili but also twists around toward an Italian ragu. The cultural oscillations put you off balance; you never know quite where you are with the dish.” Baco Mercat
“A bowl of soontofu looks less like food than like a special effect, a heaving, bright-red mass in a superheated cauldron, which spurts geysers, spits like a lake of volcanic lava and broadcasts a fine red mist of chile and broth that tints anything within six inches of the bowl a pale, lustrous pink.” Soontofu