How Can We Grow Our Children’s Writing Habits?

Watch the answer from Thomas above or read a transcript of the video below.


Here’s a wonderful question from a reader: How do we grow our children's writing habits, especially for students who might be in the elementary level and who might be learning English as a second or as a foreign language? How do we encourage students to love writing?

Here are five things that occurred to me.

Read Out Loud

The first and perhaps most important is to encourage the habit of reading out loud together. With younger students, this might be reading a story to students, sitting next to them or sitting in a circle. There's something really beautiful and magical and wonderful about hearing a story read to you, even if you're maybe beyond the age when you're supposed to be having stories read to you. That's when we can really experience the magic of stories and the way that they can weave a world for us and take us through the lives of characters.

Make Up Stories Out Loud

The second is to explore making up stories spontaneously, out loud. One way I encourage people to do this is if you're working with a group of students, you can have them sit in a circle and you can find a something interesting to hold in you hand, like a stone.Whoever has the stone gets to start telling a story. Somebody else has a bell, and whenever they ring the bell, the person holding the stone passes it to the next person, the person to their right, for instance. And that person has to pick up telling the story.

Now the person ringing the bell might ring the bell between sentences or maybe even right in the middle of a sentence. For instance, somebody might be holding the stone and saying, "And then, as the tiger came closer and closer to him . . ." Somebody might then ring the bell. Then you’d pass the stone on to the next person, and the next person has to carry that sentence and the story forward and see where the story might go.

The idea is to have the stone go all the way around the circle so that you get to the end of the story at the same time. Then you've created a story together, out of your own collective imagination.

This can be a fun way to get people into the into the excitement of creating their own stories spontaneously, without having to think about it too much.

Write Down Your Stories

This leads to the third step, which is to start writing down some of these stories. At first you might write down stories that people have created together in a group. But then you might also have students get together in pairs, or if you’re working on-one-one have the student make up a story spontaneously. The idea is to not think about it too much and simply run with whatever ideas occur to you in the moment. Then once the students have their story, they can write it down, so that we start to create a link between the telling of a story out loud and the writing of a story on paper. This is the important link to establish.

Prepare Your Writing To Be Seen

Then there's two more suggestions I have that follow on this third one. One is that after you've written the story, after you've written a draft of the story, that's not the end. Just as a writer who writes a story or a novel then gets it published, it's important to take students through the process of making their work shareable, making their work public. So, for instance, after writing a story, I would have the student write out the story again, but then think about how they want to present it on the page. Maybe you want to use special colors for the words? Maybe you want to illustrate the story with some drawings here and there? Let the students be as creative as they can in presenting their story.

Share Your Work With Others!

The fifth piece, of course, is to share the piece of writing. It can be a small as sharing it with one other person, one other person that the student loves or trusts or wants to share things with. It might be sharing the story with the group that you're working with. It could be any number of ways, but the idea is to take the story from spontaneous composition, from the freewheeling play of the imagination, all the way through presenting it and then sharing it with other people.

If you take students through this entire process, I think you'll find that love of writing and excitement about writing develop quite naturally and beautifully. That's what my experience suggests about how to explore the growing of writing habits among children.