Daily Archives: September 10, 2019

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Five Things I Learned Teaching Writing to Children

September 10, 2019 by in category Writing tagged as

Not that I’m a brilliant writer, or have anything that anyone else doesn’t have within them, but on occasion I’ve been asked if I could teach someone to make magic with words.

One of those people was a friend with a journalism degree, who was applying to grad school, and not getting great results from his application essay. He asked me if I might be able to tweak it, I did my best, he loved it, and asked me what I’d done.

“You wrote everything I wrote, didn’t add or delete anything, and yet it’s magic. Can you teach me to do that?” I didn’t really know what I had done, so I wasn’t very helpful at the time. This happened many times over the years, and I wondered if ‘making magic’ was something inherent rather than something that could be taught.

Years later an opportunity arose to teach a class on writing for magazine publication to children in the GATE class at our sons’ elementary school. The students ranged from grades 3-5 with IQ’s that put them in the gifted range. As a child, I’d dreamed of becoming a teacher, and this opportunity both excited and terrified me…and ultimately, I’m sure that I learned more than the kids that I taught that year.

  1. Some of us are rule followers and others rule breakers. This is true for both kids and adults. But, it’s important to know the rules so that when you break them you know what you’re trying to accomplish. I learned that although I tend to be a rule follower, sometimes it’s a good thing to break the rules!
  2. You can  create energy, power or ‘magic’ just by changing a few key words. Drop unnecessary words that slow a sentence down, use active verbs, and power words to give your sentences more strength. This may seem like a no brainer to most of you, but twenty years ago, when I taught this class, the only writing instruction I’d had had been in high school, and until I analyzed what I did, to teach the students, I had never broken it down.
  3. Write the way you speak. Let the reader ‘hear’ your voice. Kids tend to do this naturally. They write exactly what they would say, but eventually, school, society, the universe somehow makes us believe that in order to write ‘Great Literature’ we have to write more formally. Save the formalities for business letters and legal documents, and write the way you’d speak to your audience.
  4. No one thinks they like to do revisions, until they start to see the magic! Then very often you can change their minds. I sometimes do more than a dozen rewrites, I definitely need a deadline, or I’ll rewrite forever. For me the real ‘writing’ or crafting is done during the revisions. The first draft is to organize my ideas and get them on paper. The kids in my class wrote at least three drafts of the articles they were writing before they submitted them to real publications. Each revision we added another layer to their writing, and they began to see exactly what they were capable of if they went that extra mile (or draft). When teachers, and parents asked how I’d gotten the kids excited about writing three drafts, I just smiled and told them it was magic!
  5. Not only can rejections be positive, but they can be fun!! At the end of the school year we submitted their work to publications, and spent our final sessions reading rejection letters that had been received by famous authors. The kids loved  hearing how L. Frank Baum had been told that The Wizard of Oz was ‘too radical a departure from the traditional juvenile literature’ and yet, nearly 100 years later we’re still reading this book, that A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle received twenty-six rejections, and that JKRowling’s, Harry Potter was rejected twelve times, and she was told ‘not to quit her day job’.

I also reminded the kids that if they happened to receive a rejection letter, it was a badge of honor, not very many people, even grown ups have actually had their work considered by a real publication. All of the students work was published in a school collection, and by the last day of class, they had promised to let me know when they heard from the publication they’d submitted to.

All summer I received excited phone calls from students who had received rejection letters. A few parents even told me that they’d framed them. And, two of my students were published in magazines.

The kids excitement to receive even a rejection reminded me how lucky I am to do what I love, and that rejection should be a learning tool, not the doorway to depression.

So there you go, just a few things that I learned teaching writing to children, and by the way my friend got into graduate school! I’m sure that with his GPA and the hard work he’d done as an undergraduate, he’d have been accepted anyway, but I’d like to think that there was a little bit of magic involved!

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