This is an article I developed for the American-Speech-Hearing Association. It was published on the ASHA Wire, but it now includes the very helpful graphic organizer. Check it out!
Getting children to write over the summer can be quite a hurdle. When I went away to summer camp, we had to mail a letter home as the entry fee to the dining hall on Friday nights. This tradition probably originates as a way to encourage writing skills and communication with our parents, but most of us surreptitiously found a way to get out of it. We’d mail empty envelopes home, for example. Yes, that’s right; my mother would eagerly sort the mail, find an envelope with my handwriting, open it up and see … nothing. Sorry, Mom!
The point is—if required writing didn’t motivate someone who eventually became a writing teacher, we definitely need to think outside of the box for those who struggle with it. Writing letters, postcards and journal entries remain fairly standard ways to encourage acquiescent children to write. However, I created five stealthy ways to encourage students to hone their writing skills this summer—tailored especially for those a little more reluctant.
1) Keep it social
Social media, that is! Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter all offer opportunity for written content in disguise. Coming up with imaginative hashtags and captions is actually quite fun. Urge students to use their five senses and the Wh-words (who, what, when, where, why and how) to craft captions for summertime pictures and videos. You can even prompt them to add a "fun fact." Then, post away on their own personal account or on a family account.
2) Scrapbook or photo album (digital or print)
Many families travel over the summer and preserving these memories can be meaningful and entertaining. Experiences and senses come alive through photography, which helps inspire writing. Let the kids take the camera and see the world through their perspective. Captioning photos of travels, experiences, food and inside family jokes motivates kids who struggle to generate writing ideas. They’ll have a blast reliving every moment. (And maybe even not-so-special moments. It’s amazing what stands out to kids!) Try using the template below.
Plan your caption here (email us for a PDF):
Put your picture and caption here (email us for a PDF):
3) Creative writing about famous paintings
A common trend I noticed working with middle school students involves those who struggle with expository writing. It turns out, they often shine through creative writing. My students from age 8 to 15 love making up elaborate stories based on famous paintings and photographs. I frequently see students—who barely write full sentences in social studies—construct profound metaphors, use appositives or include complex story grammar in creative writing pieces. Salvador Dali’s paintings—such as “The Persistence of Memory” and “Swans Reflecting Elephants”—specifically interest older kids. Edward Hopper’s work as well—“Night Hawks” and “Gas”—spark interesting thoughts from older and younger kids. Or try Roy Lichtenstein’s pop-art paintings for any age.
4) “Story Bird” stories and poetry
“Story Bird” is both an app and a website providing endless illustrations for creating stories and poems. First, choose an image to add to your book, and then a collection of similar pictures pop up to help you create a whole short story. It’s not a structured process, so an adult might need to offer more support for elementary students. A parent can type in questions—such as the Ws—for the child to answer. Or type sentence starters like, “One day …,” “Later on …, “ or “All of a sudden ….”
It may sound simple to an adult, but generating ideas challenges many kids. Try asking for lists as a great way to get them generating ideas. For example, if students experience writer’s block, a simple list of possible ideas on what happens next can unblock them. Encourage them to make practical lists as well: things needed for a barbecue, weekend activities, steps to planning a party, packing lists, items to take to the beach, or dream vacation destinations. List topics are endless; furthermore, this activity targets an essential skill for any type of writing.