In my previous post, How To Teach Writing Skills | Our Homeschoolers Became Excellent Writers, I promised to explain the details of the creative writing process steps and to give you tips and examples from our journey into writing. Today, I’ll detail step number one – pre-writing. While there are many different names given to the steps in the writing process, I like to keep them simple.
The 5 Steps in the Writing Process:
Why Pre-Writing Is Important
Have you ever given your student a writing assignment, but she just couldn’t get started? That blank sheet of paper sat menacingly on her lap and DARED her to make it come alive! She was frustrated, and so were you. I know, we’ve been there. What’s a homeschool parent to do?
Teach her the magnificent skill of pre-writing.
Pre-writing produces a plan.
Pre-writing is the first step involved in getting from Point A (“Something needs to be written”) to Point B (“A high-quality piece of writing has been produced”). Pre-writing produces a plan, and it is important, because this process uncovers and organizes the composition’s topic. It produces a framework to which the writer will refer continually during the next step of writing. During pre-writing, your young writer will research a topic to gain a working understanding of the who, what, where, when, why, and how of it. She will determine who the main audience is. Without a pre-writing framework in place, the next step of the writing process – writing – probably will not be effective.
Does Every Writing Assignment Need To Start with Pre-Writing?
Yes, and no.
The purpose of pre-writing is to come up with a plan. Whether the pre-writing framework is simply created in the mind and stays there throughout the rest of the writing process, or it’s written down and includes many details, it is still a plan. So in that sense, yes, pre-writing is needed for every FORMAL assignment.
Yet, for informal writing, where your child is simply writing for her own pleasure, a big production to create a written pre-writing plan is not necessary. Maybe just a few ideas jotted down will suffice. Most of the daily writing my kids did was informal writing.
Having said that, let me show you how I taught pre-writing to my children.
How To Teach Pre-Writing
- Select a topic
Sometimes this is the hardest part! My children each kept a notebook close-at-hand to jot down all the interesting ideas for writing that popped into their minds throughout the day. Most of these ideas never became writing topics, yet this list was useful for selecting a subject whenever they couldn’t think of something for an assignment.
Other subject areas, such as history, science, art, health, or even mathematics, are full of ideas that make great writing topics. In science – the water cycle. In history – a day in the life of someone. In art – describe how a piece feels. In civics – persuade someone’s choice for governor. In reading – “what I know”, “what I want to know”, “what I learned”. The ideas are endless!
Field trips provide ample writing topics. The holidays do, too. Because I insist my students write every (school) day, I let them choose their own topics 90% of the time.
They stay more engaged that way.
- Research the topic
If the topic comes from one of the other subject areas, then the child will research the topic while studying it for school. For instance, when learning about Westward Expansion in United States history, the child may read about a family that travels in a wagon caravan across the Great Plains. Your child can write an imaginary diary entry each day describing what one family member is experiencing on the journey.
When planning and conducting an experiment in science class, your child can write the steps in setting it up, the hypothesis, the process, and then his observations.
To solidify the learning of a difficult concept in algebra or geometry, have him or her “teach” it to an imaginary (or real) peer by writing a thorough explanation.
One strategy I use for researching a topic is to collect multiple books on that topic written for a young audience, usually from the public library. Children’s books are designed to explain a subject at its basic level. When we’ve read several of these books, my student and I have foundational knowledge upon which to build.
- Develop a plan for writing about the topic
In other words, write stuff down. Here are some strategies we’ve used to get the plan onto paper.
This is a “think-aloud” activity where a group of people writes down every idea about the topic as it emerges from the minds of the participants. Write every idea. Then sort and organize this into a writing plan.
Have your child put pen to paper and write her every thought about the topic. Write quickly in phrases and short sentences about what she knows about it, what she thinks about it, and what she wants to learn about it. Write about anything related to the subject. This isn’t supposed to be well-thought-out or organized at this point. The teacher can write what the child dictates, if that moves the process along faster. Then sort and organize this into a writing plan.
This is simply a graphic depiction of ideas that were discovered previously. Start by writing the topic in the center of a large piece of paper. Draw three or more lines radiating out from the topic like rays of the sun. Write one major sub-topic at the outer end of each line. Draw three or more lines radiating from each major sub-topic. Write one detail at the end of each line about the major sub-topic. Now every detail gets lines drawn from them to further provide details about the details.The resulting graphic depiction of the whole topic becomes the organized writing plan.
For example, if the Topic in the center of the paper is “How To Stay Healthy”, then the Major Sub-topics can be Sleep, Diet, Exercise, and Stress. One of each is placed at the end of a line that radiates out from the Topic – How To Stay Healthy. Three Details of Stress can be Effects, Causes, and Solutions which are written at the outer end of the lines radiating out from Stress. Then three details of Effects can be Insomnia, Anxiety, and Disease, and so on for each Major Sub-topic
Creating an Outline
Start the outline with the topic at the top, then place the major sub-topics beneath it, leaving room for writing in details for each major sub-topic. This outline is the organized writing plan.
- Determine the audience
Sometimes the parent is the audience, or maybe just the writer is the audience. Other audiences for writing can be friends, family members, a pet, a pen pal, community servants, spiritual mentors, the editor of a newspaper, the producers of a radio broadcast, the author of a book, the chef at a restaurant, a youth group volunteer, etc. Encourage your young writer to communicate his or her ideas and opinions with many people.
- Determine the purpose
Is the purpose to persuade the audience to think, to do, or not to do something? Is the purpose to describe an experience or to explain a process? Is it to report an incident or to inform the audience? To summarize a book or a movie? Maybe the purpose is to entertain the audience, or perhaps it’s a private message to the writer alone. There are many other possibilities. Be sure to specify exactly who would read the child’s writing, because this will affect the whole composition.
THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO IT.
Again, every composition doesn’t need a full-fledged pre-writing that’s written down on paper.
For about 75% of their compositions, I did NOT require they produce a written pre-writing plan.
Sometimes, my child and I discussed the topic, determined the audience and purpose, then came up with some ideas together about the plan for the composition. We wrote down a few notes, and that’s all that was needed for that day’s pre-writing. Only about four times a month did I take my children through the complete pre-writing process before they continued into the Writing step of the Writing Process.
Many more times, my child had a good plan in her head, meaning she’d already done her pre-writing mentally. So, I let her
go on to the writing step without a written
By the way, the time we took for selecting and researching a topic, developing a writing plan, and identifying the purpose and audience was counted in their “at least 30 to 60 minutes” of writing. Meaning, the time spent pre-writing counted as writing instruction just as much as the time spent actually writing the composition.
So, I say all this to let you know it’s not necessary to be dogmatic about how your child does pre-writing. Experiment. Try it and see what works for you and your homeschool. Your goal is for your child to be an excellent writer, but if writing becomes an unpleasant chore on the path to that noble goal, you make the goal harder to reach.
Consider what the child need each day. Value relationship above academics.
Please don’t get too discouraged when starting to teach the Creative Writing Process Steps in your homeschool. It might seem like too large a task, and I understand, because it IS a large task. Yet, becoming an excellent writer is certainly a goal worth striving for. You and your kids could have some struggles on the journey; that’s to be expected. When you hit those bumps in the road, consider helping your emerging writer by taking dictation, if that’s what he needs. Then, during those times when your writing program is sailing along with great ease, release more of the responsibility for the Creative Writing Process into your child’s hands. Find avenues for young writers to share what they’ve written. The postman, the restaurant chef, the grandparents, the newspaper editor, a pen pal – any of these and others would likely enjoy hearing what your child’s ideas are. Imagine the self-confidence boost that would deliver!
My previous article How To Teach Writing Skills | Our Homeschoolers Became Excellent Writers gives an overview of this subject. My next article will continue into the other steps of the Writing Process. Please bookmark this page and come back soon for that.
If you have any questions or would like further clarification, please comment below. Your comments are greatly appreciated. I’m here to help.
Reaching toward the goal,