Many of us as parents have helped our children choose a topic for an essay. I tell my children to pick a topic that interests them. If it's something that is intriguing, something they want to learn more about, they are more likely to do a better job.
But what if no topic ideas come to mind? How can we assist our children over that hurdle?
It might help to have children make a list of things that interest them. If this step is difficult, encourage them to take a notepad and walk around the house. They should write about anything that makes them feel good. They can look through photo albums and take note of fond memories. These notes can help narrow the topic selection process.
Once a topic is chosen, an approach should be selected. Is the purpose of this piece of writing to inform? To persuade? To entertain? To analyze? To describe?
Knowing the purpose will help a writer plan what kind of information to gather. As the information is being gathered, it should be organized in a logical manner. An outline helps with this process.
Some children might find it helpful to have three or four pieces of notebook paper. The main topics could be at the top of each piece of paper. Things related to that topic could be listed on that paper.
At this point, writing can begin. While the process leading up to the first draft seems cumbersome, it is the best way I know to keep on track and to avoid the dreaded writer's block.
The information gained in the planning process also helps the writer identify the main idea of the piece. The writer should try to state this main idea in a single sentence. English teachers call this sentence a thesis statement. This statement sets the tone for the entire piece.
The content included should support and be related to the thesis statement. Any unrelated or irrelevant information should be eliminated during a revision of the first draft.
Children should be taught to reread what they wrote. This is best done out loud to a family member. Many times eyes will skip over typos. It's easier to catch these mistakes when we hear them spoken. Parents can also switch roles with their children. If we read their writing back to them, they might be able to catch their own mistakes more easily than if they read it to us.
The last step to writing is sharing what you wrote with other readers. Sometimes that means turning the work in to a teacher. Perhaps it's a piece that will be published in the school newspaper. Some works are destined for prominent postings on the refrigerator. Others will be placed in scrapbooks or school binders.
Each time the writing process is carefully planned, the results will be worth saving.
Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at email@example.com