Writing doesn't have to be difficult

December 19, 2008|By LISA PREJEAN

Each time I give a writing assignment, I can feel the collective groan before it reaches my ears.

"Oh, Mrs. Prejean, do we really have to do this?"

"Does it have to be that long?"

"You want it when?"

I smile and let my students complain their way through the process. Their reactions always amuse me because I know what they are doing.

Writing is hard work, but avoidance is an easy out.

It's tempting to fuss at a blank sheet of paper or an empty computer screen. It's much harder to transform thoughts into words.


Most of the time, students' comments begin at, well, the beginning.

"Where do I start?"

"I don't know how to say this."

When students are having a hard time formulating thoughts, I encourage them to talk.

I ask them to repeat my instructions back to me.

"What did I ask you to do? What is the purpose of this piece of writing?"

(Or, as writers often ask themselves: Who is the intended audience?)

"If you had to tell a friend about this assignment, how would you describe it?"

When students are reluctant, they need assistance getting over the mental obstacles that block their way.

They need to be encouraged to view the planning stage as essential to good writing.

Some writers have to sketch an outline. Others use lists to keep organized. Still others can keep things organized mentally. (This is the hardest method and usually only works for experienced writers.)

The more planning that takes place, the smoother the actual writing will go.

Even so, once the planning is done, it's still hard for some students to sit down and start writing.

Sometimes students need help rewriting a sentence. Sometimes they need another set of eyes to read over their shoulders. Other times they need someone to grab a dictionary and show them in black and white how a word is spelled.

Often students need help breaking a large assignment into smaller chunks.

A student might think a five-page paper will never get done.

It's much easier to think of writing two to three sentences at a time. This is especially true if those few sentences need to be written in a certain amount of time.

As I work my way around the computer lab at school, helping students revise their work, I set goals for each one of these budding writers:

"OK, by the time I'm back to you, I want three more sentences on what we just discussed."

"I think you can make those revisions in 10 minutes."

"Let's get that transition done so we can brainstorm the next 'graph when I'm back around to you."

Those little challenges are almost always met. It's exciting to witness the writing process from start to finish.

With a small dose of encouragement and help, writing will not seem like such a daunting task. I think too often we expect kids to know how to write without ever walking them through the process.

As a parent, I often help my own children through the writing process this way.

Some hand-holding goes a long way in fostering creativity. Many times, a little help is all it takes for a child to take ownership of a project.

And that's a goal that all teachers and parents alike should share.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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