How to Write

This past week I’ve had several conversations with young writers about how to write something. Not the logistics of making letters or spelling words, but how to craft their writing in order to make the reader feel or know something. With our youngest writers this conversation has centered around illustrations. With intermediate writers it has been about craft — working the words to make your message clear.

Often we give students strategies to generate a topic or strategies for spelling or strategies for how to revise. It’s also important we give them strategies for how to write their stories (or share their knowledge) in meaningful ways. Katie Ray has talked for years about the importance of giving kids a vision for what they are making. I agree with her…the stronger vision writers have for the kind of thing they are making, the better their writing.

Here are some of the ways I’ve helped kids think about how to write:

  • Consider the distance perspective of your illustration. Does it make sense to show the story from far away or to zoom in extra close. How do you feel when you see an illustration of something far away? How do you feel when an illustration zooms in on something?
  • Consider the way people are dressed and the way they style their hair. What do these things tell us about a person? How can we include character description in our words or illustrations?
  • A character doesn’t have to always be illustrated from the front. A writer considers the perspective of a character before illustrating him or her. How should the reader see the character in your story?
  • If you want to pass time, you can divide the page into frames and make each frame a different time in the story. One student did this by making the snow get deeper and deeper as you move across the page.
  • What is the most important part of your story? You can stretch this part by thinking of specific actions people were doing. Often times it is a small action, like tucking a strand of hair behind your ear or rolling your eyes or pursing your lips that tell the most about what a character thinks or feels.
  • Read several dedications in the books in your book box or around the room, then think about how you want your dedication to go.
When we shift our thinking to helping kids have a vision for how to craft meaning, our teaching becomes richer. I love how many teaching points bubble up from the work that is unfolding during writing workshop. The longer students are expected to develop their own vision for how a piece of writing should go, the more concrete this vision will become.