Three Words for Fostering Adventurous Writers: “Just Try It.”

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At our house we have a rule at dinner time: You have to try everything on your plate.

Personally, I think it’s a great rule, if I do say so myself. It’s a useful rule. It covers many situations:

The “I’m all done” situation:

“Mommy, I’m done!”

“You have to try everything. That’s the rule. We always try everything.”

“Okay,” Lily says with a humph. She takes a bite of her green beans.

The “I don’t want to/I need to” situation:

“I don’t need to eat my sandwich. I’m not hungry.”

“That’s okay, but we always try everything.”

“Fine.” She takes a bite, changes her mind, and before she knows it, half of her sandwich has been devoured.

The “I don’t like it” situation:

“Lily, you didn’t try your chicken yet.”

“I don’t like it.”

“We always try everything. At least one bite!”

She takes a bite. Loves it.

In the same way that kids can become either very picky or very adventurous eaters, kids can also become picky or adventurous writers. Picky writers are kids who are more interested in falling back on things that are familiar than in trying something new. They might bristle when given suggestions or feedback, preferring to keep their writing as is. You confer with them, or give them something to try, only to find a few minutes later that they’ve ignored your suggestions, and gone back to their old ways. They are finicky. They’re not necessarily always reluctant writers–the kids I have in mind often love to write. They’re just… picky, about when and how and if they’ll try anything new. Today I demonstrated writing workshop in three different grades, and I kept finding myself saying the same thing that I say at dinner to my daughter: “We always try everything!”

This was me in Kindergarten today:

Kid: “I don’t know what to write about.”

Me: “You had a great idea earlier. Start with that!”

Kid: “Meh. I don’t know.”

Me: “Try it! If you don’t like it, you can always stop and switch to something different! Just give it a try!”

This was me in First Grade:

Kid: “I don’t want to make a table of contents first. I want to write my book first, then write the table of contents after.”

Me: “No problem! I’m that way too. But just try it. Try it out. After you try it, if you don’t like it, go ahead and try it the other way too.

Kid: “Oh, okay, fine. I’ll try it.”

This was me in Second Grade:

Kid: “I want to just keep writing. I don’t want to stop to be in a group.”

Me: “I know. It’s hard to stop. Just come with me and give it a try. We always at try new things in writing workshop.”

The phrase, “Just try it,” gives kids permission to go ahead and do something unfamiliar, and to take a small risk. It communicates the message that in writing workshop we try things –nothing has to be permanent. We can take it right back out of our writing, we can start over, we can try it another way if the first try doesn’t work out. More often than not, kids will see the value in the new strategy if they give it a try… just like picky eaters often will realize that those new and unfamiliar foods are actually pretty tasty.