Updated: Dec 15, 2018
As a former special education teacher (turned homeschool mom), I know the challenges that writing can be for students. Writing is consistently one of the lowest scoring subject areas on standardized tests each year (or at least it was when I was teaching!). Why is that? Well I think there are several reasons. For one, students are graded on the mechanics of writing. Did they start each sentence with a capital letter? Did they end each sentence with the correct punctuation? Did they spell all of the words correctly? Did they use correct spacing between letters and words? Were their sentences complete thoughts? How many sentences did they write? Did they use descriptive words? How creative was their writing? Whoa! That's a lot to remember and I'm sure I didn't even scratch the surface! While it's definitely important that we teach all of these things, if we focus all our efforts on the "getting it right" part and never simply let kids write, we may end up
taking the joy out of writing for them.
Writing should be fun! I am a person who loves to write. I may not be the best at proper grammar and sometimes my mind goes completely blank when trying to spell a word but thanks to computers and spell check I can still enjoy writing! Let me give you a little history of when I discovered I loved to write. When I was in high school, my mom and my best friend's mom, took us (and our two older sisters) to Chicago to take an in-depth aptitude test. There were plaques on the wall of former presidents who had taken this particular aptitude test. The administrators of the test reminded us of morgue workers with their serious demeanor. It was clear they took their jobs very seriously and no matter how hard we tried we could NOT get them to crack a smile!
The test was made up of a series of subtests which took an entire day to complete. For one of the tests, they had us build something out of blocks. Another test was to transfer tiny pins from one block of wood to another using a tweezers. They must have been testing our fine motor skills to see if we would make a good surgeon one day. I failed this test miserably! Haha!
Ok side story (because it's just too funny to skip!)...one of the tests was a word association test. During this test the administrator asked one of us (I won't say who) what one word came to mind when they heard the word "parlor" to which she responded without hesitation, "fire". The morgue worker...I mean test administrator, not only cracked a smile, he actually let out a chuckle! I guess when most people hear the word "parlor" they think of an "ice cream parlor", "beauty parlor", "milking parlor" but "fire"? Apparently that was a new one for him! When this person told us the story on the way home we asked her how "fire" was the first thing she thought of when she heard the word "parlor". She said that she pictured a big olden days house with a huge room (parlor) with a fireplace and a FIRE in the fireplace. Haha! Makes sense! She scored high on thinking outside the box!
The test that I scored the highest on was the "flow of ideas". We were given a piece of paper and told to write as much as we could in one minute. I wrote and wrote as fast as I could and did not need to stop to think of ideas! Okay, okay I know what you're thinking! If only my students had that many ideas in their head to write about! How often do you hear, "Mrs. So and So I don't know what to write about!" or "I'm all done" when they only have three sentences?
In my quest to help students increase their creative writing skills, I came up with a build-a-story writing center full of writing prompts! Give students a prompt that triggers their memory and/or imagination and watch the ideas start to flow! In my writing center students pick one setting card, one character card and one event card to write a story about. Each picture card set includes 30 different cards. That's 27,000 possible story combinations! All of the picture cards are color-coded (settings = pink, characters = yellow, events = blue) and numbered (see list of all the cards below). I've also included a chart with a list of over 50 descriptive words for students to choose from. Students can write their story using a vis-a-vis or dry erase marker on the wipe off mat (laminated build-a-story center). I've also included extra lined paper so they can write as much as they want. There are two versions of the center included (one with dotted lines and one with plain lines). I also included an optional recording page that students can turn in if you want to grade them. I use a 9"x12" manila envelope with a clasp to store the center.
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