Ready, Set, Write! Engaging Reluctant Students
In: “Writing Disorders in Children: The Language Link” I described five components shared by both verbal and written language: Sounds, Structure of Words, Syntax, Semantics, and Self-regulation. In this article, I offer five kid-friendly language-to-writing activities to add to your arsenal! I have found that when I present these activities in a spirit of adventure and fun and encourage students each step of the way, they are much more likely to engage willingly - even enthusiastically - in the learning process. And an engaged writer is a much more successful writer! So, I welcome you to experiment with one or more of these activities, adapting them to the child’s level and integrating them with specific assignments as needed.
Purpose: To expand vocabulary and knowledge of sentence structure; to increase motivation through errorless learning
Materials: Thesaurus, paper, writing tools, 3x5 cards
Procedure: Write down a “plain” sentence on a piece of paper. For example, “The snake went into the water.”For each content word (snake, went, water), write several more “magical words” (i.e. descriptive words) on three by five cards (e.g., for “snake”: anaconda, boa constrictor, copperhead; for “went”: slithered, splashed, glided; for “water”: lake, lily pond, bay). Then lay out all the cards above each “plain word” and invite the child to choose words to create their own “magical sentence”.Any sentence will work. Possible “magical sentences”: “The copperhead slithered into the lily pond”; “The anaconda splashed into the bay”; “The boa constrictor glided into the lake”. You might make a comment here, such as: “Wow – the sentences you made are a lot like those we find in real books - much better than this plain old sentence!”
Purpose: To enhance knowledge of story structure, to stimulate creativity, and to expand vocabulary
Materials: Marker board, paper, writing tools
Tell your students they are on a Hollywood movie set, and that they have been chosen to write the screenplay for the next blockbuster movie. Provide the children (on a board or paper) with four columns and a list of ten “starters” for each: “when”, “who”, “where”, and “what” (the conflict).
WHEN: In the time when dinosaurs ruled; In the year twenty-fifty…
WHO: A three-eyed monster; A golden robot; A scraggly orphan bear…
WHERE: In dark forest; In a tiny cave on the moon; On top of Horror Mountain…
WHAT: (the conflict): All was well until…A huge black disc landed next to him; The land was suddenly thick with green slime…
Have the students choose phrases from each column to begin their “movie” and read aloud. Example: One student may choose: “In the year twenty-fifty, in a tiny cave on the moon, a golden robot lived all alone. All was well until a huge black disc landed next to him…”Cool! Some of my students have asked if they may use their own characters or settings. My answer is always: “Absolutely – even better!” Remind them this is how movies begin – from The Wizard of Oz to Star Wars – by people having fun with their imaginations!
Purpose: To increase knowledge of syntax, word structure, sounds, organization, and vocabulary
Materials: Several paragraphs at or above the student’s level– can be random paragraphs, or associated with assignments; paper, writing tools, 3x5 cards
Procedure: Copy the paragraph, omitting all the nouns. Write each noun on a 3x5 card. Have the student choose the correct noun, then write it in the blank. When they are proficient with that task, omit all the nouns and verbs. Then do the same for adjectives, pronouns, articles, etc. Pretty soon, the child will be writing the paragraph all by himself! If the child has difficulty at the paragraph level, start with sentences.
Wonder Words and Super Sentences
Purpose: To expand the use of complex sentences and vocabulary
Materials: Old cell phones, or objects which can be used as cell phones
Procedure: Based on samples of the child’s writing and suggestions from the teacher and speech-language pathologist, choose a “wonder word” – a complex word the student hasn’t yet mastered. Develop scripts relevant to the child’s interests and use old cell phones for props (if available) to practice those wonder words in super sentences! Example: Matt loves riding a snowmobile with his dad. One of his wonder words is “unless”. Practice the script until it sounds nice and natural: Me (holding the phone): “Hey, Matt! Are you going snowboarding this weekend?” Matt: (on the other “line”) “Well, we can’t go unless it snows.” Me: “Oh. So, if it snows, you will be able to go?” Matt: “Well, I can’t go unless my dad can get off work…”Practice writing the scripts. When five “wonder words” are mastered, choose another set.
Purpose: To expand vocabulary; to introduce inferencing skills for reading and writing
Materials: Small reinforcers such as pennies and stickers. Optional: pictures depicting each “IT” or 3x5 cards with the target “IT” words written down
Procedure: Say a sentence such as, “It was full that night, shining brightly over the lake”.What is IT? Be dramatic! The student must guess what IT is in the sentence. Use reinforcers to make the “game” fun.
Mel Levine, MD, author of All Kinds of Minds once stated that children need to “keep writing actively…not just to complete an assignment but to joust vigorously with subject matter through words and sentences.”With these activities, I have witnessed many of my students “jousting vigorously” with language and writing, and it’s been one of my greatest joys to watch them emerge from their language shells. I wish the same for you. Enjoy!
Carol Kauffman, MA/CCC-SLP has been a licensed, certified speech-language pathologist for over forty years. For the last ten years of her career, she presented seminars nationwide on the need for integration of educational, medical, nutritional, mental health and rehabilitation services for children with neurodevelopmental challenges. You can reach her at email@example.com.