I remember when my kids were little they had things they were obsessed with, mesmerized with, and simply in love with. They went through stages of these passions and obsessions and no matter how long or short they were, I remember every single one of them. Why? Because they taught me about new topics every day. “Mom, did you know that there are 60 different LEGO colors? Slime is a liquid? The fastest train goes 267 mph?”
Kids become experts on topics that excite them very quickly. They get hooked and then they live and breathe that topic for a long time. When they talk to someone about it, they are really teaching them about it. As writing teachers, we can tap into this enthusiasm and knowledge and nudge kids to write about these topics in fun, creative ways that others can learn from.
I recently was working with a student who filled in a heart map with many close-to-his-heart ideas, such as his mom and dad, the beach, boogie boarding, his cousins, the movies, soccer, and helicopters and airplanes. After complimenting him on his heart map and for being able to think of ideas for stories, he said, “These are not ideas for stories. I don’t like to write stories.” The writing teacher in me immediately wanted to respond with, “but we are working on stories and thinking about the most important moment to explode in our stories,” but I didn’t. I looked at his heart-map again (stalling a bit, maybe) and asked the writer to pick something off the map and tell me what he knows about it. He immediately perked up as he began talking about the propellers and engines of helicopters as if he had just published a best-selling book. He clearly enjoys science and aerodynamics and all that goes along with how helicopters (and airplanes, I later found out) fly. It was then that I suggested he write what he just told me, and we talked about putting a book together about planes. From that moment on, this writer became excited and focused on writing a book. He even created a table of contents: parts of a plane, different types of planes, world’s fastest plane, plane supplies, and fun facts. He had knowledge of something he was passionate about that he wanted to share with others.
Some children truly love to invent stories or write personal narratives. Others, however, can shut down thinking about making up characters and what they are like on the inside and what feelings they may have while dealing with their problems. Writers, especially reluctant writers, need choices. They need to be given different avenues to get words on paper. They need to be convinced that what they have to say is important. Young writers can be taught to write with voice and conviction if we provide opportunities for them to write in a genre that works for them. We can teach them to be teachers of their expert topics, not just storytellers of moments from their lives.