Amidst school assignments and boring prompts, it's easy for adults to lose sight of the real-life reasons that students need to write, and for students to lose the motivation to write.
Taking the time to make writing practical reinvigorates young writers by giving them good reasons to put their ideas on paper. Instead of writing because they "have to," children can be motivated to write for a purpose.
Here are nine highly-motivating, real-world prompts that will help children connect with writing.
Real Life is the Best Writing Motivation
I once heard Frank McCourt, acclaimed memoirist and author of Angela’s Ashes, interviewed live. He told a charming story about his career teaching high school English. His students used to bring him audacious excuse notes about why they hadn’t done their homework or why they hadn’t been in class. He used to collect them in the bottom drawer of his desk, and one day, in a fit of exasperation, he pulled them all out and read them to the class.
If he had been an angry or disenchanted teacher, this read-aloud might have been followed by a rant about laziness and lack of pride. But McCourt turned the episode into a gem of a writing activity. He told his students that since they were so skilled at excuse notes, he wanted to see their best efforts in this genre.
He assigned the class to write excuse notes from Adam and Eve to God. His students were so taken aback by this—a teacher offering them a creative outlet and also calling them out on their dubious excuses in a playful, fun way—that they wrote their best essays of the year.
How to Write with Purpose
At school, your child may be writing for the same audience (the teacher) in the same limited ways over and over. Maybe there's not a lot of choice of writing topic. Maybe your child doesn't connect with the material.
If you switch things up a bit, you can borrow a page from Frank McCourt and jolt your child into caring about writing.
First, open up the parameters of writing. Let go of a certain length or type of writing. Next, invite your child to choose a topic and purpose.
- What's the question or topic?
- What's the purpose? Inform? Persuade? Describe? Entertain?
- Who is the audience?
- Why write? What's the goal?
- How will the goal be achieved?
Writing is meaningful when we have a purpose. When there's something at stake. [Tweet that]
Here are some goals, topics, and audiences from which to draw inspiration!
Is there a real-life cause your child is lobbying for that you could turn into a persuasive writing opportunity?
- Convincing Mom and Dad to choose a certain destination for a family outing or road trip
- Convincing Mom and Dad that a new family pet is a good idea
- Persuading a sibling to swap toys, chores, or even rooms
Inform and Instruct
What about a how-to essay that provides instructions and explanations?
- Instructions for house guests for getting on the Internet at your house
- Instructions a pet sitter or house sitter for taking care of your critters or plants
- Step-by-step instructions for a parent or caretaker for cooking a favorite recipe (High motivation!)
Inform and Expand
A set of rules or principles is a great writing task for creative thinkers who thrive with structure.
- Rules for a new or existing club, perhaps even including a motto, a mission statement, maybe even bios of the club members
- A request to an existing club or community organization to purchase new equipment or host a special event or fundraiser
- A letter to the editor on a topic your child feels passionate about
Intrinsic Motivation Makes Writing Fun
By integrating real-life purpose and choice, you’ll add intrinsic motivation to writing. This opens the doors to fun and enjoyment so that writing isn't a chore.
Let your child have a chance to see that writing has an important role in expressing our thoughts to others. All the rules about correctness, clarity, or style stem from this! We want to make our ideas crystal clear so others know exactly what we mean.
Do these ideas sound great to you “in theory” but not in reality? Will it be hard to find the time in your schedule to work on them? Or is there friction in your house about writing? I'm here for you! Find out how I can be a resource to help your child fall in love with writing.
Join the conversation! What writing activities are going on in your house this summer?