What works better in your household for keeping your child engaged: saying, “Do whatever you want,” or suggesting an activity?
Freedom isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Even though most of us (no matter our age) think we want to do what we want to do, complete freedom actually stalls our thinking. When we have unlimited choices, we often don’t know what to do with ourselves!
On the other hand, when we’re presented with some kind of structure, it becomes a frame for our energy. This is the power of games. From Monopoly to Minecraft, games direct us and give us an objective.
For kids who don’t want to write, more purpose and structure are positive additions to writing.
When you provide the right frame, writing becomes a game and creativity blossoms. [Tweet that]
You can help the young writers in your life build writing independence by providing a framework for their ideas and giving them clear expectations and goals.
Here’s a simple writing activity that teaches the fundamentals of essay writing in an engaging, easy-to approach way. I call this activity the Pass-Your-Paper Paragraph Game. You can do this activity with one student if you participate (which I highly recommend in any case), or with a group of students.
Present the rules and expectations. Do this in the same way you’d explain the rules of a new game. If you think it would go over better, you can print a pdf of the rules and some samples so that you can read directly from the page, just as you would with a board game. That way, you won’t seem like the boss; you’ll seem like a game participant.
- Paragraph: a group of sentences about one main topic
- Topic sentence: a sentence at the beginning of the paragraph that makes a big statement using is or are. For example, A dog is a great pet.
- Evidence: a fact, observation, or generally true statement, e.g., You can train a dog to sit and stay.
- Explanation: a way to connect the fact to the topic sentence. For example, Since your dog will listen to your commands, you can bring it places with you for companionship.
- Concluding sentence: a sentence at the end of the paragraph that restates the topic sentence in different words. For example, There are good reasons why a dog is man’s best friend.
- Title: two to five words that give a preview of the paragraph, e.g., A Great Pet
Choose a category that everyone will write about. Pick something simple with lots of sub topics, such as pets, exotic animals, places to visit, foods, movies, books, or sports. The goal of the category is to allow everyone to choose his or own subtopic of interest like Hawaii, spaghetti, or A Series of Unfortunate Events.
If the category doesn’t have sub-types, it will be harder for writers to find distinct topics and topics that interest them. You might want to write a bunch of big categories on slips of paper and put them in a bag, box, or hat to be picked out. Bonus: This will add more of a game feel.
Each player writes a topic sentence about his or her chosen topic. Follow the examples on the pdf and go for something really broad and easy to generate. Everyone should have some variation on [Topic] is [adjective].
Each player passes his or her paper in the same direction. Everyone now reads the sentence on the paper he or she received and adds in the next sentence, Evidence A. It's best if players skip lines as they write so that if they change their minds there's space to make changes or add ideas. Bonus: Skipping lines also allows you to add transitions or do other revising activities at the end of the game.
Follow this sequence for the next 7 steps:
- Evidence A
- Explanation A
- Evidence B
- Explanation B
- Evidence C
- Explanation C
- Concluding Sentence
Oh my gosh! That means I have to come up with reasons to support your idea, and you have to come up with reasons to support my idea! Yup. That’s part of the fun and the challenge. Encourage players to ask for a “Life Line” if they don’t know much about a topic and need help thinking of evidence, but once they have the evidence, encourage them to make the connection to the topic themselves.
The last pass is for creating a title. When the title is added last, you already know what the paragraph is about, and you can even borrow the language of the paragraph. Use the title frames from the pdf to help if you need suggestions.
Each player then reads aloud the paragraph that he or she titled and ended up with, whether or not it is his or her own. Bonus: Since papers are shared and read by others, there’s an intrinsic motivation to write legibly!
Step 13 +
It’s up to you what to do next. You could take this further into a revising activity by passing one more time and having everyone add in simple transitions to the paragraphs or make changes for clarity or thoroughness. You could practice proofreading on them. You could add them to the participants’ writing portfolios.
My recommendation is at the very least you have an open-ended discussion about the essays. Encourage writers to provide feedback about what they liked and to say why they think it was successful. And don’t forget to add in your own opinion!
Try these questions:
- Did anyone learn anything new about the topics?
- Which titles did everyone like? Why?
- What was the clearest explanation?
- Did anyone have a really creative concluding sentence?
What’s especially great about this game is that each sentence has a purpose and a rule to follow. This takes the pressure off of children who feel intimidated by being imaginative or creative on the spot.
I also love that this game allows the adult playing to model the different sentence types for children in a very natural way. Instead of interjecting and telling kids how their sentences should sound, we get to inspire them with our efforts. Additionally, playing this game is a wonderful way to bond with a child and to show that you’re willing to do the work you’re asking him or her to do.
Join the conversation! Did you play Pass-Your-Paper Paragraph? How'd it go? What did you write about? What did you do with your paragraphs afterward?