Thursday, November 19, 2009

Three Problems with Writing Assignments

     If your child struggles in writing compositions, the problem may start right at the assignment level. I see three problems with some assignments.
     1. Generic topics planned by the curriculum. If we are married to a curriculum, then we assign the topic they are to write about without giving them a choice. “How to execute defensive moves on a basketball court” might not be the best assignment for a piano player, but it’d be just fine for your sports aficionado. Why not brainstorm with your child for a while before you assign a topic? No matter what their interests are, you can turn it into a narrative, expository, descriptive or persuasive essay.
     2. Unfamiliar topics. Sometimes you will want to assign a research paper, but not every writing assignment should require time spent learning about a new topic. If they are writing a descriptive paragraph, make sure they’ve visited the place or seen whatever they are describing. Pull out pictures to jog their memories. Let them write what they know.
     3. Broad topics. One of the fastest ways to create a boring essay is to ask them to write about a topic that is too large or too general. Teach them how to narrow the topic down. Here’s how it went with us one day. Take “My Summer Vacation” and narrow it down. My daughter chose “Our Trip to Canada.” Still too large. She narrowed it down to “Wilderness Camping While in Canada.” I sent it back to her one last time. She came back with “Nighttime in the Wilderness”. Now she could concentrate on specific details of the raccoon that visited them in the night, the feel of the pebbles underneath her sleeping bag, and the sound of the snores from her daddy’s tent. She came up with fun sentences and a paragraph we enjoyed reading.
     Before your kids write their next assignment, try giving them a choice, selecting a subject they’re familiar with, and narrowing the topic down. I think you’ll see a great improvement.
     How do you come up with good writing assignment? What other topics would you like discussed here?


  1. Great suggestions! I like to tie writing assignments to other curriculum like history or science. This works well because if we have been studying a subject, they already have some basic knowledge from which to write. Through the writing assignment, my kids can dig deeper and get even more out of the curriculum. I love the suggestion about choice too. When given a choice, kids can almost always find something they are interested in writing about.

  2. I agree with your thought of tying assignments to other subjects! I did that often. When my daughter was in university, she actually liked tests that had essay questions. I think it was partly due to these writing assignments. Thanks for stopping by!