Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Conquering the Blank Page

A homeschool mom recently asked me how to help her son who struggled getting past a blank page. Sometimes a student comes up against this white wall because he’s afraid he has nothing to say. (Unless you’re dead, you do have something to say.) But in this case, her son had too much in his head to say, and it just seemed overwhelming. Where should he start? How could he get past the writer’s block?

I’d like to share a few tips for conquering the blank page.

  • Make sure the student understands the assignment. Is she writing a descriptive, narrative, expository, or persuasive composition?

  • Narrow the topic. Many assignments seem over-powering because the topic is too broad. Focus on a smaller part of the subject matter.

  • Brainstorm with a friend (or mother). The more ideas your student comes up with the better, and sometimes this storm of ideas will lead your budding writer in a new direction.

  • Research the topic. Far too often, students attempt to write on a subject they don’t fully understand. The blank page looms really large in that case.

  • Make an outline. (I can hear the groans already.) Often you son or daughter will feel you’re giving them extra work if you require an outline. I wish I could convince more of them that an outlines actually saves time and makes the composing stage much easier. It doesn’t have to be a formal outline—a simple list will do. Make a list of subtopics, number them, and he’s on his way, knowing exactly where he’s going. It sure beats staring at a blank page.

  • Allow your child a choice of topics. Suppose the curriculum suggests a composition comparing and contrasting sharks and dolphins. The purpose of the assignment is to learn to communicate by comparing two things. It doesn’t have to be sharks and dolphins. Give your child leeway in choosing something more interesting.

  • Encourage your child to give himself permission to write a bad first draft. A perfectionist can stare at a blank page for a long time. However, a rotten first draft can be edited, revised, and improved. It’s impossible to revise a blank page.

  • Do a mental review of your grading methods. I implore you not to bleed over your daughter’s composition with a red pen. You can make the same comments with a light pencil and make it less difficult for her to swallow. Something about writing touches us personally, and no one likes to see a masterpiece marked up. Yes, you need to help her improve, but do so gently.

Your turn! How do you help your homeschool student to conquer the blank page?

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