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How to Nurture Writing in Young Students

Pam Allyn

How to Nurture Writing in Young StudentsMany schools overlook the important task of nourishing the child as a writer from an early age. By only beginning to emphasize writing skills in fifth grade or later, some children have already developed a fear of writing. This is the root of the resistance educators face when encouraging students to write. It is crucial that we nurture the creativity and voice of every young writer.

Why Focus on Writing?

Writing is as vital a skill to literacy as reading, but is often not treated as such. We know that by reading we become better writers, but what is too frequently ignored is that the reverse is also true.

Writing allows students a means of processing and reflecting on their life experiences—experiences that are already so rich with vocabulary and meaning. It provides them with a way to practice using words they have read, or maybe words they have only ever heard spoken. By giving children the opportunity to tell their stories and express their thoughts, we help them develop their own unique and confident writer’s voice.

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Encourage Writing Opportunities

It is clear that both parental attention and home environment have an enormous impact on the attitude a child develops toward writing. So, what can we as educators do for children who aren’t being validated in their writing at home, or those who express resistance to writing in the classroom?

Unfortunately, it is all too commonly felt that creative writing has no crucial place in K-12 schools, but this diminishing of the power of children’s own stories is the missing component in literacy development. Encouraging regular opportunities for writing in classrooms that centers on the child’s own stories helps all children both process and practice the words and information they are constantly absorbing.

Using the acronym W-R-I-T-E will call attention to the key elements that will encourage students to become constant and confident writers:

W is for Word Power

Word Power: Words are more than just a collection of letters. Words are filled with symbolic meaning that permits communication, connection and understanding. Showing children how to savor language and develop their vocabularies helps them assert their identity and their place in the world.

A good way to harness word power is to build on something the child is already passionate about and collect words about that—whether it’s bowling, graffiti art, birds of prey or volcanoes.

R is for Reading Life

Reading Life: I cannot overemphasize the impact that reading aloud can have on a child. It is a common misconception that reading should only be done in a private, solitary manner. Reading can be a powerful social activity.

Don’t limit the reading to fiction—reading from a variety of genres and about different topics is a good way to expose them to new interests and ideas. By reading, we gain inspiration to tell our own stories as well as exposure to the mechanics of form and structure.

I is for Identity

Identity: Just as children have unique identities that dictate what they want to eat and wear, with some help they will develop identities as writers. This writing self is composed of all the features that make up the child’s writing life (habits, preferred time of day for writing, favorite tools or spaces) as well as what the child sounds like when they write (their voice or perspective).

T is for Time

Time: Children work best when allowed to slow down and take time for processing. It is a good idea to create a routine of writing every day. Their writing time is sacred and must feel easy and pleasurable. It is also great to incorporate writing into their imaginative play. By making special time for writing, the child comes to value the act of self-expression.

E is for Environment

Environment: An inspirational writing environment is essential to a young writer’s development. The space must be tailored to the writer, and must feel comfortable. A physical environment can inspire writing by providing accessible books, journals, writing implements and good lighting. Experiment with different spaces, tools and media. Having favorite words, quotes or lines from the children’s own writing is a great way to enhance the classroom as a writing environment. Be sure to listen to the child’s preferences!

Technology also provides exquisite opportunities for young writers to find audiences for their writing from all over the world. Create a special computer folder for the child’s portfolio, or experiment with digital photography and writing picture stories that are posted on sites such as and shared with others.

Giving Students Platforms for Their Writing

In order for us as educators to set the stage for the child as a lifelong writer, it is necessary to consider factors that foster literacy development in the lives of children. Allowing space for each child to focus on his passions is crucial even in a classroom environment.  Writing projects should be flexibly organized to honor the passions of the child. Blogging, text messaging, and Twitter are all awesome tools for providing the immediacy and intimacy of real time audiences and also help children write with more focus and clarity, shorter, sharper, faster, and we should embrace these forms with children. In this age of Internet and global communication, developing storytelling skills and a writer’s identity is paramount.

Children are naturally curious about the world around them. They possess a keen ability to observe and have vivid imaginations. They love to share stories. Children are already driven to write to tell their stories, remember what’s important to them and wonder about the world. It is our responsibility as educators to harness these impulses and provide praise and reassurance. Complimenting specific parts of a child’s work that you enjoyed is very encouraging. Celebrating more advanced or complex words or structures validates them and provides a reward for taking a risk.

In addition to improving academic achievement, early writing fosters a child’s emotional growth and helps her develop critical thinking skills. It is also a vital communication skill that allows the child to fully realize his or her ideas have meaning and can have impact. With the ability to say exactly what the child means, she gains confidence that her ideas will be heard, will resonate with someone, and make permanent what is otherwise fleeting.

How do you encourage writing amongst your students? Share in the comments section!

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