Do you have a little perfectionist at your house? I know this child! Even if he prints well, has great ideas, can spell decently for his age, and reads on his own, he balks when it comes to actually writing stories on paper.
The Root of Writer’s Block
Perfectionism is the number one root of writer’s block. It makes kids write shorter words and sentences so that they’re less likely to make mistakes. It incites them to wad up perfectly good ideas and throw them across the table. It drags out writing time so that it becomes painful for everyone in the room—student, parent, siblings—even the dog.
If your child (or young teen) struggles with writing stories by himself; using short, choppy sentences; or becoming upset by his mistakes, there are some things you can do to help.
Warding Off Perfectionism
- Establish limits. It’s OK if his story is only six or seven sentences long. Writing or recopying a long story can be overwhelming.
- Let him dictate his story to you rather than write the rough draft by himself. Later, you can read it back to him as he writes it from dictation.
- Better yet, as he narrates his story to you, write it on lined paper, skipping every other line. (Alternately, type it on the computer using a large, clean font.) Then, let him copy his words rather than write as you dictate. As an additional aid, place a wide strip of construction paper beneath the line he’s copying from so he’s not distracted by other text. As he copies, he can slide the strip down line-by-line.
- Find the positive. Before he begins copying, sit down together and talk about his story. Ask him to underline his favorite sentence, circle his three most descriptive words, and place an X over three great action verbs (or other favorite words). Ask him why he made these choices. He’ll be less likely to shorten his writing if he has already identified its positive features.
- Praise his best word choices and most interesting sentence. He surely won’t want to shorten a sentence Mom has fussed over!
- Set a time limit for copying his narration—roughly one minute per year (7 minutes for a 7-year-old). When the timer goes off, he can stop, even mid-sentence. Let him do this once or twice a day, picking it up again the next day if need be.
- If spelling is an issue, you can create a word wall at eye level from a sheet of butcher paper or poster board. If a word is giving him trouble, write it on a rectangle of paper and tape it to the word wall. When he recopies his story, it may be easier for him to look at the larger words on the word wall than to copy from your smaller printing on the paper. (When the wall gets full, remove the words he knows to make room for new ones.)
While these tips may not solve all your perfectionist’s dilemmas, they’ll go a long way toward smoothing away some of the roughness from the path.
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Looking for a more structured program to help you teach a reluctant writer? WriteShop Primary is perfect for your K-3 grader, WriteShop Junior is ideal for upper elementary, and WriteShop I lessons can help a reluctant teen learn important writing skills. Visit our website at writeshop.com to learn more!
Photo: © 2009 by Kim Kautzer
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