Writing across the curriculum is a phrase homeschoolers hear more and more. With many students struggling under the weight of their various courses and moms juggling lesson plans and schoolwork for their families, your response may well be, “That’s nice. But can it simplify my life?”
Two Birds with One Stone
Unfamiliar with the expression “writing across the curriculum”? Simply put, it means using writing assignments as a vehicle to help kids explore other areas of study.
Those who use a writing program “as is” tend to teach writing as a separate subject, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But if you’re teaching many children or you want to streamline your schedule, writing across the curriculum may be ideal for you.
Rather than approach writing as a separate discipline, students apply generic writing lessons to subjects like history, literature, or science. Not only does it boost writing ability, it helps them better understand the content and specialized vocabulary of a particular subject.
Writing across the curriculum increases knowledge of the subject matter while helping students develop critical thinking skills. To prepare for the assignment, they must do a bit of reading or research. As they take in the information, brainstorm, and write, they gain greater understanding of the topic.
Second, it makes everyone’s life simpler. Instead of a “writing” assignment here and a history or literature composition there, the two can be easily combined. The result? Less writing for the kids and less grading and lesson planning for Mom. Here are some of my favorite tips for writing across the curriculum.
Students can use writing across the curriculum to write descriptively by examining details of food, costumes, or objects from a culture they’re learning about. They can write about an oriole’s nest for science, a carved African antelope for geography, a coonskin cap for literature, or a Peruvian flute for music.
If you don’t have the object on hand, a vivid photograph can serve as an acceptable substitute. DK Eyewitness Books make excellent choices because of their clear, intricate photos.
Consider a news article. Students can use the five Ws—who, what, when, where, why—to explore an incident they’re studying in another subject. What a great opportunity to learn more about a historical event, archaeological find, or scientific discovery and write a short article about it.
Other kinds of informative writing, such as biographies, short reports, or historical newspapers can also dovetail with current areas of study. That’s what writing across the curriculum is all about!
Looking for more tips for writing across the curriculum? Look no further than the personal narrative.
Writing from a different point of view challenges critical thinking skills. One of my children’s favorite activities was writing journal entries using the voice of a famous person from the past.
Depending on who you’re learning about, your child might choose to become Harriet Tubman (history), Albert Einstein (science), Claude Monet (art), or George Frideric Handel (music). After reading about an especially exciting event in this person’s life, your child can personalize the information and write a brief story or diary entry as if he or she were the historical figure.
Alternatively, your child can pretend to “interview” this person from history and write a third-person narrative story.
In junior high and high school, you can incorporate essay writing into just about every subject. It’s important for your teen to articulate an argument, write a defendable thesis statement, and support it with facts, logic, and examples.
Essays can describe, define, persuade, or discuss cause and effect. Students can compare and contrast battles, Bible characters, or ideologies. They can write an exposé on the Virginia Company and its dealings with Jamestown, an opinion about whether the earth is round, or a letter to the editor complaining about the conditions in London factories during the Industrial Revolution.
Projects and Activities
Look for projects and activities that involve writing but don’t necessarily result in formal compositions.
Here’s one idea: ditch the traditional—and boring—book report (“This book is about…”) and ask your child to make a mobile by cutting shapes from sturdy paper. On the front, have him color pictures of significant characters or scenes from the book, and on the back, write a colorful description or brief character analysis. When finished, he can string each shape with yarn and dangle the papers from a wire hanger. Such an activity can be adapted to all ages.
Your student’s talents and interests can also play a part in creating out-of-the-ordinary projects. Instead of explaining a process the traditional way, one clever student created an unusual instruction manual for a literature assignment based upon The Lord of the Rings, explaining how to make an Elvish sword.
The student copied her final draft onto parchment paper whose edges she had carefully burned. Then she embellished each page, writing runic characters with a calligraphy pen to create a beautiful project worth keeping and treasuring.
For science, draw and label a diagram to describe a process such as photosynthesis, the water cycle, a volcano, or the workings of a simple machine such as a pulley. Include a short written explanation.
Make a scrapbook of a historical period, famous person, or country. For example, consider the Renaissance, Vikings, or Australia. Or create a scrapbook featuring art, music, or science. Depending on the nature of the scrapbook, elements could include daily life, journals, maps, timelines, sketches, flags, plant taxonomies, pressed leaves, photos, biographies, summaries, definitions, and news articles.
Design a brochure about a historic location. Include drawings and brief descriptions about key events, people, and places. Depending on the purpose of the brochure, it could also include want ads.
Has “writing across the curriculum” has thus far been a mystery to you—one of those terms that everyone tosses around about but never actually defines? If so, hopefully you feel better equipped to give it a try with one or more writing lessons.
You may decide to use each and every writing lesson to write for different subjects. Or, you might only apply a couple of assignments in this manner. Regardless, everyone in your family will benefit when you try one or two tips for writing across the curriculum!
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If you use WriteShop I or II, did you know Appendix B has many tips for Writing Across the Curriculum? This helps teens tie each WriteShop assignment into other subjects you’re studying in your homeschool. No projects here, but you can direct the lesson toward history or science and kill two birds with one stone!
WriteShop Primary for your little ones and WriteShop Junior for upper elementary also offer Writing Across the Curriculum ideas at the end of each lesson.