Tips for writing across the curriculum
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 large families, your response may well be, “That’s nice. But can it simplify my life?”
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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 ways to write across the curriculum? Look no further than the personal narrative.
Encouraging children to write stories loosely based on their own family tree provides opportunities to study an earlier era.
Or, how about writing journal entries using the voice of a famous person from the past? Your student might choose to become Joan of Arc (history), Albert Einstein (science), the Apostle Paul (Bible), or George Frideric Handel (music). After reading about an especially exciting event in her subject’s life, the student must personalize the information to write a brief first-person narrative as if she herself were that individual. It’s journaling with a twist!
Alternatively, she can “interview” this historical figure and write a third-person narrative. Writing from a different point of view challenges critical thinking skills.
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: she explained how to make an Elvish sword. Rather than use notebook paper or a computer printout, she 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.
- Draw and label a diagram for science to explain photosynthesis, a volcano, or the water cycle. Include a short written explanation of the process.
- Make a scrapbook of a historical period, famous person, or country (Renaissance, Vikings, Australia), or create one 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 an historic location. Include drawings and brief descriptions about key events, people, and places.
If “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—hopefully you now feel better equipped to give it a try with one or more of your children’s writing lessons.
You may decide to use each and every writing lesson for the purpose of writing across the curriculum, or you might only apply a couple of assignments in this manner. Regardless, everyone in your family will benefit.
Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
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If you’re a WriteShop I or II user, you’ll be excited to know there’s a Writing Across the Curriculum section in Appendix B to help you tie each WriteShop assignment into other subjects you’re studying. No projects here, but at least 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 with each lesson.
Image: Dario Sanches, courtesy of Creative Commons
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