When my children were young, I participated actively with them during writing time. I found that asking questions to prompt writing was a wonderful way to help them come up with ideas and choose stronger words.
Try it with your own kiddos. This exercise works with both reluctant and articulate writers of all skill levels—it’s a great way for them to develop the ability to think and explain.
1. Ask specific questions about your child’s writing.
- How did that happen?
- How did that make you feel?
- Can you tell me more about…?
- What are some other words you could use to describe…?
- Where were you?
- Who else came to the picnic?
2. Draw out responses.
Take advantage of dialoguing with your child to draw out information and story details. This time of questions and answers is especially helpful when he can’t think of what to say.
As he responds to your initial questions, you can then rephrase and extend your child’s words, ask a clarifying question, or model more complex vocabulary or sentence structure.
3. Ask open-ended questions.
Try not to ask questions that require a one-word answer or a yes or no response. If you ask your child, “Was he wearing a hat?” the conversational exchange is over and done with when he says yes or no. Instead, try asking an open-ended question: “What was he wearing? What else can you tell me about that?”
Here’s a sample dialogue* to give you an idea of how to encourage more response:
You: I like your idea about Sabrina Sea Bass and the kelp beds. How could we start the story?
Child: Sabrina Sea Bass went to the kelp beds.
You: Yes, she did. But before she got there, she had a problem. What was the problem?
Child: She got lost trying to find the kelp beds.
You: Why did she get lost?
Child: Because it was her first time going by herself and she went the wrong way.
You: That IS a problem! How could we use that information to start the story?
Child: It was Sabrina Sea Bass’s first time to go to the kelp beds all by herself.
You: Let’s write down that sentence. Now you can start to tell about the problem. What went wrong?
Child: Well, instead of turning left at the coral reef, she turned right.
You: Good way to introduce the problem! Let’s write down that sentence. Now, what happened next?
Child: Soon she swam into a dark, dark cave.
You: Ooh, that’s good! Let’s write that down: Soon she swam into a dark, dark cave. So … how did she get out?
Child: She asked a friendly octopus which way is out.
You: That’s a good question, but maybe it would be better if she told him where exactly she wanted to go. She asked a friendly octopus . . . what?
Child: She asked a friendly octopus, “Which way are the kelp beds?”
Keep your questions and dialogue going like this until your child has organized or written his story. Eventually, he will learn to ask himself similar questions on his own.
. . . . .
*This sample dialogue comes from WriteShop Primary Book B, Lesson 8 (Problem and Solution). All WriteShop Primary books contain loads of practical, age-appropriate prompts and dialogue samples that will help you promote stronger writing skills in your younger children.