Have you found that your child’s writing kind of resembles that soup recipe – Everything but the Kitchen Sink? When your child chooses a topic, her ideas are so broad that they cover everything. Today’s mini-lesson in our Simple Writing Lessons for the Primary Grades will help your child focus her writing.
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In our first two mini-lessons, This Reading Mama and I focused on the first stage of the writing process: pre-writing, or getting ready to write. Now we’re moving into the drafting stage — when your child will begin to compose her own stories.
Simple Writing Lesson #3: Choose a tiny topic.
(a drafting strategy)
(Note: I used this lesson with my six-year-old daughter who just finished kindergarten. The lesson can easily be adapted for students in any grade.)
When to use it:
When you notice that your student’s writing lacks focus. Since her topics are so broad, her stories go in all directions.
How to teach it:
1. Prepare your materials. You will need a writing notebook for each of you, writing utensils, and a funnel to use as a visual aid.
2. Pull out the funnel and use it to explain what good writers do.
“Good writers have lots of wonderful ideas. But they know that if their topic is too big, they have too much to say. They know that they need to write about smaller topics so that their writing can be about one interesting thing.
Do you know what I have here?
That’s right, it’s a funnel. What happens when you pour something large into the funnel? Yup, it comes out in a small stream at the other end.
This makes me think about writing topics. Some are so big that they don’t fit on a piece of paper. We need to put them in a funnel and find a smaller topic.”
3.Choose a “giant topic” and write about it – showing your child how many different directions that writing can take.
“Remember how we each made an expert list to give us topics for writing? One thing on my expert list was Virginia. That’s a reeeally big topic. I’m going to write about that big topic today.”
“I wrote about all different things, didn’t I? Virginia fills up the top of that funnel! I have so much to say about it, I’ll bet I can think of lots of tiny topics. I’m going to make a list of tiny topics that are all about Virginia.”
4. Choose a tiny topic and write about it.
“Let’s see… which tiny topic should I wrote about? We’re so busy with the garden at our house right now that I think that would be a good topic to write about. Remember that I’m not writing about our garden, though. I’m writing about the garden in Virginia.”
5. Help your child choose a broad topic to begin with. Then help her make a list of tiny topics. Here’s how it sounded at our house.
“Let’s look at your expert list. What topic would you like to write about?”
“I want to write about school.”
“Great idea– I know you’re really excited for first grade to start! What are some tiny topics that are about school?”
“Books.” (she writes)
“What else could you write about?”
“I just want to write about books.”
“And you can – but right now we’re going to think of some other tiny topics that have to do with school.”
“I can’t think of anything else. I just like books.”
“I know you loved art class in kindergarten. Could you write that?” (she writes) “What else did you like about school?”
“I don’t know.”
“How about gym class?” (she writes) “What else do you remember about school?
Silence. More silence.
“Well, you did lots of fun things at recess.” (she writes)
You might call that a “pulling your teeth lesson!” Ideally my daughter would be coming up with these tiny topics on her own.
Some days are like this, though. Especially considering her three and four year old brothers were pestering us and my toddler was screaming at my knee. Not the best environment for thoughtful writing!
6. Give your child time to write about one of the tiny topics.
The topic my daughter chose was a little tough because books are a topic that go far beyond school. She needed a lot of guidance to keep her books story about books at school.
A lot of what you see is because of prompting from me. “Where do you read the books?” (“I sit on a cushin.”) “Where do you get the books from?” (“I get the book’s from a shelf.”) “What are your favorites?” (“I dot now what is my favret.”)
7. If you’d like, revisit the mini-lesson on another day.
I really didn’t feel good about how the lesson went. With all our distractions, my daughter wasn’t in the mood to write. I wanted to try again, so the next day we pulled out her notebook. This time she chose California as her big topic.
Here was her story — which she wrote with almost no prompting from me.
8. As you celebrate your child’s writing, think about what you might want to teach in a future mini-lesson.
What did my daughter do well? She chose a broad topic and shrank it into a tiny one. Her writing is focused on that tiny topic. She used some punctuation and capitalization correctly.
What could she improve on? Her story is short and – I’ll say it – uninteresting. She’s an expressive little girl, and I’d love to see that transfer into her writing! A future lesson could be “how to add details into your writing,” “how to use sensory images to spice up your writing,” or “how to use interesting words to make your writing sparkle.”
I’ll have to think about it… I’ll pick something along those lines to share with you in two weeks! Stay tuned next Wednesday – This Reading Mama will be sharing another mini-lesson for the drafting stage!
Click on the image below to find the other mini-lessons in our series.
*The funnel visual is an idea from 6+1 Traits of Writing for the Primary Grades — a great resource for teaching writing!
Check out our guide for teaching writing
Writing Workshop Guide K-8
Whether you’re new to the Writing Workshop or an experienced workshop teacher, you’ll love this giant handbook for teaching writing in grades K-8. In addition to this helpful guide, you’ll also receive over 150 pages of printable resources!