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Inspiring Reluctant Pens

Recently I had the opportunity to assist in a poetry-writing workshop for eight- and nine-year-old boys. When they heard that they were to write a poem, noses wrinkled and frowns appeared. "Do we have to?" echoed over and over again as we handed out paper and pencils. "I don't have anything to write about."

Does this scenario sound familiar? How can we change their attitudes toward writing? How can they turn fear and dislike into joy and enthusiasm? To begin, let children write about what interests them. Help them pinpoint their interests by prompting them with questions. "What do you like to do best during the summer?" "What is your favorite sport/season/color/food?" "Do you have any pets?" "How many people are in your family?" Listen as they talk about their interests. Watch for the flicker of light in their eyes and note the intensity in their voices when they become excited about something. Challenge them to write about that thing that they love.

"But I don't know how to start." As a confidence booster, suggest an opening sentence to a child who is struggling. "There is no other family quite like mine." "I remember the day we got my dog." Or maybe even a short phrase would trigger his ideas. "My favorite summer was the one when..." or "The first time it snowed last winter, I..." A good opening sentence is like a good student leader; others will naturally follow it.

If the assignment is to write a poem, consider giving the children the skeleton form of a poem and allowing them to fill in the blanks with different nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Not every poem has to rhyme, but sometimes rhyming can stimulate children to think of creative words they wouldn't otherwise use.

Give the children time to write. Let them organize their thoughts without feeling pressured and frustrated. Try to eliminate as many distractions as possible. It might help to have the students leave their desks and spread out to individual spots on the classroom floor to do their work.

When they are finished, give them a chance to read their compositions aloud to the other students. Provide a positive environment in which they can share their ideas. Be encouraging with your own comments, and allow other students to tell what they liked about each piece. Positive responses from peers can be a great motivator for a child. One nine- year-old boy in my workshop was so encouraged by the applause for his poem that he immediately sat down, wrote another one, and had it ready to read before the hour was over.

Writing is something you can enjoy along with your students. Don't feel compelled to grade every composition that they write. Let them have occasions to write just for the delight of telling about something on paper. Without the demands of grading, you might even find time to participate in projects along with your students. You never know - hearing your work might inspire a student to new literary heights. After an adult helper is my workshop read his rhymed creation, one boy changed his own poem into a delightful rhyme about horses.

Encourage the children to keep a list of ideas for future compositions. A writer's notebook can be a wonderful aid to creativity. Give the children time during the week to look through old magazines, calendars, greeting cards, and postcards. Invite them to cut out pictures that pique their interest or curiosity and paste them in the notebook. Have them record new words or catchy sayings that they learn from their parents, their pastors, or books they are reading. Challenge them to write descriptions in their notebooks of things they observe: an unusual flower, an abandoned house, a siren's wail in the night, an antique car, Dad's face when he lost a file on the computer, the smell of the kitchen after Mom has been baking. When you give each new writing assignment, your students will have interesting ideas to draw from - right at their fingertips.

As the children grow, they will learn that writing is more than the clever turn of a phrase. Writing is discipline, emotion, depth, and art. It is one of the most effective and enduring means of communicating. And even more importantly, it is a tool to use in testifying of the Lord Jesus Christ. May the children soon be able to say with the psalmist: "I speak of the things of which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer" (Psalm 45:1).

 by Eileen Berry. Updated October 21, 2015.

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