Organizing their thoughts is something good writers do before they write their first sentences. But little kids who are learning to read (or ESL students without much English background) might not be ready for for mindwebs, timelines, comparison/contrast charts or Venn diagrams. What kind of prewriting organizers work for them?
One kind I have found effective is a group of drawings about a subject which can be sequenced into a meaningful order to tell a story.
For example, suppose you would like your child to write the story of Little Red Riding Hood.
- First, read the fairy tale to her to reacquaint her with the details.
- Second, find a six-panel cartoon describing the story of Little Red Riding Hood. If the child is really new to writing, you might start with three panels which tell a story and work up to six. Cut out the six panels, shuffle them, and lay them in front of the young writer.
- Encourage the child to put the cartoons in the correct order, discussing why one panel goes before or after another if she seems hesitant.
- Explain to her that she is going to write down the story of Little Red Riding Hood in the correct order, according to the panels.
- Capitalization mistakes, missing punctuation, spelling errors, verb tense inconsistencies—ignore them and focus on the storyline. When the child is learning, accept her invented spelling and grammar.
- If there are three panels, you might expect the child to write three sentences. If there are six, she should be encouraged to write six or more.
- Often beginning writers forget to use transitions. You might suggest words like “then,” “next,” “a little later” and “suddenly” to smooth out the sequencing of events.
- Publishing is important too. Hang the finished piece on the refrigerator. Scan it into the printer and email it to Grandma. Print a copy to show the child’s teacher.
Where can you find drawings which tell a story and are suitable for sequencing?
- Search online. I found some immediately when I looked.
- Photocopy pictures from a story the child likes and let her sort them into the correct order.
- Photocopy pictures from a wordless picture book from the library.
- Goodwill sells dozens of children’s books every day that could be cut up for this purpose.
- Use family photos. If there was a special event recently, and you have photos of what happened, the child could sort them into a meaningful order.
For some children, writing begins before reading. There is no reason to wait until the child is an adept reader before encouraging her to write.