Last week I worked with a third grader on writing. Knowing that it would take time to figure out a topic, I brought a picture book which she read in five minutes. She read in an engaged fashion, commenting as we read and paging back and forth to check a fact or to compare an illustration. She understood the book well, including the emotional inferences.
I asked her to write down the story in her own words.
I asked her to make changes in the story—a different setting, a boy instead of a girl main character, or a different ending.
I suggested we make a list of what she liked about the story and what she didn’t like, and we write about that.
This went on for a while. Not prepared to struggle any longer, I suggested we move on to grammar.
Today I returned with a different strategy. Yesterday I went to the library and checked out a handful of books that I thought would delight her. Before today’s lesson began, I said that I would give her the books to read if for our writing lesson she would promise to write about the book we had read last week. She looked at the stack of books and looked at me.
But after a half a dozen lines of writing, she stopped, eying the enticing books.
I pulled out a piece of notebook paper and started writing my version of the story we had read the past week. She read over my shoulder.
“Janie X. Cuse? What kind of a name is that?”
“A funny one.”
“Hey, you put my baby sister in there.”
“Whoever heard of a teacher named Mr. Snooze?”
“You did. Just now.”
Shereturned to her writing, scowling at me. She changed the word “school” to “Small Creek Elementary” because she goes to “Big Creek Elementary.” She named the teacher in her writing Mr. Snooze.
“Hey, you took my teacher’s name and put it in your story,” I said.
“Well, if you are going to do that, then I want you to write the name of this character in my story in Chinese.”
She erased the name I had chosen, thought for a minute, and in Chinese characters wrote. . .something.
“What does it say?”
She told me—in Chinese.
“But what does it mean?” She grinned.
And so we went on.
This girl is motivated by competition. And by humor. And by good books to read.
Whatever it takes.