When I tutored a third grader this week, I suggested writing topics.
“I already wrote about swimming.”
“Greek myths. I know you like them.”
“Yeah, but I already wrote about all the Greek myths I know.”
“Hmm. How about a class field trip.”
“What it’s like to be the youngest child?
She rolled her eyes.
“A book you’ve read?”
“I already wrote about the book I read.”
As a writing tutor, I find the hardest part of the job is coming up with writing topics. Oh, sure, there are lists upon lists of topics online, but I find the best topics are ones which students care about or at least which they have studied and know about. And for young children who can’t do research yet, the only good topics are ones from their personal experience.
One solution to this problem is for me to contact the parent ahead of time and ask for a list of activities the student is interested in. I hadn’t done that with this student, but I will. Many parents can provide helpful topics such as a particular trip, a favorite TV show, a funny happening, an ambition, or something the student enjoyed studying.
Another way to get the student to write is to ask the student to use particular vocabulary words we are studying together. Most students balk at this though, because 1) it is hard and because 2) it seems like an assignment, not genuine writing. Good writing can come from this kind of assignment, but convincing a student it is worthwhile is hard.
I have had success using books students have read. One writing assignment might be a summary of the book or of a chapter. Another might be a comparison of a character in a book with another character or with the student herself. A third writing idea might be to put characters in the book into a different story.
“Fractured” fairy tales can be fun. We discuss changing the point of view of the fairy tale and rewriting it from the point of view of the big bad wolf or Prince Charming.
Sometimes I bring an object or two for the student to write about. I have had students successfully compare several fall leaves and (for older students) several rocks. One girl who sews did an excellent job comparing two quilting squares. Another analyzed the unusual face of a child from the newspaper.
When time permits I let students read what other students have written. Sometimes this leads to friendly competition or pricks a memory.
But the best topics are usually student generated.