Explore a Moment: Descriptive and Narrative Nonfiction for Kids
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Out of small moments come big ideas. Any small detail of ordinary life can be the spark that lights a story: the routine for making a bowl of cereal, how kids decide who gets to ride “shotty,” what the students in homeroom are wearing on their feet, or how kids say goodbye to each other at the end of the school day. With the right approach, the possibilities are endless.
Writing based on observation of everyday life tends to be lively and specific because the writer really knows and cares what he’s writing about. In order to explore a moment, the writer is likely to combine descriptive and narrative writing—getting painless practice in both. Whether you’re a teacher looking for fun classroom ideas, or a parent trying to inspire a creative kid, encourage this style of writing with these tips:
Find Subtle Subject Matter
The first step to unique writing is a unique topic. Encourage kids to explore the details of a moment that would usually be dismissed as unimportant. Children often have an uncanny ability to pick up on things adults take for granted. If you hear your kid mention something like this, don’t shake it off! Say, “Wow, that’s a great observation. You should write about that!”
Discover Unexpected Topics
Kids who take a close look at the world and report what they see there are likely to engage in good-natured one-ups to uncover the most unpredictable subjects. Reward out-of-the-box thinking. Even if the result doesn’t create greatness on the first try, imagination can unlock the door to vast potential.
Break the “Rules”
Informal writing gives budding wordsmiths a chance to do what they want, without the restraints of an academic format or the fear of getting a bad grade. Reward the depth, detail and risk your writer puts into his work. If you want to give pointers or offer criticisms, separate those comments from your overall appreciation of the effort. Shout out a few wacky ideas, such as starting with the end of the story, writing from the point of view of an object instead of a person, or fitting a list of wacky words into the piece.
Practice Reading Aloud
The full impact of exploring a moment occurs when the piece is read aloud to family, friends or classmates. The collective gasp or howls of laughter or awed “Wow!” are mighty motivators for both writing and performance. Encourage kids to practice reading their work aloud. Doing so not only helps them prepare for a superb performance, but it helps them learn to refine their writing.
“Over the past couple years, something magical has happened at our middle school,” says Andy Hueller, a 7th and 8th grade teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Students seek out opportunities to read their work out loud—in class meetings, at assemblies—and the trust we place in them to write every class period for an extended period of time, that trust has paid off big time. Students feel more comfortable thinking onto the page, and they feel more comfortable gifting this writing to the community.”
Join the Fun
Informal papers and presentations about the ordinary details of daily life are a great way for parents and teachers to share their experience and perspective with kids. When you jump in to share the fun of performing a moment, kids are much more willing to take the risks that result in increased confidence and stronger bonds between members of a family and members of a class.
Avoid Sweeping Generalizations
So much of the literature in school curriculums uses narratives to make a wide-ranging point about life. While this type of literature has its place in education, kids should learn that not every writing adventure has to lead to a grand statement. When you explore a moment, you dig into something small, which has its own merits.
Whether you’re a parent listening to your third grader describe ants carrying seeds home to the ant hill or you’re a teacher laughing with the class as a student shares her first encounter with an electronic parking kiosk, a moment ceases to be ordinary when it is explored and shared.