Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Try Making Books to Encourage Writing

In my previous post on this blog, I wrote about why boys don't like to write, and gave some suggestions for encouraging them to do so.

Then I came across a faded old copy of an out-of-print book called "An Experiment in Education" by Sybil Marshall which had another excellent idea.

Just before I explain her suggestion, I want to spend a few lines in praise of this old book.  Yes, it was written in 1963 and chronicles over thirty years of teaching in a one-room schoolhouse near Cambridge in England, but her insights into juggling multiple ages in a single classroom are the stuff of beauty for homeschooling parents.  She is particularly good about using art for educational purposes, but I shall say more about that in a future blog entry as I experiment in my own home a bit more.

Meanwhile, back to boys and writing.  In my previous post, one of the suggestions I made for getting boys to write involved diagramming or drawing first, then writing about the drawing second.  I said "think map instead of a list of directions."

Marshall's description of making homemade books is similar, and though I haven't yet put it into practice, seems pedagogically sound.

Very sound.

Basically, each child should be given a blank booklet, perhaps made of 4 or 8 pieces of paper folded in half and stapled in the middle, and if you want to make it slightly more permanent, wrap a piece of coloured card around the outside as a cover before you staple it all together.

The child should designate the little book as a story from the beginning -- a trip to a farm, a day at the zoo, what the frogs are doing in the pond right now, or even something entirely fanciful (Marshall gives the example of a little girl who imagined herself as a cat who went on magical adventures, such as going to the moon, to the circus, to the seaside).

Then *daily*, children should draw a picture in their book to go with their story.  If they aren't good writers yet, then they should take the book to the teacher/parent and dictate what they want written under the picture.  You could vary this by dotting the letters for the child to trace, or dictating the spelling of words while the child writes them him-/herself.

One of Phoenix's first books:
note that mummy wrote the words
(click on image to enlarge)

As fluency progresses, children will be able to write their own words for their stories, and from these could come a few choice discussions about spelling, punctuation, grammar.  If the words are in pencil, these corrections can be made by the child, but perhaps not insisted upon so you don't throw water on their fire.  A separate booklet for grammar, spelling, etc, would probably be better if you feel the need for something more formal.

This process seems to mirror that which my oldest child, who is now 10, followed naturally, but I can see the good sense in having little books as a daily assignment for all the children.  I'll post in the future about how I get on.

Killer demonstrates the process
of drawing first, writing last

One cautionary note: Marshall points out that the process is best when it's drawing before writing, and not the other way around.  As she writes: "Thought must precede written work, and the picture first serves to inspire and then order thought, so that the words flow with confidence and clarity afterwards."  She admits that illustrating a story once the words are already written is "pleasant", but has less value -- "if the words have been satisfying enough in their own right, the very sensitive child may even be irked by being asked to do the same thing twice."  (Both quotes are from p. 143 of the 1968 CUP edition)

(Sybil Marshall died in 2005.  Her obituary can be read here).


  1. Wow -- the Montessori accreditors in the US have just put together a homeschoolers' programme. Awesome. Look here:

  2. I have just discovered your blog and already I love it! Thanks so much for the drawing/writing advice. I will certainly try it!

  3. I like that idea - I'm always thinking they should make books and my dd is quite good but I may try this with ds - give him a booklet and get him to draw first thank you



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