10 Things First Graders Can Teach You About Writing Anything

My son’s first grade teacher asked if I’d volunteer to teach a writing lesson with the class as school winds down. I enjoy turning kids onto writing and I love the enthusiasm they bring to a creative project. Of course, I said, “Yes.”

I didn’t want to take lots of time to prepare so I picked something really easy–Haiku poems. We talked about the Haiku form, which you may remember from English class as a poem of 5 syllables-7 syllables-and a final line of 5 syllables.  We wrote examples as a group together. Then the children wrote their own as their teacher and I wandered the room helping those who wanted a bit of assistance.

The playful experiments and discoveries underscored some of the most important lessons about writing and a handful of poetic devices that can make any type of writing compelling:

dog haiku

Sophie: The topic of my son’s haiku

1. Write what you love: Beloved topics included the titanic, Minecraft, rocks, my Dad (after all, Father’s Day is coming up!) and a pet hamster/dog/pig (the last, I believe, a bit of fancy)

2. Don’t be afraid to break the rules. Some first graders found the form too limiting–they started with five syllables, then seven and then went WILD! One had thirteen syllables in her last line. Another wrote four more lines. Good for them. Know when to stick with your chosen form and when to break out beyond it.

3. Surprise! A scary poem about something mysterious in a closet ended with a pickle. Well done.

4. Fantasize: After sharing a poem about a trick-performing pop came the confession, “My dad doesn’t really do tricks.” How fun to pretend he does. Maybe he’ll start after reading this poem.

5. It doesn’t have to be perfect: One perfectionist in the class told me, “I can’t do it” in an anxious voice as he squirmed at his desk. I asked the kids to raise their hands if they felt it had to be perfect. “Okay, if you raised your hand, throw that idea out the window. Just have fun and experiment. It doesn’t have to be perfect.” They relaxed.  Our perfectionist? You’ll find out at the end of this post…

6. Repeat, repeat: Repetition can bring a sense of magic to your work–whether a poem, a memoir or a how-to book. Used sparingly in prose, repetition can be a powerful tool.

7. Paint a picture with verbs: A ho-hum poem about the Titanic gained momentum when the author changed the middle line to describe how the boat “Split in two” when it hit an iceberg. The image brought the poem to life.

8. Stick with it: It gets easier. Those who struggled at first generally caught on after playing with it. A few even wrote a second poem.

9. Find your voice: Three boys wrote about the Titanic, yet each poem captured the personality and interests of its author, resulting in three unique poems in wonderfully diverse voices–one factual, one lyrical, one humorous.

10. Share it: After three quarters of the class shared their poems at the front of the classroom, the class perfectionist raised his hand. He wanted to read after all. He’d surprised himself by fitting the form perfectly 5-7-5. A big smile spread across his face as we counted off the syllables with him.

I wrote my poem when I got back in my car:

     Hai-cool

     A rainy Friday

     First Graders Writing Haikus

     Play with words and sound

Have you written with children or taught writing? What are some of the writing lessons you learned from your students or kids?

Comments

    • Lisa Tener says

      Thanks, Lorraine. I hadn’t realized these tips can be applied more broadly–great observation. And, yes, that perfection thing gets us into a boatload of trouble, just as releasing perfection sets us free.

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