Friday, October 7, 2011

Elementary Steps To Writing - Are You Smarter Than A Fourth Grader?

My wife and I just returned from a parent-teacher conference to hear that our child is doing very well. Something parents always want to hear. Getting to the particulars, the teacher said our child loves to read. Given free time in class, it is her activity of choice.

Now, that's something a writing father loves to hear.

As I observed the room with a writer's eye, I noticed one wall devoted to laminated signs that spelled out several steps to the writing craft. I read the signs and was pleased to see what fourth graders are learning about writing in elementary school. Since I can't remember when I was that young and I imagine other adults may have forgotten their wonder years as well, here's what those signs said about writing:

Six Steps (and I'm paraphrasing what they said)

  • Prewrite - Brainstorm your topic
  • Draft - Write out that 1st draft
  • Edit - Check for grammar and other errors
  • Revise - Rewrite to make your manuscript more interesting
  • Publish - Use your best handwriting 
  • Share - Let the world read it.
I thought the list was pretty cool. Granted, the 'publish' step could be altered to address any formatting requirements writers might need to follow when submitting a poem, article or short story to a magazine, journal or other publishing venue. But, the list itself is solid advice to more than just elementary school pupils. I think these steps are excellent building blocks every writer can use to improve their writing.

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As a writing professor, I often see students give short shrift to several of these steps (if not ignore them completely). 

Prewriting is often ignored. I don't know how many times I've seen students try going from blank screen to 1st draft without a plan or at least a brief exploration of the topic. 

Can I just say that skipping the editing step is probably what annoys me the most as a teacher. That just screams laziness. And finally, revising is often ignored, too. The first draft of anything is crap. There is almost always something writers can do to revise their work and make it more interesting. No matter how many times I say this in class, someone always rises to challenge my statement.

"You've never seen one of my papers," the student will say. "It'll be an A+ on the first try."

"Prove it," I say. "Don't boast. Show me."

Hubris... I'm still waiting to this day for that perfect paper on the first try.

So, what do you think of this elementary school list of writing steps? Share your thoughts.

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