Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Carol Martin, teacher for gifted and talented students, who offers parents tips on how they can help their gifted child develop the writing skills that will be necessary as they continue their education. Carol highlights the concern many parents have when their precocious student is reluctant to write.
The overwhelming conundrum here is, why do many gifted children not like to write? Additionally, why do some of these children have so much trouble starting an essay or a report? Furthermore, why do some of these children write the shortest paragraphs in the class? Clearly, when considering the precocity of this population, it is disconcerting when one’s scholar is reluctant to write.
Some of the possible causes are:
- Gifted children sometimes have a fear of nebulous concepts and prefer to study things that have a right answer. Some gifted children prefer factual writing to creative writing. This is due in part to the fact that many gifted children are perfectionists and perfectionists like getting every assignment right the first time! Unfortunately, in creative writing, there isn’t always a right or a wrong solution.
- Many of these children are victims of whole language. They spent years writing in journals that were not corrected for spelling or grammar. The journals had no structure. In many cases, topics were not assigned and the children felt anxiety choosing their own topics. Neither sentence structure nor paragraph structure was emphasized, leaving young ones dubious about their skills.
- Many children have not had specific, structured writing lessons. They are expected to be accelerated in writing just because they have high I. Q .s. The erroneous logic here is apparent.
- Creativity is sometimes not valued as much as it once was. Many of us parents, when we were children, had hours to paint, color, and write and illustrate stories (in school and at home). Children of today are immersed in a society of fast paced technology, instant gratification and enormous pressure to get the right answer. There is an increased emphasis on test scores such as the SAT, the ACT and state and local performance tests. Many schools spend a large proportion of the year teaching for the “test.”
Now that we have identified some of the reasons why gifted children have problems when asked to write, let’s explore some ideas that can help quell these children’s fears about writing.
Teach children to visualize and then narrow the topic
A large part of the problem with difficulty in writing starts with difficulty in visualization. Students need to be trained to see, feel and smell images in their heads. The written word should not just be thought of as black ink on white paper. The written word was invented for communication. It should be as strong as the spoken word or stronger! Writing is analogous to painting a picture. It can be a beautiful painting with words. When I teach reading and writing, I encourage my students to imagine a big VCR in their heads. I tell them, "Close your eyes, turn on the VCR in your head and tell me what you see. Now tell me what you smell . . . feel . . . hear etc." Once you can get your children to visualize, you can then move to the next step which is brainstorming for ideation. Brainstorming is a time of free associating and exploring one's thoughts in an effort to discover new ideas, options, and alternatives. It is often helpful to brainstorm with others: teachers, classmates, siblings, parents. When your children get writing assignments, remind them to close their eyes and visualize. Then have them brainstorm a jot list...which in essence is emptying out all their thoughts, without judgement, onto a piece of paper. There should be absolutely no criticism at this point. All ideas, including the bizarre ones, should be acceptable. Have them "talk to the paper " with no rules.
Everyone knows what brainstorming is . . . but it is often not executed properly. After the brainstorm list is completed, it is helpful to walk away. As an adult, after I make a brainstorm list, I then take a shower or take a drive. The ideas then have time to
incubate. The brain is like a computer, and it needs time to process. Sometimes your computer slows down when it overloaded. Well, your brain does that too. Many times when I give my self time to incubate ideas, I suddenly get an epiphany or what is called an "AHA" experience. When that happens, it is time to go back to the brainstorm list. Now one can begin to be more judgmental and cross out ideas they no longer like.
The next step is to return to the original assignment and paraphrase (say it in your own words) what it is exactly that you have to do. For example, let's look at the assignment "Pretend you visited a new planet. Write a story of 200 words telling about your visit to this new planet." Your child should be able to say using the old WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, HOW formula, "Ok I have to create a new planet, and I have to describe what it looks like, when I went there, where it is, why I am going, how I got there and who or what I met there." It might be very helpful and easier to now make a new structured list with the five W's and the H and transfer some ideas from the original brainstorming list that your child wants to use. The key here is to have your child narrow his/her topic so he/she ends up with a list of details that is manageable! Another idea, if they don't want to use the 5W's and H, is to try to number their ideas in the brainstorming jot list in order of importance. If they are creating a story, have them number the ideas into a sequence of actions.
Your child may also want to create a web or a formal outline at this point depending on age and school requirements. Next your child will be ready to write a main idea and start his/her first paragraph with a topic sentence. If a child can't tell you his main idea(thesis) and have a list, outline or web of supporting, specific details, he or she is not ready to write effectively. To conclude for now, your child needs to start with visualization and free thinking, with no criticism . . . move to incubation and then move to organized, structure . . . Writing can be as structured as a math problem, but at the same time it can still be creative!...
Immerse the children in structured writing lessons. Now I will explain how to move from that jot list (Yes! bullet points) or web to the paragraph.
First, a paragraph is about one main idea. When a new idea is presented, a new paragraph must begin. Second, A coherent paragraph has unity. All of the ideas are related to one another and they flow in an orderly sequence to support the main idea. This is where your YS can begin to use his/her transition words! (See Transition Word section) The main idea is usually presented in the topic sentence. The topic sentence is usually the first sentence in a paragraph. Remind your young scholars to use the words from the question or assignment in the topic sentence. For example. Let's pretend that the question was something very simple like this: "Why
does Alexander like to go on ski vacations?" If your child tries to start his sentence with BECAUSE he will run into big trouble. The paragraph could end up containing only one sentence. Try using the words from the question and write something like this: Alexander likes to go on ski vacations for several reasons. Then tell the reasons using the list of details from the jot list and include transition words. You may at this point say, "Where is the creativity here?" Well, try encouraging using the senses and visualization here. For example . . . what do
the ski slopes look like in the morning? Instead of writing: First, the ski slope is pretty in the morning. Try writing: First, everything on the powdery ski slope sparkles from the morning sun. (Of course you don't have to use the transition word "First" . . . I am just using it as an example.) Next, you might encourage your Y’S to write another
sentence to support the joy of seeing the beautiful ski slope in the early morning. Now, take the next detail from the jot list and write another sentence about why Alexander likes to go on ski vacations. Continue with all the reasons why Alex likes to go on ski vacations. Finally, include a conclusion sentence at the end of the paragraph.
To practice teaching your child to use good, creative, details to develop a paragraph, try this exercise. Make a list of ideas and have your child list (brainstorm) specific descriptive details under the topics. Here are some sample topics: An ice cream or frozen yogurt sundae, a messy room, the beach and the ocean, a favorite game, a favorite sport or hobby, grandpa's face . . . Remember a descriptive paragraph paints a picture with words. Its sentences use vivid words and details to make the picture clear and help the reader "see" what they are talking about. After your child makes these lists, suggest writing paragraphs for each list.
Paragraphs can be developed with details as I just discussed or with examples. To develop a paragraph through examples, state the main idea in the topic sentence. Next think of several examples that could be used to clearly explain your main idea (again use that jot list). Now develop the paragraph using the best examples to support the main idea. Don't forget the conclusion sentence. In a longer essay, one might want to include two or three examples in the introductory paragraph and then have each subsequent paragraph discuss one of these examples.
Again, try practice exercises. Give your child a list of topics and have him/her develop the topic through examples. A simple exercise would be: "There have been many outstanding magazines written for children. Support this topic sentence with examples.” Or "There are many adult books that are suitable for children. Support this topic sentence with examples."
I know all of this is very basic and structured; however, you can teach your child to embellish and to write in a more sophisticated manner later on. One has to learn to walk before one can run. Our goal is to give our children tools so they don't hate writing.
Teach transition words
Transitions are key to writing a coherent, organized paragraph or essay. I have helped countless reluctant writers by simply teaching them simple transitions(sentence starters).
Many of my students keep these words on their refrigerators to help them write smoothly and logically. Several lawyers have chuckled and said, “Hey Mrs. Martin, I didn’t learn to use these words until law school!"
Some sentence starters, transition words:
- For example
- Another example
- For instance
- One reason
- Another reason
- As an illustration
- In contrast
- In addition
- As result of
- In fact
- Most significantly
- Even though
For many PG children, grammar usage comes naturally. They often can hear mistakes, as if they were listening to music. However, some children have difficulties, especially children who do not hear English spoken regularly in their homes. Children feel more comfortable with writing longer sentences when they know the rules of grammar. For the new SAT writing section and the ACT, I am recommending that your children study the following grammar/usage rules:
- Parallelism (particularly gerunds and infinitives)
- Subject Verb Agreement
- Misplaced Modification
- Dangling Participials
- Idioms (there are a lot of these)
- Word usage (such as affect vs. effect . . . less vs. fewer . . . disinterested vs. uninterested)
- Pronouns: Pronoun case and Pronoun reference
- Who/whom rule
- Run on sentences . . . comma splice errors
- Faulty comparison problems
- Logical Comparison problems
- Double negatives
- Perfect tenses (present, past and future)
Make big 5 x 7 flash cards for each rule.
Enhance your child’s vocabulary
Children tend to enjoy writing when they have interesting words to write with. Teach advanced power vocabulary (SAT- like words) in groups. For example make a group of “happy” words such as mirthful, blithe, elated, sanguine, insouciant. Then have your child write stories with the groups. Some of the stories students have created are actually very funny. We have stories about amicable, squalid, slovenly aliens and others about mendacious, vapid dolts . . . The children love playing around with the SAT words. You can obtain lists from any verbal SAT review book in the library or bookstore. Also, everyone loves SAT Vocabulary Cartoons by Burchers . . . Another idea is to keep a cooperative vacation journal. When we went to France, each day, one of us wrote in the journal about the French food or art or castles. It was so much fun to read what the other family members wrote . . . call it the revolving family trip journal . . . Also, there are certainly some SAT words in the latest Harry Potter volume. While they may be easy words for adults, I believe some of the children won't know all of them. Try having your children look up the definitions they do not know and write original stories using all the words (how about sequels to the latest Harry Potter book . . . ?) Here are some of them, but there are more to hunt for . . . This assignment should be motivating . . .
Teach four types of essays
I suggest you teach different types of essays with simple introduction and conclusion paragraphs. Do one type at a time, such as comparison and contrast essays, definition and explanation essays, cause and effect essays, and persuasive essays (this one is currently required for the new SAT) . . . Start with the four paragraph essay. For example: Here is how to write a basic compare and contrast essay. This type of essay compares two or more things by identifying their similarities and differences. When you compare items, you show how they are similar. When you contrast items, you show how they are different. Children sometimes confuse the two words.
When you have to compare two or more things, it is often helpful to use a Venn Diagram. This is a graphic organizer that consists of two intersecting circles. The similarities are written within the intersection of the circles. The differences are written inside the two side circles. This Venn diagram serves as your jot list for this type of essay.
Begin the introductory paragraph by introducing the reader to what is going to be compared. The first body paragraph should contain all the similarities. The second body paragraph should contain all the differences. List the ideas in order of importance. The
concluding paragraph should show some critical thinking. This means, what insight was gained from the comparison? This is very basic . . . but as I said before, we have to start at the beginning in order to
Finally, remember to let your children enjoy writing without undue criticism and judgment. Writing should be as wonderful and as pleasurable as speaking and debating . . . and I am certain that your gifted child loves to debate!