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From the moment children are born they begin to acquire language skills. During those first years you realize their little sounds have become words then phrases then sentences. They listen and imitate those around them, and really it never stops. Throughout their lives they’ll learn new vocabulary as they continue to listen to those around them and read the words of others.
We all know this, but do we consider how that same natural way we learn to speak translates to the written word?
Copywork and dictation are great ways to teach our kids to write as they imitate those who do it so well. But you don’t have to stop there! You can use books to inspire original writing too.
3 Ways You Can Use Books to Inspire Original Writing
1. Use illustrations for inspiration.
Picture books aren’t just for little ones. They can inspire writing for elementary to high school students, too.
- Choose a picture in the book as a freewriting prompt. Freewriting is a great way to get your kids writing. Julie’s Bogart introduced me to freewriting in The Writer’s Jungle. The concept is simple, but effective. Set a timer for five to ten minutes and have your student simply write. Encourage them not to stop, even if they have to write “I don’t know what else to say!” At first, your kids might struggle with this, but if you do it consistently, they become more and more comfortable with it. (Teacher tip: Join in the fun. If they see you do it too, they’ll be more likely to try!)
- Let your child study a picture and write a descriptive paragraph about it. Children’s illustrators are incredibly talented artists with unique styles. You can often find information on the medium or technique the illustrator uses, too, and can discuss this with your kids.
- Have students write what they think will happen next based on a picture they are looking at. Making predictions is a critical thinking skill, so doing an assignment like this will strengthen more than just their writing skills.
2. Use the format of the book for inspiration.
Your children will get so many amazing benefits out of listening to you read aloud! Those read-alouds provide a great source of inspiration as students hear stories told in a variety of ways.
Consider assigning. . .
- Poetry like the poems found in A Child’s Garden of Verses. First published in 1885, this collection of children’s poetry is considered a classic. You’ll find many different poetry forms that you can choose from.
- Diary entries when you read a book like Ann Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne and her family had to hide from the Nazis during WWII in Germany. Have your children imagine what it would be like to have to hide and make their own diaries.
- A story written in second person after reading a book from the Choose Your Own Adventure series. If you are reading one of these books to several children, you may have to make them take turns as they are presented choices throughout these books!
- A short story with an unusual narrator like The Book Thief. I recommend only reading this one to high school age students (or as a reader for 11th or 12th graders). It is my youngest son’s all-time favorite book, though. The literary language is unusual and exquisite. Death narrates the story.
3. Use imagination for inspiration.
Read a familiar children’s story or fairy tale to your kids and have them imagine if it was different in some way.
Ask them to write a scene from the story with one of the following differences.
“Imagine how the story would change with. . .”
- a different setting.
- a different ending.
- a different point of view.
- a different main character.
In our co-op we rewrote the story of The Three Pigs. Each student chose a different setting, from outer space to medieval times. They even drew their own illustrations for the stories. The best part of this assignment: all of your kids can participate!
Or put a modern-day twist on a classic.
For example, your students can write blog posts as if they were characters in a novel or a series of Instagram type posts. They can even combine the study of a literary element with writing.
Let your kids be inspired.
Reading books and writing truly do make the perfect pair. Start with these ideas, but ask your kids for some ideas too. You’ll be amazed at the creative writing ideas they come up with.