Learning How to Write

After yesterday's post I began thinking about how I learned how to write. When I say writing I am not referring to penmanship, but words to paper. The process of learning how to read is more vivid in my mind. At some point each child is given opportunities to write, but writing takes on so many more forms. Some of my early writing experiences were foundational structures which allowed me to move on to "real writing" later. I do remember copying the following poem in the fall of second grade:

The Squirrel


Whisky, frisky,
Hippity hop;
Up he goes
To the tree top!

Whirly, twirly,
Round and round,
Down he scampers
To the ground.

Furly, curly
What a tail!
Tall as a feather
Broad as a sail!

Where's his supper?
In the shell,
Snappity, crackity,
Out it fell.

I remember Mrs. Meyers reciting it, then me writing in on lined paper and drawing a picture of a squirrel. What is most memorable was memorizing it and performing it in front of the class. Looking at the poem now I can see the power of rhyme and strong words like "snappity, crackity". Even a simile has been introduced which I couldn't call by name in second grade. I don't even know if Mrs. Meyers knew by teaching that poem that she was forming a foundation for future writing, but experiences like this fill a child's imagination with examples that can be drawn out later.

I also remember doing Picture Study which involved studying a great work of art, the teaching composing sentences about that art, and the students copying them down on paper. Again, imitation is an effective strategy for moving a writer from set structure to structure with original thoughts. Later in sixth grade I felt so free when our teacher let us write our own page about the great work of art.
Letters were always a form of writing I recall composing as soon I knew how to write words. We wrote letters to our grandmothers, thank you letters for gifts, and in Camp Fire Girls it was a letter to a guest that had come to speak at our meeting. Many have said that the art of letter writing is fading, but I am a traditionalist. I still love to write letters and send them snail mail. I give my students opportunities to write notes and letters of appreciation to adults that surround them. I encourage them to also do "gifts of writing" to family members using their writing skills and heartfelt words at Mother's Day or before a parent conference.

In third grade my teacher gave us big white construction paper if we finished our work and let us create little villages with people and animals. I remember adding details to those pictures and sharing ideas with my friend KW, who was very artistic, and loving that creative time of letting my ideas out. I also think we wrote stories about those pictures.

As a grew as a writer I was given opportunities to compose poems and stories in class. It was always a big deal though. It was not part of our usual routine. I wish we would have written more, but maybe having it be such a special event made it memorable.

Today I had students working in groups to collaborate on a story. As they were keyboarding or writing in journals the room was abuzz with laughter and sharing. Budding writers move through phases that become a comfort zone. The boys in my class are in the "farts " stage and can describe that bodily function perfectly with vivid words and descriptions. In experimenting with theme, they have also decided every story has to have a zombie appear. Everyone waits now to see how the zombie appears. The girls are into mysteries. It always involves friends, spooky phone calls, a scary house, and boyfriends. They will move on soon to new and more challenging storylines. My phase used to be rhyming poetry. I would work so hard on getting the last word in each line to rhyme, I don't even know if the poem made sense!

As adults we are challenged to find the time to write. In the busyness of our work and life it is often difficult to have energy and inspiration to write much in the evening. Sometimes I just take that time to enjoy others' writing by reading blogs, grabbing poetry books, or a folder of student writing.
When you learn to read the letters and words begin to make sense. You move into more complex understanding of text, but once you learn how to decode the words, the science of reading is learned. Writing is different. I am still learning how to write. There are so many parts to writing that I shy away from. I don't write short stories because I don't feel like I can build characters effectively. I am not a lover of science fiction, so I don't attempt it. Academic articles have not been something I have sat down to create lately. The process of writing makes us lifelong learners. I can't imagine any writer ever saying, " I am done. I have mastered everything there is to know about writing. I guess I will move on to gourmet cooking." Hardly.


  1. When I figure out how to write, I'll let you know how I did it.

  2. laughing about a farting zombie.
    you didn't say it that way, but I pictured it in my mind. I even know a joke about one (from my childhood.)

    Mom wrote letters to my eldest brothers in rhyme when they were in college. I don't think they saved them. Tsk.


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