Yesterday I put a Creative Writing Prompts book in the "Giveaway Pile." I've been KonMaring the schoolroom, and it certainly wasn't bringing anyone any joy. In fact, I don't think it had ever been used. When it comes to a juicy writing topic that gets my kids excited, it's rarely from a book. They have always wanted to write about something they are interested in, not what someone else finds interesting.
The other day my friend, Vanessa at Wright at Homeschool, posted the following to her Facebook page:
My first reaction to this post was to laugh out loud. I've met this particular 11-year-old and have heard enough stories related by his mom to know that this is on par for his usual sarcastic, albeit quite creative, retorts. And, I'm pretty sure that laughter and a knowing smile was the reaction she was expecting.
But, then I started thinking...
Would I want to write about being stuck on a desert island with 200 frozen burritos? With no microwave?!?
As a homeschool mom, that sounds fun and engaging. As a writer that sounds, well, a little insane. What would be the point in writing about that? Would it be for humor? Would it be for scientific purposes? Would it be for the inanity of it?
I began to think that T (who shall remain nameless for fear of the wrath of free writing prompt creators everywhere) had a point. Sometimes we come up with crazy ideas thinking they will help our kids to be inspired to write. We dutifully download the creative writing prompts, cut them into little rectangles, and shove them in a jar for our kids to pick out when we begin to feel like we're not doing enough to teach the creative writing arts. But, what is the point, really?
Now, don't get me wrong. I love a good creative writing prompt just as well as the next homeschool mom. They are fun and easy and great for a quick Friday Freewrite. But, are they truly selling the idea of writing to our kids, especially those kids who might be a bit older and are beginning to work on research writing?
So how DO we pick a writing topic for our kids?
We usually start with asking our kids what they would like to write about. Invariably, you will get one of two reactions: a blank stare and an "I don't know" or an extensive list of topics that range from their favorite sport to their favorite You-Tuber. After you settle on a topic, your student will look at their paper and have no idea where to begin. Is it because they know nothing about the topic they picked or is it because the topic is too big and they are overwhelmed?
Create a Topic Funnel
"The notion that lots of freedom in the [writing] topic will produce good writing is false. Freedom is needed but must come after choosing a narrow topic."
Choosing a writing topic is more than just picking something your child is interested in writing. It involves narrowing the topic to something that your child can handle.
Julie Bogart of Brave Writer proposes creating a topic funnel to help narrow the broad topic your child has chosen into something they can manage. She suggests thinking of how a funnel works. You put the original topic in and swirl it around the funnel until it gets smaller and smaller. Eventually you have a narrow topic to write.
It's all about considering the parts of the main idea and narrowing the focus to the type of writing project your child will be completing. If this is for a research project that will be several pages, then the topic doesn't have to narrow down quite as far as a writing project that will only be a paragraph.
Here's the topic funnel we created at our last writing project.
- First, we came up with a broad topic - Dance
- Next, my daughter listed everything she liked about the topic - Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Lyrical, the Costumes, Music, the Dance Moves
- From there, we narrowed it down to her favorites from her previous list - Jazz and Lyrical Music and Dance, Ballet Costumes
- Finally, she came up with the topic that she wanted to write about - Her Jazz and Lyrical Class Recital Dance
The topic funnel worksheet we used is a free printable you can access at the link below.
The Writing Topic Funnel Printable
After reading all about Topic Funnels in The Writer's Jungle, I decided to create a printable based on Julie's ideas. It helped us to visualize what we were trying to do and narrow down a topic my daughter could then work with without feeling overwhelmed.
You can download a copy for yourself. Hopefully, it will help you work on topic funneling with your children. Make sure your popup blocker is turned off.
Do you struggle with teaching your children to write? Check out all our Brave Writer posts HERE.
Hi, I’m Dachelle. I’m a homeschooling mom of 3 in the South. I love chocolate and have been known to hide it from my children. I can often be found reading a good book (or even sometimes just an okay book) and enjoying a jar of Nutella — don’t judge. I blog, here, at HideTheChocolate.com when I’m not creating book clubs and making lists…lots and lots of lists (it’s an addiction). Learn more…