Write About What You Know
Writing Trait/Strategy: Ideas Trait; Where authors get ideas
Description: Some students are always looking for the perfect topic to write a wonderful and exciting story. They need to be reminded that the best stories come from their own personal experiences. Read aloud Arthur Writes a Story by Marc Brown to illustrate this point. Share with students the advice of William Carlos Williams: “Write what’s in front of your nose.” Jeff Anderson adds, “You don’t have to write about big trips to Disney World, though you certainly can. If all you ever write about are the things that happen to you at home or at school, that’s enough. Ordinary things. You’re welcome to write about anything, but the places and spaces where you spend time, that’s where you’ll know the details. That’s how you can take readers anywhere, make them see and feel.” (Anderson, 2005)
I use the following techniques to help my students mine topics from their own lives. You can find more lessons and activities at Helping Students Choose Topics.
Parent Letter and Writing Territories Involve parents in the topic gathering process. After all, they know their children and their experiences best. Send home the parent letter and blank forms and attach completed topics lists or writing territories to each student’s writing folder or writer’s notebook.
Chalkboard List Designate a small section of your chalkboard to model topic selection throughout the day. Encourage students to live a “writerly life” by being tuned in to possible writing topics that surface throughout the day. Tell them that writers are like insects—they always have their antennae up looking for ideas to write about. When a student shares something that would lend itself well to a writing topic, jot it down on the running topics list. The ideas may come from books that are read together, personal experiences shared by individual students, or classroom experiences. The topic may or may not pertain to every student. Just jot it down and comment that it might make a good topic to write about. Make additions to the list throughout the day. When you run out of space, reread the list. Invite students to record in their writer’s notebooks any topics they might like to write about in the future. They can include these topics on their Writing Territories sheet. Erase the chalkboard list and begin a new one. (Adapted from 20 Tricky Writing Problems Solved! by Janiel Wagstaff).