Using Multiple Intelligences to Help Young Writers
By Laurel Schmidt, author of Seven Times Smarter: 50 Activities, Games and Projects to Develop the Seven Intelligences in Your Child
Ask some kids to write, and they can’t get to their pencils fast enough. Ask others—you get a marathon stare. Twenty minutes later, they’re still staring. The blank paper or computer screen waits for a first sentence and then hundreds, even thousands of words. Faced with such a complex task, some smart kids just freeze. When prodded, they reluctantly confess, “I don’t know what to say.”
One problem is that they think writing is like talking, where words flow automatically, logically and seemingly without effort. Writing’s not like that. To break through writer’s block, kids need to make two simple discoveries:
- Writing is a way of thinking—if you can think about a topic, you’re on your way to writing.
- Writing is a process-and most of the steps in the process don’t look anything like the final product.
Parents trying to help struggling writers need a couple discoveries of their own:
- Many smart kids who struggle with writing are weaker in linguistic intelligence, but have great strengths in visual/spatial and kinesthetic intelligence.
- Kids can harness those intelligences to break through writer’s block, whether they’re working on a journal entry, essay or research paper.
Here’s a process that allows visual and kinesthetic kids to use mapping and color-coding to reduce writer’s block and produce some pretty solid writing.
1. Dump the paper, pencil and computer. Get a big sheet of paper and some colored marking pens. If you’re out of giant-sized paper, use a page from the classified section of the newspaper. The small print makes an interesting gray background that kids don’t mind. And while you’re changing formats, don’t insist that kids sit at a table to write. They can hang their papers on a wall and stand. Or spread out on a floor and sprawl. Kinesthetic learners do better when they can move around.
2. Now pose a question—the first of many. “What’s one idea that belongs in this essay?” It doesn’t have to be the main idea, or the first. Just an idea. Kids pick a pen, write the idea in big letters, and circle it. That’s for kids who think in words. But many people think in pictures first, and the words follow. So some kids will be more successful if they start with a quick sketch or cartoon to capture the big ideas, then add words.
3. Ask again, “What’s another idea?” Change pens and write. Repeat the process until the main ideas are all spread out on the paper, like colored targets. It’s a visual table of contents for the essay or report.
4. Now kids need to choose one circle and focus. Ask, “What are some things you know about this idea?” They jot down words, phrases, or sentence fragments in the same color. These jottings furnish the details of a paragraph. Move from circle to circle, until a web of words surrounds each idea. This helps visual learners see each paragraph as a cluster of related words and ideas.
5. If you’re working on developing rich language, go back and brainstorm adjectives for some of the phrases. Kids like adjectives, so have some fun with this.
6. Now it’s time to structure the writing. Which idea comes first? Which next? Where’s the big finish? Kids love Post-its, so give your reluctant writer a bunch of these sticky tabs. Number them starting at one. Then they stick the Post-its on the main ideas, identifying the sequence of the first draft. When that’s done, kids have a color-coded, detailed map of the task and lots of words to jumpstart the writing. At this point, they know what to ‘say’.
7. Take a stretch break, get a snack and they’re ready to write. Again, since writing is a process, kids don’t have to start with the first paragraph. They can choose the most appealing or fully developed idea and write that paragraph first. The success of getting started will get the juices flowing, so the rest will be easier to tackle.
8. Don’t let them get hung up on the opening sentence. It’s a tough one for all writers. Sometimes it’s written last. Just work piece by piece until they have a first draft.
9. Take another break. Writing is strenuous mental work. Kids need to get away from the first draft and do something physical. Later they can re-read it with fresh eyes and have some fun editing and polishing.
10. Do a little assessment. Ask which sentence is their best. What is the most interesting part of the whole piece? Why? What part was easiest to write? And don’t forget to heap on the praise. Writers crave it. Kids thrive on it. Who knows? Eventually you may have a Hemingway in the house.
Laurel Schmidt is the Director of Student Services for the Santa Monica Malibu School District. She is an adjunct professor at Antioch University. Her new book, Seven Times Smarter: 50 Activities, Games and Projects to Develop the Seven Intelligences in Your Child(Three Rivers Press, 2001) is available on Amazon.com and pther places.