Monday, August 17, 2009

Help Your Child Get Ready for the Back to School Essay

In many schools some version of the Back to School essay is standard. It generally has something to do with what the child did during summer vacation. For some students the “essay” is merely a few sentences strung together to reintroduce the concepts of brainstorming and sentence structure. For others it is a more detailed assignment to provide a writing sample for the beginning of the year. What ever the level of expectations for the assignment, parents can help children prepare in a simple, easy, and relaxing manner before returning to school.

Before panic emerges we will not be discussing essay writing or practice essays in this blog. That is counter productive and tends to just make kids frustrated and bored with the whole writing process before they even get to school.

Instead I am going to talk about ways to activate prior knowledge. One of the challenges as teachers when we use this topic is while many children have had active summers, when presented with a topic about summer say they did nothing. So one of the first steps in helping your child prepare is to talk about what your child enjoyed this summer. It should a casual conversation, not a quiz. Try to generate some ideas and stories about the things you did as a family, adventures at camp, outings with friends, or trips to see family. These are things you want to be fresh in your child’s mind.

Take out some family photographs from the summer. Pictures are a great way to trigger memories and get children talking. They can also be a wonderful way to work on categorizing. Talk about the photographs as stories. Younger children may pick one photograph that they will write their sentence on. Older children may end up with three photographs that best tell the story of summer and these will be the three main ideas. Again you are not working on writing at all at this point just generating memories and helping to organize ideas into categories.

This may be a great time to make a summer scrapbook with your child organizing photographs and having your child help label them and putting descriptions about what happened where to help all of you remember later. You can transcribe what the child says. The focus at this point is oral generation of stories. If the child wants to write by all means encourage it. However, the key is generating ideas and stories, not forcing the writing process. The more able your child gets at generating stories orally, the easier it gets to work with moving that towards the physical act of writing. If you can improve the rehearsal process, you can have a wonderful impact on the actual writing that occurs.

Even if the child’s teacher decides not to use this assignment this year, you have helped your child organize summer memories and taught valuable strategies for brainstorming and prewriting for future endeavors. The more you rehearse organizational strategies the more natural they become.

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