For children who are reluctant to read, sometimes it works to create a book about themselves and their family, pets, or other things/people that are important to them. Use as simple language as possible, and use no more than 2 or 3 sentences per page. Illustrate each page. You can take photographs, or sketch illustrations. Children do not mind “stick people”–in fact, they often admire your simple “stick people” illustrations more than they would a photo or an “artistic” picture. Another advantage of “stick people” pictures is that the child can colour the picture easily. While you can “cut and paste” pictures from the internet or from magazines, it is usually better for these reluctant readers if you use actual photos of the very people, or you draw simple sketches that the child can colour in to make the people and items in the picture as “real” to him or her as possible. Children like to read about themselves and their own lives!
After you have made a couple of these simple booklets, you can engage your child in dictating their own personal family stories, and helping create the illustrations. While this is similar to journaling (in which the child draws a picture and writes about it with his own “creative spelling”), the point here is to create material which is spelled and punctuated neatly and correctly, so the child can easily read it, and learn correct spelling and grammar.
An Example of a Simple Family and Pets Book for a Child
Please feel free to download Matt’s Story, an example of a book I made for a child named Matt. Note how simple the words are; except for the word “is,” the only vowels are “short a” and “short o” and only a half dozen consonants are used. At this point, “perfect language” is less important than providing language the child can easily read, and readily relate to. The child is delighted to read a “whole book” about himself and his life! If you like, you can download this book and read it with your child; then together you can create a similar book about your child’s life.
Of course journaling can also be done–and is to be encouraged–as it gives children the satisfaction of “I did it myself,” and gives them an opportunity to explore and try out what they’ve been learning about spelling and writing. Journaling should not be “marked,” but you can make simple responses (“I remember when you did that!” “I bet you had fun!” “What happened next?”). In your responses, you can repeat the child’s words, using correct spelling. For example, if you child writes, “I wnt 2 th prck with dade,” you could respond, “I am sure you and Daddy had fun when you went to the park.”
You can also try out some computer software to help your child create her own books/stories. While some come with a price, others are free, or at least offer a free basic package. Some examples: Clicker 6 , Junior Writer , and Storybird .
Suggestions for Helping Your Children Create Their Own Stories/Books:
Some children are intimidated by the thought of trying to write and illustrate a whole story–never mind a book!–by themselves. Here’s a way to help your child write and illustrate a story with success, and thereby build self-confidence and motivation for further efforts. First, read a story together (it may even be a story which the child loves, and has heard/read many times–in fact, for children who are especially lacking confidence in writing, this may be the best option). Then have your child draw and color the story. If your child feels he cannot draw well enough, you can draw simple picture outlines (as in children’s coloring books) for him to fill in, or he can use tracing paper to draw outlines of pictures from the book you read, and then fill in and colour the picture without looking at the original pictures.
Once he has completed the pictures, have him tell you the story, following his pictures. As he tells the story, write it down. Then dictate it back slowly, and have him write the words. If he finds that too difficult, you can allow him to trace or copy your writing.
In later efforts at creating stories, your child can bit by bit take on more and more independent parts of the task. Remember, it is a learning process, and each effort builds a foundation for later efforts. It is better to start very simply, and build strong foundations that build strong skills and self-confidence, than to push a child to do work that is too difficult or too intimidating at that point, and have the child end up missing key basic skills, and feel that he is hopeless.
Start With Your Child’s Love of Oral Storytelling:
If your child loves to make up stories, and/or tell stories from her own experiences, that is a great place to start from in teaching writing skills–especially so for reluctant writers. Start by encouraging your child’s love of oral story-telling. Over a period of several days, go through the following steps:
- Record or video-tape her stories and type them out, or type them as she tells the stories.
- Then have your child copy the stories. For a child who is really having difficulty with writing, you can cut the story up into sentences, and have the child put the sentences together in correct order (as you dictate it, or without dictation if your child can do so).
- Later, cut each sentence into words and have the child arrange the words back into the original sentence as you dictate it (do this word-by-word organization AFTER sentence organization as it is a more complex task. It is also at this point that you can point out capitalization and punctuation examples, and discuss the “rules”).
- When the child can put the typed story together in these ways, you can have your child write the story by copying it.
- Then dictate the story to the child.
- By the time the child has told the story, organized it by sentences, organized words into sentences with punctuation and capitalization, handwritten it by copying, and then handwritten it from dictation, she will be very familiar with it.
- The final task will be to write the story “from memory”–it does not have to be exactly like the original; in fact, you may even suggest to your child to make changes if he or she wishes. What you will find is that your child will most likely be able to create a well-written piece–and now have the confidence to try another story. Again, with each new story, encourage more and more independence.
Encourage Vivid Words and Interesting Details:
If your child’s story-writing seems to be stuck with simple, boring words, you can work together to replace plain nouns and pronouns with more precise ones; plain verbs with more precise, active ones; and of course add interesting describing words and extra details. One way you can encourage extra details is by putting “question words” or “suggestion words” at various points in the child’s story, where more detail would help. For example: The boy [who?] went [how?] to the store [which one? where?]. He got food [what was it? how did it taste?] to eat. When it was time to eat at home [which meal? what time?] he told her [who?] that he did not want to eat [why?]. She got mad [how did she act?]. [Then what happened?]
When your child is orally telling you things, in everyday conversation, you can do the same thing–ask questions that elicit more detail. Even simple questions like “What colour was it?” or “How old is he?” and so on show that you are listening and are interested in what he has to say–and this in turn will encourage him to develop his story-telling skills, both orally, and then, by extension, in writing. It will be good for your relationship, too!
What other ideas can you share with our readers? Please add them in the comments below. Thank you!
Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.