Many writing programs provide an overemphasis on the mechanics of writing: spelling, grammar and punctuation. The most common writing assignments include book reports and summaries which serve only to prove the student has read a text rather than encouraging him to engage with the text, reason from it and express his own ideas. The ever-popular assignment, “What I Did Last Summer” also elicits a surface level response prone to a random listing of events rather than thoughtful expression. Unfortunately, many writing assignments given to children actually encourage poor writing habits. The purpose of this series is to assist in improving writing by starting with its foundations. The core principles are the same for all ages.
The verb to write comes from the old Saxon writan, awritan, gewritan and carries the basic sense of scratching, scraping or rubbing. The verb carries many connotations and has fourteen usages outlined in Webster’s 1828 dictionary. For the purposes of this workshop, we will use the following definition:
WRITE; v. To express by forming letters and words on paper or stone; as to
write a deed; to write a bill of divorcement. The ten commandments were
written with the finger of God on tables of stone.
There are two “seeds” of this definition which will establish our focus. The first is the idea of expression. This is the author’s purpose in writing and how he chooses to express that purpose. The second is the act, defined by the use of letters. This seed may also be identified as the conventions of the language. In many writing programs, primary importance is put on the act of writing or teaching conventions (spelling, capitalization, etc.), particularly in the early grades. Conventions are important for the expression of ideas, but I feel they should always be taught as a means to expression. Good conventions on their own convey no ideas, inspire no action and carry no emotion to share with an audience. Problems in this area can be easily corrected in editing, whereas major problems in the area of expression such as a poorly defined purpose require a great deal of rewriting to correct.
The written word bears great importance in scripture.
Exo 32:16 And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
The creator of heaven and Earth wrote the laws he expected his people to follow by his own hand. For a more in depth study of the significance of this act, read this article from Follow the Rabbi. They were to be kept in the Ark of the Covenant, the most sacred of places to the Jews. The king was to write these and display them near his throne so that he would remember that he was but a servant of the Lord and all power and authority was derived from God. The Jewish people were to have the law written and displayed in prominent places in their homes, including the doorposts and even on their own clothing.
Proverbs makes this written law even more personal, calling for the law of the Lord to be written on the heart.
Pro 7:3 Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart.
The New Testament draws continual distinction between the written law and the oral tradition, or mishnah, which had slowly developed up to the time of Christ. The phrase, “it is written” is repeated continually, each time emphasizing the supremacy of God’s written word over man’s tradition. It is interesting to note, however, that Christ followed ALL of the written law and MOST of the oral tradition. And of course, we all know of that great Book of Life which contains the names of all faithful believers.
The primary purpose of writing is to provide the world with the message of God, His law and His plan of salvation. The Christian, therefore, has a responsibility to maintain this standard of excellence. This does not mean that the Christian may write only theological dissertations, but that he must continually uphold that which is good and holy in God’s eyes, whether it is a devotional, a newspaper article, a children’s story or a research article.
There are essentially three purposes for writing: to inform, to entertain and to persuade. It is important for a young person to recognize these purposes quickly. It will guide their reading, and later their writing. With practice, a child should be able to identify the primary purpose of a text before even reading it. The title and format usually give significant clues to the reader. A good reader will identify the purpose of a text and adjust their reading accordingly, just as a good writer will adjust his writing according to his purpose. Here is one beginning activity to teach this to your child. Make a sunburst diagram. This consists of a circle with the heading Purposes of Writing inside. Have your child give you as many purposes as he can think of and record each one as a ray from your circle. Examples might be for fun, to not forget, to give instructions, etc. Lead with questions if necessary. When you have a good sampling, stop.
Provide a sheet with three columns with one of the three purposes identified above as a heading for each (to inform, to persuade, to entertain). Help your child to sort his ideas into the appropriate category. When you are finished, you should have the basic ideas for a decent definition for each purpose, written in your child’s own words.
From this point forward, any time you read a text with your child, ask him to identify the author’s purpose (to inform, entertain or persuade) after you read the title, author and give him a moment to look at the text. Do this with a variety of texts: a newspaper article, a children’s book, a shopping list, a recipe or instructions to a game. If you give any writing assignments, take a moment to make sure your child knows his purpose in writing. This will be an important habit for him to develop and continue throughout his life. If you do not know why you are writing, there is really no way to express anything meaningful.
I encourage you to ask any questions, provide your own ideas or give me any feedback at all. I want to make this as helpful as possible to everyone, and I certainly am not the final authority on anything. Let me know how thing go…my suggestion would not to be to cover all this at once. Personally, I would share the definition of writing and what its “seeds” are one day, discuss the biblical purpose the next and work on the sunburst activity the third. After that, I would begin trying to form the habit of having your child identifying the purpose of a text each time he picks up something to read. This really is foundational to all writing and is worth taking it slow.
I would love to include samples as this progresses, so leave me a note and I’d be glad to link to your blog to highlight your child’s work.