Few parents think about dinner when they are concerned about their child’s writing, but it offers a wealth of opportunity to expand your child’s storytelling and descriptive abilities. According to Indiana’s Common Core English Language Arts: Grade 5, “Each year in their writing, students should demonstrate increasing sophistication in all aspects of language use, from vocabulary and syntax to the development and organization of ideas, and they should address increasingly demanding content and sources.” The following activities can improve your student’s ability to produce clear and coherent writing.
- Ask a question. For example, ask everyone to tell about the funniest thing that happened at school or work today. If someone claims nothing funny happened, ask about the worst moment of the day. The important thing is not the question or even the response; it is that everyone participates. When your child relates the humorous events, pay attention and ask follow-up questions that not only show you were listening, but also help the child to explain the events and get them into proper order.
- Create a story one sentence at a time. One person starts a story with a sentence, such as, “Once upon a time, there was a frog and a bear who were friends.” Then moving to the right each person adds a sentence. The story can take many strange turns and twists, because no one knows what the next person will add. When a story goes in crazy directions and gets out of order, laugh and gently point it out, but do not change the direction. If a child does not add a complete or grammatically correct sentence, let it pass. The idea is to get them telling a story.
- Finish a story. Read the beginning. Then, work as a group to finish the story. You can read the beginning a children’s book no one has read yet. After you have worked together to finish the story, read the book and compare your ending with the author’s ending. You can also write your own beginning or use websites like Finish the Story and StuartStories.com to print out a beginning to a story. If you come up with a good ending, you can submit your ending to the website. That may also help build your child’s confidence.
- What is everyone reading? What is your favorite book and why? Each family member talks about a favorite book or the current book he is reading. For example, describe a favorite character or villain from the book. This activity builds the descriptive abilities, and can lead to the creation of better characters in his writing.
- Create a character. Go in order around the table, so everyone is involved. Be open to all ideas. Each person adds a characteristic including, but not limited to the following:
- Give the character a specific problem or task
- Tell about what the character fears: i.e. spiders, small spaces, trees (According to Julie Sullivan, eHow Contributor.)
- Type of animal: i.e. human, monkey, dog
- Physical description: i.e. tall, small, thin, fat
- Mental state: i.e. generally sad, happy, cautious
- Life events: birthday, marriage, children (wikihow.com)
- Where the character lives and its surroundings
- What are the character’s favorite things (wikihow.com)
Before working with your kids, you may want to improve your own writing and descriptive abilities. Get help from the following web pages: “How to Create a Convincing Character For Your Story,” “How to Define Characters in a Story,” and “How to Write a Short Story.” Also become familiar with the Indiana standards for your child’s grade.
The family dinner table can be useful for many things — from discussions of the events of the day to activities that are meant to build writing and social abilities. Remember the important thing is to have an enjoyable meal with your family.