Sherry’s Writing Weblog

October 29, 2008

Finding a Message

Filed under: Writing Lessons — sdoherty @ 8:53 pm

In my classroom days I remember reading many pieces of writing that were all over the place and thinking “What exactly is this student writing about?”  Can you relate?  Students have difficulty narrowing a topic and finding a central message.  They need specific guidance on how to do this, and plenty of feedback. 

 For instance, if I wrote a piece on my dog (Jagger) and I included his breed; how much he weighs (he’s quite fat); what he eats, that he loves to go for walks; that he can’t greet me in the morning without socks in his mouth; that one time he chewed my girlfriend’s favourite pair of $100 sandals; and how much I love him; I would have a piece of writing with a topic (Jagger) but no message.  What exactly am I trying to say?  I need to narrow that topic down to one specific idea–the socks.  Now I have a message.  My writing is all about Jagger and his love for socks.

Kelly Winney taught me the value of helping kids to find their message.  She suggests using a prompt.  To explain, I’ll give the example that we used at our Summer Institute.  All of the participants were given a topic for a Quick Write (for an explanation of a Quick Write, see below).  The topic was “My First Bicycle”.  Everyone wrote for a few minutes and then we shared.  Then we discussed the fact that we all had the same topic (my first bicycle), but we had different messages.  Some participants wrote about what their bicycles looked like; others wrote about their sense of freedom; and so on.  This is a great way to get kids to understand the notion of “message”.

If you have any ideas for how to help kids narrow a topic and find a message, I would love to hear them.

Quick Write:  Students are given a topic or a prompt.  They must write for 2-5 minutes (depending upon the age) and their pencils may not leave the page.  If they run out of ideas then they write one word, such as their name, over and over until another thought comes to mind.  Aimee Buckner would call this a ‘writing for fluency’ strategy.

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1 Comment »

  1. I love reading the comments about writing as I am always looking for great ideas to pass on to my colleagues. One thing I remember Kelly Winney once saying about helping students find their message is to read a piece that they have written about a topic and highlight a sentence in their piece that could be a message. After you highlight and conference with the student, have them go back and write again but use the highlighted sentence as a “story starter” for their topic. For instance, if you were writing all about Jagger, your dog, highlight ther part where you said, “He greats me every morning with a sock in his mouth”. Take that sentence and begin a new story with that statement. Perhaps this will help students to give a clear message about their topic. I hope my explanation is clear.

    Comment by Andrea Fischer — November 1, 2008 @ 4:40 pm


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