home school writing advice, tips, and information

Tag Archives: teaching genres

Many students prefer to study math or science or history rather than read poems or stories. So how do you get them to write?

The best thing about teaching reading and writing, especially when a child is homeschooled, is that the student can learn to read and write by studying anything that interests him or her.

If you are interested in teaching reading and writing through the curricular area your child is most interested in, there is a logical sequence to use:

1. Read narratives about the subject. If you are teaching history, this is easy because all of history is a story. If you are teaching math or science, this may be a bit more difficult. Look through your textbook and find a mathematician or scientist and study his or her story. Better yet, research a mathematical or scientific discovery. If your child does not like to read, you may want to watch Through the Wormhole hosted by Morgan Freedman. This series explores scientific and mathematical ideas in a analytic manner, but each segment is told through narrative. A wonderful narrative about a woman’s experience as a scientist and with her personal experience with science is My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor Ph.

2. Write a narrative about the subject. Allowing a child to write their own story about the subject provides an opportunity for exploring the elements of writing a narrative: character, setting, obstacles and resolution. You may want to take the pressure off by suggesting your child write the narrative in the form of a children’s book. If you check out some books at the library written for children about science such as What is the World is Made of by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld and Paul Meisel, this will give your child a model to follow.

3.  Read biographies of famous people in the curricular area. Books such as My Inventions by Nikola Tessla provides students with an opportunity through autobiography to see inside an inventor’s thought processes, failures and successes.

4. Write a biography of a famous. Using the book, rewrite the biography in a format for children. The assignment provides the student with an opportunity to choose the most important parts of the biography, synthesize this information and compose the information for another reader.

5. Read research articles in the curricular area. For access to these types of articles, visit a local university or college library, or complete a search on Google Scholar. Type in keywords of interest, then search through the options. At a library, you will be directed to periodicals either in the library or on-line. Google Scholar may direct you to a pay site, but there will also be many article for free.

6. Write a review of the research read. By summarizing the research and then providing a criticism, compliment and suggestion for use, students will engage with research in a way which helps them understand how research is used.

7. Write a research article. The most advanced type of writing is for the student to propose a thesis, research the thesis and then argue for his or her thesis.

By reading and writing narrative, biographies, research, reviews and articles, your child will have learned to write in an area of curriculum which interests him or her.

* For guidelines for writing each type of these assignments, check out my book, Writing With Home. 


Stories, or narratives, are the way most humans make sense of the world.

Nonfiction writing, expository texts, are the way most writers make a living and most college students earn a degree.

Then are we wasting time teaching students to write stories?

In my experience, the most memorable information is told through story. Therefore, good writers must know how to write good stories so when they begin to write about information, they will write about the information in a way that is memorable.

Writing stories or narratives requires several key elements to engage the reader:

1. creating a setting – where? when?

2. creating or introducing the characters – who?

3. describing a conflict – what? why?

4. describing the resolution – how?

Once students are proficient at writing a narrative, these skills can be translated into nonfiction or expository writing which requires several key elements to make the information appeal to the reader:

1. explaining context – where? when?

2. introducing the information – what?

3. creating or explaining the relevance – why? who?

4. describing the application – how?

As you can see, the basic formula for writing about a topic is answering questions. What makes a narrative compelling is the reader’s connection with the characters. What makes nonfiction compelling is the reader’s connection to the information. Where these two genres collide and make magic is when these skills are combined and create compelling characters interacting with interesting information.

Take for instance the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder which explains the health care system in a third world country by telling the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his experiences.

Teaching children to write narratives, then teaching children to write nonfiction can progress to making magic with combining the genres.

If the best writing advice is to “write what you know” then narratives is the best place to start for children because they know their stories. As they learn about the world, they can then share their knowledge with others. Finally, when they have experience with information, and they are proficient at writing narratives and expository, they will be able to write what the industry calls creative nonfiction.


“Form follows function.” –Frank Lloyd Wright

Today I was helping a student write a book review. She had written a rambling summary and a rambling review. It felt wonderful to be able to point out to her that there is a specific form for writing a review. I was able to point out to her which parts of her draft adhered to the genre’s expectations and how to tighten the remainder of the draft to fit a reader’s expectations.

And this is one of the most powerful tools for teaching writing, being able to teach form, formulas, or reader expectations for specific genres.

Providing students with a form for a writing assignment takes the magic out of the writing experience. This can be good and bad.

It can be good in that students who don’t believe they are capable of writing such complicated communications find these pieces of writing aren’t as complicated as they thought.

It can be bad in that students who are naturally creative writers may feel confined by the formula.

But, I explain to my students that formulas are like training wheels on bicycles. They are there to steady the writing/riding and they aren’t necessary once we have our balance.

I also explain that only really good riders pop wheelies or do bunny-hops or ride with no hands. We must become proficient at the formula before we can perform tricks.

A quick search will provide teachers, tutors and parents with graphic organizers for planning to write a variety of genres.

Form truly does follow function. Yet, it is true that this weekend when I was trying to hang a new ceiling fan in my son’s bedroom, the directions more closely resembled the diction of a poem than a recipe for successful installation.