My husband and I always get into some interesting conversations, and that’s when I have some of my best ideas. Yesterday we were talking about my son. My son is taking a writing course in which he rewrites paragraphs based on an outline he makes of the original. He is using Institute for Excellence in Writing, a curriculum which I highly recommend. The instructor was once a little boy who hated writing. One of the biggest issues little boys have is coming up with new material while actively engaged in the process of writing. Thinking up new content and physically writing use two different parts of the brain, so it’s hard, unless you are practiced at it. So in this class, he does one thing at a time. He writes a content outline one day, and writes a paragraph the next. We have only been doing this for a couple weeks, but so far it’s working out well! Anyway, here’s an idea I had yesterday on my drive to the city:
Why not pull a paragraph from a classic novel that your child is unfamiliar with, read that paragraph to them, and have them come up with what happens next? In Ian’s case, I would probably have him spend a half-hour or so pulling all of the important ideas from the given paragraph, writing them down in outline form (by sentence), and rewriting the paragraph in his own words the following day, using the outline as a guide. Next day, we would brainstorm what happens next, and I would probably go so far as to make my own outline based on his ideas. (Sticking with the idea of not having to write and think at the same time.) On the fourth day, I would have him write the second paragraph based off the outline I wrote.
Here’s an example of a few lines from Around the World in Eighty Days:
“A suttee,” returned the general, “is a human sacrifice, but a voluntary one. The woman you have just seen will be burned tomorrow at the dawn of day.”
While Sir Francis was speaking, the guide shook his head several times, and now said: “The sacrifice which will take place tomorrow at dawn is not a voluntary one.”
The guide now led the elephant out of the thicket, and leaped upon his neck. Just at the moment that he was about to urge Kiouni forward with a peculiar whistle, Mr. Fogg stopped him, and, turning to Sir Francis Cromarty, said, “Suppose we save this woman.”
Here is an excerpt from The Jungle Book:
“Yonder is the road to the Jungle” – Mowgli pointed through the window. “Your hands and feet are free. Go now.”
“We do not know the Jungle, my son, as – as thou knowest,” Messua began. “I do not think that I could walk far.”
“And the men and women would be upon our backs and drag us here again,” said the husband.
“H’m!” said Mowgli, and he tickled the palm of his hand with the tip of his skinning knife; “I have no wish to do harm to any one of this village – yet. But I do not think they will stay thee. In a little while they will have much else to think upon. Ah!” he lifted his head and listened to shouting and trampling outside. “So they have let Buldeo come home at last?”
“He was sent out this morning to kill thee,” Messua cried. “Didst thou meet him?”
One more idea. You can use modern books or books that your children really like. Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians, for instance:
My moment of weakness passed quickly, and I slammed the door closed and locked the old man outside. Then I went to the kitchen to get some breakfast.
That, however, is when someone drew a gun on me.
Or even The Amazing Tale of Steve: Minecraft Novel:
Simon! Captured? Just like in my dream! It wasn’t just a dream then! He was trying to communicate with me…What else did he say?