This is the big question, I think. How does simple narration—oral, and then written—grow into formal composition?
I have been through this process three complete times, and while I couldn’t possibly say that the way I’ve done it is the only right way, I know it works. I’m in the midst of the process with my youngest child right now, and I find myself calmly confident that following certain incremental steps will take us from the first clumsy written narrations to fluent written narrations to actual composition and essay-writing.
Over the years, I’ve shared my process piecemeal, in response to specific needs and questions, but in Know and Tell I’ve gathered a description of the entire process into one place. I have one chapter devoted to developing simple written narration, but the longest chapter in the book (by a wide margin) is the chapter that lays out the process of developing written narration into composition, step by step. I’ve even provided three different time-lines for the process, so that you can fit the plan into three, four, or five years—beginning in 8th, 9th, or even 10th grade.
I’ll walk you through the process of teaching your students to edit and polish their work, provide structure to their writing, and preserve their own writing voice as they learn to write in traditional forms. Know and Tell is not a fully-developed writing curriculum, but it will show you how to develop writing without a curriculum, and explain when adding such a curriculum to your efforts, if you want to, will be most effective.
In Know and Tell, I’ll be showing you how you can gradually increase the length of written narrations, and then begin to shape them into compositions and essays. I’ve laid out the steps in a natural progression that will preserve your student’s own writing voice. Very prescriptive writing programs often result in stilted writing. I’ll be encouraging you to help your student structure her writing while retaining a more natural style. You might think you want your student to be able to write a five-paragraph-essay (and you do), but please read this:
From the article: “There may be no greater enemy to quality writing than the 5-paragraph essay.”
When we use narration as the foundation for composition and writing, we have a strong, natural foundation that can forgo the stilted, artificial process of building an essay with sentence-by-sentence rules. Did you know that you can explain the idea of a five-paragraph-essay (beginning, middle, end) to an accomplished narrator in about fifteen minutes, and they will probably be able to write one? Mature students are ready to think about the structure of their writing, and a minimum of instruction will give them a grasp of what is expected, and then they are free to focus on content, and saying what they want to say. This is why students who learn to write through narration impress their college professors.
In Know and Tell, I’ll suggest a few critical resources to use that will build your student’s writing skills, but it is the daily writing, and eventually rewriting and polishing, that will grow your narrators into writers.