How to Help Your Kid Stand Out From Their Very First Writing Piece

by Melissa on August 23, 2010

Here at Tandem Teaching we often give you the “inside scoop” about how to help your child navigate the educational system. But there’s one thing that’s about to come up for almost every kid across America that you don’t need us to fill you in on, because you’ve experienced it yourself on more than one occasion: the infamous “What I Did This Summer” essay.

Thousands of teachers in countless classrooms across the country give that prompt for students to write to. And, from a teacher’s perspective, the stories sound eerily the same! Sure, the places they visited or the things they were up to vary. But they basically consist of a stream of sentences, listing different events. There’s no real voice, and frankly they’re kind of boring.

Today, I’m going to give you a quick and easy tip on how to set your kiddo apart from the rest of the group.

Their teacher will be dazzled by their essay, and it will take you less than ten minutes to show your child how to set themselves apart.

You’ve got to tell them the difference between a seed topic and a watermelon topic. Let them in on a little secret about prompts: They ask you to write about a watermelon idea most of the time!

If you list every single thing you did this summer, you’ll lose your reader right away. People aren’t as interested in all of the big details that surround the exciting event (watermelon). They’re more interested in reading about a special moment that is really important. When you zoom in and write about one of those, you are writing about what Lucy Caulkins, one of the greatest writing teachers of our time, calls a “seed idea.”

Explain to your kiddo that one trick great writers use to move their stories from good to great is to really think abut the story they want to tell. Then, they zoom in on an important, exciting part of the story, and tell it in detail. It’s much more interesting to read about seeds than watermelons.

Ask them about something exciting they did, and ask them which part of that experience was the best. Then, have fun reliving it with them!

For example, this summer I went camping with my family.

Now, I could say that I had a special time with my family when I went camping this summer. But that’s a big old watermelon. I’m going to think back to that experience so that I can really zoom in and remember the special moments. I’m going to think about my favorite parts of camping, the seeds.

  • A really special time was when I was with my cousin Mikey, and he caught his first fish!
  • Another cool thing we did was we drove our golf cart far out into the woods. Then we hiked a little bit farther, and shot beebee guns at a target.
  • I also had a really great time when I was actually driving to the campground with my grandma and grandpa. My grandpa told me a really interesting story that I would love to write about.

Your kids can turn those watermelons into seeds to write really interesting stories and answer the prompt at the same time!

Just because they’re being asked to “write a watermelon” doesn’t mean they have to leave out their pizzazz.

Want more tips on making the school year run smoothly? Get 45 information-packed minutes of Melissa, Queenie and Patrick giving their best tools and techniques for free. Click here to listen.

Melissa is the founder of Tandem Teaching and teaches in the inner-city. She blogs weekly about tips parents can implement to enhance their connection with their children and ways to bring out their children’s inherent gifts. Contact her for a private consulting session.