Having worked with young writers for more than two decades, we have noticed that for some students, the toughest part is getting started. At JBH Tutoring, we especially enjoy the prewriting stage because we get to see how the conversations we have with students in session leads them to “thinking aloud,” and moves them closer toward drafting.
When a student is given a writing prompt, we first ask them to identify its key words. Next, we begin a conversation. We first ask the student to identify the best words to answer the prompt. After that, we give them feedback on their specific “answer” words, guiding them toward the most precise and sophisticated language. To do this, we often refer to a dictionary, seeking the closest synonyms to their answer words. We tell them that when they begin drafting, they can alternate their answer words with the synonyms they found in the dictionary.
Although all parts of the prewriting process are important, the conversations are often where the spark of thoughts and words ignite. When talking about the physical and psychological decline of Reverend Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter, one high school junior said this: “it’s not the sin, it’s the secret.” When discussing what made renowned Indian emperor Ashoka enlightened, a first year high school student remarked: “it was his ability to admit his mistakes and change.”
During these critical conversations, we witness, capture and respond positively to our students’ thinking. We provide them an opportunity to find the right combination and sequence of words to encapsulate their ideas. Even after all these years, we continue to marvel at the power and magic of conversation in this early stage of the writing process.