education · Jewy goodness · Kids

Day 261: My method, her madness

“You know, Eema, your writing process is weird… but it works!”

That was K, after two hours of discussion and a few minutes of (virtual) cutting and pasting yielded three pages of her thoughts on her parsha (Torah portion.)

For her Bat Mitzvah, K has to write a D’var Torah, a speech in which she discusses some kind of theme from the week’s reading. She’s supposed to reference Torah scholars from ages past and present before adding her own take on the subject. Because it involves writing, K was frustrated with the assignment from day one; but on the flip side, she has always been fascinated by discussions about the Torah—I suspect it’s the intellectual exercise and the logic she enjoys, although I could be wrong. Anyhow, I have always known that K would have a lot to say when she was given the opportunity.

She was resistant to doing any work on her D’var Torah (hence the tantrums last week) until we stumbled upon an aspect of the story that she hadn’t yet considered. After checking with the rabbi, and requesting a few more sources, K changed her topic. This morning we read the articles the rabbi sent, and then I asked K to tell me what she thought. The floodgates opened and her opinions came pouring out; I just typed out what she said, word for word.


It was such an exciting exercise, getting her thoughts from her head into a document, that I thought I’d share my process for any of you whose kids share K’s struggle with writing.

Step One: Do your research. At a minimum, read about the subject. Read examples of other people’s work in the same format you need to write. Read what other people have already said and thought on the topic. For parents helping our kids through this process, this probably means reading aloud with them.

Step Two: Be the secretary. Engage the student in conversation on the topic. Ask open-ended questions like “what do you think of…” or “why do you suppose…” and then listen. Write down everything they say, in their own words.

Step Three: Sort through all the notes and group them according to subject, which part of the writing they are for, or any other classification that you think makes sense. Use cut and paste on your computer, or cut up the paper and actually move items around to group them under headings. Or do what I did in university and assign a different colour highlighter to each heading, and just highlight your notes accordingly.

Step Four: Build a skeleton of the final product: I do this by typing a short description of what each section should be. Stuff like [everything about the idea of free will goes here] or [paragraph about collective punishment]. Make sure each of your headings from step three has a place in this outline.

Step Five: Cut and paste again, so that all of the notes from the transcript of her responses are in the corresponding parts of the outline.

Step Six: Now that most of the content is there, go ahead and write introductions, segues, and conclusions. If more content is needed, go back to step two and have your student answer verbally while you transcribe.

Step Seven: Revise. Have the student decide whether the ideas flow well or whether they should be rearranged. Keep trying things in different order until you find the one that works best.

Step Eight: Polish it up, and you’re done. Pat your student on the back for producing a good piece of writing. Pat yourself on the back for being patient and keeping your cool when you hit resistance.


I’m sure that process was obvious to some of my readers, but it sure wasn’t obvious to K. Her astonishment at how well it works was almost as validating to me as was her joy at seeing her own articulate, energetically expressed opinions organized and in writing.

Now I just have to guide her through this process a few hundred more times over the next five and a half years, and she’ll be able to do it by herself just in time for university.

4 thoughts on “Day 261: My method, her madness

  1. Fabulous and she will learn how to do it on her own. SO proud for both of you! Also good for her sibs to see how it worked so they will know the process as they hit her age.

  2. It’s so hard to remember that the important part of writing a paper isn’t the “putting it down on paper” part, it’s the “thinking up the ideas” part. As a parent, you can type up your child’s thoughts for them and it’s totally not cheating, regardless of what your brain tries to tell you (or is it only my brain that says it’s cheating?). And you’re right, the child who is resistant to write might be resistant only to the physical part of writing, not to the mental part.

    1. Natalieinne—my inner voice used to think that was cheating, too. But my husband reminds me frequently that professional writers don’t necessarily come up with every idea on their own, and they have editors who might doctor their writing for brevity or clarity… the idea that kids who are still learning the skills should write something alone from start to finish is kind of silly when I look at it that way.

  3. I recently came up with something similar for my 7-year old who just couldn’t get started on his simple (3 – 5 sentences) writing assignment. I didn’t want to formulate the sentences for him, so we talked about it, with me asking open-ended questions, etc, and I recorded the conversation with the voice memo app on my phone. Then we replayed the most relevant parts of what he said a couple of times, until he was confident about what to write down. I was worried that I was helping too much, so your post made me feel better this approach 🙂

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