“Children have imagination enough to grasp any idea, and respond to it, if it is put to them honestly and without a patronizing pat on the head.” Armstrong Sperry
Third grade students share wild stories, repeat hearsay from their parents, and form opinions about the best brand of tractors or whether you should eat candy or not. It’s a delightful mix of middle-sized children and adult sized ideas. I have a third grader myself. One who has endless energy and so many ideas to execute in one day that he can’t stop to shower or go to bed. Third graders use big imaginations but love to “replay” big people things too. They are in that age when flitting from one idea to the next is easier than perseverance. They know how to read, follow directions, and use logic, but they are easily distracted. Can third graders do creative writing with all their beautiful and tender tendencies? Yes!
I think third graders would do well with making lists. Here’s some examples from a real third grader:
What makes you feel loved at home?
~ When mom is at home
~ When dad has time to play Legos with me
~ When Kyla and I hum on the way to church
What are three jobs you often must do at home?
~ (For dad) Push mow the yard
~ (For mom) Do dishes.
~ (For myself) Wash my hair.
What is your favorite kind of day?
~ When I eat a yogurt parfait at breakfast
~ When I can build something
~ When I’m allowed to have a popsicle
These lists are short, manageable, but specific. The goal for lists is to have the students connect with the question in a way that gives a layered result. The answers to the first question on what make you feel loved at home show that he loves security and quality time and togetherness. He would not have verbalized those things, but what appears as playful, normal activities shows something much deeper in the heart of the child. When coaching a third grader to write lists its often a good idea to ask questions and work through them together. For example, “What is something your mom does in the kitchen that makes you feel all warm and safe?” Or maybe, “what is something peaceful that happens with your sibling that makes you feel happy?”
A few tips.
Always give your own examples. Go slow. Young children can get overwhelmed with too many suggestions-it’s better to just set the timer and require them to have something written in two or three minutes. It’s alright to let students share their ideas but encourage the students to write their own. If you have a third grader who is especially stumped and just cannot seem to think, maybe have him draw a picture or write his name in doodles and then come back to the assignment. Creative writing class should never be a distressing situation for a child. Learn to know what stressors make the children tune out.
Another idea that third graders can handle is to write How-To Instructions for a small project. This is a great exercise in paragraph construction, and nobody even has to mention big scary paragraphs. The best way to get the students interested in this one is to give your own example and then pass out subjects for them to write about that are tailored to their interests. Maybe a student likes to keep a tidy desk. Maybe someone else knows how to play dodgeball well or is kind to newcomers. Here is an example of a third grader’s work.
A few tips.
Utilize the student’s talents. Have them write the goal to start out right. For example, “To play dodgeball well, you need to…” Try to keep it to something that can be explained in 1,2,3 steps. Add an illustration or pretty lettering. Here is an example of a third grader’s work.
Continue Story Books
One final idea is to use children’s books to encourage imagination and wonder. Read the first lines of a picture book and have the student answer some questions, continue the story, or write some dialogue between the first characters introduced.
Here are some examples:
“In the wood there was a tramp-making pancakes. And in the wood, there was a little skunk, sitting in a hollow stump-watching the tramp.”
What is something the skunk might’ve asked the tramp? My daughter said immediately, “May I have one?” 😊 Have your student write two or three sentences of dialogue out of their imagination.
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
Have the students write two reasons that mother could’ve answered. Encourage creativity. Papa could’ve been going to get firewood or trading his ax for something they needed badly, but maybe Papa was going to cut down a honey tree to get the honey out of it too.
“Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, ”I am running away!”
This is a great story starter for the students to simply continue. Where did he go, what did he see, who did he talk to? But you could also have a discussion on times when they feel like running away. And then conclude by the students making a list of why they might feel like running back home.
1. If you need a drink
2. If you want to tell someone what you saw
3. If you’d rather be with people
4. If you want to play with your baby brother
Third graders are at the age when they don’t have spelling down pat. Be prepared to spell lots of words for them. On the other hand, it’s okay for students to spell things how it sounds and just leave it at that. Again, polished pieces do not need to be the goal.
It’s excellent practice just to have students verbalizing ideas and writing them down. This will set them on a trajectory for good habits down the road. Keep it fun, light, and simple. No reason to bog down on long stories or heavy writing techniques.
It's worth your time to help third graders learn to write - they have much to teach us.