Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Another Modest Proposal On Doing Research with Kids

I promised to follow up on my Oh Wow notes post and my MODEST PROPOSAL post about how to separate the research piece from the writing piece when working with children. As many people pointed out, the tips I've given are really insider tips--we professional writers work this way, or variations of this way.

So I'm going to surprise you with this suggestion, I bet, but I did hint at it. When you are ready to have your kids write up something based on their research, tell them to put away their notes. Or better yet, HIDE THEIR NOTES!


When I sit down to write a first draft of a book, I hide my own notes. I know I can always go back and check on the facts that I don't remember, so I put a little tk if I don't remember, say, a birthdate, or a place, or even a sequence of events. (That stands for to come. Why is it a K? I don't know! O.K., I had to go look it up. Here's what Media Bistro says: TK: A place marker used in drafts of an article to indicate missing information. It's short for tokum, which is the intentional misspelling of "to come," as in "more info to come.")

The idea is this: the meat of the story, the things that made you go OH WOW will stick with you, and you will pour that out in a first draft. And you (or they) will do it in your (their) own words! In their own words. Not copying from a source. [Bells ring, fireworks go off, teachers sigh with happiness....]

You're skeptical that kids will remember enough, aren't you? Start short and small, and start with topics they're already familiar with just as we did in my modest proposal. AND here's another idea: have them TELL it, not write it. Depending on your set-up if you're a teacher in a classroom, and depending on the atmosphere of the class, you can have each child stand up and tell a few things about her topic, just from memory. Or you could divide them into pairs or groups. If the kids are old enough, have one person in the pair or group write down what the researcher says aloud.

If you're doing this at home with one or two kids, it's easy. Have them just tell you all the things they remember and you can write it down in their words.

If you have a tape recorder use that.

The idea, to repeat myself, is that what you remember is the juicy stuff. That's what you want kids to write down. That's what people want to read, isn't it?

If your situation is such that you can't have the kids say it aloud, have them write down what they remember. That's the first draft. The second draft is going back to the notes and putting in the tks and other things that they (or you) think should be there.

Do NOT make a list of things that must be there, though. Or at least don't make a long list. If it's about someONE, sure, say they should include birth date and death date. But that's it. The idea here is to get kids away from copying things from books, from writing things in other people's words or voices. The idea here is to get kids used to writing things in their own words, in their own voices. The way to do it is to hide the notes.

Trust me.

When this posts, I will be away, in hiding, without my computer, in an undisclosed location. It's called a vacation. For four whole days! And then I will be at the Virginia Festival of the Book (come say hi if you're there. I'm on two panels.)

Anyway, I will answer questions, or defend myself, either in between the two trips or when I get back.


Carol Hinz said...

What a great suggestion, Deborah! I wonder if it would work the next time I'm drafting cover copy? I'll put away the book and write about the points that really stick with me. Seems worth a try!

Unknown said...

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