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Funny Shakespeare essay by a 14yo boy - and a serious question following

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Greetings all,


I've been working through WWS1 with my two 14yos and this is the week 20 essay that I marked this morning after a number of minor corrections a word order changes. For those that aren't using WWS the assignment was basically to write a one paragraph biographical sketch about Shakespeare and then 3 paragraphs outlining the different types of plays that he wrote. The essay conforms to those expectations.


So now my question. How do I explain the importance of learning to write in a formal style to a child that is solidly headed toward trades. He says formal writing is boring. He's also smart enough to realize that he can't write to everyone this way. I think that he's assuming that it will be natural to transition to formal writing as the occasion arises. To some extent this is probably true. Thoughts?




In April 1564 in the small town of Stratford-upon-Avon a young boy named William Shakespeare was born. When young William was of the right age he was sent to the Stratford free school. When William was 19 he married a young woman called Anne Hathaway and had three children with her. Later on William was caught poaching deer so to try to flee from a guilty conscience he set off for London to be an actor. Instead of being an actor he became an enormously successful play writer. Finally William Shakespeare kicked the bucket at the age of 62.


In Shakespeare’s comedies the hero and the heroines and most of the rest of the people in the play get married. As You Like it is a foolish play were earldoms are taken away “wrongfullyâ€, people are banished, end up falling in love with each other and everything turns out wonderfully in the end in a most unrealistic way. A Midsummer Night's Dream is about a couple of couples who get all mixed up by a fairy king who has had an argument with his fairy queen. In the end everybody is reconciled and they live happily ever after.


Shakespeare’s tragedies are a totally different set of plays. In this set of plays the foolish heroes usually accidentally on purpose kill a bunch of people and then die themselves in the end. Romeo and Juliet is a play about two families that have a blood feud. But a boy from one family and a girl from the other fall in love with each other. And in the end both thinking the other to be dead they commit suicide in turn. King Lear is a play about an old King and his wicked daughters. His jealous daughters end up killing each other and then the old king dies of grief.

The historical plays that he wrote are recounting historical events with some made up stuff added in. Richard III is a play about a man who kills a bunch of people in order to become the king. Richard V is a portrayal of, in Shakespeare’s mind, the ideal king.



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He has a good writing voice. And if this is an indication, he has solid mechanics, which really goes a long way.


Maybe play around with writing in different voices and styles? And I wouldn't immediately go to, say, "literary essay" as one of them right away. Things like advertising copy or letter to the editor or poem... different forms and genres require really different voices. A formal voice is just another voice. So let him turn his skills into different forms and see how that goes. Maybe write the same thing for different genres. Like, the same topic for a tabloid article and for a newspaper article. The same description in a letter to your grandmother and in a series of texts to your best friend.


If he's going into a trade, he's probably right that he won't ever need to write a ton of formal essays, but he'll have to write some. And he may need to write proposals, formal letters, job application type stuff, and may need to write in other arenas of life in a relatively formal style. It's a tool. Having your own voice to tweak and having a solid sense of basic mechanics and organization are really the biggest hurdles and he's gotten there already. It'll probably work out fine.

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I'd just say, all kinds of writing can be useful, no matter what you are doing in life.  It might be in terms of career - my  cousin now teaches at the trade school and has to write in his job. 


But he could find himself wanting to write something formal to his political representative, or on behalf of his child, and any number of other things.


Many kinds of writing, and even just thinking, use the skills you gain from practicing formal writing.


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I'd just encourage you by saying that he will probably surprise you how much his writing style matures as his brain and body do over the next few years. My 2nd DS always (and no, I am not exaggerating when I say *always*) added sly references to The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings and/or inside jokes to his compositions. It drove me absolutely batty and no amount of discussion about appropriate academic writing had any effect whatsoever. That was about a year or so ago.


Last month he wrote an essay that made me cry it was so good. And nary a Hobbit to be found in the whole thing. :lol:


Keep pluggin' on and he'll probably mature.

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If you want formal, you might have to give him a purpose for formal (business writing, a technical description, etc.). My son is doing WWS, and he has some learning issues (ASD, etc.). He wrote an essay with a tone much like this one for the Mars assignment (if I am remembering correctly--he is, THANKFULLY, doing this with a tutor!). Just getting thoughts on paper is a huge thing for him. His formal writing is like pulling teeth because he struggles to make generalizations. I think when he is somewhat humorous, he has an easier time stringing his thoughts together.


I suspect my son is headed for trades also, but we don't know, and what's holding him back in WWS also holds him back in other areas too, so I am still aiming at some formal writing. 


Could you have your son write more formal essays on topics of his own choosing? If he sees a point to it, perhaps you will be able to see if he's transferring skills to formal writing or not, and if he is, then you can be more at ease when he churns out lighter work. 


I think his essay is quite fun aside from your concerns. I truly hated formal literary writing, and I was not really taught how to write literary essays. I went on to be a great tech writer, and I still hate literary essays. I don't write for pleasure, but I truly enjoy writing for a purpose.

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He says formal writing is boring.

I my experience, if something is boring to write, it will probably be boring to read. If something is fun to write, it will probably be fun to read. Rejoice that his essay both meets the requirements of the assignment and is entertaining to read.


My first impression of the essay was *not* that it lacked formality. He uses varied sentence structures, well organized paragraphs, and clear transitions. He doesn't use as many commas as I would like, but that is a result of the complexity of his sentences and will come with work.


Rather, I get the impression that he (1) got attached to certain phrases in the middle and (2) ran out of steam towards the end. The phrases "of the right age," "kick the bucket" and "accidentally on purpose" are a bit casual and give the essay its humerous feel. Your son also use refers to Shakespeare as "William," instead of the more formal method of using the last name, possibly because your son is picturing a child in that paragraph versus an adult. If you suggested changing any of these things, I imagine that you got a lot of push-back from your son.


A bigger issue is the ending. He resorts to phrases like "some made up stuff" and "a bunch of people," and he repeats the word "kill" three time. This simplistic vocabulary and the skimpy last paragraph are a sharp contrast to the skills demonstrated in earlier parts of the essay. Could he have gotten tired and rushed the ending in order to be done?


He's also smart enough to realize that he can't write to everyone this way.

Have you discussed audience and purpose/slant with him? Currently, the audience is mom/teacher, and the purpose is to get the assignment done. He many need help envisioning a different target audience and purpose to reach a more consistent, formal tone.

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BTW, my dd who loves to write, but struggles with it some too is working through WWS this year too. She did this essay a few months ago. She got a big kick out of this, and loved it! :) 

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