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What do you think of these ideas for writing from history, science, literature?

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I want my children(4th,6th,8th and maybe even occasionally 10th,11th) to do some more output from the history, science, and literature reading that they do. I don’t have a curriculum with worksheets or workbooks or questions. I wrote some writing ideas on index cards and labeled them with science, history, literature or some combination.


I would love some help figuring out if this is a good idea and how to go about using them. 


How often should I have them do this? daily but vary the subject, several times a week?


How much time should I take out of reading content to have them do one?


Do you have other ideas for cards or improvements on how I worded things?


Any and all input or critiques are welcome!





Here are the cards labeled with all three subjects


Card 1) Imitate a sentence you like or improve a sentence or two in your reading

Card 2) Write a scene for a play taken either from a historical event (which could include a scientific discovery) or a scientific process

Card 3) Write a song about an even, person, process, scientific term/fact/law

Card 4) Draw a scene from an event, a map with symbols or pictures, a diagram of a science concept or process

Card 5) Write a poem or section of poem somehow related to what you have read


Cards labeled  science/history


Card 1) Write a newspaper article about one of the following as though you are in that time period   a) a new product or technology  b) a historical event c) a scientific discovery

Card 2) Summarize a portion of what you read


Cards labeled Literature and history


Card 1) Tell a story from the viewpoint of

a)      A real person from a time past

b)      A fictional character that is in a past scene

c)      A different character in a literature book


Cards labeled literature


Card 1) Write a paragraph about one of the following

a)      Who the main character is and what the conflict is and who or what opposes the main character

b)      How the character changes or grows

c)      The setting


Card 2) Find a paragraph you like and dig deep:outline, reread, look for literary devices, analyze in any way you can think of

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The only critique I have is  that a lot of the prompts are "creative writing" oriented...which can be very frustrating when  you have literal minded children.  Ask me how I know... ;)  Quite a few of mine would freeze up if asked to write a song or poem or newspaper article...


My children need specific, really specific, writing prompts--and writing broken down into steps.  I'm rather partial to the guidelines given in SWB's writing lectures and literary analysis lectures.

Edited by Zoo Keeper
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Thank you for the input. I know the first time one of my kids tried to do one I would have learned that they aren't specific enough. I hadn't thought about them being creative, though I can see now that some are. I think I'll leave those in for options for my 9 year old prolific creative writer. I do want what they produce to show what they have learned/read.  Probably what I should do is try to write one of each and see what the more specific steps should be.

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I agree with Zoo Keeper.  Those are all fine ideas but they are all creative writing. SWB says in her talk on Middle School Writing that, in her opinion, all students need to learn expository writing but they don't all have to learn creative writing.  She also says that when a student writes a summary or outline of a history or science topic, they learn the material well. There is no need for other types of output (answering questions, worksheets, etc.)


In the 4th edition of TWTM, SWB says that the focus of logic stage writing is to order ideas. "Students need to continue to practice narrative summaries, learn how to write brief critical responses to literature, and--above all--learn to outline." (p. 450).  This means that a logic stage student should be writing narrative summaries and outlines in grades 5th-8th. 


I have my daughter write one outline once a week and we alternate between history and science.  If she is writing an outline for history this week, then she won't write one for science.  The following week she'll write an outline for science but not for history.  This ensures that she writes at least one outline every week. The outlining progression SWB recommends is the following:


5th Grade


• 1-Level Outline of one page (or 5-6 paragraph section ) of text



6th Grade


• 2-Level Outline of 1-2 pages (or 5-10 paragraphs) of text



7th Grade


• 3-Level Outline of 3 pages of text



8th Grade


• 3-Level Outline of 3-4  pages of text



This is simply to show the progression.  A student may be ready to write two-level outlines in the 5th grade.  You, as the teacher, move them to the next level when you think they are ready. In addition to outlining we are working through the WWS Level 2, writing narrative summaries for history, and short reports for science.  This coming school year I plan to have her do some creative writing as well. 


I highly recommend listening SWB's audio workshop "A Plan for Teaching Writing: Focus on the Middle Grades" . You can find it here https://welltrainedmind.com/p/a-plan-for-teaching-writing-focus-on-the-middle-grades-mp3/

 The MP3 is only $3.99 and you can listen to it right away.  Hope this helps.


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I don't know if you care to see it but, here is an example of the history work I have my daughter do on a typical week:



Late Renaissance – early Modern (1600-1850)

Chapter 8: The Middle of the East


â–¡ SOTW Vol. 3 – Section 1: â€œThe Persian Puzzleâ€, pp. 81-84. (I have grammar stage students as well so we read this together then my 7th grader goes off and does her assigned work)

â–¡ KIHW: Safavid Persia, pp. 346-347 (This is the Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World.  We have several history encyclopedias and I'll assign reading from the one I think provides the best information.  If they're all pretty close to the same on a given topic, we'll use the Kingfisher History of the World)

â–¡ Facts: List 6-8 of the most important facts, in your own words and in complete sentences. (Facts from the Kingfisher encyclopedia pages she read)

â–¡ Summary Write a ½-1 page long summary on the Safavid Dynasty (some times I assign topics and some times I let her choose)

â–¡ Map Work: Complete the map activity for student map p. 23 (She does the same map work activities assigned in the SOTW activity guide that my grammar stage students do but I give her a  blank map to label. She does this without referring to an atlas.  When she's done, she compares her map to the an atlas or a map that I've labeled and then makes any necessary corrections.  I also have her label additional locations that I think are important.  Finally, she locates the area under study on a wall map, globe, and atlas.



â–¡ SOTW Vol. 3 – Section 2: â€œThe Ottoman Turksâ€, pp. 84-88.

â–¡ Additional Reading: The Ottoman Empire by Adriane Ruggiero (she could choose to write about "Ottoman Cities and Towns" or "The Decline of the Ottoman Empire", etc.)

â–¡ Brief Summary: Write a summary on the Ottoman Empire (whichever topic she chose above)



â–¡ Time Line: Add important dates to your time line along with the accompanying caption (we get these dates from the SOTW or the Kngfisher Encyclopedia)

â–¡ Additional Reading: Countries of the World: Iran

â–¡ Outline: Select two pages from your reading and write a three-level outline

â–¡ Additional Activities: Sometimes we'll watch a YouTube video, do an an activity/craft for the SOTW activity guide, cook, watch a movie, dress up, field trip, etc.



I apologize for the lengthy post.  Hope it helps.

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I agree with adding some more good expository centered ideas, but I don't think this is too heavy on creative writing. There's more expository writing. And I don't see a dichotomy between them the way many people do. Imagining that you're writing a newspaper article that takes place in the fictional book you just finished is both creative and hones expository writing skills in a new way.

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How often should I have them do this? daily but vary the subject, several times a week?


​​I think this depends on their age and skill level. Also, this is very similar to CM style narration prompts. Do you have your children do oral narrations too? If so, then this also would play a role in how many times per week. In general for my family, younger children orally narrate very often and would only use some of the simpler cards (such as draw a picture or draw a diagram and label it), mid-elementary children would orally narrate often and use a card such as this maybe 2x per week and upper elementary/lower middle school might use these 2-3 times per week along with oral narrations. Of course, the latter age group should be doing other things to promote writing skills too. I would vary the subjects too.


How much time should I take out of reading content to have them do one?


​​I think that how much time they will need will depend on which one they choose, since some prompts will require more time than others. Also, I would value quality over quantity, so giving them more time but less of them would be my focus. This is why keeping up with oral narrations and other lessons which support writing would be important to me.



Do you have other ideas for cards or improvements on how I worded things?


I think they look good. I like the variations, but I would be careful with some of the creative prompts attached to history and science. I think the cards for writing songs, poems, play scenes (in the category for all 3 subjects) might be part of the rotation only very occasionally as these prompts will be harder than with fiction/literature. I do agree with Farrar that the interplay between creativity and expository writing works on many skills at once and is valuable for that reason. I also agree that you might want to add a few more options (slightly less creative focused)  to give more options when reading nonfiction (history and science). The prompts you have so far are a good start though. Writing a newspaper article about a history event or a science concept or invention still covers the who, what, where, when, how and why in writing just as a summary would do. I also agree with Zookeeper that you may need to sit down and write out more specific steps for some of these prompts to give your students more guidance, especially at the beginning. For a few extra ideas, you might consider adding writing a letter and creating charts/tables (these both can be used with nonfiction and the latter works on writing skills too).


One of the main points of emphasis for using narration (or open prompts such as these) is to allow the student to take from what he/she has read or learned and communicate through writing (or picture) how this new knowledge was internalized by him/her. I think that often open prompts are mistaken for expecting creativity (and some of them really do) when actually they are just expecting the student to communicate their own personal knowledge. This is not to say that I don't think there is a need or time for more specific expectations with regard to writing. And some children do need more explicit instruction when writing is involved.


I hope this helps a little. :)

Edited by Kfamily
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