Be sure to visit the shop and download a free template on how to create your Cereal Box Book Reports!
Cereal Box Book Reports are an engaging way to draw out reluctant writers. Most of the writing is done in small doses and includes visual elements that inspire their imaginations.
Cereal Box Reports can be done on books the child has read on their own, books that have been shared as a read aloud, or even audio books you’ve enjoyed in the car. The point of this exercise is giving a child the opportunity to share their thoughts about the book.
If your reluctant writer isn’t ready to write the book report on the back, take the report as dictation and write it for them. Allow them to take your written work and copy it in the own hand if this is something they can do successfully in a short amount of time. Do not labor for hours over copying the report. This is counter-productive. Having them write the report is secondary to this exercise.
Breaking the process down into smaller pieces reduces the overload a writing project can present. Reluctant writers aren’t reluctant because they are lazy. Writing an assignment like this one involves several brain functions that have to happen all at once. They have to think about the book and what they want to say about it. They have to think about how to phrase that in complete sentences. Then they have to think about how to spell all the words in those sentences and how to properly write each letter of the words. They have to recall how to punctuate the sentences and decide what order their thoughts should be listed. This is all happening in conjunction with powerful and difficult fine motor skill of operating the pencil, which for children struggling with handwriting requires all their energy and focus.
Taking dictation for the child allows their thoughts to flow freely. Just write what they say as they express it. When they finish you can go back with them and help them organize the thoughts properly, leading them with questions as opposed to telling them. In doing so you are modeling for them in real time what happens whenever we write something. Eventually all this happens quickly and quietly in our heads but for now they need to see the process in front of them. This isn’t a test. Don’t allow the enjoyment of the project to be bogged down in the details.
Keep it simple. You know your reluctant writer. If three sentences is an accomplishment for them then keep the report to three sentences. Maybe they can do five sentences, you decide where to set the bar.
When you begin I recommend setting the bar in a place they can easily achieve. Build a history of success for them before raising the bar. They have a long established history of being “bad” at writing. Watch what happens when they start to feel successful at writing.
There is no hurry in this process. You have many years to work with them. Every year their brain and motor skill development will improve. Relax mom, this is not a college essay.
Working with your child on the project you will be able to identify where the writing process is breaking down. Are they able to form their thoughts and opinions about the book? Do they have opinions but are struggling to express them? Or does the process breakdown when it’s time to put pencil to paper?
Each of these is a very different writing hurdle. Once you identify it you can tackle it from many angles in dozens of creative ways. You need exercises like this so you can observe and assess. Without information about where your child’s writing process is breaking down you will never be able to help them.
Reluctant writers are lost in what seems like a complex and scary tunnel system. There are so many things to think about and do just to create an idea and get it out of your head and onto a sheet of paper. If your child were actually lost in a complex tunnel system you would want to go in and bring them out safely, right? You have to have information to launch a rescue effort. If you go wandering in blindly you may become just as lost in the process as they have become.
Finding fun and creative ways to allow children to express themselves offers opportunities for you to gather all the information you need. You can narrow down which tunnel they are lost in and you can go in after them.
If your child can articulate their thoughts but has a handwriting issue then simply do dictation for a while. Work up to them copying the work. Take turns writing a sentence. If they are comfortable doing the writing but their spelling is poor let it be. Children write phonetically for many years. The last thing you want to do is shut down a writer because of spelling. Spelling is actually a very easy fix. Same with punctuation. It will come.
Writing is like swimming to some degree. You don’t take a child who has a paralyzing fear of the water and toss them in the deep end of the pool. Your first goal is to allow them to experience water in complete safety. You want them to know that you are right beside them and nothing is going to go wrong. There is nothing to fear, mom is right here. What happens next? You build their tolerance slowly. You add in the simplest of skills a little at a time and then increase their ability before moving on. At the first sign of fear you back off and let them regain their confidence. You push a little, here and there, testing to see if they can overcome their obstacles. You know that eventually they will be swimming like fish, but this is a big deal. It takes time. Some people are afraid of water all their lives because no one ever took the time to teach them gently. Usually someone tried but lost patience. You have all the patience in the world for your child, truly you do if you can just relax.
The most important skill in writing is having something to say and being brave enough to say it. The rest is mechanics. Spend your time on drawing them out of themselves and finding their voice and worry about tweaking the mechanics later. There is plenty of time.