Friday, April 3, 2020

Is Write What You Could Teach Good Advice?

Since the 2019-2020 school year marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay originally appeared on April 27, 2016.

Sometimes when I visit schools, I discover that teachers are asking young writers to choose nonfiction topics “that you could teach someone about.” For instance, an avid soccer player might write about the rules of soccer. I have just one word for that kind of writing . . . BORING.

Why would a child want to rehash something he or she already knows backward and forward when there’s a wide world of ideas and information out there just waiting to be discovered? 

Think about it this way. I could teach someone how to make a sandwich just the way my husband likes it. I could explain how to wash windows so they don’t streak or how to make “hospital corners” when I change the sheets on a bed. I could describe how to sort trash according to my transfer station’s rules. But why would I want to write about any of these things? I’d be bored, and so would my readers.

I write about science because I’m fascinated by the natural world. When I’m engaged in the world, I’m constantly encountering things that make me ask questions. And to satisfy my curiosity, I want to know more, more, more. Learning more gets me so excited that I’m dying to share my new knowledge with other people. That’s what fuels my writing.

Kids are no different from me. When they focus on ideas and information that they care about, when they conduct research to satisfy their own curiosity, they will craft lively, interesting writing just brimming with passion. And, really, that’s the goal of nonfiction writing—crafting prose that our intended audience wants to read.

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