Friday, February 17, 2017

The Incident That Triggered My Book on How to Teach Writing

“Since attention follows interest, it is folly to attempt to gain attention without first stimulating interest.” -- John Milton Gregory, The Seven Laws of Teaching

Like many American boys, I grew up playing baseball, football and basketball. We had pickup games throughout the year and intramurals at school. Many of us even earned our varsity letters in one sport or another. Soccer was not one of them.

With the exception of California it seemed there were few, if any, organized soccer teams--high school or otherwise--when I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties. So it was an interesting experience becoming a soccer coach when my son took an interest in this exhilarating sport at age six or seven. His first attraction, I believe, was the international character of the game. Soccer cards depict every nationality and the corresponding flags of a multitude of nations.

Though I'd only a modest relationship with soccer, I accepted the responsibilities of coaching and determined to excel at it. To do this I did what I usually do: I visited our local library and found books on the game. I studied the drills and exercises to develop my players’ skills. And I learned the rules.

At one point I also attended a clinic for coaches conducted by Buzz Lagos, head coach of the Minnesota Thunder professional soccer team. It was from Mr. Lagos, or “Coach” as he preferred to be called, that I learned what I consider to be the most important principle for writing teachers.

During the clinic we spent most of our time playing various games designed to teach soccer skills and develop our awareness of key principles. At the end of the evening we then gathered for a question-and-answer period.

During this Q&A one of my fellow coaches asked a question that was undoubtedly a burning issue for a number of us. “Sir, what skill level should my kids be at when they are 10 years old?” Here it was. What are the benchmarks that our boys and girls should aspire to as they advance in age? How deft should their ball handling be? How strong and true should they be kicking? How skilled in passing and receiving? How effective their ball control and other maneuvers?

Coach Lagos stunned me with his answer. He said, “Don’t even think about it. Only one thing is important, that they enjoy the game.”

Interesting answer.

We all know it’s true. The key to success in any endeavor is motivation. And that’s how our kids are going to become better writers, not by being forced to write but by wanting to and learning to enjoy it.

Your student or child will write more if she enjoys it rather than hates it. Think about this as well. The more they write, the more sentences and words you’ll have to grade or edit. You’ll also gain insights into your child's thinking. You’ll receive glimpses of who your students and children really are.

Though I created the exercises in my book to be fun, their aims are serious. Kids will learn not simply to write in sentences. Rather, they’ll learn some of the methods professional writers use to create interesting sentences. Kids will learn how to use the tools that help professionals become better writers.

Good writing is more than simply writing technically correct sentences with proper verb tense and punctuation. Good writing is writing that engages readers.

I strongly believe that learning how to communicate by means of the written word is a key component of any successful career. Kids who learn to write well will obtain more career opportunities and find more open doors than those who neglect this vital skill.

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Writing Exercises: How to Teach Writing and Prepare Your Favorite Students for College, Life and Everything Else is available here at

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