Years ago, I set out on a quest to discover the single greatest writing topic that could ever be assigned to students in an elementary school classroom, a prompt so inspirational that the kids would frantically search for a pencil and paper, and the tips of their tongues would stick out of the corners of their mouths as they single-mindedly focused on their writing. I wanted them to write with such dedication and desire that no recess bell could stop them, and their little faces would be part joy, part expectation, and part enthusiasm as their eyeballs did donuts in their sockets while they planned for and expected to write the definitive fourth grade essay, the greatest essay of all time.
I have discovered that topic, that prompt, and I will share it with you now. I am like a magician who reveals his secrets and the chef who gives away his treasured recipe. You want to watch your kid write? Here’s how. Look at them intently and inquisitively, and speak these words very slowly, calmly, and yet intently: “This is important. I want you to write an essay for me. I don’t want a list. Don’t make a list. Write in your own words and tell me this: ‘What are your favorite things?’ Tell me your favorite colors, your favorite foods, your favorite sports, your favorite everything. Now remember, don’t write a list. Write sentences, and tell me all of your favorite things.”
You may have to answer a question or two like, “Do you want me to write about my favorite fill-in-the-blank?” or “Can I write about my favorite fill-in-the-blanks?” Always answer yes, suggesting to the writer that every single favorite item is important.
Do you remember the classic film, The Christmas Story. Remember Ralphie writing the essay to his teacher about what he wanted for Christmas? That is another classic writing prompt, a great one, yes. Ralphie wrote about the Red Ryder BB Rifle, and he wrote with all his heart, and all his strength, and all his mind. Then the teacher did a terrible thing. She gave him a C+ and a note at the top that said, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
I have learned to always give every student an A if it is a personal, inspired, treasured essay. What you want for Christmas, what you want for your birthday, or how wonderful your mother, father, or family is also merits an A. Maybe an A+.
But no topic gets ‘em wound up quite like, “Name Your Favorite Things.”