Reluctant Report Writing

I was never the sort of homeschooler who assigned reports, and it wasn’t the sort of thing my kids spontaneously decided to do on their own. But sometimes, they would be invited to do some research about something and present it to others at a science fair, world culture fair or other homeschool group activity. This was usually a lot of fun, and the kids were happy to put in the work if it meant that somebody else might see it.

The tricky thing is trying to show kids what is meant by a report or a science fair project. What does one look like? The intent of a report is to convey information about a topic, based on research from a variety of sources (properly cited of course), and presented in an engaging manner, but the format really depends on the intended audience.

In our own school days, we were taught the old fashioned report format, with the title page, introduction, multiple paragraphs, conclusion, and maybe a few illustrations or diagrams. There is nothing terribly wrong with this format, and it does prepare young writers for bigger, more complex writing assignments in the world of academia or business. But it’s very hard for beginning writers to do this well, and it certainly isn’t fun.

There are so many skills involved with writing these reports: picking a suitable topic; picking suitable research sources; how to research; how to take notes; how to cite sources; how to organize the information; deciding what is important; how to write in complete sentences; how to write a paragraph; how to format the paper; deciding what to say; spelling and grammar. It’s hard to do all of this, even as an adult.

I suggest postponing the old-fashioned report format until your kids are more comfortable with writing in general, and instead concentrate on other ways to assemble and present information. Writing regularly is still important, but there are ways to build fluency without making your kids hate it (more on that in a future post).

Here’s just a few ideas for alternative report formats:

  • Write and illustrate a book for small children (perhaps younger siblings?) about the subject.
  • Create a short video documentary, using basic video editing software to add captions and effects.
  • Create a “National Public Radio” style report using a recording device, or presented live.
  • Create a mixed-media poster with copies of photos from the web or magazines, drawings, diagrams, text boxes, etc.
  • Try “lapbooking” or “notebooking,” or any other form of inventive book making. Check out this Pinterest board to see what I’m talking about.
  • Use graphic organizers to present information. Here’s a great site I found with fish-bone diagrams, Venn diagrams, timelines, and other fun ways to arrange the details of any topic.
  • Create a fake Facebook page on this site. This would be especially useful for history or biography based reports. Your kids can also see examples of what other students have created.
  • Write a satirical song, news report, or poem (some kids are highly motivated by sarcasm).

With any of these formats, it’s important to show kids an example first. If they don’t know what a lapbook or a poster looks like, they may be hesitant to try it. No worries though, because you can find all kinds of examples, including images from homeschooling families, with a simple Internet search. Also, any of these projects will take time, and probably some of your help to figure out how to get started, and how to use the computer/printer/etc.  Be careful not to take over though, and remember that the process is just as valuable as the final product.

It is not a small thing to learn how to organize thoughts and ideas; and presenting ideas in a visual format is really the way of the future. The computer has made it so easy to create graphic reports and presentations that now there are endless creative possibilities for sharing knowledge. Don’t be afraid to try something different!

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