Offering structured choice to encourage writing

  1. What is structured choice
  2. Examples of structured choice in writing
    • Providing structured choice for practicing spelling
    • Providing structured choice through different writing genres
      • Narratives/Recount
      • How-to Writing
      • Opinion Writing
      • Reports
    • Providing structured choice within a writing center
  3. Conclusion

1. What is structured choice?

Structured choice is nothing new in terms of behavioral/parenting strategy. A structured choice presents a child with options which are acceptable for you as a parent. It is a way to set limits without eliminating options.

A structured choice could look something like this:

It’s reading time. Do you want to read now or later?

Which book do you want to read? Lego or Dinosaur?

Do you want Mommy to read first or you?

Structured choice gives the child a sense of control, and when the child chooses a task or an activity, they make an “unconscious commitment” to focus on that choice.

2. Examples of structured choice for writing

Many parents find it challenging to get their child to do work, let alone write! I’d like to share with you some structured choices that I provide my children, which may have contributed to their willingness to write. 

Providing structured choice for practicing high-frequency words

Kei is 4 years and 9 months, and I’ve recently introduced a Roll and Write activity as one way to practice high-frequency words. He does this on his own in the evening and does not complain when presented with the task, most likely because he has lots of freedom to choose HOW and WHERE he completes his Roll and Write activity.

  • Kei gets to choose which die (dice) he gets to roll.
  • He gets to choose what paper to write on. And yes, colored papers have made a HUGE difference in getting Kei to write.
  • He gets to choose where he gets to complete the task. He can do the activity in his room, in the dining area, or on the coffee table.

Here is a full video of what this looks like:

Providing structured choice through different writing genres

It is important to teach different writing genres because it gives children a myriad of writing opportunities. When a child is familiar with the different types of writing, they can choose the form of writing that best suits their needs. If your child has weekly homework that asks to write about their weekend, this can be demotivating especially when they have done nothing special. However, if they love dinosaurs, they might be excited to teach you about them. By introducing different genres, your child would not be limited to only one type of writing but could select from many more that they have already explored with you.

Therefore, instead of saying, “You need to write a story,” you can then present them with options :

Do you want to write a story, or research about animals?

Do you want to teach someone how to be a ninja, or do you want to tell daddy why sharks are the coolest sea creatures?”

Narratives / Recounts

I introduced narratives as well as recounts as our first writing genres with both Kai and Kei. Narratives tell a story while recounts focus on retelling events. Kai and Kei are free to write about anything from real events, such as spending a day at the beach to fantasy stories like Spiderman saving the day. You can read more on how I taught these two types of writing using a Beginning Middle and End template (here). For this genre of writing, I really emphasize on using a strategy called “Touch and Tell” so Kai can talk it out first before writing his story. You can read more about this on my blog titled “Using “Touch and Tell, Touch and Say, Touch and Read” strategies to foster independence in writing” (here)

How-to Writing

Around Christmas time, I introduced procedural writing when we decorated Christmas trees and baked cookies. Procedural texts communicate rules or processes to follow. He did them in Japanese, Chinese and English. 

Here are the templates that I created:

Opinion Writing

Right after our winter holiday in Canada, I taught Kai opinion writing. Opinion writing convinces the reader using thoughts, facts, and feelings. Kai and I brainstormed a list of topics related to our trip to Vancouver, and he practiced using these graphic organizers that I created.

We do opinion writing in English, Japanese and Chinese!


Finally, during Chinese New Year, I introduced report writing . Reports give information and detail about something. We learned about tigers (this year being the Year of Tiger) and other animals by filling in a simple graphic organiser and researching about them on Pebble Go (here)

As you can see, we adapted our writing to our experiences and situations using different writing genres. And now that Kai is exposed to each major type, he is free to choose the type of writing he wants to work on. It is not a matter of whether he will write, but WHAT he will write- narratives, recounts, reports, opinion, or procedural.

Providing structured choice within a writing center

In the classroom, a writing center is a place where students select their materials during Writer’s Workshop. It is a place where they find resources that support them as writers. At home, you can set up an inviting environment in a similar way so that your child can access writing tools, explore different materials and build a habit of writing. Since I am teaching my children to read and write, I do Guided Writing lessons where I teach the skills, and let them practice. However, I feel that it is equally important to let children have fun with writing in a non-structured manner where they are free to produce writing pieces. By providing an organized space with many different types of materials within your home, you can give structured choice by simply suggesting:

” Do you want to make a booklet today or write a card?” 

” Let’s see WHAT you want to create in our Writing Center today” 

Here is a full blog on Kai’s writing center that I recently set up HERE

3. Conclusion

A friend recently posted the image below on “The Emotional Cup.” I agree that the feeling of success, and doing what they love/choose to do fill a child’s emotional cup. As parents, how do we balance letting our children do what they enjoy with what they need to do to succeed? I feel that by providing structured choice, we can still maintain some discipline without compromising your child’s needs and wants. You can still get them to write, without defining exactly what they need to do. There is a time and place to give structure and to let go of some.

Here are my other literacy-related posts:

Published by Ms Claudia L. Kimura

Apple Distinguished Educator, Class of 2015 Primary school teacher, technology coordinator Not just a regular mom, but a teacher-mom Mom of 2 boys, stepmom of 3 boys

6 thoughts on “Offering structured choice to encourage writing

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