Picture this:

A ten-year-old red headed girl with a wide smile and freckles on the bridge of her nose goes to her dad and says, “Daddy, I want to teach you a lesson.”

Whoa… whoa there little doggie. Teach me a lesson? How often do you hear that term and it is a positive thing? Usually it’s something like ‘boy, I’m gonna teach you a lesson…’ It’s not something I was certain I wanted to hear.

I looked at her with a touch of trepidation and said, “Okay.”

Off to her room we went.

She closed the door.

I admit I watched as the door closed and I felt a touch of… well… fear. After all, she was going to teach me a lesson.

[Side note #1: If you are wondering where my lovely wife was during this lesson learning I was going to get, she was in bed, taking a nap because at exactly 12:01 on Friday November 18th, she was going to be in the movie theater watching some sickening vampire love story.]

“Have a seat,” she said.

I listened, not wanting the lesson to be too painful if it came to that.

[Side note #2: For those who don’t know my daughter, she has been known to be a mix between Wednesday Addams and Mandy from The Grimm Adventures of Billy and Mandy. If you don’t know who they are… well… look ‘em up.]

She pulled out her white board and the dry erase markers.

Okay, this may not be so bad, after all. At least there were no knives involved.

“Today, we are going to talk about the four steps of writing. Do you know what they are?”

“You tell me,” I said. My interest peaked a bit.

She took her white board and proceeded to write the numbers 1-4. And she said:

“First, there is the prewriting. It’s where you jot down your thoughts and ideas about what you are going to write.”

“Okay, brainstorming. I get that.”

She nodded and continued.

“Second we have your sloppy copy.”

I am not making this up. That is what she called it. Sloppy Copy.

[Side note #3: A few years ago I wrote an article about a copy shop called Super Soppy Sloppy Copies. It was a humor piece and, to say the least, it was fun to write. Say Super Soppy Sloppy Copies three times real fast and let me know if your tongue is all twisted in knots when you’re done.]

“Sloppy Copy?” I asked.

She gave me the rolling eyes look and shook her head. “The first draft, Daddy.”

Can you say sarcasm?

“The third thing is Revise.”

“Editing,” I said.

“If that’s what you want to call it, sure.”

I think she was irritated by my constant interjections.

“The fourth thing you have is your final draft. Do you understand so far?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Now, let’s relate this to getting up and going to school.”

You may be wondering what I was thinking at this point. How was she going to relate getting up in the morning to the four steps of writing?

“What do you do in the morning?” she said, but it was one of those questions that she didn’t want an answer to. Rhetorical, you know? “First you change your clothes. Then you brush your teeth. Next you put on your shoes. Finally, you eat.”

I counted on my fingers. Yup, there were four things there. Yet, I was perplexed as I tried to figure out how she was going to tie this into writing. I’m sure I’ve confused my share of you by doing the exact same thing in some of my blogs.

As she started relating the things together she drew a rough picture of a kid getting ready for school. I liked the simplicity of the image.

“When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is get dressed. This is like prewriting because I have to figure out what I’m going to wear and what goes with what. ‘Does this match this or does that go with these pants.’ Just like prewriting.”

She vigorously nodded her head at this point, an emphasis saying she’s right and she knew it.

And she was.

“What do I do next? I brush my teeth because, you know, when you wake up in the morning your breath stinks and it has that cruddy feel and it’s just… it’s just nasty. So I brush my teeth and get all the sloppiness off. That’s your sloppy copy or your first draft—you work at writing that story just like you work to brush those teeth.”

Point two could use a little work, but I think she has the gist of it and related it pretty well.

“The next thing you do is you put the shoes on.”

This is where she struggled for a moment. I could see it on her face as she tried to figure out how Revising/Editing was the same as putting on her shoes.

“When you put on your shoes you’re… well, you have to tie your shoes and… and sometimes you have to put the Velcro on and…”

She looked at me. I could see the wheels turning, but I also saw that look of disappointment on her face—disappointment in that she couldn’t relate the two together. Then it happened and she picked up steam.

“Sometimes when you put on a shoe, it doesn’t feel right on your foot or you don’t tie it so well or maybe the Velcro doesn’t go in place right and then you have to take the shoe off and look in it and maybe re-tie it so it doesn’t fall of your foot when you walk or maybe you have to fix the Velcro because it didn’t hold right. That’s like revising or editing.”

At this point Chloe looked at me with hopeful eyes.

“Great save, Chloe,” I said and smiled. “That was terrific. I love the way you didn’t give up until you figured out what to say and then when you did… you just rattled it off.”

“I improvised,” she said.

“Yes, you did.”

I was really proud of her for not getting upset and sticking with it, trying to come up with the right words to connect the two.

“Finally, I eat. It’s the last thing I do before going to school and when I’m done, I’m ready to go. And when you get your final draft done, you are finished with the story.”

She looked at me, again with those eyes seeking approval.

I smiled and looked at her white board, at the way she had written out the four steps to writing and related them to getting up in the morning. I looked at her little image of herself and I couldn’t help but smile bigger.

“That was awesome, Chloe,” I said and smiled.

“Did you like it?”

“Yes. It was great. You did a wonderful job teaching me about writing and your examples were great… especially the revising/editing example.”

I sat on her bed for a couple minutes looking at the white board and thinking about what she said. It was all very basic, but all very true and she got it… my daughter got it. She understood the steps to writing—probably better than many of us do.

So, I leave you with this:

Writing has four parts and you can relate them to getting up in the morning and getting ready to leave the house:

Prewriting: Getting dressed
Sloppy Copy: Brushing those yucky teeth
Revising: Putting on those shoes and making sure they’re on right and tied properly.
Final Draft: Eating

Let’s add a fifth one to that:

Submitting the story: Leaving the house.

My daughter taught me a lesson and it was painless, but rewarding…


14 thoughts on “A Well Taught Lesson

  1. Jeff,
    This is wonderful! Chloe did a great job, but you did a great job writing it! You need to submit this to some mainline mags and newspapers-this is a WINNER!


  2. This is wonderful! I love the whiteboard image. Tell Chloe she’s the best.

    I’m working with others to come up with a lesson plan for teaching writing to elementary-age kids. This definitely gives me ideas and encouragement. I have wondered if 3rd and 4th graders would “get” it – understand the writing process from an online classroom, or if I should aim at older kids. After reading this post, I am re-energized. My trust in the intelligence of 10 year olds has been reconfirmed.


    1. Isn’t great when kids inspire us, Sue? Both of my kids have inspired numerous stories, many of which have been published in some form or other.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.


  3. Love it! When the applications of writing can be used to look at life in general, it just seems to make more sense and things are more interconnected.

    Thanks for sharing this, AJ! Awesome lesson!


  4. Oh! As a teacher I related so very well to all the writing terms and steps. I also loved how your daugter was able to compare the writing process to getting up and going to school.


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