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Have you ever played MadLibs?  It’s the word game where one opponent asks the other for random nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs to fill in the blanks in a pre-written story neither opponent has read before. The final outcome is silly and hilarious because the nouns, verbs, etc rarely match the storyline. The game is fun and interactive. Above all, it niftily teaches kids about grammar and story structure.

Teaching children how to capture their own ideas and create their own content however, is quite a different matter altogether.

“The reason kids don’t like to write,” says Andrew Pudewa, Director the Institute for Excellent in Writing (IEW), “is because they don’t know what to write about”. “Kids don’t have a lot of experience to write about,” he says. “They’re thinking about right now. Let’s just get this done!”

Learning story structure for student success

The IEW’s Teaching Writing: Structure and Style 9-unit course teaches writing the other way round. (NOTE: registration is open for the next course, which starts this March 2021 online with The Open Door) Instead of asking students to create their own content—it teaches students how to imitate structure using existing stories like fables, folk tales, and interesting information pieces. They learn how a story is developed and what key elements are important.

After reading and understanding the story, students select and make note of key facts, create a key word outline, retell the story verbally from the outline, and then write their own version on paper. This simple process removes the predicament of what to write and gets straight to the business of how to write a story well.

“Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.”

– Annie Proulx, Author

To read more about this program in a post written by one of the workshop instructors click here.

The spinoff?

Something else quite magical and rare is learned during this nine-unit course. Students learn to how to recognize key facts and the esteemed art of notetaking —arguably one of the most valuable skills a person can use throughout their education and career. Being able to read a story or article, discern it’s relevant facts, and then write them down however, is a not a naturally engrained skill. It needs to be taught, learned and practiced.

Teach notetaking from an early age

Starting at a young age, children can be taught to be inquisitive, aware of important details and develop the habit of recording these details for reference later on. It needn’t be arduous and can be as simple as recounting the highlights of an outing, making a scrapbook, keeping a sketchbook diary from a trip, making notes in a diary about a summer camp excursion or helping to add to the family grocery list. These are all ways to encourage your child to develop the habit of noticing details, skillfully selecting the most important information and making note of the final details.

A few notable note takers

Many outstanding experts attribute their habit of notetaking as an important key to their success, including:  Richard Branson, Bill Gates, J.K. Rowling, Bruce Springsteen, George Lucas, Thomas Edison, and Pablo Picasso, to name a few.  In life, education or business notetaking inspires us to think, inquire and reflect—helping us to make better decisions, solve problems better, be more creative, and increase our learning—and be better communicators.

As Tom Peters, business management practices expert and author of In Search of Excellence and says, “The best leaders are note takers—the best askers!”


Marion May is the Blog Curator and Content Writer for The Open Door blog as well as a reading and spelling tutor for The Open Door, tutoring children between the ages of seven and 10. Her blog content is “local, organic and specific” and is relevant for parents of children with dyslexia.

Marion formerly tutored teenaged students in a literacy remediation program at Sir Guy Carleton Secondary School in Ottawa. She also worked as a paid fundraiser and grant proposal writer for The Excellence in Literacy Foundation, a national non-profit aimed at helping marginalized youth. She began her career in radio broadcasting and news writing and has worked in the area of promotional writing for several federal government departments and agencies, including the National Research Council.


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