Email: What about all those “things”?

Hi Julie,

I want to start “jotting it down”, but I have a big question. My language-challenged son is awesome at building things out of Legos, K’nex, etc. I love when he shows me his creations, and I take photos for both of our benefits. But when he describes his gadget to me, it involves the word “thing(s)” repeated over and over, pointing to all the various parts and explaining how he put it all together. On paper it is absolutely unintelligible.

He is the student I most need to encourage in writing and I would love to capture him in words, but I feel like I can’t. I thought you might have some ideas for me. Thanks.


Fabulous question!

“Things” is his shorthand for what’s in his head. He’s finding the work of selecting words more difficult than pointing and building. You can help him by modeling (suggesting) words. So when he says, “And then he’s got this thing that goes like this and it blows up this other thing and the thing in his hand is the thing that he uses to kill that guy’s thing over there….” Slow him down. Point to the first of the “things.” Ask him: Help me better understand what this “thing” is. Is it a weapon? If he says, “Yes,” follow up: What kind of weapon is it? What is it similar to? How does it work?

If he doesn’t know what it is or what to call it or what it’s like, you can offer casually, “Wow, this thing reminds me of a boomerang. It’s got that cool bend in it. Do you think it kills bad guys by clocking them in the head or by throttling them across the throat?”

In other words, you can express the kinds of descriptions you hope to hear from him yourself, asking him if you are close to the right kind of description, close to what his aim was. You need to do this for a long time, over time to help him get there himself. You model the kind of response you hope to hear, and then you ask questions and jot down his answers. You can also jot down your descriptions when he agrees with them, as he gets comfortable with you pressing gently for more information. (Only press to his edge – don’t push him to despair.) So in other words, if he accepts your description, use it. Jot it down as part of the whole. Later when you read it back to him in the context of his own thoughts, he’ll begin to see how better descriptions fit into his natural speech. He’ll learn to emulate your use of descriptions and specific terminology.

As you get comfortable together, you can move from showing him how it’s done through your own comments and example to asking better questions and letting him work to find the answers. The key is to slow him down to focus on one thing at a time (literally one “thing” at a time :)).


6 Responses to “Email: What about all those “things”?”

  1. Tara says:

    Can I have a quarter for the typo at the end of your first paragraph? (“too” instead “to”). Sorry….couldn’t resist 😉

    I love your blog. I’ve been reading it for a few months and am about to purchase “The Writer’s Jungle”. Thanks for taking the time to encourage and inspire.

  2. Julie Bogart says:

    Catch! (Your 25 cents.) Thanks. All fixed. 🙂

  3. Katie says:

    Just wanted to share that I have a ds 11 just like yours! Thanks for the ideas, Julie!

  4. Philippa says:

    I also have a ‘thingy’ and ‘stuff’ 9 y.o son ! Trouble is, I have days just like that too when I find it hard to verbalise what’s in my head. My dh has got very good at interpreting both son’s and my ‘thingy’ descriptions. Unlike ds, I don’t have the same problem writing as I do verbalising out-loud. Writing slows you down, which helps me. Thanks for the suggestions, Julie.

  5. Sybil says:

    I was surprised to learn that each LEGO piece has a name! So we’ve been slowly incorporating the names such as bushing, break, beam into our vocabulary. You can go to the LEGO site and get any parts list to a kit to find the names. This might help him in his writing.

  6. Galen Roll says:

    Here are some Lego building terms my son used over the years….hinge, beam, axle, launcher, projectiles, trap-door, corner-block, treads, joints, connector-block, cantelever, slide, robotic arm, pulley, winch (for rope)….and then
    “six”-ers, “twelve”-ers, etc. for the numbers of dots on top of the brick, “flat” or “thick”.
    Eventually your son may build all that learns is out there!! Laser-cutters, rock-drills, satellites, light-sensors, lunar landers, radar dishes…etc!! This can be such an exciting medium for story-telling, and for expressing his growing knowledge to you…so glad you are listening!
    Hope this might be helpful to you.
    My son at 12 talks very articulately now about all things constructed. I thank all those years of his raking the Legos to find that right piece, and explaining his contraptions to me…