October 29th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts, Writing Across the Curriculum
This collection of historical fiction photo prompts lets kids step back in time to experience a slice of history.
Whether they’re sailing on the Mayflower, panning for gold in Old California, protecting a Jewish family during World War II, or creating their own “You Are There” historical adventure, these prompts will open the doors of their imaginations.
Or, enhance your studies of history by inviting your children to use these prompts for writing across the curriculum.
1. Pilgrim’s Progress
The year is 1620. Imagine that you and your parents are aboard the Mayflower, bound for a destination that’s an ocean away from friends, family, and every comfort you have ever known. Write a journal entry expressing your hopes and fears about starting all over again in the New World.
2. Gold Fever
Eureka! It’s 1849, and folks are flocking to California in search of gold. Imagine that you are a miner with “gold fever” living in a mining camp called Hangtown. Write a letter home telling your family about a typical day. What is life like in the camp? Is there law and order where you live? Have you been successful at prospecting for gold? Did you strike it rich?
3. Hiding Place
During World War II, you and your parents hid a Jewish family in your home in Holland to protect them from the Nazis. Who was this family? How did you keep them safe? Write a paragraph explaining why you chose to do this, even though it meant putting your own family at great risk.
4. Doorways to History
These may look like ordinary wooden doors salvaged from old buildings, but things are not always as they seem! You see, each door leads to a different place and time. Which door will you step through? What moment in history will greet you? What historical figure will be your guide? Write a story about your adventure.
If your children have enjoyed these exciting journal prompts, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
October 27th, 2014 — Reluctant Writers, Special Needs
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links for products we recommend.
I usually don’t get to observe my grandkids’ homework process. Now and then they’ll do schoolwork at our house, but when their family lived with us temporarily during their home remodeling project, I had a birds’-eye view!
Copying by Hand Can Be Tedious
This particular day, Ryan was not a happy camper. His 4th-grade teacher had assigned a 3- to 5-page California mission report to his class of 9-year-olds.
On the plus side, Ryan had finished all his research. And his mom took some of the pressure off by letting him dictate his rough draft as she typed it. Still, this project ultimately had to be written by hand, meaning Ryan still had to copy the report using pencil and paper.
It was excruciating for him—and almost as painful for the rest of us. By 6:00 p.m. (with the rough draft due the next day), our reluctant writer had already spent hours recopying with not much to show for his trouble.
Ryan was quickly becoming an emotional wreck. Over the past two weeks, he’d spent all his free time on this thing and was aching to be done. But the more he fretted, the slower he seemed to go. Indeed, he was convinced he’d be at it till midnight. Ryan—and his report—were nearing zero hour, and as the pressure mounted, so did the anxiety and tears.
Three Problems with Copywork
As I observed him at the table, I began to notice three things:
- He lost his place. Every time Ryan’s eyes returned to the typed page, he wasted precious moments trying to find where he’d left off. This made the copying process all the slower.
- He lost his focus. Losing his place affected his ability to concentrate. He’d simply disappear into deep thought and stare off into space.
- He lost his joy. (Well, to be honest, the joy was never there to begin with.) But as time edged forward, mounting discouragement gave way to slumped shoulders and tears.
Tools That Help
To her credit, his mom had done everything she could think of to help Ryan along.
They read and researched together for hours every day. She helped him gather his thoughts and write notes. She made the wise decision to let him narrate the report as a time-saving and encouraging step in the process. But facing this last mountain with her son, she was finally at her wits’ end.
Leaning over Ryan, I gave him a hug and introduced two little tricks that I hoped would help him over the hump. My fingers were crossed—you just never know what’s going to inspire a kid!
1. Reading Tracker
First I gave him a reading tracker. This handy gadget reveals one line of text while hiding what’s above and below. To continue reading, the child simply slides the tracker down to the next line. The surrounding text no longer overwhelms or confuses him, allowing him to focus on the line he is reading.
While a reading tracker is typically used to help a child keep his place when reading a book, it’s also an effective copywork aid. In Ryan’s case, it took care of two immediate problems:
- He no longer lost his place as his eyes moved between the typed page and his handwritten copy.
- As a result, he was able to concentrate on the task for longer periods of time.
You can purchase reading trackers here, here, and here, or you can make your own. I made Ryan’s from two sheets of folded paper, but you can also make your own using colored plastic dividers.
Along with the tracker, I set my kitchen timer in front of Ryan. Up to now, it had taken him hours to recopy just a few paragraphs, but I had no clue how much time was reasonable for him to copy a small section of text.
To begin with, I timed him as he copied two lines of text using his new tracker. I figured if he could copy two lines in three minutes, he could copy most paragraphs in 12-15 minutes. We started with 15. When he proclaimed he’d copied his first paragraph with time to spare, we were ecstatic!
Success breeds more success, so we tried it again. This time, I reduced the time to 12 minutes. Again, Ryan surprised us by beating the clock. Immediately, the atmosphere in the room changed from one of weighty oppression to buoyant optimism: Ryan could see the light at the end of the tunnel!
Some children just don’t handle timed activities very well. For Ryan, however, the use of a timer proved magical. Instead of fearing the advance of the clock, he let his vivid imagination take over. When I asked him which tool—the tracker or the timer—was the most helpful, he said with a gleeful smile, “The timer! I pretended it was a ticking bomb and tried to finish before it went off.”
“My Hand Hurts”
Writing with renewed speed did produce one consequence for Ryan: hand cramping. Many young children complain that their hand gets tired or sore when writing. If your child experiences this, let him take occasional breaks to have a snack or play outside.
Finishing by bedtime bolstered Ryan’s shaky confidence. With these two simple tools—the tracker and the timer—his mood went from foul to fabulous!
Does copywork produce tears at your house? Next time, give these a try and let me know how it goes!
October 22nd, 2014 — High school, Writing & Journal Prompts
Expository writing explains, describes, or informs. Today, let your high school student choose one of these expository essay prompts to practice writing to explain.
1. Treasures to Keep
People love to collect and display items that have sentimental value or special appeal. Key chains, seashells, vintage tea cups, action figures, and sports memorabilia are just a few examples. Do you have a special collection? Tell the benefits of having a collection, and explain how someone can begin to grow a collection of his or her own.
2. Blown Away
A devastating tornado has leveled much of a nearby small town. Write an essay explaining what you would do to help these families recover from their loss.
3. It’s Off to Work I Go
Your parents have decided it’s time for you to get a part-time job. Write an essay explaining the steps you need to follow in order to apply for a job.
4. I’m College Smart
With the rising costs of tuition, many college-bound students are relying on loans to help them pay for their education. Sadly, this means college students owe an average of $33,000 when they graduate, which often takes 10 years or longer to repay. Research different options for how to go to college without debt. Then, write an essay explaining several ways you can avoid facing massive debt when you head off to school.
If you enjoyed these expository essay writing prompts for high school, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for teens, including:
October 20th, 2014 — Writing Across the Curriculum
Writing. It’s everywhere! If you’re home right now, let your eyes wander over the room in search of words. What do you notice? A shopping list, perhaps? Mail? Picture books? Birthday cards? Cereal boxes?
Maybe you’re in a coffee shop. Look around and take in the menu, food packages, a stack of magazines, or the community bulletin board.
Breaking Out of the Rut
Even though there are many kinds of writing, we often get in a rut by limiting our children to stories and reports. When I was homeschooling my own kids, I wanted them to have all sorts of writing experiences. Unit studies were perfect for writing across the curriculum.
I still assigned more “traditional” writing, of course. But we also had fun with short, targeted, project-based writing activities that dovetailed writing with other subjects such as science, nature, and history.
These activities took the form of brochures and book jackets, magazines and diaries, obituaries and editorials, charts and posters. Tying our writing—both formal and informal—to our studies made writing practical. It also helped cement concepts and gave the kids many opportunities just to have fun with words.
Benefits of Writing Across the Curriculum
Explore a topic in greater depth.
These different projects and writing activities encouraged my children to dig deeper. My son, for example, created a newspaper about the Victorian era. He included news articles, advertisements, letters to the editor, human interest stories, and cartoons. Each required different kinds of research, helping him learn more about this time period than a report alone would accomplish.
Appeal to your kids’ interests and learning styles.
I don’t have to tell you that children learn differently.
- The kinesthetic child learns better when he can build, work with textures, or use various media.
- The auditory learner might like writing and performing songs, poems, speeches, or plays.
- Projects that include art, photography, or computer-related activities appeal to the visual child.
Children absorb information through their senses. The more ways a child handles information, the better he retains it. When assigning writing, it’s wise to offer lots of choices that develop well-rounded writers. Project-based writing gives all students the chance to write in the ways they learn best.
Make writing more fun.
Don’t get me wrong: reports are important. But I bet your child will be less resistant if, from time to time, he gets to write an advertisement, create a trivia game, or make a brochure about Pompeii or Ancient Egypt or Lewis and Clark’s expedition. Activities like these help him see that writing can be fun!
Ideas for Writing Across the Curriculum
Journals, book reviews, glossaries, and recipes can all find a place in your homeschool writing diet. Explore this list of 78 writing genres. Many don’t require much planning, so pluck out a few ideas and try them this very week!
- Alphabet book
- Animal stories (fiction or nonfiction)
- Book jackets
- Bumper stickers
- Business cards
- Day in the life
- Descriptive writing
- Dictionaries and glossaries
- Expository or informative writing
- Fact sheets
- Food packages
- Games (board games, trivia games, vocabulary games)
- Greeting cards
- How-to articles
- Instruction manuals
- Lab reports
- Letters (friendly letters, business letters, complaints, requests, thank-you notes)
- Math word problems
- Photo essays
- Picture books
- PowerPoint presentations
- Proverbs and sayings
- Quizzes or test questions
- Responses to literature
- Sports articles
- Want ads
Which of these sound like fun to you? Where will you start?
October 15th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
Do your children’s eyes light up when you pull out the art supplies, suggest a craft, or invite them to decorate cookies? If so, they’ll fall in love with this assortment of writing prompts for creative kids!
Whether they’re planning details for a dream bedroom or thinking of the perfect birthday cake, exciting prompts await! For added fun, each prompt also features an optional project.
1. Artist’s Hangout
As you enter the art studio, you are greeted by a sign that invites you to create a work of art.
For your medium, you may pick acrylic paint, finger paint, colored pencils, charcoal pencils, or pastels. For your surface, you can choose a blank wall, concrete sidewalk, drawing paper, large artist’s canvas, or a white T-shirt.
Which surface will you decorate? Which medium will you select? What colors will you use? Describe the images or designs you will draw or paint.
Want to do more? Create a real-life art project.
2. Dream Room
Sometimes, kids’ bedrooms are decorated according to a theme, such as Star Wars, horses, sports, rainbows, or pirates. If you could decorate your bedroom any way you want, what theme would you choose? What would be your three main colors? Describe the furniture, floor coverings, storage, and decorations you would use to help create your ideal living space.
Want to do more? Make a shoebox diorama of your ideal room.
3. Hats Off to You
You are entering a contest in which contestants will design hats that represents one of their parents’ jobs or occupations. Is your dad a builder, salesman, attorney, or farmer? Is your mom a teacher, nurse, restaurant owner, or artist? Make a list of 5-10 objects you could put on your hat that would tell different things about this job. Explain why you chose each one.
Want to do more? Design a real hat.
4. The Art of Cakes
Cake decorating has truly become an art! Elaborate cakes boast incredibly detailed themes like superheroes, Alice in Wonderland, or LEGO®. Cakes starring candy, chocolate, or fruit and cream are as tasty as they are beautiful. What would be your dream birthday cake? Describe your cake’s theme or flavor and explain how you would decorate it.
Want to do more? Have fun decorating cookies or cupcakes.
October 8th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
Proverbs are short phrases that provide godly wisdom for life. In the Bible, the Book of Proverbs was written mostly by King Solomon as a way to teach his son to fear the Lord and live according to God’s commands.
This week, encourage your children—and teens—to respond to Scripture and apply it to their own lives. These journal prompts from Proverbs will invite them to do so as they think about virtues such as wisdom, patience, and hard work.
1. A Foolish King
How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver! ~Proverbs 16:16
Write a story about a king who had piles of gold and silver, but no wisdom or understanding.
2. Watch Those Words
When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. ~Proverbs 10:19
Have you ever made someone angry or hurt their feelings because of something you said? Write about a time you wish you had been more careful with your words.
3. Patience Is a Virtue
A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel. ~Proverbs 15:18
Write about a situation in which patient words could prevent or end an argument.
4. Talk Is Cheap
All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. ~Proverbs 14:23
Write a story about a hard-working young man who hardly ever speaks a word, and his loud but lazy older brother.
5. Take My Advice
The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. ~Proverbs 12:15
Without using the words listen or listening, explain some of the things “listening” might mean in this verse. Include a personal example about a time you chose to listen to wise advice.
Looking for more writing prompts? Check out our extensive collection on Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
October 6th, 2014 — Writing Games & Activities
If your kids have trouble developing story details, they’ll have a boatload of fun playing “Where in the World,” a pre-writing activity that will help them plan characters and place them in exciting settings!
This oral story planning game is perfect for you and your child to play together.
1. Make the Spinner
Print a world globe map and glue it to a large paper plate. You can either use a blackline globe map or a colored globe map. Draw lines on the globe to divide it into eight sections. Label the sections desert, ocean, swamp, savanna, tundra, iceberg, mountain, jungle. Poke a hole through the center and insert a paper brad. Slip a large paperclip over the brad and spin it around in a circle.
2. Make Character Cards
Count out 10 or more index cards. Label one side of each card with the word Characters. On the back of each card, write a different character of your child’s choice. Brainstorm together for ideas, such as your child’s name, family member’s name, an occupation, sports hero, military figure, cartoon character, or animal such as a kangaroo or penguin. Add variety by using a combination of common, proper, and plural nouns.
3. Make Problem Cards
Count out 10 or more index cards. Label one side of each card with the word Problem. For the back side of the cards, brainstorm ideas with your child and write down a problem or plot twist of his choice. Here are a few examples:
- There was an avalanche, so …
- A volcano erupted, and …
- When a terrible storm arose, they …
- There was a stampede, and then …
- They lost their way, so …
- They were chased by a bear, and …
- The plane’s engine caught fire, so …
Also, prepare several Problem cards that simply say “What happened next?”
Play “Where In the World?”
Choosing an exciting setting where the story takes place helps build the thrill of adventure! More importantly, when you encourage kids to tell adventure stories out loud, it boosts their confidence. Later, when it’s time to write a story of their own, they’ll have some tools to use to help them plan the details.
- Stack the Character and Problem cards face down in two separate piles. Invite your child to spin the spinner. Wherever it lands will be the setting for the first adventure. If the spinner lands on a line, your child can choose any place in the world as the story setting.
- Have him choose a Character card. This will be the main character or characters in his adventure.
- Now it’s your turn to choose a Character card. This will be another character in your child’s story.
- Invite him to choose a Problem card. Have him read the problem aloud and start telling the adventure story about his characters using this prompt. Encourage him to say at least two or three sentences about the story.
- When he has finished, it’s your turn to choose a Problem card. Use it as a prompt and continue telling the story. Take turns choosing Problem cards and continuing the adventure until at least five Problem cards have been used. Wrap up the story with a satisfying ending.
To start a new adventure story, return the cards to their corresponding piles, shuffle them, and place them face down on the table. Spin the wheel to discover where in the world the new adventure will take place!
. . . . .
This “Where in the World?” game appears in WriteShop Junior Book D. It’s just one of the many fun and creative activities that WriteShop Primary (gr. K-3) and WriteShop Junior (gr. 3-6) use to reinforce simple writing skills at the elementary level.
October 1st, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
The cooler temperatures and changing leaves beckon you to take a hike in the woods. While on your stroll, you hear something—or someone—making quite a racket. Glancing toward the voice, you cannot believe your eyes: a chipmunk is standing on a rock, and it’s shouting a warning!
What is this chattering chipmunk saying? It’s up to you to finish this story using your imagination.
Click the image above to download the “The Furry Messenger” writing prompt. If you would like to share this free writing printable with others, please link to this post. Do not link directly to the PDF file.
Looking for more writing prompts? We have an extensive collection on Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
September 29th, 2014 — Grammar & Spelling
I’m not sure I can argue for a single worst writing mistake. I have a pet peeve or two, but overall, I’m simply on a mission to educate my readers.
From popular blogs to tweets and Facebook comments, the web is littered with bad grammar and punctuation. In schools and workplaces, student and employee writing skills are called into question every day. Errors are pervasive enough to inspire articles that hope to shed light on common grammar, writing, and punctuation mistakes.
Today, let’s go on a little Internet scavenger hunt to discover some of the most common errors to avoid in writing.
At each stop, take time to read about those errors and their solutions. While you’re there, look for the answers to the five questions or problems below.
1. Maniacal Rage
Maniacal Rage lists eight common errors. For example:
He reminds us not to ____________ after periods.
2. Pasnau’s Top Ten
Robert Pasnau, PhD (Professor of Philosophy, University of Colorado) brings us Pasnau’s Top Ten. Almost every paper he receives has at least one grammatical error from his list.
Dr. Pasnau says: “You will be judged, for your entire life, on the basis of ___________________.”
3. Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb
Brian Clark at Copyblogger gives us Five Grammatical Errors That Make You Look Dumb. Among them, Brian includes four pairs of words writers often confuse.
Name one pair: _______ vs. _______
4. Common Punctuation Errors
Even though this article is called Six Common Punctuation Errors That Bedevil Bloggers, it’s not just bloggers who have trouble with punctuation. According to the article, which one of these sentences is correctly punctuated?
a. On Friday, Sam is coming home from boot camp!!!
b. Kayla said, “Put it in the small box.”
c. Grandma will serve “breakfast” on the patio.
d. None of the above is punctuated correctly.
e. All of the above are punctuated correctly.
5. The Comma Splice
The comma splice is a common punctuation error. According to this article, which of the following solutions will not fix a comma splice?
a. Replacing the comma with a period
b. Replacing the comma with a semicolon
c. Removing the comma
d. Following the comma with a conjunction
If you’re serious about brushing up on your grammar, here are a few other articles you can explore:
Apostrophes and Plural Family Names
Grammar Tips: Is It I or Me?
Do You Misuse or Misspell These 5 Words or Phrases?
Answers: (1) double-space; (2) how well you write; (3) answers will vary; (4) b; (5) c
Here on the blog, you’ll find lots of help with grammar and punctuation. Other available resources include The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and All About Homophones, both of which can help you teach and reinforce basic but important grammar and spelling conventions. Check them out!
September 24th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
This article contains affiliate links for books we’re confident your family will love!
When children step into the world of books, the characters they encounter can seem as real as their own friends and family.
These writing prompts about fictional characters will help them use their imaginations to engage with literary friends who live inside the pages of their favorite novels!
1. What Would Frodo Do?
What fictional character do you most admire? Is it spunky Anne Shirley from the Anne of Green Gables series? Wise Aslan from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Optimistic Sara Crewe from A Little Princess? Frodo, the selfless hobbit from The Lord of the Rings? How about Freckles, that young man of such high integrity?
When we face challenges, it often helps to seek advice from someone we look up to. Think of a book character who has earned your respect, and write a letter to him or her asking for advice.
2. You Were There
If you could be friends with a character in one of your favorite books, whose friend would you be? Choose an experience from the book and rewrite it in your own words as if the two of you had been there together.
3. Let’s Talk
Imagine a conversation between a fictional character and a member of your family, such as your mom or little brother. Write this conversation in dialog form.
4. Inquiring Minds Want to Know
You are a journalist for a newspaper. For a future article, your editor has assigned you to interview a fictional character from one of your favorite novels. Which character will you choose to interview? What would you like to learn about him or her? Come up with three questions to ask, and then write down this character’s answers.
Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!