Entries from March 2008 ↓

Teaching writing | Simple writing ideas

Three simple writing ideas to encourage reluctant writers

In Teaching writing, part 1, I promised you some good news, and here it is: writing doesn’t have to be a tearful, hair-pulling experience! Plant a few seeds by trying some of these simple writing ideas, and soon your kids’ papers will begin to bloom!

1. Establish Limits

When you set limits—such as giving step-by-step directions for the writing project—your children will feel more secure in their efforts. Provide concrete help by way of checklists, brainstorming worksheets, or skill-building exercises.

Even something as simple as limiting composition length allows the reluctant writer to admit, “OK. I can write five to seven sentences.”

2. Expand Skills

Start by introducing students to the thesaurus so they can choose more vivid, descriptive, or concrete words. As they make stronger word choices, not only will their vocabulary improve, their writing will begin to sparkle as well.

The Synonym FinderAs a side note, our very favorite thesaurus is The Synonym Finder. [I’m sharing this affiliate link because I know you’ll love this thesaurus!] Entries are alphabetical, so it’s easy to use. Plus, it’s the most complete thesaurus we’ve found.

If you only have a junior thesaurus on your bookshelf, it can frustrate your kids because they may have a hard time finding entries for the words they use. The Synonym Finder, on the other hand, is comprehensive. They’re sure to find just the word they’re looking for.

In addition, teach your students to incorporate grammar concepts into their writing. Are they learning about prepositional phrases or appositives, for instance? Require them use one in a current composition.

3. Mix It Up

If your kids’ writing diet consists mainly of boring book reports, add some variety!

Descriptive writing lessons help students use their senses to zoom in on details when describing a food or describing a place—the crunch of golden leaves underfoot; the rich, buttery aroma of sugar cookies browning in the oven; the mournful howl of a winter gust as it whips through barren branches.

Informative writing is also known as expository writing. It can include biographies, news articles, recipes, advice columns, short reports, instruction manuals, and more. As students get older, introduce persuasive essays and research papers as well.

Narrative writing can take students well beyond the mundane memoirs of last summer’s vacation. Kids can have so much more fun with their writing when they interview someone and write a narrative of that person’s emotional experience. Or, they can retell a simple fable or Bible story from the perspective of one of the characters.

For additional variety, introduce personification by asking them to write a story from the first-person point of view of an object. “I Am a Mirror” or “I, Weed-whacker” can inspire some lively prose!

Poetry adds a rich layer to your kids’ writing diet. Writing haiku poems, creating diamantes, and playing around with figurative language make it fun to learn about poetry.

The last part of the series, Teaching writing, part 3: The writing process, will appear next week. Come back to learn how to use the writing process to set your kids up for success!

Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Image: Alessandro Valli, courtesy of Creative Commons

What’s new with WriteShop Primary?

For those of you keeping up with the progress of WriteShop Primary (our upcoming K-2nd grade writing program), there’s a lot happening behind the scenes!

  • All lessons, table of contents, and appendix have been sent to David for layout. The pages look BEAUTIFUL!
  • We’re beginning a final proofreading of the manuscript.
  • I’ve begun making a list of page references to update. Currently, we use placeholder text that says, “See p. TK.” Why TK? Our editor friend Mary Jo Tate introduced us to this little placeholder. It’s such an uncommon pair of letters that it’s easy search and replace it! So that’s my current task: find all the TK references and note the correct page number so that David can make the substitutions.
  • David is finishing up the line art drawings that go inside the book, and he’s beginning to draw the line art for the ten activity pages.
  • He’s also finished designing the book covers. They’re so cheerful and friendly—you will just LOVE them! Book A is in shades of red, Book B in greens, and Book C in yellows. Soon you’ll get to take a peek! 
  • Our illustrator, the talented young Deborah Thomson, is working on the cover artwork. She’s tantalizing us with many delightful options, and we can’t wait to see what she comes up with!

I’m sure there’s more, but that pretty much brings you up to date as this project begins to wrap up.  We’re still aiming to send the first book to print in April, and soon we’ll start taking pre-orders. But more on that later!

Stay tuned. . . . .

How to write a cinquain poem

Kids love learning how to write a cinquain. Made up of just 11 words and 5 lines, this compact poem is loaded with description!

cinquain (SIN-cain): an unrhymed poem consisting of five lines arranged in a special way.

Graceful, ringed
Spinning, whirling, twirling
Dances with neighbor Jupiter

A cinquain is an example of shape poetry. Because of the exact number of words required for each line of this poem, a unique, symmetrical shape is created from interesting, descriptive words.

The word cinquain comes from the Latin root for “five.” Notice that the cinquain has five lines that follow this sequence:

Line A: One vague or general one-word subject or topic
Line B: Two vivid adjectives that describe the topic
Line C: Three interesting -ing action verbs that fit the topic
Line D: Four-word phrase that captures feeling about the topic
Line E: A very specific term that explains Line A

Here’s another example: Continue reading →

New trademarks for WriteShop!

Last year, we were awarded the registered trademark for WriteShop. It may not sound like that big a deal, but for us, well, what can I say? It’s all such a wonder for two ordinary homeschool-moms-turned-authors-and-publishers!

Anyway, we just got some more good news: we’re the proud parents of twins! Well, it’s a little less dramatic than that. Actually, we’re simply the owners of two more brand-new trademarks:


and Continue reading →

FAQ: Is WriteShop a complete grammar program?

WriteShop mail bagAnother popular question from our WriteShop mailbag: 

Q:  Do WriteShop I and II offer enough grammar for my student, or will I need to supplement?

A: WriteShop is not a complete grammar program. There is a strong focus on introducing, practicing, and reinforcing parts of speech, from concrete nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to using appositives, prepositional phrases, and subordinate conjunctions. These grammar concepts are introduced by way of Skill Builders, which offer instruction and practice. The student then applies his new skills to current and future compositions. Continue reading →

Teaching writing | Why is writing difficult to teach?

Why is writing difficult to teach? Is it you, your child, or that infernal blank page?

It should have been so easy.

After all, you weren’t asking for much—just a story or something. To simplify things, you didn’t even care how long it should be. Or what topic he picked. Given a lot of freedom, you reasoned, he wouldn’t feel so squished or frustrated…and the words would just flow.

crumpled paperSo what went wrong?

Your plan backfired miserably, and now your son hunches tearfully over a mountain of wadded pages, each one a smudged and wrinkled reminder of what he already believes about himself:

I can’t write!

If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone. This scene plays out at kitchen tables and makeshift schoolrooms around the country, where dejected students scrunch up papers, break pencils, bang keyboards, and cry buckets—and disheartened moms throw up their hands in frustration.

Maybe it helps to know that homeschoolers everywhere share the same lament: Why is writing difficult to teach?

Continue reading →

Deer skool…

WARNING! If you’re a grammar, punctuation, or spelling pundit, you might break out in hives or a cold sweat. The rest of us will just break out in laughter! :)


These are real absence excuse notes written by parents in (so I’ve heard) an Alabama school district. I didn’t change a thing!


My son is under a doctor’s care and should not take PE today. Please execute him.


Please exkuce lisa for being absent she was sick and i had her shot.


Dear school: please ecsc’s john being absent on jan. 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 and also 33.


Please excuse roland from p.e. for a few days. Yesterday he fell out of a tree and misplaced his hip.


John has been absent because he had two teeth taken out of his face.


Megan could not come to school today because she has been bothered by very close veins.


Chris will not be in school cus he has an acre in his side.


Please excuse ray friday from school. He has very loose vowels.


Please excuse tommy for being absent yesterday. He had diarrhea, and his boots leak.


Irving was absent yesterday because he missed his bust.


Please excuse jimmy for being. It was his father’s fault.


I kept Billie home because she had to go Christmas shopping because I don’t know what size she wear.


Please excuse jennifer for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it monday. We thought it was sunday.


Sally won’t be in school a week from friday. We have to attend her funeral.

Now aren’t you thankful for homeschooling?

Speak the truth in love

honey“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:24

Ever try out a new recipe on your family? After poring over cookbooks, shopping for ingredients, and chopping, simmering, and stirring all afternoon, wouldn’t you be crushed to hear your husband grumble: What is this stuff? Why’d you have to put mushrooms in it? There’s too much garlic. It’s too runny. It needs salt. This tastes awful!

Even if it were true.

We all know how demoralizing it feels to be squished by a withering comment. We also know the warm glow that embraces us when someone speaks a word of affirmation. It should come as no surprise that our words yield such influence. After all, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).

Of course there are times when correction is warranted—daily, in most homes! Beds made in a sloppy hurry. Dishes coagulating in the sink. Careless math errors. A hastily written paper. Backtalk. Do we gently reprove, or do we rebuke harshly?

As a child, when I was pouty, whiny, demanding, or mean, my dad would say, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar.” Dad didn’t know the Lord back then, but he sure understood the scriptural principle about the power of our words: Continue reading →

Jane’s grammar nugget: Punctuating titles

Do you get confused about punctuating titles? When should I underline a title? When should I use quotations? How about italics?

The Blue Book of Grammar and PunctuationJane Straus, author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, has come to your rescue! From time to time, she will “appear” as a guest at our blog, bringing you a grammar nugget to help set the world right again.

We love The Blue Book so much that we’ve been carrying it for years in the WriteShop store. We also include it in the WriteShop Starter Pack. It’s a combination reference book and workbook, oh so easy to use, and handy for home or office. Jane’s examples are short, simple, and practical. We know you’ll love it too!

Now, about punctuating titles, Jane says: 

In the past, i.e., before computers, we were taught to underline titles of books and plays and to surround chapters, articles, songs, and other shorter works in quotation marks. However, here is what The Chicago Manual of Style says: Continue reading →

Paired adjective challenge: the winners and more!

In Thursday’s blog, I offered a challenge to readers to spot the paired adjectives in the museum plaque. Thanks to all who joined in the fun! The winners will receive a free World of People StoryBuilders eBook. But don’t despair! Even if you guessed incorrectly, we’re still sending you a fun consolation prize just for giving it a shot.  

Our winners!

Congrats to: Heidi, Susan P., Irene, Penny, Ann, Beth, Susan M., Laura, Donna, Jennifer, Amy, Rebecca, and Angela.

And the answer is…

Continue reading →

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