Entries from March 2008 ↓

Using pointers to teach writing

Pointers help children track words better, strengthening reading and writing skills. Pencils, wands, chopsticks, and silly spoons can all make fun pointers.

Want to add a little fun to your younger students’ school day? Give your daughter a princess wand and your son a wooden sword.

What’s that? You’re not studying medieval history? That’s OK, because I’m talking about using these, and other amusing objects, for teaching reading and writing!

Pointers are fun and educational. They help children track words better, strengthening reading and writing skills. Gather or make a collection of pointers and keep them in a jar or can in your school area.

What Makes a Good Pointer?

Pointers help children track words better, strengthening reading and writing skills. Pencils, wands, chopsticks, and silly spoons can all make fun pointers.Just about any long, thin implement makes a fabulous pointer that you can use to enhance your teaching time.

Practical pointers include a ruler or drumstick or other object readily available around the house.

Pointers help children track words better, strengthening reading and writing skills. Pencils, wands, chopsticks, and silly spoons can all make fun pointers.For a more whimsical pointer, pull out that wand or sword, or try funky knitting needles, fancy chopsticks, wooden spoons painted with faces, or dowels with unusual pencil-toppers glued to one end.

And check out your local dollar store to see what you can find. After all, you’re bound only by your imagination!

An absolute huge hit with Super Hero has been the Lloyd pointer – and the Thomas and Turtle pointers. I attached a Lego piece of one of his favorite Ninjago characters, to the end of a broken water shooter toy. The novel pointer is such a simple idea, it’s hard to imagine the enthusiasm it generates. Each time I take out Lloyd, or Thomas, or Turtle to point out the things we write, Super Hero giggles and participates eagerly, wishing to point and read or write himself.

Patricia, Raising a Self-Reliant Child

Reading the Room

Let your kindergartner, first, or second grader choose a pointer from the jar. With her pointer, she can “read the room” by pointing to print that is familiar to her:

  • Alphabet chart
  • Calendar (month, days of the week, numbers)
  • Familiar words on posters, wall charts, book covers, word walls, and boxes

More Ways to Use Pointers

  1. Letter Hunt. Ask your child to search out and point to all the Aa’s or Mm’s or Rr’s he can find around the room.
  2. I Spy. Go to a room where words are visibly displayed on books, magazines, games, cans, boxes, or wall art. Say, “I spy five vowels,” “I spy an upper-case D,” or “I spy three nouns,” and let your child search and point.
  3. Tracking. When working on writing with your young student, write on a white board or large sheet of chart paper. Help your child use a pointer to track words in a sentence as you read them aloud together.
  4. Elements of a sentence or paragraph. According to her skill level, ask your child to use her pointer to identify ending punctuation, capital letters at the beginning of a sentence, or paragraph indentation. Again, writing on the white board or large sheet of paper makes it easier for the child to track writing and use the pointer.

If pointers and other engaging, hands-on activities appeal to you, you’ll find these and many more practical ideas within the lessons of WriteShop Primary.

Photos: Caro’H, Kain Kalju, and Yoppy, courtesy of Creative Commons

Paired adjectives spotted at museum

In my blog on Monday, I noted that occasionally we read about WriteShop users who skip the paired adjective instruction, complaining that it teaches stilted and unnatural writing. I find it rather amusing, because once you start looking for them, you discover paired adjective sentence starters popping up everywhere, from cookbooks and novels to signs and newspaper articles.

When they’re used in moderation, I love paired adjectives! They’re just one way a student can infuse some life into a piece of writing by mixing up and varying sentence structure.

Paired Adjectives in the Real World

Anyway, as I promised on Monday, I thought it might be fun to start posting some of my paired adjective sightings now and then, starting with an exhibit plaque I photographed a couple of years ago at the San Diego Museum of Natural History. Continue reading →

Teach students to write historical fiction: Review of Family Fiction

Review of "Family Fiction," a workbook that helps you teach students to write historical fiction loosely based on your family tree.

Did you know historical fiction is growing on your family tree? Wouldn’t it be fun to imagine what life was like for some of those interesting, often quirky relatives?

Family Fiction, a reusable workbook from BrimWood Press, teaches students 10 and older how to make discoveries about their ancestors, embellish facts with relevant fictional details, and write stories that are sure to become treasured family heirlooms.

Your Heritage

Review of "Family Fiction," a workbook that helps you teach students to write historical fiction loosely based on your family tree.Perhaps you know very little about your ancestors. Or maybe you’ve heard a million family stories and own stacks of vintage photographs.

Either way, author Jennifer Johnson Garrity provides your children with all the tools they need to craft a realistic, historically accurate story based closely (or loosely, as the case may be!) on your personal family tree.

Quotation MarksA story based on the life of an ancestor
not only has personal relevance, it fosters close family relationships because of the communication necessary to begin the research process. It produces a quality of work that the average writing assignment fails to inspire.

-Jennifer Johnson Garrity, author of Family Fiction

Historical fiction is a combination of true facts and made-up details. Even if you know little to nothing about the actual ancestor, your kids will learn to research the time period and make up realistic stories about their distant relatives.

My own great-grandfather Nachman was born in Russia or Poland around 1849. He immigrated to New York in 1901, where he earned a living as a peddler. It might seem impossible to write a story about someone like Nachman, but Family Fiction shows how to research period details such as clothing and transportation so a child can make up a historically accurate story about a day in the life of “Nachman the Peddler”—no matter how few factual details exist!

The Workbook

Presented in three phases—Research, Writing, and Editing—Family Fiction is an easy-to-use workbook. Its pages are filled with interesting photos and engaging exercises.

Clear, well-organized instructions guide your student through the process of gathering historical information, weaving together fact and fiction to create a plot, and then refining both content and style to fashion a unique and exciting work of fiction. Stories can be short or long, according to attention span and interest in the topic.

Chapters include General Research, Specific Research, Writing Your Story, and Editing Your Story. As they progress through the workbook, students learn how to:

  • Distinguish between a story and a report
  • Conduct interviews
  • Blend fact and fiction
  • Use historical research and photos
  • Understand and avoid anachronisms
  • Create a roadmap of the story
  • Add interesting sentence structure and vocabulary

Target Audience

The guide is self-directed for high school students or gifted writers, but there’s also an instructor’s guide and detailed schedule with lesson plans, extra tips, and suggestions for homeschoolers working with reluctant writers and children as young as 8.

Review of "Family Fiction," a workbook that helps you teach students to write historical fiction loosely based on your family tree.

Supplementing Other Writing Programs

Family Fiction makes the perfect supplement to any writing program, though Garrity worked closely with us to make her material compatible with WriteShop I and II. She has incorporated a number of WriteShop skills into both the lessons on writing style and the checklist itself. Take a peek at the Family Fiction samples to view the checklist.

Review of "Family Fiction," a workbook that helps you teach students to write historical fiction loosely based on your family tree.The workbook is non-consumable. Purchasing families are free to make copies for multiple children and for multiple projects. There’s an abundance of family tales just waiting for pen and ink! Together, your children can build a treasured collection of family stories by reusing the curriculum as often as you like.

For more information:

Images: Public domain

Editing and proofreading tips

WriteShop I and II include lesson-specific checklists for both student and parent/teacher. But even the most ideal checklist or rubric can become a mindless exercise in marking off boxes and saying, “Done!” with very little thought invested.

I came across a small but mighty web page at Literacy Education Online (LEO). It offers simple strategies for editing and proofreading a paper, and will make your composition checklists all the more effective. Give it a try!

LEO Strategies for Editing and Proofreading

In defense of paired adjectives

Eye-catching and effective, paired adjectives make a colorful splash in the sea of prose.  From turn-of-the-century literature to modern Bible translations, and from New York Times bestsellers to Newsweek magazine, they have proven themselves a valuable addition to the category of sentence variations. Paired adjectives have even found their way into such unlikely settings as marketing displays and museum plaques. Why? Because this dynamic sentence opener is both unusual and catchy, grabbing the reader’s attention. Continue reading →

A writer’s alphabet | Writing habits and goals

Alphabetized list of 26 writing habits and goals for writers of all ages and skill levels 


I will…

  Accept feedback and suggestions
  Brainstorm to get my ideas on paper
  Create word pictures
  Develop my narrative voices
  Edit my writing
  Find synonyms
  Give my writing the time it deserves
  Hone in on details
  Imagine the possibilities
  Jot down ideas and keep a journal
  Keep my writing concise and concrete
  Learn from the examples of professional authors
  Master new writing skills
  Narrow my topic
  Outline and organize my thoughts and ideas
  Publish some of my favorite pieces
  Quit complaining
  Revise and rewrite my rough drafts
  Stretch my imagination
  Take pride in my work
  Use a thesaurus, dictionary, and grammar book
  Value the opinion of others
  Write from personal experience and observation
eXpress emotions
  Yearn to improve
  Zero in on each step of the writing process.

Personal writing: Where will you focus this year?
Teaching writing: Which writing habits do you want to work on with your kids? 

. . . . .

Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Photo (with text added): Tom Maglieri, courtesy of Creative Commons.

It’s National Procrastination Week!

I’m sorry. I’ve been procrastinating. I have put off telling you that March 3-9 marks National Procrastination Week 2008, and with only two days left, you almost missed it. I thought about waiting till next week to tell you about it, but…

[Wait, you say. Isn’t this blog devoted to writing? Please bear with me. Today’s post really does pertain to teaching writing, and it will address the procrastinators masquerading about as your children!]

National Procrastination Week. I’m sure this is the procrastinator’s equivalent to New Year’s Day. You didn’t get around to making resolutions on January 1, so now, before the year runs away with all your good intentions, you have a whole WEEK to resolve: I WILL knock the cobwebs off the ceiling. I WILL vacuum under the beds. I WILL do some lesson planning. Continue reading →

Table of contents poll

It’s rather exciting around here as WriteShop Primary Book A comes into the final stretch! Sallie, our editor, has put her stamp of approval on our last few lessons. Meanwhile, our graphic designer, David, continues adding finishing touches to the cover and page layouts. Soon you’ll get a chance to see some of the cover designs and vote for your favorite! Continue reading →

Thesaurus game: Describing a person

The Synonym FinderLast week I taught you to play Boardless Scrabble as a way to build spelling and vocabulary skills while having a blast with your family. Here’s another great pre-writing activity that uses a thesaurus to help strengthen vocabulary choices. Continue reading →

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