Entries from May 2008 ↓

Jane’s grammar nugget: Writing more effectively

Jane StrausJane Straus, author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, is back as a guest at our blog. Today, Jane has stopped in to give us some practical writing tips. Jane says:

“Let’s see if we can help you become a more effective writer by learning some tricks of the trade. These are stylistic ideas that can turn a dull letter or report into an intriguing one.” Continue reading →

Willy Worm Word Wall

If the Gathering of Adjectives game seems too advanced for your K-2nd graders, you may enjoy using this simplified adjective-building activity with them from WriteShop Primary Book C.

Willy Worm Word Wall  


Make a Willy Worm Word Wall

First, cut out about a dozen 3-inch circles from construction paper to make a Willy Worm Word Wall. Tape the circles together in a row to form a worm. Mount the worm on a wall or place it on a countertop. Draw a smiley face on the first circle to represent the worm’s face. On the first three blank circles, write various describing words (adjectives), one word per circle. Use words such as small, fast, yellow, soft, or bumpy. Continue reading →

Journaling across the curriculum

Journaling across the curriculum lets kids write diary entries as if they were a historical figure or animal. Ideal for unit studies!

When we were homeschooling, I absolutely loved writing across the curriculum with my kiddos. It was such a natural way for them to write about the very things we were studying for history, geography, or science.

I’m excited to share one of our family’s favorite writing exercises—journaling across the curriculum—where kids write first-person diary entries as if they were someone (or something!) else. This is a great activity for kids of all ages—kindergarten through high school; pre-writers or prolific; reluctant or motivated. Continue reading →

A gathering of adjectives | Writing activity

Neon adjective

A couple of days ago I talked about the importance of helping your children develop their writing vocabularies through the use of writing games and word banks. Here’s an activity that serves both purposes: It’s a vocabulary-building game that helps your kids create word lists of their own—specifically, a gathering of adjectives. You can play this game with students of all ages. Continue reading →

Home School Book Fair May 9-10

Continue reading →

Growing your child’s writing vocabulary

Word bankA student who writes from a rich supply of words learns to express herself exactly as she intends. At the same time, she makes way for her reader to understand subtle shades of meaning.

Word Banks 

Word banks are such great tools for helping kids expand their writing vocabulary. When a student is tempted to reuse a familiar word because she can’t think of any others, a word bank can prove helpful by reminding her of alternative words she already knows but can’t quite pluck from the edges of her mind. Continue reading →

Editing tips for the faint of heart

Editing skills improve with time and practice. Moms can tackle their kids' writing more objectively with these helpful editing tips.

Today I’m talking about everyone’s favorite task—editing.

What? It’s not your favorite homeschooling activity EVER?

To most parents, the new and often unfamiliar process of editing and evaluating your student’s writing seems like an overwhelming, subjective effort. Apart from plucking a B+ out of the sky “because it’s not quite an A,” what can a non-English major homeschooling mom do to make editing and grading more objective?

It’s a Process

First, realize that learning to edit a composition is a process. The more you proofread and edit your children’s papers, the easier it gets. You’ll soon become adept at spotting repeated words, awkward sentence structure, or those pesky, passive “to be” verbs such as is, am, are, was, and were.

I began teaching writing classes in 1997. As you can imagine, over the past many years I’ve edited and graded thousands of compositions. But when I look back at some of those earlier papers, even ones we published in our class anthologies, I still find things I missed entirely, or at least would have addressed differently.

Does that mean I was unfit for the job? NO! Does it mean the kids remained weak writers? NO! Does it mean their writing didn’t make progress week by week? NO! It simply means my eye wasn’t as trained back then as it is now—and  improve they did, in spite of all the errors I failed to catch.

Get the Big Picture

Are you the type whose critical eye is drawn to every little error? Does your pen begin its attack before you’ve reached the end of the first line? Do you pick apart the composition till it’s riddled with red marks?

Your goal is to encourage your budding writer to take wing, not shoot her out of the sky, right? So strike a balance by reading the paper through several times first to get the big picture before deciding what kinds of suggestions to make. And then . . .

Use an Objective Checklist

Flowers in VaseImagine a buoyant, sunny morning, bursting with possibility! The kids are cooperating with you and getting along with each other. The house is tidy, windows thrown open to catch the clean breeze. Lesson plans are in order, a vase of bright daisies graces the table, and you’re caught up on the laundry.

It’s easy to feel positive about a child’s writing attempts, even when the paragraph clearly needs attention. On such a day, you’re likely to give a paper a cursory glance and say, “Looks good to me!” And why not? All’s right with the world!

But suppose your day is not like that at all. Gray and sullen, ominous clouds have gathered during the night, and now the rain drips moodily from the eaves. Imagine that the squabbling begins before you peel open your own tired eyes. You’ve run out of milk and the baby is throwing up. Laundry and dishes press against the ceiling, and someone just let the dog in, muddy paws and all.

Laundry 2

In the midst of the chaos, school must go on. Your teenager turns in his overdue paper—the paper that would have received kudos on your “perfect” day—and you react badly, taking out your frustration on your son and his writing efforts.

I can’t stress this one enough! Without a checklist, your poor children are laying their papers—yea, their very souls! bare before your whim, your emotional state, or your bad-hair day.

You can—and will—be more consistent when you use an objective checklist because it helps you look for measurable, specific elements—things your child either did or did not do. Did she include her required sentence variations? Did she find and replace overused, dull, or repeated words? Does the title fit with the content of the paper?

Your mood, ugly or sweet, will no longer dictate your response. And guess what? When your kids know you will be fair, they’re more likely to trust you with their fabulous (or feeble!) writing efforts.

Look for Ways to Suggest Improvement

It doesn’t take much to improve a paper’s style. Believe it or not, just a few simple tweaks in wording can add enough flourish and pizzazz to elevate a paper’s status from mediocre to downright decent! These ideas aren’t a cure-all, but they go a long way toward raising the bar. Offer some of these editing tips to your budding author:

1. Replace overused, dull, boring, or repeated words with synonyms.

I’m not saying that every word needs to sound like it spilled from the pen of Tolkien. But if there’s a proliferation of good, nice, funny, weird, thing, stuff, and went, then a few well-chosen replacements are definitely in order. A strong descriptive word like enchanting will run circles around very pretty. A good thesaurus can become your child’s best friend!

2. Add sentence variations.

Properly used, sentence variations bring greater depth and maturity to the writing. Beginning a sentence with a participle, prepositional phrase, or subordinating conjunction, for example, also improves rhythm and cadence. Add sparkle with a simile, or change things up a bit with paired adjectives.

3. Choose vivid, active verbs.

Strong verbs actively engage the reader and spice up the writing. So instead of saying, “The waves came into shore,” try: “The waves crashed onto the shore”; “The waves tossed and tumbled toward shore”; or “The waves rolled into shore.”

4. Use a short sentence now and then.

It breaks up wordy text. Honest.

Clearly, you’ll need to address more than just elements of style when you edit your students’ papers. But trust me. These easy fixes will produce noticeable and positive changes in their writing. So next time your child hands in a composition, take in the big picture, use an objective checklist, and suggest small, manageable improvements for starters. Like anything else, editing is a skill to nurture and develop, and with patience and practice, you’ll get better with each try.

2008 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Need more help with editing or teaching writing? WriteShop can help! Visit our website at writeshop.com.

Photos: Anna Gutermuth, Kuromeri, and rpavich, courtesy of Creative Commons.

The story behind WriteShop, part 2

In Part 1 of our story, Debbie and I discovered that our plans for teaching our first writing class were very nearly doomed. Now for Part 2 . . .

Taking a Detour

detour signIt wasn’t just our own boys whose efforts cried out for help—every student in the group struggled at some level. So we canceled class for two weeks, scrapped the lesson plans we had so carefully crafted over the summer, and started from scratch. We had made a commitment to these parents, but clearly we needed to take a detour. Continue reading →

We’ve got mail!

I’ve been storing a mountain of emails in one of my Outlook folders—comments and testimonials from happy WriteShop users. Our brochures and website only have so much room for snippets like these, so I thought I’d give a voice to these dear moms and co-op teachers who took the time to brighten our day. Hope they encourage you, too!


“I am reallllly mad at you! These StoryBuilders have proven to be tooooo fun and my kids don’t wanna do anything else. Looks like math and science will be flying out the window today as we have already spent the morning writing from the cards and they are still at it!” —Wendy

Co-op Testimonials

“I used the WriteShop 1 curriculum with a co-op group last fall and it was fabulous. Thank you for all the work you all have put into it.” —Anita

“We had a fabulous year in our co-op! It is so rewarding to teach writing and witness the drastic improvement in their skills. Many moms told me writing had become their child’s favorite subject, and they had always hated writing. I know I could not have had the success I did without this great program.” —Debbie 

WriteShop I & II

“Thanks so much for all your hard work!  I just LOVE working with this program, and believe that it has really taught my children to write well. I’m using it this year already with my son and he is doing extremely well for a student who could barely write a sentence by himself last year! The other thing that I like about the program is the marking scheme. It really helps to have such an objective checklist for marking the student’s writing.” —Cindy

My son and I have really enjoyed using this writing program so much more than others. He is in 10th so we will be moving on to WriteShop II as soon as we receive it. His writing has improved tremendously since we started. —Holli

Thanks so much Kim. Our youngest son is 16 now, and in a Christian/missionary kid school, but we’re homeschooling while we’re in the States—and WriteShop was my favorite writing program in our 8 years of homeschooling in the past! —Mary

“I can not believe how quickly my kids’ writing has improved using your curriculum for just a month and a half! After three years of searching, we have finally found a writing curriculum that we all enjoy doing. No more tears!”—Sherri

“You did a great job with WriteShop. I have taught in the public schools and am now home with my teenage kids and have never seen a better writing program. Thanks!” —Laura

“I want to thank you for developing such a teacher and student-friendly program. This is the first program I have found in nine years of home school that is incremental enough to take the teacher by the hand and tell her what to do day by day. Plus I much prefer your Composition Evaluation forms over other grading rubrics with squares, which left me with questions as to how to add up the grade. Your form explains exactly what value to assign every item that is graded.” —Linda

“My son is 13 and we just started using Write Shop and I am very pleased with it. One of the homeschool moms in my group referred it to a friend of mine,  and she referred me to it. They both think very highly of the curriculum and we are all highly recommending it to other moms in our group. Thank you so much for writing this valuable, much needed and fantastic curriculum!!” —Susan

WriteShop I and II taught my son a plethora of composition skills and, also, provided me with an effective method to hold him accountable to use what he learned. By (both of us) following this well-designed curriculum, he gained the tools to write confidently and effectively! We are pleased with the results!” —Lorna

WriteShop Primary – Beta EditionWriteShop Primary

“It’s very exciting about this whole WriteShop Primary program!! You all have a great product. I love, LOVE your editing and revising section in Lesson 3 (Book C), and I drew big hearts around #1 to remember to tell you I think this is great!” —Wendy (test mom)

“I am impressed with the thought and planning that has gone into WriteShop Primary . . . there doesn’t seem to be a detail missed! Jack & I are enjoying being part of testing the program.” —Candy (test mom)

“We really enjoy this program and I am definitely seeing growth in my two students. We are thrilled that we have had the chance to test out WriteShop Primary.” —Jennifer (test mom)


To learn more about WriteShop I or II, please visit our website at writeshop.com. WriteShop Primary is now available. Learn more here.

Homeschool writing contests

Big Things Come in Small Packages

You will LOVE meeting Molly Fox! This young entrepreneur created a fantastic website, HomeschoolWriters.com, featuring a one-stop shop for dozens of writing contests for homeschool students.

Molly Fox, homeschool writing contestsI’m so glad you joined me today for this very special interview with Molly (pictured right). And once you’ve seen her thoughtful and articulate answers and visited her website, you’ll find it hard to believe she’s just eleven years old!

So pull up a comfy chair, grab a cup of cocoa, and come along with me to meet this extraordinary young lady!

Kim: Welcome, Molly! I’m looking forward to our interview today. First, I’d love to hear how you decided to launch a website centered on homeschool writing contests. Continue reading →

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