Entries from July 2008 ↓

The key to teaching self-editing

Lazy feetI’m sure it’s no secret that your kids don’t like to edit their compositions. Unfortunately, by not editing their own papers thoroughly, they place themselves in a “Catch-22″ position; that is, though too lazy to edit their own work carefully, they fall apart when they see all the changes you suggest! Sound familiar?

This is how they think:

I don’t like editing. It takes too much time. Besides, I like my paper just the way it is. It sounds good to me. Anyway, if I don’t proofread, Mom will find my mistakes. Why go to all that time and trouble to find mistakes and (perish the thought!) correct them when someone else will do it for me?

However, when their parent-edited composition comes back, they sing a different tune!

You’re always so critical! I can’t do anything right. My paper is too marked up. I thought my composition was fine. I didn’t see all that stuff when I read it!

Granted, not all students think this way. However, in our experience over our many years of teaching writing to nearly 200 students, we have learned that many, if not most, do become lazy as time goes on, self-editing less and relying on our comments and suggestions more.

Here’s how we began to think!

What’s with all the ‘to be’ verbs? She used six but only circled two. And she marked her checklist saying she didn’t use more than two. Hmm.

Wow! Look at all the weak words–very, really, had (twice), went (three times), and a lot. That’s odd–he marked off the box on his checklist saying he avoided weak words. I wonder why he didn’t underline them on his rough draft?

There’s no sentence beginning with a present participle, and I can’t find her simile. But she checked the box saying she used all required sentence variations.

Once upon a time, we used to find these errors for our students and suggest ways to fix them–and then we got smart! We began to realize that we were doing them no favor by spending an hour poring over each paragraph rather than requiring them to make greater editing efforts themselves.

Here’s the bottom line: put the responsibility back on your students to do their part in this learning process! When they turn in their self-edited draft to you, give it a cursory glance. If you find too many problems showing evidence of poor self-editing, return it for additional proofreading before editing it yourself.

Specifically, look for overused “to be” verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been), repeated or weak words, failure to use all required sentence variations, too many spelling errors, and failure to follow the assignment’s directions for content. If you find that even one of these areas has been neglected, send it back! You will teach students to improve their own editing abilities, and you will save yourself a great deal of time as a bonus!

Copyright 2008 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

From the archives.

Pottery Barn meets sentence variations

Pottery Barn CatalogWHO KNEW you could find a grammar lesson in the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog?

Browsing the latest edition, I enjoyed identifying a wide range of sentence variations on page after page. Between PB’s concrete word choices and interesting sentence structures, no wonder their products sounds so enticing!

In our junior high/high school WriteShop curriculum, we teach students to use a nice assortment of sentence variations. Among top reasons, using different sentence types:

  • Peppers a composition with interesting phrases
  • Adds zest to otherwise dull writing
  • Expands sentence length
  • Offers alternatives to the subject-verb sentence structure
  • Improves the rhythm of a sentence or paragraph
  • Often helps eliminate a “to be” verb
  • Brings maturity to the writing

Just a few of the many sentence types I spotted in the August 2008 Pottery Barn catalog:

Paired Adjective Sentence Starters

Clever and versatile, our modular Daily System is the ultimate home-office assistant. (p. 108)

Soft and weighty, our cotton velvet is saturated with intense color made even more dramatic by its deep matte texture. (p. 117)

More on paired adjectives

Present Participial Phrase Sentence Starters

Standing more than five feet high, our cylinder lamp creates a striking setting for seasonal displays. (p. 12)

Combining linen’s distinctive texture and appeal with cotton’s natural wrinkle-resistance, our drape has an easy elegance. (p. 134)

Past Participial Phrase Sentence Starters

Woven of incredibly soft cotton yarn, our velvet pillows are available in an array of saturated colors. (p. 8 )

Rendered in warm ivory and pale espresso stripes, our hand-tufted wool rug brings a bold look to your room. (p. 53)

Defined by clean, minimalist design, our Landon Collection lends a modern aesthetic to the bath. (p. 78)

“-ly” Adverb Sentence Starters

Originally popular in coastal countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, the sandrift gray finish is created by brushing the ash-framed furniture with washes of eggplant, taupe and blue… (p. 22)

Beautifully crafted of birch and birch veneers, the table has a turned pedestal that rests on a scrolling three-footed base. (p. 56)

Subordinate Conjunction Sentence Starters

Although the design was originally European, and based on the classic Windsor chair, ladder-back chairs have become American icons… (p. 51)

Since then, this highly comfortable and durable design has been a favorite at cafés all over the world. (p. 57)

As in nature, our cheetah-pattered wool rug has markings that graduate from small to large, close-set to widely spaced, all set off by tonal variations in the neutral colors. (p. 107)

Prepositional Phrase Sentence Starters

In the tradition of Scandinavian design, we’ve brought graphic appeal to the simple forms of flowers and leaves. (p. 12)

Like well-traveled furniture pieces that have been painted and repainted over time, these cabinets have a richly layered finish. (p. 32)

 For graphic impact, nothing beats our stoneware in black and white. (p. 67)


Hand quilting and tonal pick-stitching, two techniques that have been used for over a thousand years, require detailed hand work… (p. 37)

Canopies, or four-post standing beds, were originally introduced in the 15th century. (p. 92)

More on appositives

Transition Words

Each piece is shaped from copper with rolled-in edges, then coated with a layer of tin.

Next, the surfaces are meticulously hammered for rich texture.

Finally, the pendants are plated with silver and rubbed with a blackened finish that accentuates each indentation. (p. 65)

More on transition words

Sentence of Six or Fewer Words

High function meets great style. (p. 109)

Give your windows modern style. (p. 139)

Isn’t it fun to find “school exercises” in real writing? It’s all about application!

If you’re already a WriteShop user, you may want to print out this blog post for ammunition in case your teen moans and complains over an assignment. After all, if the copywriters at Pottery Barn use sentence variations to increase the appeal of their descriptions, it only makes sense that our kids’ writing can improve with simple changes too. Showing examples from real-life writing encourages them that the skills you’re teaching will make a difference in their writing style.

. . . . .

Do you struggle with teaching and grading writing? Does your teen’s writing need a boost? Consider adding WriteShop to your curriculum choices for this school year!

As part of most lessons, WriteShop teaches—and offers practice in—a new writing skill, including a wide array of sentence variations that help to enhance a student’s paper with fresh style and vigor. When combined with strong, dynamic word choices, sentence variations give dull writing new life.

To learn more, visit our informative website at www.writeshop.com.

Writing warm-ups


There’s nothing quite like a writing warm-up or game to put some fun into writing and get the creative juices flowing. Whether you’re teaching young children or teens, writing games serve an important purpose in the writing process.

Spend five or ten minutes a day gearing your kids up for writing with some of these enticing activities!

Five-Word Stories

This is a great group activity to play with several children at home or with a co-op or class group.

Directions: Each person begins with a 5-word prompt and then adds exactly five words of his own. Pass papers in a circle. Each time the papers are passed, players add exactly five words to the story in front of them in round-robin style. When you’re ready to wrap things up, tell the kids to begin bringing their stories to a close. Finally, pass the papers one last time so players can add their last five words to the ending.

Five-word story prompt ideas

  • Once upon a time there . . .
  • The mystery began when the . . .
  • In a kingdom far away . . .
  • Once, long ago, a tiny . . .
  • Last week, while digging in . . .
  • Today was far from normal!

Word Association

Another fun family or group exercise!

Directions: Each person begins by writing a word on a piece of paper. When you exchange papers. Read the word the other person wrote and write down the very first word that comes to mind. Don’t think, just write! Keep exchanging and adding to the list! Here’s one we did with our family. See how each word connects to the next?

    dog – Casey – baseball – diamond – sparkling – cider – apple – pie – sky – clouds – storm – thunder – lightning – flash – Gordon

Unrelated Words Game

Directions: Write two unrelated words on a white board such as fish and trampoline or stapler and zucchini. Ask your kids to write sentences using both words. Repeat several times.

For older kids, write up to ten unrelated words and have them create a silly story using as many of the words as possible. 

Messing with Modifiers

This is a great vocabulary-building exercise for all ages.  Don’t think this activity is beneath your teenagers! The thesaurus will help them come up with some challenging, advanced word choices.

Directions: Ask students to write the letters of the alphabet down the side of a sheet of lined paper. Next, have them leave a blank space followed by a noun that begins with each letter. Finally, tell them to go back and add an adjective in front of each noun. If you want to give points, add an extra point for alliteration (using the letter of the alphabet for both the noun and the adjective).

Example (younger child)

    A – _______ apple
    B – _______ beaver
    C – _______ cat
    A – crunchy apple
    B – busy beaver (extra point for alliteration – b/b)
    C – purring cat

Example (older student) 

    A – _______ argument
    B – _______ borrower
    C – _______ collection
    A – abstract argument (extra point for alliteration – a/a)
    B – delinquent borrower
    C – haphazard collection

These activities barely scratch the surface of the wealth of pre-writing games you can use to tickle your kids’ writing fancy. I’ll post more in a week or two!

Meanwhile, you’ll be happy to know that both WriteShop Primary and WriteShop I and II include pre-writing activities to enhance each lesson. With September just around the corner, order soon so you have time to get acquainted with your new materials!

VHE Convention 2008: Modesto, CA

Valley Home Educators

Homeschoolers in central California are looking forward to the Valley Home Educators’ 15th Annual Home Education Convention! With a great lineup of speakers and all sorts of curriculum exhibitors, you won’t want to miss this year’s conference.

This is a perfect time to stop by our booth to ask questions, see what’s new, or browse through WriteShop books in person.

At the convention you can:

  • See our full line of WriteShop products
  • Purchase WriteShop Primary Book A!
  • Learn how you can teach a WriteShop co-op class in your area.
  • Find out more about online tutoring with WriteShop.
  • Receive much-needed encouragement about teaching writing.
  • Attend our exhibitor workshop Teaching Writing: The Big Picture Saturday at 11:00 to learn what to teach and when!

Visit www.valleyhomeeducators.org for convention schedule, speaker line-up, and more.

At WriteShop, we’re wrapping up our 2008 convention schedule. Next weekend (August 1-3) we’ll be in Ontario, CA for the California Homeschool Network Family Expo, our final conference of the year.

Ways to make grading writing less subjective

Teaching writing is less subjective than you think! Knowing what to look for and having clear expectations can reduce anxiety.

To most parents, the process of editing and evaluating your teen’s compositions does seem like an overwhelming, subjective effort. It’s usually pretty easy to spot spelling and grammar mistakes and other problems with mechanics. But grading for content and style is another thing altogether!

Have you ever said anything like this?

  • I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong.
  • I’d say this essay feels like a B+.
  • I love the story, but I don’t exactly know why. It just…sounds good.
  • I hate grading. I’m always afraid I’ll either be too easy or too hard on my child.
  • I never know what I’m supposed to be looking for.

Christy’s Story

I have a junior high boy who hated writing because he (and I) felt it was so subjective. WriteShop . . . breaks it into objective little pieces with skills to practice, examples for visual learning, and student checklists so a reluctant writer has a clear path to follow. It takes the guesswork out!

For the parent, there [are] Teacher Writing Checklists to make specific, encouraging comments to help the student revise his work. The best part is the objective scoring of each component.

My son went from being a C writer to an A writer in just one year! I thought he would never be a straight A student all because of the problems in writing. Well, he is this year thanks to WriteShop.

Finding Answers

WriteShop can help 

WriteShop Teacher's ManualHappily, as Christy and others have discovered, the process is easier and more objective than you think! Knowing what to look for and having clear expectations can take the anxiety out of this task. Since teen writers often make the same kinds of mistakes, the Teacher’s Manual for WriteShop I and II addresses these common areas. In the tabbed sections of the Teacher’s Manual you will find:

  • A step-by-step guide through the writing and editing process
  • Instructions for using the Student and Teacher Writing Skills Checklists
  • Pages of positive comments to encourage your young writer
  • A section that helps you identify and correct problems specific to each WriteShop lesson
  • A section highlighting the most common problems of mechanics
  • Edited samples of student paragraphs to serve as models (this section also contains lessons designed to help you practice and develop confidence in editing)

Learning to edit a composition is a process for both you and your student. WriteShop’s comprehensive Student and Teacher Writing Skills Checklists take the intimidation and guesswork out of editing. Because your teens know what is expected, they also respond more positively to suggestions for improvement.

Good news

The more you edit and revise, the easier it will become for you. Familiarity produces recognition. You’ll quickly become adept at spotting repeated words, “to be” words, and misplaced modifiers. Soon they’ll just jump out at you. But in the beginning, you’ll need to search for these mistakes.

It’s actually more objective than you think—especially when you have WriteShop’s detailed checklists to help you look for specific things, including:

  • Topic and closing sentences
  • Over-used or repeated words
  • Vague or weak words
  • Passive writing
  • Use of sentence variety
  • Correct use of the lesson’s content and style requirements, such as including all the elements of a narrative or using emotion words
  • Avoidance of run-on or incomplete sentences

And here’s a bit of encouragement for you: Even if you only address half of these, your student’s writing is bound to improve! So don’t worry about doing it “perfectly.” Just begin offering concrete suggestions and you will see improvement right away.

Your student’s role

But it’s not all up to you! Your teen plays a big role. Asking the following questions of your student’s composition will address his or her two biggest stumbling blocks to success:

  • Did my student follow the assignment’s specific directions? She will avoid countless problems later on by doing exactly what the lesson requires.
  • Did she correctly use her Writing Skills Checklist, including using colored pencils on the “sloppy copy” (rough draft) to underline and circle as the checklist directs? Students who diligently use their checklists to find errors and make changes, and who earnestly look for ways to improve their compositions, will be more successful writers than those who sit back and let you do all the editing for them.

WriteShop I and WriteShop II have a proven track record! Using the program will help prepare your teens for advanced high school and college writing. But don’t take my word for it! Christy and Dottie have said it better than I ever could.

Dottie’s Story

When I placed two of my daughters in WriteShop I, I had no idea how greatly it would impact them. My youngest daughter took WriteShop in 7th grade. Now in 9th grade, with little other formal writing instruction, she is still applying the techniques she learned two years ago.

Her older sister did WriteShop I in jr. high also. She is now in college and was asked by her composition teacher to work in the English lab helping other students with their writing. I attribute this honor largely to the skills she learned in WriteShop I many years ago.

. . . . .

Do you struggle with teaching, editing, and grading your teen’s writing? Are you looking for ways to make the process of teaching and grading writing less subjective? Perhaps WriteShop is the answer. Visit www.writeshop.com and poke around. About WriteShop and Parent Testimonials may be good places to begin.

Photo: Laura Dye, courtesy of Creative Commons.

This sign should be unortherized

For your amusement and amazement, the “Bad Signage” sightings continue. This one apparently capitalizes on unortherized bad spelling!

. . . . .

Stop by every 1st and 3rd Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

Make a picture dictionary

Looking for a clever way to build vocabulary and target common spelling words? Invite your younger children to make a picture dictionary.

LOOKING FOR a clever way to build vocabulary and target common spelling words? Invite your younger children to make a picture dictionary.

This creative activity combines the fun of making scrapbooks with the skill of learning to write new words. Plus, it’s so much more meaningful when your kids’ personal dictionary reflects their own interests and vocabulary!

First, help your child label loose-leaf pages A, B, C, etc. and insert then into a three-ring binder. Next, encourage him to find pictures of things that are interesting or meaningful to him.

Tips to Make a Picture Dictionary

  • Family members and pets
  • Favorite foods and snacks
  • Familiar household objects and furniture
  • Vehicles
  • Facial expressions (happy, sad, mad)
  • Articles of clothing
  • Toys
  • Colors
  • Action words (run, sit, eat)

Using scissors, your child can cut out pictures from outdated calendars and magazines, old photos, or other sources. Alternatively, he might use stickers of some of these familiar objects. Have him glue each picture onto the appropriate dictionary page (a chair on the C page, for example), adding more loose-leaf pages as needed. If your child can’t find a picture of a word he wants to include, suggest that he draw a picture of it directly on the page. Once he’s added an item, help him write the word or name below the drawing.

It’s OK if the child doesn’t fill the book evenly. Even if he makes five A pages before he has created a single page for X, that’s fine. After all, even in a standard dictionary, certain letters have more word entries.

Older children 

To make the book even more like a dictionary, your third or fourth grader can add a brief description or explanation for each item.

For more writing ideas, see the Writing Games & Activities category.

Happy writing!

Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

FREE gift with WriteShop Primary pre-order

Through July 20, we’re including a WriteShop Primary Activity Set Worksheet PackActivity Set Worksheet Pack ($4.95 value) for FREE to everyone who pre-orders WriteShop Primary Book A!

There’s one 2-sided worksheet for every lesson in Book A, along with evaluation charts to help you track your child’s progress.

The copyright give permission to reproduce worksheets and charts for single-family use, or you may purchase extra workpacks for additional children.

Book A is nearing its ship date!

WriteShop Primary is the delightful new program for children in K-3 grades. Book A, the first in the series, targets kindergarten and first-grade students, but you can also use it with second graders who have limited or no writing experience. Books will begin shipping very soon!

See a sample lesson

Our website is now filled with all sorts of information about WriteShop Primary. Begin at the WriteShop Primary Home Page and visit the other links from there. You can find:

Pre-order here

Hurry over to the store to pre-order your new book. You’ll love this gentle, effective method for introducing writing skills to your little ones! Books will ship in mid-July.

Becoming your child’s pen pal

Becoming Your Child's Pen Pal: Simple, creative ways to encourage a reluctant writer

Does your reluctant writer hate journaling (or writing in general)? Do you need a way to encourage her? Try becoming your child’s pen pal!

This activity is best for children in the 8- to 12-year-old range, but you might also try it with other writing-phobic kiddos who live at your house.

Getting Started 

First, buy an inexpensive spiral notebook or composition notebook. If a colorful or thematic cover helps to wow your child, so much the better. Otherwise, a plain one will work just fine. Begin by writing an age-appropriate prompt at the top of the first page.

  • What’s your favorite thing to dream about?
  • Tell me something about you that I don’t know.
  • Would you rather wake up to fog or rain? Why?
  • Tell me about your favorite book.
  • What makes you feel scared?
  • What makes you laugh?

Here’s a good place to start if you need more ideas.

Tell your child there are no rules, no right, no wrong. She must simply write about the given topic and express herself however she chooses. No critiquing is allowed!

At first, don’t expect much; all she may give you is lists! But eventually she’ll begin to write more, especially when she finds the prompt particularly appealing.

Turning the Tables

Next, let your child choose a prompt for you and write it on the next page so you can write back to her. Offering her the chance to ask you questions can give her a sense of fairness and control. Who knows what she’ll want to know?

As your child’s confidence grows and she becomes more willing to write, you’ll start to get glimpses into who she is and how she thinks. Plus, you’ll have a treasure of recorded “conversations” between the two of you.

Give it a try!

. . . . .

Kim Kautzer is co-author of the WriteShop program. Visit writeshop.com to learn more.

Photos: lecates, courtesy of Creative Commons.


All this failing…







Let go: forgive.


all this failing . . .

. . . take a nap.

—mary anne radmacher


We’ve all been in that stress-filled, stretched-out place where, having tried everything we know to do, we still come up empty. It boils down to this: Sometimes we’re just tired. And if we can accept that, and remember that the resting place brings refreshment to body and spirit, we can also accept that maybe it’s time to stop striving for a bit and simply . . . take a nap.

“For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”

  Psalm 127:2 NASB

. . . . .

Photo from Stock.Xchng
Poem used with permission.


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