Entries from August 2008 ↓

6 simple truths about writing with kids

6 Simple Truths about Writing with kids | There are no shortcuts. Time, patience, parent involvement, and helpful analogies smooth the way.

1. Kids only want to write a paper once.

But getting it right the first time is pie-in-the-sky. Perfectionism sets your child up for failure.

2. The writing process is a lot like scrapbooking.

Analogies are great teaching tools!

Let’s say you have a dozen photos to use in a layout. Once you set the photos down, you wonder if there’s a better way to arrange them.  You angle several pictures. Perhaps you crop a few to focus more on the subject. Then you move two or three others around, trying different arrangements.

6 Simple Truths about Writing with Kids | There are no shortcuts. Time, patience, parent involvement, and helpful analogies smooth the way.

Finally, you realize the page will look much cleaner with fewer photos, so you carefully choose your favorites and make your final layout.

The writer does the same thing with ideas, words, and sentences—removing, replacing, arranging and rearranging, adding colorful touches—until the final composition is as pleasing to the eye as a well-arranged scrapbook page.

3. Rewriting is the key to writing.

Say it till you believe it. Then tell it to your kids until they believe it too! Remind them that their rough draft is just that—rough. The real writing takes place once the ideas are in place. Good writing results from frequent editing and revising.

4. Pre-writing activities don’t teach independent writing.

Though pre-writing activities teach valuable skills, they’re just a small part of the writing process. Instead, use writing gamesjournaling prompts, and pre-writing exercises to warm your kids up before the “real” writing begins.

5. Writing needs to be relevant.

As often as possible, give your child a say in choosing a topic. When a student is passionate about hockey, horses, World War II, or Lord of the Rings, you’ll get more (and better) writing from him because he has a vested interest in the subject matter.

6. Writing takes time.

And there’s no way around this. Of course, in a classroom, teachers just don’t have enough time to devote to thorough writing instruction. But if you’re homeschooling, you have the luxury of helping your kids nurture a writing assignment from start to finish.

When writing with kids, there are no shortcuts. But time, patience, parent involvement, and helpful analogies can smooth the way!

Scrapbooking layout of my darling grandchildren, courtesy of Karah Fredricks at The Lily Pad.
Photo of boy: bikephotomusic, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Vote for our new poster design!

Cast Your Vote

Our WriteShop Starter Pack includes an 8-1/2″ x 11″ poster featuring the 5 Steps of the Writing Process. Well, after several years, we decided it’s time to retire our old poster in favor of a fresh new look.

My daughter, our talented designer, has presented us with two great choices. The problem is we love them both and can’t make a decision, so we need your help! Please vote for your favorite by adding a comment…

…for a Chance to Win a Prize!

On September 1, we’ll put all comments into a hat and draw five names. Each winner will get a free poster! We’ll announce the winner here on Tuesday, September 2.

Red Poster

 Poster #1 - Red

Blue Poster

Poster #2 - Blue

Six People, One Idea, and 3000 Miles

Grace Talk SoupWoohoo! Tomorrow we’ll be guests on the podcast Grace Talk Soup, and we invite you to join us LIVE!

Host JoJo Tabares will interview our WriteShop Primary team, giving you a chance to find out how we pulled off this project with “six people, one idea, and 3000 miles.”

You’ll get to meet me and Debbie, of course, but Nancy Sanders and David Borrink will be joining us too. You’ll hear our personal testimonies and find out just what’s involved in moving a book from the author’s head and onto your bookshelf!

    When: Thursday, August 28, 2008 at 11:00 a.m. EDT
    Episode Description: Kim Kautzer and Debbie Oldar of WriteShop join JoJo to discuss their newest project and how it took effective communication between them, author Nancy Sanders, and graphic designer David Borrink. Tune in as they discuss their new younger-level writing curriculum and what it took to get that project published.

Join the Fun!

Want to ask us some questions? Guess what? You can call in too!

How to join the show live via the phone:
Phone Number: (724) 444-7444
Call ID: 19736

How to join the show live via your computer:
Click on the Listen Now button anytime starting 15 min before the show

And here’s how to listen to any of the past shows:
Scroll down to the “Past Shows” and click one of the orange “Listen” buttons.

Hope to see you there!

Put some fun into editing!

Humphrey the blogging catI know a cat that blogs. Really.

His name is Humphrey, and he belongs to our dear friend, Nancy Sanders. Nancy, who also happens to be the author of our new WriteShop Primary series, invited Humphrey to be a guest writer on her blog yesterday, where he offers his own tips for making editing fun.

But don’t take it from me! Here’s “The Humph” himself to share some of his fabulous secrets!

    Hi. My name is Humphrey. I’m a cat. You may already know that. But what you may not know is that I’m also a writer. And today, now that you’re writing your [composition], I want to tell you about putting on your editor’s hat.
    Do you like to edit your own [writing]? You know—self edit? Come on…really?
    I don’t.
    I mean, it’s just not the cat’s meow.
    But I know I should. I know I’m supposed to. I know it’s what a cat’s gotta do to learn how to be a successful writer. So I decided to break my habit of neglecting this part of my writing life.
    The first thing I did was get myself an editor’s hat. You know—first you wear the writer’s hat and then you take that off and put on your editor’s hat? Right? Well, I didn’t have an editor’s hat. So I went out and got one. Like it? It even has a little mouse at the top and this twirly thing to twirl around. It’s purrfect for a cat like me. You should get one, too!
    After I finish my first draft of my manuscript, I set aside some time to edit. And now I make sure it isn’t the drudgery it used to be. I make sure it’s fun!
    I put on my silly editor’s beanie. It gets me in the mood to have fun, dude. Then I get out my special . . .

Humphrey may be joking about wearing a special hat. Or…not! Nancy shared with me that she’s in the process of making her own editing hat. She’s going to stick velcro all over a floppy cotton beach hat and attach items related to the story she’s writing. Cute idea!

How about a baseball cap with the word “Editor” across the front? Or maybe a favorite beanie? But editing hat or no, once your kids adopt a few of Humphrey’s clever tips, I think they’ll actually begin to discover the JOY of editing.

And if you’re using WriteShop this year, your older kids will be able to apply these ideas while using their Writing Skills Checklists. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

How do I motivate a 9-year-old?

How to Motivate a 9-year-old {via In Our Write Minds}

WE OFTEN GET letters from moms who don’t quite know what to do with their reluctant fourth graders. This email is a pretty typical lament:

My 9 year old and I haven’t done any routine writing projects together. He hyperventilates (not really but you get my point) when I try to do any kind of writing with him.  I’ve tried story starters, but he just doesn’t want to participate, or he comes up with a totally silly story. I know he can do better, but he has this thing about writing.

Writing Stories: Too Abstract? 

It’s so normal for a 9-year-old to be a reluctant writer. And believe me, I understand. My son was the same way! I’ve found that often, storytelling can be too abstract for such a child. Even kids who are slightly older (junior high) usually do better when asked to write about more concrete topics, such as events they have personally experienced or objects they can observe firsthand. That’s why descriptive writing or personal narratives often produce better results than made-up stories from the child’s imagination.

Why do such activities bring about success? The child can actually see and touch a toy car, taste and smell a ripe peach, or recall a story that happened to him.

World of People StoryBuildersBut don’t throw out the baby with the bath water! You might still want to use a story starter now and then. And when you do, know that it’s really OK for the story to take a silly tack. Sometimes writing should be just for fun!

If you need some ideas, you’ll find several inexpensive StoryBuilders card decks from WriteShop, including World of People and World of Animals. By mixing and matching story element cards, children can create lots of different stories, from serious to silly. Each StoryBuilders set includes activities that will appeal to students of all ages and writing abilities.

Journaling Idea

With my own reluctant son, we did Journaling … with a twist over and over again. Because this type of “journaling” is based on facts gathered through reading, your child won’t get stuck trying to invent details or a come up with a story line. It’s also much more entertaining to read and write than a report!

Overcoming Writer’s Block

What’s one of the most frustrating assignments you can give a reluctant child? Believe it or not, just ask her to “write about whatever she wants.” While it seems that this should be freeing for her, it actually has the opposite effect: it contributes to writer’s block.

That’s why it’s really important to establish parameters for your budding writers. Just as a sturdy fence helps a child feel safe in a big back yard, clear boundaries and expectations help young writers feel secure about putting pencil to paper. The blank page can be pretty intimidating, so instead of asking her to “just write,” be very specific. For example:

  • Write a paragraph of 3-5 sentences
  • Describe a __________________ (taco or Tonka truck, for example).
  • Do not tell a story about it. Just use your five senses to explain how it looks, feels, sounds, tastes, or smells (as appropriate to the object).
  • Use your thesaurus to include one new word.

You can probably see how this sort of directed writing helps inspire confidence. When trying to motivate a 9-year-old (or any reluctant child, for that matter), start small and don’t expect too much at first. If you were teaching a child to play the piano, you’d give him exercises and simple tunes to practice long before you asked him to compose a piece on his own. It’s the same with writing!

. . . . .

If you’re looking for a writing curriculum for your 8- or 9-year-old, a gem of a program is WriteShop Junior Book D. It’s rich in fun prewriting activities, guided writing, and engaging writing lessons!

Photo © 2008 by Kim Kautzer

How to slip and fall

The joy of bad signage continues! Gotta love this one. If you’re going to fall, please do so C-A-R-E-F-U-L-L-Y.

…less chance of injury that way.

Photo courtesy of pomphorhynchus at Flickr.com. Used with permission.

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

Introducing nouns

Children's scissorsHere’s a fun activity to do with your primary-age children (K-3rd) to introduce the concept of nouns.

What are nouns?

Talk about nouns with your kids and discuss the three main noun categories.

Common nouns name people, places and things. Unless they begin a sentence, common nouns are not capitalized. Examples: man, toy, cereal, coffee shop, country

Proper nouns name specific things, and must be capitalized at all times. Examples: President Bush, Legos, Cheerios. Starbucks, United States

Collective nouns (also called group nouns) describe a set or group of people, animals or things. Examples: army, family, audience, flock (of sheep), bunch (of flowers), school (of fish), team (of baseball players)

Note: Making a noun plural does not make it a collective noun. The word cows is a plural noun / the word herd (of cows) is a collective noun.

Make a noun mini-book

  1. Fold a 9” x 12” sheet of construction paper in half.
  2. On the first page, add a title: “My Book of Nouns.” Below the title, help your child write a definition of common noun, proper noun, and collective noun.
  3. Title the inside left page “Some Common Nouns,” the inside right page “Some Proper Nouns,” and the back page “Some Collective Nouns.”
  4. Once your child has labeled her mini-book, give her a few old magazines or catalogs. Ask her to cut out five pictures for each category, glue them in place on the appropriate page, and label the picture with its name.

Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Introducing writing through narration

Young children in grades K-2 are usually considered “pre-writers”—just learning to write letters, words, and groups of words. Their writing experience should be fun! After all, isn’t our goal is to help our primary-age children build confidence as they gain the ability to write?

Daily Guided Writing 

Because children learn best by example, take time to model good writing techniques to your child. Let her narrate her words to you through a daily time of guided writing. This gives her that predictable, shared writing experience that’s so important to her development.

For beginning readers, the predictable patterns and easy sight words build confidence. For more confident readers, narration gives daily practice in reading and writing harder words and sentences.

Most importantly, this time of guided writing gives kids the freedom to put together ideas and create word patterns without the limitations and fear of having to write them down. So even if your child already knows how to write simple sentences, you can often get more from him if he is allowed to dictate his words to you rather than write on his own.

How to Elicit Narration from Young Children

Together, you and your child can write several short sentences about simple, familiar topics such as animals, friends, the weather, or upcoming events. Sounds easy, right? But if you ask your son to tell you all about friends, for example, he’ll probably say, “I don’t know.” It’s an awfully broad topic, after all, and his little mind may be all a-jumble. Most kids need direction, but some will need more help than others to formulate their thoughts into simple words.

So how do you get your child to dictate to you? It’s all about asking questions! For the youngest or most reluctant kids, begin by writing three to five predictable sentence starters, such as:

    A friend is
    Friends like to
    Friends are special because

Next, discuss various options for ideas on how to complete each of the three sentences. Ask questions to lead and prompt your little one and to keep the dialog on track. Here’s one idea:

    You:  Let’s think of some words that tell us about friends. I’ll go first. A friend is funny. Now it’s your turn.
    Child: A friend is happy.
    You:  A friend is important.
    Child: A friend is kind.
    You:  These are all great. Which one should we choose for today?
    Child: A friend is kind.
    You:  Let’s write that. A friend is kind. Here’s the marker. Can you help me write the word kind?
    You:  What do friends like to do together?
    Child: Play games.
    You:  Let’s use complete thoughts. Friends like to play games together. Say that. “Friends like to play games together.”
    Child: Friends like to play games together.
    You:  Great. Let’s write it down. Friends like to play games together. Can you help me with the marker?
    You:  Tell me—why are friends special?
    Child: Because they share their toys?
    You:  Yes, that’s a very important reason. Can you finish this sentence to make a complete thought? Friends are special because ____.
    Child: Friends are special because they share their toys.
    You:  Good job. Now let’s write that down. Friends are special because they share their toys.

When you’re done, you might end up with something like this:

    A friend is kind.
    Friends like to play games together.
    Friends are special because they share their toys.

Not only have you modeled thinking skills to your child (by asking questions like who, what, and why), but you’ve also demonstrated simple techniques of beginning with a capital letter, ending with a period, and using a complete thought. See how a simple five-minute dialog can go a long way in teaching basic writing skills?

Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

WriteShop Primary Book AThis dialog comes from Lesson 4 of WriteShop Primary Book A. WriteShop Primary is filled with dialog examples to help you prompt your child during daily guided writing times. Book A is now available in our store. Book B should be released later this year.

10 things about me

Who’s the woman behind the blog? Sure, I blog about writing. But perhaps you’re wondering if I’m a real person. I am! I hope I don’t intimidate you. Goodness. I’m just a regular wife, mom, grandma, friend—like you!

So I’m taking a detour today. I thought you might like to learn a bit more about me. And if you don’t care a whit, just scroll on by!

  1. I’m not too athletic. (OK. I’m not at all athletic.)
  2. I’m the oldest of four and the only girl.
  3. I lived in Mexico City until I was six (but my Spanish still leaves much to be desired.) Even though I was only four, I remember the earthquake that toppled the famous El Angel statue.
  4. Grant and GrandmaI wear a hard contact lens in one eye and a soft lens in the other.
  5. I have six adorable grandchildren. Here I am with 6-year-old Grant on his first roller-coaster ride! >>>
  6. I can’t drink from a water fountain without choking. (OK. You can stop laughing now.)
  7. Margherita pizza is the best. I’m all about fresh basil.
  8. I’ve been married to my high school sweetheart for 33 years.
  9. I love decorating for Christmas but I hate putting everything away.
  10. Yosemite is one of my very favorite places in all the world.

So there you have it. Ten things about me! Want to play along? Tell me 10 things about you!

Apostrophe catastrophes

Extreme apostrophe abuse

I confess that my quest for bad signage is far too easy. This one absolutely makes me want to weep.

. . . . .

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

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