Entries from September 2008 ↓

Notable confusables

Last week we talked about some Notable Confusables, and you and your kids had fun with a bunch of online grammar quizzes. How’d you do?

Clearing Up Confusing Combos 

If your children had trouble with any of the concepts, they’ll enjoy the following engaging and interactive learning tools. They’ll view definitions, learn the rules, and practice the new skills with the click of the mouse. Give ‘em a try!

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The Blue Book of Grammar and PunctuationDo you or your kids need additional help tackling these Notable Confusables? The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation offers concise, helpful rules, examples, and practice exercises. It’s a combination reference book and workbook, super easy to use, and handy for home or office. Examples are short, simple, and practical. We know you’ll love it too! Want to read some reviews? Just click here.

Writing historical diary entries based on real journals

For a project that springboards from authentic historical journals, students will be writing historical diary entries using their own words.

A while back, I talked about how much our family enjoyed using journaling ideas for writing across the curriculum. Even though the journaling tips and examples would work for all ages, they are especially effective with younger children, even pre-readers.

Studying Real Historical Journals

For for a project that springboards from actual historical journals—true living books written by men and women who experienced the times—students will be writing historical diary entries of their own.

Because of the more challenging vocabulary found in most old journals, this activity is probably better suited for your high-school aged students, though some junior highers with more advanced reading skills could do this as well.

Writing Diary Entries 

  1. Historical journals, narratives, and diaries abound, both in books and online. Have your student read the actual narrative or journal of a person you’re learning about in history.
  2. Ask her to choose five key events or times in this person’s life.
  3. Then, in her own words, have her write five diary entries for those pivotal times or incidents.
  4. She must include the time and location for each entry.
  5. If the incident is a major historical event, she must show the role the person played.
  6. In addition, she needs to weave into her diary entry any background information that’s needed for context and understanding.

Online Resources for Historical Journals and Diaries

Below you’ll find some links to resources for online journals. As always, parent preview or supervision is recommended.

The Diary Junction – Internet resource linking to hundreds of historical diaries. Search alphabetically or chronologically

American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology

First-Person Narratives of the American South

American Journeys: Eyewitness Accounts of Early American Exploration and Settlement – Columbus, Cartier, Sir Frances Drake, Lewis and Clark, many more

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Looking for a more structured program to incorporate writing writing across the curriculum? WriteShop lessons can help your teens learn important writing skills while offering flexibility of topics. Visit our website at writeshop.com to learn more!

Photo: Barnaby Dorfman, courtesy of Creative Commons

Make a story pocket

Publish Your Child’s Stories 

ColoringONE OF the most encouraging and rewarding experiences for a young author is to see her work published. As a second and third grader, I remember how much I loved to find my own little stories and poems published in our school’s newsletter.

WriteShop Primary gives your student the opportunity to publish her writing project as a book or other art form that she can share with others.

She might make a story kite to fly around the house as she “reads” it to Daddy; create a paper-plate face book; or turn her story into an accordian-folded train. (Visit our website for more info about WriteShop Primary, our delightful parent-guided writing program for K-3rd graders. It’s filled with fun, engaging activities to promote a love for writing!)

Make a Story Pocket

Featured in Book A, story pockets make wonderful publishing tools, and they’re perfect for storing and displaying a child’s early stories and drawings. Here’s how to make one.

Advance Prep

Short Pocket: Paper plateUse one paper plate. Cut it in half. Place both pieces face to face and staple together around the curved edges. The top straight edges remain open to form a pocket.

Tall Pocket: Use two paper plates. Leave one plate whole. Cut the second plate in two, discarding one of the halves. Staple the half plate to the full-size plate to create a tall pocket with a high back.


  1. Allow time for the child to use crayons, markers, paint, or stickers to decorate the paper plate so it matches the theme of the story.
  2. Fold the story and store it inside the pocket.
  3. (Optional) Have your child draw a picture of each object in the story on cardboard, poster board, or tagboard. Cut out the tagboard pieces and store them in the pocket along with the story.
  4. Encourage your child to read her story to family members or a friend, pulling out the corresponding pieces from the pocket and placing them on the table as she shares.
  5. These pockets also make great holders for holiday greeting cards!

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Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

How’s you’re grammar?

Okay, okay! Before you start giving me a hard time about this blog title, yes, I KNOW it should be “your.” And if you didn’t catch it, well, this blog’s for you!

Confused?Notable Confusables 

Today we’re going to tackle these Notable Confusables:

  • their, there, and they’re
  • your and you’re
  • its and it’s

Did you know that using these words incorrectly can make you appear uneducated?

In an earlier blog, I explained the difference between its and it’s. But today, let’s just have some fun taking a few short Internet quizzes to test your knowledge. They’re quick, painless, and provide immediate feedback!

Once you’ve taken these quizzes, give them to your children. The results will help you know where to focus your teaching efforts.

Take Some Grammar Quizzes!

They’re/their/their quiz

Its/It’s and There/Their/They’re Quiz

Its/It’s and There/Their/They’re Quiz 2

Quiz: Its & It’s

Its/It’s Quiz

Confusing Words – Your vs. You’re

You’re – Your Quiz

Their vs. There vs. They’re Quiz

So go have some fun today! Play around with these quizzes, make note of which words trip you (or your kids) up, and then commit to practicing till everyone feels confident. You can slay the Confusables Monster!

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The Blue Book of Grammar and PunctuationDo you or your kids need some help tackling these Notable Confusables? The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation offers concise, helpful rules, examples, and practice exercises. It’s a combination reference book and workbook, super easy to use, and handy for home or office. Examples are short, simple, and practical. We know you’ll love it too! Want to read some reviews? Just click here.

How to write a book review, Part 3

Reviewing a homeschool curriculum or textbook is different from reviewing a novel. In Part 1 of this series, I shared four basic steps to writing a homeschool book review, and Part 2 looked more closely at writing a neutral or unbiased review.

But what if you’re so impressed with a curriculum or book that you feel you MUST give an opinion? More than simply summarize its main features, you want to share your enthusiasm and encourage others to check the product out, too! If ths is the case, you’ll want to write a positive review.

This type of product review is designed to influence a purchase. It not only presents the facts, but it adds the writer’s personal bias.

The reviewer has not used the material but clearly loves what she sees, and doesn’t hesitate to say so. So when you write a positive review, even if you haven’t used the product, share why it appeals to you and mention the features that make you say, “Wow!”

If you’re visual like me, it always helps to see an example, doesn’t it? This review, written by Deborah Cariker of Eclectic Homeschool Online intermingles facts about WriteShop with her personal excitement about the program, even though she hadn’t used it herself. While she stays focused on the program’s key features, she also manages to impart a “Where has this been all my life?” flavor to the review.

Review by Deborah Deggs Cariker

for Eclectic Homeschooling Online

    I met veteran homeschoolers Kim Kautzer and Debbie Oldar, saw their curriculum, and knew that I was looking at something special. I am a writer, but I never really learned how to write. No one sat down and taught me how to paint pictures with words. I did very well in English and Literature, but can’t tell you why. I won the National Council of Teachers of English award my senior year and had my essay published in an English textbook, but can’t tell you what was so special about what I wrote. I have believed throughout my ensuing writing career—for radio, television, newspaper, and magazine—that “my ability” is God’s gift. I also thought that this was impossible to teach.

Next week, we’ll close out our series, “How to Write a Book Review,” by taking a look at Part 4: reviews written by homeschooling moms who have actually used the products they’re reviewing.

Diamante contest winners!

Announcing the Winners! 

Congratulations to our winners in WriteShop’s diamante poetry contest. With approximately 70 students submitting a total of 116 entries, it was really hard to select just four winners. My hand went into that bowl with much prayer!

The task of choosing my favorite of the four was even tougher! After all, I had to deliberate between fabulous adjectives such as blustery and timid; strong nouns like tusks, igloos, and frost; and amazing participles including shimmering, lumbering, and crackling. Wow!

In the end, though, I decided on Vincent’s Arctic/Desert diamante. First, I love his topic. It lends itself beautifully to a descriptive diamante. And not only did he choose each word with great care, he painted a dazzling word picture as well. So congratulations to Vincent, our Grand Prize winner, and to our runners-up: Gabriella, Hannah M., and Levi. Well done!


ArcticArctic vista

Blustery, desolate
Swirling, screaming, freezing
Caribou, igloos . . . Camels, tents
Burning, blinding, whistling
Barren, dry

 Vincent, age 13 (Indiana)



Heavy, strong
Lumbering, trumpeting, spraying
Trunk, tusks . . . Whiskers, cheese
Scurrying, trembling, gnawing
Tiny, timid

Hannah, age 13 (New York)

. . . . .


Pink, purple
Shining, shimmering, brightening
Dawn, light . . . Dusk,shadows
Changing, glowing, darkening
Red, orange

Gabriella, age 13 (Washington)

. . . . .

Blue ice

Red, hot
Scorching, burning, boiling
Ember, flame . . . Frost, glacier
Freezing, crackling, chilling
Blue, cold

Levi, age 10 (Colorado)

. . . . .

Vincent has won a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card for himself and a $10 WriteShop gift certificate for his mom. Congratulations!

Runners-up will receive our brand-new poster

I hope you take a few minutes to read some of the other entries as well, for all our contestants gave their best. You’ll find some true gems, evidence of creativity, hard work, and time spent with The Synonym Finder! As a matter of fact, one mom emailed us to say:

    “Thanks for having these contests. I love seeing [my kids] writing for someone other than myself and digging through the thesaurus!” —Theresa

Who pays for this stuff?

My California tax dollars hard at work . . .

Welcome back to our “Bad Signage” Wordless Wednesday, offering you yet another gem of a spelling error. This one’s not exactly a sign, but I love that it’s so, um, permanent.

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

How to write a book review, Part 2

The Neutral Book Review

In Part 1, I suggested four steps to writing a book review. Today, let’s zero in just a bit more on the neutral review. This type of product review presents facts and summarizes key aspects of the product or book, and should include very little to no personal opinion.

Sometimes it’s just best to give some examples. Below are some book reviews written by professional reviewers who did NOT use the WriteShop program. You’ll notice that the tone is, for the most part, neutral. Neither review gushes over WriteShop, yet both authors clearly favor it.

This kind of review is meant to give facts and to hold back on personal opinion as much as possible, but you’ll probably spot a few “bias” words such as “great resource” or “I like the flexibility of this option.” Still, all four reviews manage to keep their focus on the features of the programs without editorializing.

Reviews by Cathy Duffy

for Cathy Duffy Reviews

  • WriteShop is a great resource for homeschoolers because it’s written for the teacher who knows nothing about teaching writing. It features detailed, daily lesson plans along with student worksheets that cover not only the lessons, but also evaluation and grading…. (Read complete review here.)
  • WriteShop Primary, designed for grades K-3, was written by a different author than the original WriteShop. It has many of the same elements that make both programs good choices for homeschoolers…. (Read complete review here.)

This next writer begins her first article with a bit of personal commentary before launching into the neutral product description and review.

Reviews by Virginia Jones

for Eclectic Homeschooling Online

  • One of the gripes I hear from other homeschoolers and professional educators is that a lot of homeschool students don’t know how to write. I also hear the opposite—that homeschoolers have excellent writing ability. I think it depends on the family; if there’s an emphasis on writing, competent, perhaps even superior writers will result. However, writing often seems to be the last thing we get to in our day…. (Read complete review here.) 
  • WriteShop Primary A Activity Set Worksheet Pack is a set of worksheets used in the WriteShop Primary writing course. The set for Book A contains 20 activity pages plus two Primary Writing Skills Evaluation Charts geared to track your young student’s progress as you move through the program together…. (Read complete review here.)

Next week, we’ll take a look at some reviews that offer a more personal bias, even though the writers have not actually used the product themselves.

Photo © Caitlin Burke. Used with permission.

Writing prompts remembering 9/11


Have students write an essay, journal entry, or list about the events of September 11, 2001. Spark ideas with these writing prompts remembering 9/11.

It’s been many years since 9/11. Can you believe it? As tragic as the day was, it’s good to remember.

Ask your kids to write a short essay, journal entry, or even a list about the events of September 11, 2001. Here are a few ideas.

Writing Prompts Remembering 9/11

  • Do have memories of 9/11? If not, make a list of reasons we need to remember that day.
  • September 11th is a Day of Remembrance. As we honor those who lost their lives on this day 2001, make a list of 10 or more things in your life you are thankful for.
  • Did the events of that day change your thoughts about your life? In what ways, if any, did you change?
  • Write about your reaction to the September 11th attack.
  • There were many heroes during the September 11th tragedy. With your parents’ permission, read an account about a hero or a heroic event and write about why it made an impression on you.
  • How have your feelings and understandings about the attacks of 911 changed since that day?

Additional 9/11 Ideas and Resources

BuddyProject.org offers suggested activities that your children can do as they research the events of September 11, 2001. Explore the various sites with your children and discuss with them the information that you find. Encourage older children to write about their findings and feelings.

Photo: Micky Zlimen, courtesy of Creative Commons

How to write a diamante poem

Teach your kids how to write a diamante poem--a fun, diamond-shaped poems about opposites.

Diamante: A seven-line poem that takes the shape of a diamond.

Majestic, proud
Roaring, snarling, prowling
Mane, muscle . . . Fleece, fluff
Bleating, leaping, grazing
Meek, gentle

A Poem of Opposites

How to Write a Diamante Poem | Poetry for ChildrenRemember that the first and last words of a cinquain are synonyms—the last word of the poem renames the first.

Diamantes, however, are poems about opposites: the first and last words have opposite meanings (or convey opposite ideas).

A diamante has seven lines that follow this sequence:

Line A: Topic A (must be a noun)
Line B: Two vivid adjectives that describe Topic A
Line C: Three interesting “-ing” action verbs that describe Topic A
Line D: Two concrete nouns about Topic A and two about Topic G
Line E: Three interesting “-ing” action verbs that describe Topic G
Line F: Two vivid adjectives that describe Topic G
Line G: Topic G (must be a noun)

Here’s another example:

Clear, brilliant
Glowing, shining, revealing
Mirror, candle . . . Whisper, shadow
Deepening, sleeping, shrouding
Black, quiet


Use the tips below to brainstorm on blank paper for different ideas. Then follow the directions to write your own descriptive diamante. Because the poem has a limited number of words, choose each word carefully, avoiding vague, blah words.

Opposite Word Pair Ideas

Correct: age/youth (nouns)
Incorrect: old/young (adjectives)

  • cat/dog
  • boy/girl
  • hamburger/Coke
  • pencil/paper
  • sandals/sneakers
  • king/queen
  • fire/ice
  • thunder/lightning
  • earth/sea
  • rose/thorn
  • love/hate
  • victory/defeat
  • peace/turmoil

Line A: Name a topic (see the suggestions above for some ideas).
Line G: Name an opposite topic. (This will be the LAST line of your diamante.) Remember—topics must be nouns.
Line B: Brainstorm 5-6 vivid, concrete adjectives to describe Topic A. Do not choose words that end in “-ing.”
Line C: Brainstorm 5-6 highly descriptive participles (verbs ending in “-ing”) that fit Topic A.
Line D: Brainstorm several nouns that tell something about Topic A and Topic G. Be careful—make sure you choose NOUNS, not ADJECTIVES!
Line E: Brainstorm 5-6 highly descriptive participles (verbs ending in “-ing”) that fit Topic G.
Line F: Brainstorm 5-6 vivid, concrete adjectives to describe Topic G. Do not choose words that end in “-ing.”

Writing Your Diamante

  1. Pick out your most descriptive words from your brainstorming and put your diamante together. Diamantes do not need titles.
  2. When you are satisfied, recopy the poem onto clean notebook paper.
  3. Center your diamante on the paper.
  4. Begin each line with a capital letter, and remember your commas. Do not use ending punctuation.
  5. Include three spaced periods in the middle of Line D.
  6. When finished, double-check for concreteness!

Line A. _______
Line B. _______ , _______
Line C. _______ , _______ , _______
Line D. _______ , _______ . . . _______ , _______
Line E. _______ , _______ , _______
Line F. _______ , _______
Line G. _______

Now that you know how to write a diamante poem, I encourage you to write many more!

Diamante Poetry Contest!

The contest has ended.

Here’s a contest for kids age 8-17! Post your children’s diamante poems in the comment section by September 17. A student may enter up to three diamante poems, but each must be submitted as a separate comment. Include the student’s first name and age with each submission.

  • Submissions will be accepted September 10-17, 2008.
  • Winning poems must adhere strictly to the format rules above. 
  • On September 18, winners will be drawn randomly from eligible submissions.
  • Winning poems will appear here at the In Our Write Minds blog September 18.

Grand Prize is a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card for the student and a $10 WriteShop gift certificate for the parent.

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Copyright © 2008 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Photos: Kim Alaniz and Dustin Ginetz, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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