Entries from October 2008 ↓

Grammar quiz: What do you know?

Question markOK, here’s a quick little grammar quiz. Yes, there will be differing opinions on the exact number of some of these, but this is just for fun!

I’ll post the answers Monday!

  1. There are 14 primary punctuation marks in English grammar. How many can you name?   
  2. There are eight traditional parts of speech. Do you know them all?
  3. What are the four main sentence types?
  4. There are approximately 50 common prepositions. Can you name 25?

WriteShop I

teen girlHere’s something almost everyone can agree on: writing is one of the most intimidating, scary, overwhelming subjects to teach.

You struggle with your own inadequacy of never having been taught to write. Or perhaps you’re an intuitive writer who has no clue how to teach your children. Plus, writing just seems so stinkin’ subjective? How do you grade a composition effectively without making random stabs in the dark?

Then there are the kids. So many of us have children who live in terror of the blank page. Even if they’re verbal and always seem to have a lot to talk about, it just never manages to translates to their writing. It’s as though they’re crossing a bridge between Brain and Paper, but along the way, half of their ideas tumble off the bridge and into the canyon below (along with everything you ever taught them about spelling and grammar).

Our twofold goal at WriteShop is to equip parents to teach with confidence and to encourage students that writing doesn’t have to be scary or hard. Though we carry materials for a variety of ages, today I’m going to zero in on our flagship program, WriteShop I.

Who Can Use WriteShop I?

The beauty of the program is its flexibility and ability to encourage success in a wide range of students, whether they’re struggling seventh graders or articulate, motivated sophomores.

Each student improves according to his or her own ability, depending on factors such as age, vocabulary, maturity, and life experience. Students are not measured against one another; rather, their work is evaluated based on each lesson’s expectations.

Working with Different Levels

A tenth grader with a mature writing style and broad command of language may easily earn an A on a given paper. But an eighth grader with a limited vocabulary and little writing experience can also pull off an A on the exact same composition. Why? Because working at their own level, both students can follow the directions and meet the lesson’s expectations! Sure, one paper may be stronger—more interesting, descriptive, or stylistically mature. But it doesn’t make the other paper bad.

Both types of student will grow in their writing abilities. Both will learn to brainstorm effectively, organize their writing, self-edit and revise, and submit to parent feedback. Through this process, the tenth grader will hone her style, learn to write more concisely, and develop a stronger vocabulary. The eighth grader will begin to write longer, more concrete sentences, and discover some new sentence variations that make his writing sound fuller, richer, and more alive.

Help for Parents

For parents, we’ve tried our best to make WriteShop user-friendly. If you start with our Basic Set, it includes a wonderfully resourceful Teacher’s Manual as well as a student workbook. Where editing and grading writing has always seemed so subjective, we’ve made it as measurable and quantifiable as possible so that you can really, truly offer objective input—regardless of your own confidence or experience. And you can always email us or give us a call if you have questions or need encouragement.

Suggested Placement for WriteShop I

  • 5th grade or below: It’s best to wait a year or more before beginning WriteShop I. For 4th-6th graders, consider Wordsmith Apprentice or WriteShop Primary Book C.
  • 6th grade: Proceed into WriteShop I with caution, holding off another year if the student is reluctant (and try the above resources instead). However, for a strong 6th grader who loves to write, is pretty motivated, and has good basic writing skills. WriteShop I should be a good choice, especially if you take two years to go through the program.
  • 7th-10th grade: The average student in these grades can launch right into WriteShop I regardless of past writing experience or skill level. The program works for almost every learner in this age range.
  • 11th-12th grade: Older students can certainly benefit from WriteShop I, but we usually recommend starting them directly in WriteShop II. Or, you can use WriteShop I during the first semester and WriteShop II during the second. However, if your student plans to take the SAT at the end of the junior year, you’ll probably want to use WriteShop II, which teaches both standard and timed essays.

I hope this sheds a little more light for those of you who are deliberating about a writing program. There’s a lot to think about, and I know it always helps to go into a new situation with as much information as possible.

Aaack! I’ve been tagged!

I know this is a writing blog and, for the most part, not a personal blog. But what can I do? I’ve been TAGGED by my daughter Karah!

So if you want to learn a few random things about me, read on! And if you don’t, that’s cool. Just come back another day to read more about writing.

Here are the rules :


And here are seven trivial facts about me. Are you ready?

1. I lived in Mexico City till I was six.

My family moved there when I was two because my dad and my uncle opened a chain of Tastee-Freez restaurants. Spanish was my second language; wish it had stuck better.

2. I’m a grammar geek.

I don’t mean to be. I don’t read church overheads or websites or signs in windows with the intention of picking apart the spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Honestly. But sometimes it’s like a neon light that glows against a black sky, and I can’t help but notice.

So I finally created an outlet for this distraction of mine: Twice a month I blog about bad signage for Wordless Wednesday. Serious fun.

And along those same lines…

3. I’m a word geek.

Crossword puzzleScrabble, Scramble, Boggle, crossword puzzles, anagrams—I love word games! Though my husband does enjoy crossword puzzles, and he’s a big Sudoku fan, he isn’t especially fond of word games, so sometimes it’s hard to find someone to play along. I have Boggle installed on my computer. A 3-minute game used to provide a perfect little break in the middle of some tedious task. But a couple of months ago, along came Facebook. Aaack! It opened up a whole new world of word games, not to mention friends to play with. I tell you, it takes real discipline to “just say no”!

4. I had cataract surgery at 15.

Cataracts run in my family—not the typical old-age cataracts that people get in their 70s. Nope. These show up during adolescence. As an added bonus, I passed ‘em down to two of my kids. What can I say? We’re special.

5. I’m scared of heights…but selectively.

Yes, I would definitely say I’m afraid of heights. Even so, I’m not always freaked out about being in a high place. There’s actually a fairly clean line between what wigs me out and what doesn’t. For instance, I’m OK standing at the window of a very tall building. I actually like looking down and seeing cars and people in miniature! I’m also OK sitting at the top of a Spiral staircaseFerris wheel or ski lift or standing at the rail of a scenic canyon vista. And I have absolutely no problem with airplanes. Give me a window seat any day—I love looking down on the world from 40,000 feet!

For some illogical reason, heights don’t bother me when I’m sitting. But what gives me the willies is looking between my feet through the gaps in a bridge and seeing the water so far below. The bottoms of my feet tingle and my stomach flip-flops in a most alarming fashion. Another super-scary thing is to walk on a metal floor grid where I can look waaaay far down. I just don’t do well when I can see through floorboards or mesh. And forget standing at the edge of a high place when there’s no railing. I’m outta there!

6. Once I locked myself out of the house while cleaning windows.

No big deal, right? Except that I was on the roof of our two-story house. Now put this together with No. 5 and, well, you’ve got a winning combination!

7. I was a huge Monkees fan during junior high.

  • The MonkeesNothing could tear me away from the TV screen when their show was on.

  • I got to go to a Monkees concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I don’t remember hearing much of the music, though. Why listen to the songs when we paid good money to jump up and down and scream?

  • In 8th grade, I went to an auto show at the Anaheim Convention Center. And certainly not because I cared a whit about cars in general. It’s just that one particular car would be on display—Mike Nesmith’s own personal vehicle—which is probably, when you think about it, the only way to get a 13-year-old girl to an auto show in the first place.

  • I still have a few of my Tiger Beat and Monkees Spec magazines from 1967. Yeah, I’m a dork.

OK, wasn’t that fun? Don’t you wish you could get tagged? Well, since I have to tag seven people, it’s your lucky day. Tag . . . you’re it!

  1. Janel

  2. Lori

  3. Amy

  4. Tami

  5. Nancy (or Humphrey)

  6. Anne

  7. Heidi

Where do I begin?

The poster child of bad signage. . .

OK, I know this is supposed to be Wordless Wednesday, but I can’t help myself—this is just too good to pass up without commentary. After all, we have three fabulous sign wrecks in one! First is the “amazing” and “questionable” use of “quotation marks.” We also have a fine example of the misused apostrophe. And finally—that lovely spelling error. It’s like finding buried treasure!

I can’t help but wonder who approves these signs for production?

. . . . .

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

College prep: Is writing on track?

BookshelfIf your bookshelf looks anything like mine did when we were homeschooling, it holds an assortment of curriculum you’ve stopped and started at various times along the way. Some we just couldn’t get into for various reasons, and we ended up finding alternatives. But there were others that we fully intended to use—we just never got around to them.

For example, we were supposed to get through a foreign language to meet my son’s college admissions requirements. Time and again, it seems, we’d start fresh and then stop. Spanish kept sliding to the back burner because of everything else that vied for his time. Then one day I nearly had a stroke when I realized he would never be able to finish the course in time for graduation. He paid for my lack of perseverance by having to spend some of his college electives on a foreign language.

Do you find that writing is one of those subjects you keep starting and stopping? Does your child drag his feet, fail to finish assignments, or complain night and day? Or are you the one who has trouble following through with lesson planning or editing? Whatever the reason, it’s important that you start afresh, make a plan, stick to your guns, and don’t let your student whine, wheedle, cajole, or otherwise manipulate you into letting him lapse!

Start Fresh

Writing is one of those non-negotiable subjects that forms a basis for academic success. So make a commitment to see your writing program through. If you’re not using a formal writing curriculum, you must still commit to assigning writing on a regular basis.

Has time been the culprit? You may need to give up another subject or extracurricular activity in order to have the time to devote to writing. Your child will not survive in college without writing skills.

Make a Plan

WriteShop’s convenient scheduling options can help parents stay on track. With older high schoolers, time is running out. So if you’re concerned about the SAT essay, for example, your student will need to complete the essay portion of WriteShop II well in advance of the test because he’ll need time to practice writing timed essays. But no matter what, arm yourself with a plan—and stick to it—or your student will slip into old habits of not completing his work. This means:

  • Choosing a schedule to follow;
  • Sticking with the schedule;
  • Supervising your student’s work to make sure he’s doing it; and
  • Editing and returning papers to him on time so he doesn’t fall behind in his writing assignments.

If your student can finish WriteShop II by (or before) 10th grade, you can devote the rest of high school to more advanced writing, such as longer essays, literary analysis, and a couple of research papers.

Stick to Your Guns

Now for the hard part! Help your child develop self-discipline. See that he follows the schedule. If he’s used to giving excuses for why he didn’t get around to doing his writing assignment, make him write first thing each day. Hold him accountable and don’t let him off the hook!

Likewise, if follow-through hasn’t been your strong suit in the past, recommit yourself to helping prepare your student for college by teaching and overseeing the lessons and adhering to deadlines. If your student knows you won’t check up on him, he’ll continue to fritter away his time. But if he realizes that you’re going to hold his feet to the fire and impose consequences for incomplete work, he’ll perform better for you.

You’ll both be much happier in the end, and just imagine the pride at being able to say that you reached your goal!

Stepping stones | A reluctant writer’s journey

Stepping Stones: A reluctant writer's journey from struggling student to Master's degree

In January 2008, in faraway Nottingham, England, my then-23-year-old son turned in a 63-page dissertation. In so doing, he capped off a year of grad school and became a candidate for a master’s degree in philosophical theology.

Why do I share this? Because…

  • Your eighth grader can’t spell his way out of a paper bag.
  • Your sixth grader keeps wadding up his paper in frustration and hurling it across the room.
  • Your kitchen table has become a battleground.
  • This very morning, you asked yourself why you even bother homeschooling.
  • Most days you just can’t believe your child will actually grow up, mature into a productive adult, and find his place in the world.

Because over a dozen years ago, I was in your shoes.

At times, it’s hard to believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Try as we might, they just don’t seem to get it. We plan out our year, buy curriculum, write lesson plans. We review spelling words again and again. And again. We go over grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. In our weary minds, we think that we might as well whack our heads against a wall for all the good it’s doing.

Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones: A reluctant writer's journey from struggling student to Master's degreeWith reluctant writers (boys in particular), it’s easy to grow discouraged and think you’ll never see growth or progress.

I invite you to take a trip with me as I drift back to September of 1996 when Ben was an 11-year-old sixth grader. Beginning at that point, I’d like to share excerpts from his writing, with each year representing a stepping stone along his journey.

What was the secret to success? Lots and lots of practice, self-editing, parent input, revising, rewriting, and polishing during our homeschooling years, followed by five years of countless essays and papers for college and grad school. No magic wand produced this kind of fruit, but diligence and perseverance in the face of struggle did.

Ben will be the first to tell you he’s not grown immune to the frustrations that accompany writing. From time to time he still crumples papers, loses focus, procrastinates, and suffers from bouts of writer’s block—we all do! But as you watch his writing mature and improve year by year in content, structure, style, vocabulary, and mechanics, I pray you gather hope and courage to carry on.

Junior High

Stepping Stones: A reluctant writer's journey6th grade: Usualy my room is prity clean, some times I fourget to clean up my messes. My room wold be neater if I put away my toys.

7th grade: I am confident beacouse our leader, Goliath, the campion fighter from Gath, he is over 9 feet tall a fighting man since his youth. He is going to chalange the Israelites again. All right! They are finly sendin some one to fight him.

8th grade: Whipped around the corner with amazing velosity, our car rushes through the icy water. Looking over my dad’s sholder, I can see the tunel entrance up ahead. Surprised and frightened, I suddenly feel the bobsled drop from under me as it swerves dangerously into a secret tunel.

High School

9th grade: Waiting in anticipation, my team prepared to enter the secret “catacombs”. Our mission: to find the clues, rescue hostages, and avoid getting caught. Finally the doors opened and our adventure began. One by one we disappeared into the darkness.

10th grade: Each county in each state determines how its citizens will vote. Some systems are not as good as others and allow many errors. For example, the punch card ballot is terribly flawed because a voter has to make sure to punch the holes cleanly. One mistake will result in the disqualification of the entire ballot.

11th grade: Simply, he loved God, and he desperately loved the people that he ministered to. His joy was not found in material possessions, for he had none except a few books. Instead, it was the Bishop’s passion to see a good Catholic find God. (Character analysis, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather)

12th grade: Many people believe that all goodness is subjective and relative. This idea is a very subtle tactic because it allows the critic to “play God.” The critic has the power to decide what is good and what is bad, what men ought to like and ought to despise. In the end, he creates his own standards by which to judge not only inanimate objects, but also morality. This is what society has adopted; this is where society has gone astray.

Ben became more inclined toward academics toward the end of high school. Though not all students will continue on to university, this path suited his bent. So once our homeschooling years were behind us, college challenged his writing to new levels.


Freshman: While Clayton’s claims are well articulated and organized, his proposed solution is short-sighted and insufficient. Furthermore, he does not effectively support his primary claims or demonstrate how students will be able to suddenly rise above the relative postmodern ideology that they use to justify cheating.

Sophomore: During the age of Roman domination, the Caesars ruled most of the populated world with absolute power. Considered living gods, these men each sought to make their place in history. However, all their collective triumphs and achievements would soon be dwarfed through the life and death of a single man. The solitary life of a Jewish rabbi, raised in a backwater town on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, marked the single most significant point in human history: the point when the God of the universe became a part of his own creation in order to redeem it from its own corruption and despair.

Junior: In the realm of political philosophy, questions arise that seek to identify, evaluate, critique, and improve social, civil, and political governance. For what reason do we form commonwealths and civil structures? Why are such unions justified? Indeed, how do those who maintain power within such civil societies legitimize their use of political authority over any other person?

Senior: Wedged between the forces of privatized spiritualism on one hand and secular social activism on the other, the Christian
Stepping Stones: A reluctant writer's journey from struggling student to Master's degreeChurch finds itself in a time of transition and tension. In a world dominated by geopolitical nation-states, rapidly expanding capitalistic market places, and the global presence of multinational corporations, God has awakened the Church to a new sense of urgency to respond faithfully to its calling to be in the world, but not of it, and to live out its vocation by embodying the presence of Jesus Christ to all the peoples.

Grad School

Master’s Thesis: Accordingly, the works of mercy are fundamentally relocated outside the bounds of the Christian economy of salvation. As we have seen, for Aquinas the works of mercy are embodiments of virtue that constitute the liturgical life of the body of Christ. Grounded in the infused grace gifted to the church through the Holy Spirit, the works of mercy are irreplaceable performances of the church’s concrete worship of God.

What a picture of encouragement! When I follow Ben’s progress from year to year, I confess that even I’m amazed. It’s a good reminder that what you see today is not necessarily where your child will be in five or ten years; so much happens in our kids as they grow up! For most students, vocabulary increases; logic and reason develop; and writing skills improve.

Remember too that not every child is destined to become a scholar, but improve he can (and will)—with practice, tools, and time.

. . . . .

WriteShop I and II laid the groundwork for us, and can help you establish a strong foundation for your teen, too. Visit our website and poke around. About WriteShop and Parent Testimonials may be good places to begin.

How to write a book review, Part 4

Over the past several weeks, I’ve given you tips on how to write various kinds of curriculum and product reviews.

Smiling womanAs we wrap up the series in Part 4, let’s look at the personal review. This type of product review makes a personal recommendation. It not only presents the facts, but it adds the writer’s opinion based on her experience with the product.

So even though Part 3 explains how to write a positive, opinionated review, using the materials is not a criteria. On the other hand, the personal review must be written by someone who has actually used the program, book, or product. She loves it and will gladly tell you why. 

The personal review will include facts sprinkled liberally with opinion. The reviewer may also indicate how her children enjoyed the materials or how their skills have improved as a result.

The following review is written by a mom who uses and loves WriteShop. She glowingly describes how her kids’ writing has improved, what she loves about the program, how easy it is to use, how helpful various parts of the Teacher’s Manual are to her, etc. You’ll easily see how you can use this method to review any of your favorite products!

Review by Heidi Shaw

for The Old Schoolhouse magazine

    This is a GREAT program. I don’t usually start out so strongly but a program like this in the home school community has been needed for a long time. Let’s take a look.
    Starting with descriptive writing, and carrying on with narrative and informative, WriteShop has everything you need to guide your students on the path to becoming excellent writers.
    Sure, I can hear you say, but how will I KNOW they are becoming excellent writers? Aha, that’s where the beauty of this well laid out program becomes evident.
    Lesson by lesson, step by step, the student is taught how to evaluate and improve his own writing. And the parent/teacher is taught right along with him. Every lesson has self-checking evaluation worksheets for both student and teacher. They actually teach us how to assess and edit every lesson. We start with describing an object and move on up through to conducting and writing an interview; the lessons are interesting and fun! Each lesson follows a basic format so it is easy to implement…. (Read complete review here. )

You never know when you’ll have the chance to review a book or curriculum, whether it’s a brand-new product or an old favorite. Now you have the tools to write with greater confidence by following some simple steps and then deciding whether the review needs to be neutral, positive, or personal.

When Yoda writes

Wow. Guess Yoda has a new job as a sign-maker.

. . . . .

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

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