Entries from February 2009 ↓

Writing game: Toss the pepperoni!

Toss the Pepperoni! Fun writing game for primary kids that reinforces the elements of a story using paper "pepperoni" pieces.

Reading books with simple story lines can help your K-3rd grader become a better writer. Every story has certain key elements: character, setting, problem, solution, beginning, middle, end. But how can you help your child remember these elements and translate them to her writing?

Try tossing some pepperoni!

I’m not talking about a food fight, but a fun writing game for primary kids you can play with two or more players. Here’s how.

Toss the Pepperoni

Prepare the Game

Make the game board: Decorate a large piece of poster board with paint or markers to look like a giant pizza. Cut out the round pizza.

Make the game pieces: Prepare “pepperoni slices” as game pieces to toss onto the pizza. For each player, cut out seven 4-inch circles from sturdy cardboard. To keep the pepperoni pieces separate, use a different color cardboard for each player. (Alternatively, each player can color one side of his game pieces or mark them with a sticker. )Label each set of pieces with the following words, one word per piece: character, setting, problem, solution, beginning, middle, end.

Read a Picture Book

Choose a picture book to read to your child. Make sure there’s a storyline, not merely words or phrases. When finished:

  1. See if your child can identify the main character of the story.
  2. Ask her to describe the story’s setting—when and where the events took place.
  3. Ask her to identify the problem and solution.
  4. Discuss the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story.

Play the Game

Play a game together with your child to help her remember the important parts of the picture book you just read: character, setting, problem, solution, beginning, middle, and end.

  1. Place the giant pizza game board on the floor. Use a jump rope or piece of yarn to mark a line where players must stand when attempting to toss their game pieces onto the pizza.
  2. Take turns tossing game pieces like Frisbees. Before tossing a “pepperoni,” the player must read the word on the circle and give an example from the picture book that corresponds with the word. For instance, before your child tosses her game piece that is labeled “character,” she must name one of the characters in the story.
  3. The player with the most pepperoni slices on the pizza at the end wins the game.

 .  .  .  .  .

“Toss the Pepperoni” is just one of the many fun and creative activities WriteShop Primary uses to reinforce simple writing skills at the primary level. This game appears in Book B.

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College Prep 101: Limit Social Network Time | Teach teens the value of unplugging during school time

YOUR TEEN lives in the modern world. Between phone calls, texting, email, instant messages, Facebook, and any other number of social media opportunities that distract her, she has to learn to establish boundaries for herself in order to get any work done at all.

Do Not Disturb

When she’s hammering out a paper or other project, there should be none of this electronic interruption until she’s finished, and for good reason. Setting aside these distractions is sort of like hanging an e-version of the “do not disturb” sign. And now I’m going to become very unpopular with your teen—and so will you, if you take my advice!

Unplug the Internet cable during her computer time and turn off her cell phone, if she has one.

Yes, unplug. She may not appreciate it, but you’ll do your teen a favor to limit social network time.This will make it impossible to go online or get interrupted by a text message while she’s working on an essay or report. If she needs to do research online, have her separate the research process from the writing process. Let her work online . . . and then simply unplug the cable when her research is complete.

What’s the Big Deal?

When your student tries to do schoolwork while catching up on Instagram or texting with friends, she loses the ability to focus and concentrate. As a result, the quality of her work suffers. In addition, she’ll require more time to finish the project. For one, the interruptions themselves take time. But more importantly, these breaks—no matter how short in duration—require her to keep refocusing when she finally returns to the task at hand.

College Prep 101: Limit Social Network Time

I regularly experience this myself. I have two tasks open on the desktop, my email open on the laptop, and a barrage of projects stacked on my work surface. When I flit back and forth among them like a restless butterfly, I often close out my day feeling like I got absolutely nothing accomplished. Instead, I end up with myriad loose ends dangling everywhere and just as much on my to-do list as when I woke up.

But when I commit myself to one project at a time, visit my inbox a few times a day instead of several times an hour, and steer clear of both Facebook and the phone during those designated working hours, I am so much more productive as I pick off a whole bunch of little tasks (or take a nice chunk out of a bigger project). The sense of accomplishment is huge for me—and your teen can experience this too.

One of my favorite desktop apps is Strict Workflow. When your student clicks the icon, she is automatically shut out of Facebook or other favorite websites for a set period of time (it’s both customizable and free). Strict Workflow makes a good option for a teen who’s fairly responsible as a rule but can lose track of time.

Goodbye to Multitasking

Making electronic access difficult (or impossible) forces your student to pour all her concentration and effort into her writing. This ability to separate work from play is of the utmost importance at college where she won’t have your help making such wise choices. In your “home training center,” once your teen figures out how much easier it is to write a paper in an uninterrupted chunk of time, she may never go back to multitasking again!

That’s it for now—I’m off to take a dose of my own medicine.

Please do not disturb.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: Pablo Viojo, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Dr. Seuss meets the CPSIA


Heather Idoni of the Homeschooler’s Notebook and BelovedBooks.com has exposed the folly of the CPSIA in a brilliant and humorous way—she Seussified it!

Heather says: 

    Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) wrote children’s stories that were also often social commentary. Here is a great activity for creative students who love the style of Dr. Seuss. Pick a current event or controversy in the news today (ie: illegal aliens, health care, etc.) and write an imaginary story in classic Seuss style!
    I have chosen to write a story myself that demonstrates my strong feelings about a law I do not agree with — the CPSIA. You can read more about that law at the following links:

Not only will you love Heather’s Seussish spoof, you’ll be inspired to encourage your kids to write their own! 

Her story begins:

    In the town of Beddubble, far out on the Moor,
    there lived a small tot, who was not more than four.
    Little Annabelle Ruth (her close friends would recall)
    had swallowed the string off a dilly-dunk ball.
    And then in the Spring of two thousand and one,
    she died of the thing that the string must have done.
    They were sure of this fact, though the details were thin —
    “Something HAS to be done, we have GOT to begin!”
    Those dilly-dunk balls that tots spin on a string
    are quite dangerous toys — What a horrible thing! . . .

What fun! You can read the rest of Heather’s story here . . .  And I hope you take on the challenge to write your own social commentary—Dr. Seuss style!

Apostrophes made to order

Another (book) case of apostrophe abuse. I just don’t get it. What is so hard about adding an “s” to the end of a word to make it plural? Just…a…simple…little…s. This is not rocket science, people!

Book case's on Flickr

. . . . .

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

Photo used with permission. Redvers, via flickr.com – CC-BY

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College Prep 101: Create a Quiet Workspace for Teen Productivity

IF YOU THINK your teen is easily sidetracked now, just wait! When she heads off to college, she’ll have to deal with new distractions of noisy dorms and the siren’s call of “Oh, c’mon . . . you can study later! Let’s go out for coffee!”

A Designated Workspace

High schoolers need to learn that there’s both a time and a place for school work and study. In College prep 101: Learning to Meet Deadlines, we looked at the element of time. Today, let’s talk about place.

Studying in front of the TV or trying to work at the kitchen table while the family plays and talks nearby will doom your student’s productivity. He needs a quiet spot for studying—a place set apart for school work alone.

I know this can be a challenge if you have a small house. Our daughter and her husband currently live in a two-bedroom house with four children, so I understand that this isn’t always possible. But if you can swing it, designate a workspace that’s separated from the family room, kitchen, or other busy, distracting, high-traffic locations.

Frequent interruptions do not belong in your teen’s study environment. By setting aside an isolated area used only for school work, you’re helping him make a healthy distinction between work and rest or play. A designated workspace promotes concentration during study times, which in turn will produce better academic results. Furthermore, a quiet area improves concentration, which means the student can get more done in less time. This adds up to more hours in which to enjoy his favorite pastimes—a worthwhile bonus.

5 Steps Toward Creating a Quiet Workspace

1. Establish and maintain a clutter-free zone.

Visual clutter is highly distracting, but a clean, orderly work surface greatly improves productivity.

2. Eliminate other distractions.

[Affiliate links in this post are for products we personally use or feel confident recommending for your family.]

Make this an electronics-free zone as well, with the exception of a computer and printer. If there’s a TV nearby, turn it off along with the phone. And if there’s just no such thing as a quiet nook in your home, consider investing in a set of noise-cancelling headphones
your teen can wear to block out peripheral noise.

3. Keep necessary supplies at hand.

Jumping up every five minutes to hunt down sharp pencils, paper, scissors, calculator, or a new ink cartridge eats up time and breaks concentration. Store school and office supplies in a handy drawer, basket, shelf, or tray and don’t allow them to be moved to other parts of the house.

4. Make the work area conducive to studying.

Your teen’s bed is not such a place. His body will identify the bed with sleeping, and his productivity will fade as he is overtaken by the temptation to nap.

5. Establish a comfortable studying environment.

Provide a reasonably sized work surface and a comfortable chair, and face the chair toward a window or wall so other household activity doesn’t compete for your teen’s attention. Warm or stale air can contribute to sleepiness, so keep a small fan handy. Finally, don’t forget to offer adequate lighting.

Next time I’ll share some ideas that, though necessary for good study habits, will be unpopular with your teen. I’m talking about limiting social network time.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: Aurelio Asiain, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Writing contests: 3 benefits for kids

Boy writingWriters of all ages need an audience. And what better way to gain one than to enter a writing contest? It’s so satisfying when a child receives a reward for his writing—whether it’s a cash prize, a special gift, or simply a chance to get published.

So why should you encourage your kids to enter a writing contest? Here are three important reasons.

1. Writing Contests Provide Boundaries

Most students need—and work well within—boundaries. Writing contests provide strict limits in the form of deadlines, word count, and subject matter.

    Deadlines: Students, particularly teens, need to begin the practice of working within time limits, as they’ll face all sorts of deadlines throughout high school and college. Contest deadlines help them pace their writing so they can develop, write, and proofread the piece with time to spare.
    Word count: Writing contests usually have some sort of word limit. Cutting a story or essay down to its most essential core will result in a tighter composition. It takes skill to whittle away excess verbiage in order to make every word count, but it’s a skill well worth developing.
    Subject matter: Because most contests ask for a specific kind of writing—a short fictional story, a patriotic piece, or a poem, for example—students get to fine-tune their skills and focus their writing while practicing with a variety of themes. Writing on a given topic, even if it doesn’t especially interest them, is good practice for future writing assignments. Students won’t always have a choice, and practicing with different genres broadens their base of writing experiences. 

2. Writing Contests Provide An Audience

When your child enters a contest, he is writing for two audiences: real and intended.

    Real audience: These are the people who will read and/or judge the poem, essay, or story.
    Intended audience: These are the people your student’s composition aims to address. They could be children, teenagers, elected officials, senior citizens, young mothers, homeschoolers, etc.

Writing with an audience in mind makes the writing clear and concise. Each writing contest requires your student to keep a certain audience in mind, which in turn helps him hone his skills. For practice, encourage your child to enter different contests with varying themes and audiences.

3. Writing Contests Improve Confidence

Your student may not want to enter writing contests because she doesn’t think she’s good enough to win, or she worries that everyone is better than she is. Encourage her to try anyway—it’s a great learning experience! And the more your child writes, the better her writing will become.

Writing Contest Tips 

Now that you’re convinced writing contests are great opportunities for your kiddos, take care to guide them in the right direction by finding appropriate contests and steering clear of scams and rip-offs.

    Finding Good Writing Contests

    It can be a challenge to discern between legitimate contests and crooked or suspicious ones. While contests aren’t automatically legit just because they’re free, entry fees don’t necessarily spell scam, either. Some contests, for example, might charge a fee to help offset the cost of prizes or to help support a literary organization. If a contest looks legitimate, and the fee is low (under $10), you might consider it for your student. Here are a couple of resources for children’s writing contests.

    Homeschool Writing Contests offers one-stop information about a number of writing contests, most of which are free.

    The Old Schoolhouse Storytime Contest  offers a Stirring Fiction contest for adults 16 and up, and a fiction story contest for kids 15 and under.

    Avoiding Scams

    Some writing contests are, indeed, scams. Scam contests typically serve as fronts for generating income and are not legitimate outlets for student writing. Here are a few articles that will help you identify and avoid scams.

    Avoid Writing Contest Scams 

    Beware of Writing Contest Scams

    The Seduction of Poetry Contest Scams

    Writing Contests to Avoid

    Finding Story Ideas

    Choosing a topic depends entirely on the contest requirements. But if your child simply needs help with story ideas, check out WriteShop‘s fabulous StoryBuilders—printable card decks that make great writing prompts for silly, whimsical, humorous, or serious stories. By picking one card from each category—character, character trait, setting, and plot—she’ll have the foundation for her winning story in no time!

    Look for StoryBuilders under E-books in the WriteShop store. They’re only $3.95-$7.95, and they come with either 96 or 192 writing prompt cards. (You can read over 70 reviews of StoryBuilders here.)

Valentine’s Day writing activities

When all else fails, you can usually extract some decent writing from your children when it centers on a holiday theme of some sort. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, here are some creative (and painless) ways to encourage your kids to write.

Vocabulary and Spelling

Hidden in Your Heart

Encourage vocabulary and spelling development.

Supplies: Purchase a package of pre-cut paper hearts, or cut your own from scrapbooking or construction paper.

Directions: On individual hearts, spell out one of the following words or phrases. Let your child find other words hidden within the longer word or phrase and write them down on a list. Older children can have a contest to see who can come up with the longest list of words.

  • VALENTINE’S DAY: say, lend, vial . . .
  • HEARTS: star, ear, rat . . .
  • I LOVE MY FAMILY: mail, yam, live . . .

Short and Sweet

Messages from the Heart

Spread Valentine love throughout your home by hiding heart messages for your family.

Supplies: Hearts cut from red, white, pink, purple, and light-blue paper.

Directions: A day or two before Valentine’s Day, have the kids prepare and sign little love messages on their stack of hearts. You can make some too! Then, on Valentine’s Day, encourage everyone to play Cupid by hiding the message hearts around the house for others to find. Messages can be tucked into shoes, pockets, bedroom or kitchen drawers, in a Bible, under pillows, in the toy box, or into PJs. Be creative! Everyone will have fun giving and receiving these little love notes!

Heartfelt Sentences

Give your younger children some sentence-writing practice.

Supplies: Colorful hearts cut from construction or scrapbooking paper (or a purchased package of paper hearts), glue stick, large sheet of construction paper or sentence strips.

Directions: Write words your children can read without help, including family members’ names, color words, common sight words, number words, and other words they know how to read. Encourage your kids to form sentences from the words on their hearts, gluing the words to the construction paper or sentence strip.

I Am Loved

Help your child think of pets and people who love him. Ask him to complete this sentence, filling in the blank with a different name each time. He can write one or more sentences, depending on his age and ability.

I know ________ loves me because ….

Valentine Writing Prompts

Stimulate writing ideas by providing your children and young teens with some Valentine story starters.

  • Write an acrostic poem using the word FRIEND, HEART, or VALENTINE.
  • Make a list of ways that you can show your love for your family members.
  • Write a letter to a parent, grandparent, or sibling telling them why you love them.
  • Tell about a time when you felt especially loved.
  • Draw a picture of yourself and a friend or family member enjoying a special moment where you felt or expressed love. Write one or two sentences telling about it.
  • Write a poem entitled “Love Is”
  • Write a paragraph or essay telling what makes someone a good friend.
  • Write a paragraph or essay defining and describing love.
  • Imagine a world where everyone loved their neighbor as much as they loved themselves. What would it be like to live in such a world? How would families and communities be changed?

Fun writing prompts for children

Dozens of fun writing prompt ideas to inspire creative writing in children!

MANY CHILDREN, when faced with a blank piece of paper,  find that they have a blank mind to match. At times, a simple writing prompt or story starter is all it takes to prime the pump.

CanTeach has a web page loaded with journaling and writing prompts for children. Perfect for elementary or junior high students, some prompts are fun and playful, while others are more provocative and will cause your child to think about important issues or topics. (Use discretion when assigning prompts, because not all topics may be appropriate for your family.)

All Sorts of Prompts

CanTeach divides their prompts into 13 categories.

  • What is . . .
  • What if . . .
  • What do you think . . .
  • What . . . misc.
  • How . . .
  • I wish . . .
  • Describe . . .
  • When . . .
  • Which . . .
  • Who . . .
  • Where . . .
  • Why . . .
  • Misc . . .

Ideas to Get You Started

Visit the CanTeach website—there are dozens more where these came from!

  • What is something you do well?
  • What is your favourite room in your home and why?
  • What would happen if you could fly whenever you wanted? When would you use this ability?
  • What would happen if there were no television? Why would this be good? bad?
  • What if cows gave root beer instead of milk?
  • What do you think of someone who has bad manners?
  • What do you think courage means?
  • What do we mean when we say, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”?
  • What are you afraid of? Why?
  • How would you change the world to make it better?
  • Explain how to play your favorite game.
  • I wish I could be like ____. This person is special because . . .
  • I wish I could learn ____ because . . .
  • When are you happiest?
  • When have you felt lonely?
  • Which quality best describes your life—exciting, organized, or dull? Why?
  • Which quality do you dislike most about yourself—laziness, selfishness, or childishness? Why?
  • Who or what has had a strong influence in your life?
  • Why is it important to be honest?
  • Why do you think the rules you must follow are good or bad?
  • Families are important because . . .
  • Would you like to be famous? Why or why not? What would you like to be famous for?

For many other exciting ideas, check out our weekly Writing and Journal Prompts!  

Photo used with permission. © Gaetan Lee. .

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College Prep 101 | Homeschool teens must learn to meet deadlines if they hope to survive the demands of college coursework.

FOR high schoolers, there’s more to planning for college than simply getting accepted. Unless your student has experienced a more rigorous course of study and has learned some good study habits, he’ll be overwhelmed to arrive on campus and discover the mountains of reading, writing, and studying that await.

Parents can do a lot to prepare their students, and in doing so, will help deter the stress and erratic grades that separate the unequipped college freshman from the equipped. Train your child during high school—or even junior high—by encouraging responsible study habits that will serve him well in college.

Today we’ll begin a series that will help your teen prepare for college. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to offer several guidelines to help you move in that direction.

Train Your Teen to Meet Deadlines

In many households, homeschoolers are notorious for working “whenever.” As long as it all gets done, no one seems to care whether the kids work in the morning, afternoon, or well into the evening. When giving a history or science test, the student keeps at it till he’s finished, with no attention paid to the clock. Mom asks for a report on photosynthesis, to be turned in by next Friday. It’s not ready yet? Oh, well. Just get it to me as soon as you can.

We like to think  this is our privilege. After all, we’re homeschooling. We don’t need to bow to artificial rules and schedules. But if this speaks to you, you may want to rethink the idea of scheduling—even if it’s not strict hour-by-hour scheduling. If your teenager is used to having all the time in the world, he’ll be in for a rude awakening when college hits, along with scheduled classes, syllabuses filled with deadlines . . . and no one watching over his shoulder to remind him.

This doesn’t mean your teen needs to be at the table at 8:30 every morning! If you’re a family of night owls—and it serves your schedule best to do school in the afternoon—it’s still important to introduce some guidelines and boundaries so your teen can learn to meet deadlines.

One. By taking a moment each day to survey how much work needs to be done and how much time is available, your teen will learn to avoid the panic-filled late-night study sessions that plague many high schoolers and college students.

He will also appreciate the reduced stress that comes from following a plan—and he’ll enjoy his free time all the more. Good habits of scheduling assignments and planning out longer projects will prove indispensable when he faces the additional demands of college course work.

Two. Start to attach a time limit to any tests you give at home. A test associated with a textbook is generally designed to administer in a 50- to 60-minute class period.

Essay questions given as tests should also have a cap. Depending on what your goal is, the essay could be 20, 50, or 90 minutes. That’s the real world.

So if you’ve been less than consistent about deadlines, and the fruit of your casual flexibility is an unprepared student, it’s time to start tightening up your schedule to better equip your son or daughter for the demands of college life.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: Willi Heidelbach, courtesy of Creative Commons.

A true professional

Personal typist

Why not, you ask? Because I’m not entirely sure I’d want a personal typist who

  1. Likes to use run-on sentences.
  2. Is too “buzy” to double-check her spelling.
  3. Wouldn’t recognize parallelism if it bonked her on the head.
  4. Seems confused about when to use question marks.
  5. Types two periods at the end of a sentence.

Other than that, she’s probably great!

. . . . .

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

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