Entries from October 2009 ↓

10 stumbling blocks to writing

10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing

Sigh. Once again, it’s “writing time” at your house.

During the past hour, your reluctant writer’s paper has become riddled with scribbles and smears. And e-v-e-r-y time he erases with frustrated vigor, a tiny hole appears in the middle of that gray smudge. As the hole grows larger, his mind freezes up and closes in. Then the laments begin:

  • What do I write about?
  • Where do I start?
  • How long does it have to be?
  • I’ll never think of something.

There’s so much frustration behind those blinked-back tears. And you know what? It’s not just kids who experience it—YOU struggle too.

Why Is It So Hard to Teach Writing?

Teaching writing is one of the biggest hurdles homeschooling families face. First, parents often feel insecure, inadequate, and under-equipped. For many of you, teaching writing ranks right up there with a trip to the dentist. Although we know the importance of passing on this skill to our students, so many excuses stand in our way!

  • How can I teach if I never really learned to write?
  • I don’t write—I’m just a math-science person.
  • What if I don’t know how to grade a paper?
  • Writing comes easily to me—but I don’t have clue how to teach my kids.

Second, children are paralyzed by writer’s block, fear, and perfectionism. Most students want to write a paper once and declare it done. They hope we’ll rave over it and accept it as a finished product. The smallest hint of suggestion from Mom sets off howls of protest: Why can’t I leave it this way? You never like anything I write!

Blank paper, reluctant child, and insecure parent—combine these three ingredients together and I pretty much guarantee that your hopes for teaching writing will be dashed on the rocks.

Let’s face it. It’s easy to keep pushing writing to the back burner with intentions of getting to it “someday.” And for many, “someday” has come and gone, and now you have:

  • a high schooler who can’t write;
  • a panicked mom burdened by guilt;
  • and the infernal blank page that taunts you both.

10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing 

We need to 1) recognize some of the most common stumbling blocks to writing that stand in the way of your child’s success, and 2) determine how your writing strategy can help. Take heart! These stumbling blocks are neither so heavy that they can’t be moved, nor so tall that they can’t be scaled.

Here are the ten stumbling blocks we’ll be looking at:

  1. Lack of confidence
  2. Lack of skills and tools
  3. Lack of motivation
  4. Limited writing vocabulary
  5. Perfectionism and self-criticism
  6. Laziness
  7. Procrastination
  8. Worry about criticism from mom or dad
  9. Wondering what’s the point
  10. Learning difficulties that interfere with the writing process

Over the next few months, I’ll talk about each of these in greater detail and give you some ideas of how to help your student overcome them. Most of my suggestions will be aimed at older students (5th or 6th grade through high school). Still, parents of younger children will find tips and suggestions that you can apply now. By doing so, you can begin to ward off some of these problems early on, setting your children up for greater writing success in the future.

Come back next week as we take a look at the first of these ten stumbling blocks and talk about ways you can help your student overcome each one in order to become a stronger writer.

Please share your thoughts: What’s your child’s biggest stumbling block?

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape


Photo: Tim Lucas, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Blog kudos for In Our Write Minds!

Homeschooler’s Notebook is a great e-resource that offers tips, advice, and encouragement for homeschooling families. In their October 22 newsletter, Homeschooler’s Notebook named In Our Write Minds their “Winning Website.” Thanks to Heather and Homeschooler’s Notebook for the kudos!

The joy of writing

Yesterday morning I stumbled upon this poem by Wislawa Szymborska, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about descriptive writing and its ability to create impressions, stir emotions, and intimately transport the reader to places his eyes have never beheld. “The Joy of Writing” speaks of this power of pen, ink, idea, and word to bring a page to life.

The Joy of Writing

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence – this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”

Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.  

By Wislawa Szymborska
From No End of Fun, 1967
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh
© Wislawa Szymborska, S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

I love the way Szymborska illustrates the relationship between ink and action, the way her thoughts are transformed into words and her words into rich images. I suppose that’s why I’m drawn to descriptive writing; it holds such sway over me that I’m involuntarily plunged into the heart of a work—to taste, to smell, to hear and, in this case, to spy secretly on a skittish deer that bounds from the poet’s pen.

In future posts, I’ll revisit the concept of descriptive writing with vivid examples that will alternately delight, inspire, transport, and move you too. After all, isn’t that its purpose?

Photo courtesy of Frank Kovalchek at Flickr.com.

Trouble in the cone zone

What’s wrong with this picture?

  1. The sign makers misspelled “within.”
  2. They capitalized the “P” in “Prohibited.”
  3. Next, “WAIT CONES” is unnecessarily shouted out in all caps.
  4. Afterward, we find the appalling misspelling of the word “enforced.”
  5. Finally, from a purely logical perspective, shouldn’t they be prohibiting parking in areas with wait cones, not in areas with no wait cones?

. . . . .

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

Introducing WriteShop Primary Book C

WriteShop Primary Book C

At long last, we’re excited to announce the release of the final book of our WriteShop Primary series. Yes—WriteShop Primary Book C has arrived!

About WriteShop Primary

WriteShop Primary introduces young children to the steps of the writing process using engaging activities, crafts, and picture books. The program creates an environment that promotes a joy of learning in young students and helps them experience success as they develop the ability to write. Whether you have a more advanced child or one who is just beginning, this program is flexible so children can work at their own level.

Who can use Book C?

Book C is recommended for second and third grade, but many of our test families also used it successfully with reluctant fourth, fifth, and even sixth graders. Parents also appreciated being able to use the book with children who learn with difficulty.

In Book C, children learn to:

  • Plan, create, and publish simple stories, articles, and reports with parent help.
  • Choose the main ingredients of a story before beginning to write.
  • Learn to ask who, what, when, where, why?
  • Use different graphic organizers to plan a story.
  • Write entries in a personal journal.
  • Describe an object, a person, and a place.
  • Write a nonfiction article.
  • Write a book report.
  • Learn to use research to write a short report.
  • “Publish” stories through projects or crafts.

Other skills introduced in Book C

  • Using standard spelling
  • Identifying describing words
  • Using a simple self-editing checklist
  • Summarizing contents of familiar books
  • Collecting research facts about a specific topic
  • Using computer publishing software

Here’s what parents have been saying about Book C

“The lessons were simple enough to build my son’s confidence,
yet challenging enough that he was always learning something new.” –
Tammy, Florida

“I appreciate that I could teach three of my children at the same time and see each one’s writing improve. It’s beneficial for students with a wide variety of writing skills—non-writers, reluctant writers, disorganized writers—even enthusiastically prolific writers!” –Beth, South Carolina

“I am amazed at the progress my son made in such a short time. His ability to put his thoughts together in an organized way has improved dramatically. WriteShop Primary was very easy to teach. I loved that the lessons were easy to adapt to different learning styles.” –Bonnie, TX

Exclusive Introductory Offer for Blog Readers Only

Between October 20-31, you can order Book C, purchasing either a physical copy or the e-book version—and get 10% off!

Just leave a comment below and we’ll send you a coupon code by email entitling you to a 10% discount on Book C and the accompanying Activity Pack for Book C! (Good only at WriteShop. Offer ends October 31. )

Buy the physical book (print version)
Buy the e-book (PDF download)

Fall and Thanksgiving word banks

Word Banks for Fall and Thanksgiving Writing Projects

A WORD bank is a place where a student can keep written words he’s learned or collected so that he can refer to them as needed. Useful for students of all ages, word banks serve several purposes:

  • Inspiration!
  • A storage place for writing ideas when the child is writing about a particular topic. He can gather from a word bank of themed words to create a story or poem.
  • A vocabulary-development tool.
  • A spelling resource he can go to during writing or editing.

Using Holiday-Themed Word Banks

With fall in the air and Thanksgiving just around the corner, now’s the time to encourage your children to write seasonal and holiday-themed stories, poems, reports, and acrostics. As fun as this sounds, when your kiddos (old or young!) can’t think of what to write about, they often freeze in frustration.

Helping them draw from a rich word bank that’s chock-full of seasonal ideas can spark and motivate even the most reluctant writer. Here are two word banks perfect for this favorite time of year!

Autumn Word Bank

autumn, fall, season, September, October, November, leaves, colors, brown, gold, yellow, red, orange, black, gray, smoke, bonfire, burning leaves, crunching, jumping, tossing, raking, leaf pile, path, trail, hike, meander, woods, forest, orchard, tree, maple, oak, branches, pumpkin patch, pumpkin carving, pumpkins, apples, hay, bale, corn maze, cornstalks, Indian corn, nuts, chestnuts, squirrel, chipmunk, blue jay, deep blue sky, clouds, rain, wind, storm, crisp, blustery, brisk, chilly, cold, icy, frost, breath, sights, sounds, smells, aromas, wafting, swirling, cinnamon, spicy, cider, hot cocoa, coffee, soup, stew, chili, fire, warm, roaring, crackling, inviting, welcoming, cozy, breeze, flannel, denim, corduroy, wool, fleece

Thanksgiving Word Bank

holiday, Thanksgiving, Pilgrims, Mayflower, Plymouth, Indians, memories, grandparents, family, friends, football, dinner, ham, turkey, gravy, corn, pumpkin pie, crust, coffee, cream, sausage, stuffing, muffins, cornbread, rolls, potatoes, yams, green beans, vegetables, apples, cranberries, flaky, whipped, mashed, creamy, buttery, candied, sweet, rich, savory, golden, glazed, crisp, baking, roasting, cooking, steaming, serving, helping, sharing, table, platter, china, silver, tablecloth, lace, linen, candles, cornucopia, gourds, aroma, warm, food, faith, prayer, plenty, thankful, blessing, welcome, gathering, together, November, Thursday, parade

Making Your Own Themed Word Banks

When giving a writing assignment, have your student use prepared word banks such as the two above, or work alongside him as he creates his own. Here’s one idea:

Brainstorm with your child to assemble a fall word bank. Look at a book, magazine, or website containing colorful images of autumn or Thanksgiving. Ask questions to stimulate thought, such as:

  • What do you see on this page that makes you think of fall?
  • Name some fall colors.
  • How do you think that icy windowpane feels?
  • In this picture, what fall activity is the family involved in?

As you and your child think of autumn-related words, add them to your word bank. Older children can use a thesaurus later on to look up synonyms for some of their words, thus broadening their writing vocabulary.

Find more Thanksgiving writing activities here and here for great ways to apply these new word bank ideas!

Copyright 2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

Word banks are such great tools for helping kids expand their writing vocabulary, which is why we’ve included 17 exhaustive word lists in our WriteShop I and WriteShop II student books—lists such as texture words, personification, and emotions.

And in each of our WriteShop Primary books, younger children are encouraged to make Portable Word Banks, including season words, color words, and spelling words.

Photos: Art G. (forest), Giulio Mola (leaf), Christopher Cornelius (mug), Liz West (pumpkins), courtesy of Creative Commons

Interview with author Nancy I. Sanders

Nancy SandersEven though you may never have met Nancy I. Sanders face to face, many of you already know and love her as the author of our WriteShop Primary series. Eager to introduce you to this warm, wise, and wonderful woman, I first interviewed Nancy when we were preparing to release WriteShop Primary Book A.

With WriteShop Primary Book B recently published in July, and Book C slated for release in just two weeks, I have that opportunity once again. This time, however, In Our Write Minds is honored to be a featured stop on Nancy’s virtual book tour, as she has just released her latest winner: Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career.

This jam-packed book with the long title is just as long on practical, simple, time-tested strategies anyone can use to become a published children’s author. The most exciting part? By following Nancy’s tried-and-true method, you will learn how to sign a contract with a publisher before your book is even written! Join me as we learn more about Nancy and Yes! You Can.

Q: Nancy, you’ve written over 75 books for both children and adults. Do you have a favorite genre?

A: I love variety! Right now I’m enjoying writing picture books, but I always love to work on different manuscripts and write for different markets. Some of my favorites include beginning readers and Bible stories. And I love writing board books for babies.

3 covers A-B-C (wide space)

I also love to teach others how to write—from young children to adult. That’s why I especially enjoyed writing the WriteShop Primary books and am eager to write the upcoming WriteShop Junior program as well.

Q: I’m curious—what motivated you to create a “how-to” book for children’s writers?

A: Since I’ve led various critique groups for over 15 years, I’m always trying to help the writers in my group—as well as writers I connect with—to meet their personal goals and experience a measure of success. On my blog, I frequently write posts to answer questions writers send my way or to encourage writers each step of the way. One day a publisher contacted me, said she had been reading my blog, and offered me a book contract for the material based on my blog! Thus, my new book, Yes! You Can, was born.

Q: I know you have a heart to come alongside others to help and encourage them. Who, in particular, should read your new book?

A: I wrote my book for the very beginning writer who just has a spark of the dream to write. I also wrote it for people who have been writing for years but just can’t seem to make the jump to the next level of their career. Plus I wrote it for everyone in between. I have a tip at the end of each section for beginning writers and also for professionals to help each level apply the strategies I recommend to build a successful career. For my Writer’s Pyramid approach to time management and focus, I offer strategies for writers who can spend just one hour a day and also strategies for writers who can write 40 hours a week. I geared this book to speak directly to each writer at the exact stage each person is in her career.

Q: Could this be a resource for the homeschool market? How might your new book benefit homeschooling families?

A: It’s amazing how many famous authors wanted to be writers as kids. Because Yes! You Can is geared toward beginning writers, it’s a great resource to give to teens who have that interest or desire to write. They’ll find out about the real world of a writer and will also be encouraged to start following their dreams. Plus, because the book is jam-packed with key information about the industry of writing, they’ll have a handy reference to follow if they want to actually start submitting manuscripts to publishers. There are so many practical step-by-step methods included within the various chapters that it’s also a great teaching resource for a “Writing to Get Published” program. In fact, various universities are starting to consider using it for their writing classes, and one already is!

Yes! You Can is also a perfect resource for homeschooling moms and dads who want to write a book. There are so many adults who have a great book idea but don’t have the faintest idea what to do about it. This book shows them where to start and what direction to go.

Q: Although Yes! You Can has only been available for a few months, do have any success stories to share yet?

A: The strategies in my book are tried and true in that they have worked for me over the years. But not only have they worked for me, these are the strategies that many of the members in my critique groups use. There are so many success stories I could share—from how one member of my critique group landed her very first book contract with the very first publisher she contacted. Other members have gone from not having anything published for years to now writing for top magazines or getting published regularly and actually getting paid for it. One gal followed the advice on my blog and signed her first book contract this summer. And recently, someone I do not know posted the following comment on my blog—it’s probably the best success story I’ve heard of yet!

I’m on Chapter 11 of your book. I love it! You have changed my whole approach to writing for children. By the end of Chapter 2, I started to try your methods. I landed a book contract that same week using your strategies! My whole critique group is buying your book now. I think you may be pioneering a new era. Thank you so much. -Jennifer

How encouraging—and what a testimony to Nancy’s desire to help others write their own success stories. Editors and authors alike are acclaiming Nancy’s new book—so much so that she often sells out whenever she speaks! You can find her WriteShop Primary books in the WriteShop store.

Why didn’t I think of this?

I can’t tell you how often I come across grammar and punctuation errors on flyers, store signs, marquees, banners, church bulletins, menus—which is why I never run out of material for Wordless Wednesday!  A few gems:

  • Secretary’s Love Our Cakes! (spotted at DQ)
  • Education at It’s Best! (ad for North Carolina A&T State Univ.)
  • There back – Buffalo nuggets $2.99 (sign at Popeye’s Chicken & Biscuits)

So imagine my joy at discovering that the Grammar Nerd Corrective Label Pack is now available as a peel-and-stick remedy for grammar faux pas everywhere.  This cracked me up!

I’m pathetic, I know. Maybe I should buy myself one of these T-shirts.

From the mouths of babes…

boyMarcia in California wrote:

“My seventh grader started a two-day-a-week school this year. He has a fabulous English teacher. I asked him if the things we did last year [in WriteShop I] have helped. He said, ‘Oh yeah, mom, they’re teaching me all the same stuff. She just hasn’t gotten to paired adjectives yet.’  That made me smile. Thought you should know we are happy WriteShop customers!”

No smoking food

That’s right, people!  Take your smoking food, your drinks photography, and your pets elsewhere!

. . . . .

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

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