Entries from December 2009 ↓

Why you can’t trust the spell checker

Jerrold Zar's well-known spell checker poem humorously shows why kids shouldn't always trust or rely on your computer's spell check feature!

This “Owed to the Spell Checker” poem reminds us why it’s best not to let kids rely on spell check!

Candidate for a Pullet Surprise

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it’s weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o’er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker’s
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we’re lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault’s with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word’s fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw’s are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.

. . . . .

Copyright © Jerry Zar, 29 June 1992

Jerrold H. Zar
Graduate School
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115

Title suggested by Pamela Brown.
Based on opening lines suggested by Mark Eckman.
By the author’s count, 123 of the 225 words are incorrect (although all words are correctly spelled).

Published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results, January/February 1994, page 13. Reprinted (“by popular demand”) in the Journal of Irreproducible Results, Vol. 45, No. 5/6, 2000, page 20.
Journal of Irreproducible Results, Box 234, Chicago Heights IL 60411 USA.

Photo Credit: annnie, courtesy of Creative Commons

10 stumbling blocks drawing – will you win the prize?

I hope you’ve been enjoying our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing. Are you starting to identify the hurdles that may be standing between your child and the blank page? If so, I pray you’re also finding hope!

Because of the Christmas-to-New-Year’s holiday, I’m taking the week off from article writing. But if you check back Monday (Jan. 4), the next post in the series will be ready for you.

Win a $25 Gift Certificate

Meanwhile, you can visit (or revisit!) Stumbling Blocks 1-8. Don’t forget that leaving a comment at any Stumbling Blocks article enters you into a drawing for a $25 WriteShop gift certificate. You can earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by commenting on all eleven articles. There’s still time to comment on any previous post, starting here!

  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 parental criticism

Happy writing,

Christmas wishes

As our family celebrates the birth of Christ, we extend our warmest holiday wishes to each of you. May this season be one of joy in your hearts, and may 2010 be merry and bright in every way!

Happy writing,

Christmas wishes

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor,
The mighty God, The everlasting Father,
The Prince of Peace.”

–Isaiah 9:6

O Come, O Come

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight!
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Photo public domain. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech via pingnews.

Writing with lists

We can get it in our minds that “writing” means a composition with a proper introduction, conclusion, and three main points sandwiched in between. It’s easy to forget that although writing can be as complex as a research paper, it can also be as simple as making lists.

Writing with lists is still…writing!

Yep—list-making is a bona fide writing activity!

Most children like to create lists anyway, but writing out lists—from the mundane to the meaningful—also helps them become more organized. Taken a step further, when list-making is used as a brainstorming tool, it can even help students plan the elements of an essay or story.

So where do you start? Here are some suggestions for your budding list-makers:

  • List your various personal possessions such as baseball cards, stuffed animals, shoes, or CDs.
  • Inventory furniture in a room or items in a junk drawer, jewelry box, or medicine cabinet.
  • List states you’ve traveled to, friends you know, or places you’d like to visit.
  • Make lists of schoolwork, dates for soccer practice and games, family birthdays, to-do lists, etc.

Holiday list-making ideas

Ways We Can Serve Others

There are so many ways your family can think of others, particularly at the holidays. Encourage your kids to list ideas such as baking cookies for a neighbor, packing a shoebox for child in a third-world country, or giving away some of their own toys to needy children.

Christmas or Holiday Traditions

Make a list of your family’s favorite holiday activities. As an example, here’s a list of Kautzer Christmas traditions:

  1. Watch lots of Christmas movies
  2. Make gingerbread houses
  3. Annual neighborhood cookie exchange party
  4. Big family dinner Christmas Eve
  5. New Christmas jammies
  6. Candlelight service at 11 p.m.
  7. Block off the stairway with toilet paper so no one sneaks downstairs Christmas morning
  8. Stockings first, then breakfast, then presents under the tree
  9. Freeze fresh peaches in July for Christmas breakfast
  10. New ornament for each grandchild: Eli – snowmen; Grant – bears; Ryan – cookie ornaments; Hannah and Tiana – angels; Ginny – farm animals
  11. Jesus got three gifts from the wise men, so each person gets three presents under the tree.

Christmas Wish Lists

Write out a wish list—and not just a list of things your child wants to get for Christmas (though that’s always fun too). In addition, how about a list that tells what your child thinks someone else would like. For example, Grandma might want:

  1. Warm slippers.
  2. A handwritten note from me.
  3. A picture of me.
  4. Someone to shovel snow from her sidewalk.
  5. To go out to breakfast with Dad and me. 

Year-round list-making fun

Try some of these suggestions to spark ideas for using list-making as part of your schooling all year long. Though lists are useful and fun for all ages and learning styles, they especially appeal to reluctant writers or students with learning difficulties because they’re short, contained, and relevant.





  1. Book of Lists. Buy each child a special spiral notebook or journal. This can become his or her own personal Book of Lists.
  2. School Assignments. For starters, your children could make lists of books they’ve read this year, countries or states they’ve studied, Colonial American occupations they’ve learned about, American presidents, British monarchs, 27 prepositions, or eight items one might put into an historical time capsule.
  3. 10 Things. Write a series of “10 Things” lists: 10 New Year’s resolutions, 10 favorite cookies, 10 joyful moments, 10 things I should throw away, etc.
  4. Adding Flair. Suggest illustrating some of the pages or adding personal photos or pictures cut from magazines or old calendars.
  5. Lists Galore. Check out the Writing Fix Personal List Generator. This clever tool generates a random question, which your child answers by making a list. Should you want to take it one step further, there’s also an assignment for writing a related composition. If list-making is your goal, simply skip the composition. Alternatively, make note of the composition topic and assign it another time.
  6. The List and Nothing but the List. Remember that the list itself can (and often should) be the goal. Don’t get hung up on needing to see paragraphs every time.

Share a comment: Make a list of any kind in the comment box, whether it’s today’s errand list, a list of supplies you need for a new project, or a list of skills you’d like to learn. Be creative!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Stumbling block #8 – Parental criticism

Stumbling Block #8: Fear of Parent Criticism

When it comes to chores, character training, and schoolwork, you can’t always be the nice guy, the friend. Nope. You’ve got to be the parent, which means it falls to you to judge and evaluate your kids’ work. But if you don’t evaluate with wisdom and purpose, you can unwittingly set them up for today’s Stumbling Block to Writing.

Stumbling Block #8

Problem: Students feel criticized when parents evaluate their writing.

Solution: Use editing and grading tools that encourage objectivity and consistency.

Worry about criticism from Mom or Dad is a huge issue for your child. She doesn’t want disapproval; yet if her paper isn’t perfect, she fears facing judgment. Since kids often see their writing as an extension of themselves, they feel personally affronted when they see marks on their formerly unspoiled pages. Their feelings can be summed up like this:

If you criticize my writing, you criticize me.

Well, clearly, in spite of your child’s hypersensitivities, you still have to evaluate, edit, and grade. So what’s the solution?

Be Objective and Consistent

Nothing makes the editing and grading chore easier and more pleasant than objective tools that equip you for the task. An equipped parent is a confident parent! Your student can sense your confidence. She knows you’ll be consistent, and she won’t worry that you’ll be capricious or unpredictable with your remarks and suggestions. This kind of objectivity and consistency builds a lot of trust.

It’s as simple as using a good editing checklist that pinpoints particular things you can watch for in each paper. Now your student can see that your comments are not based on whim or mood, but on specific lesson expectations she accomplished—or failed to meet.

As you review your student’s writing project, this impartial checklist will allow you to comment on the work in a way that helps her feel less criticized. Ultimately, when editing and grading become consistent and purposeful rather than arbitrary or illogical, you’ll see a big change in her attitude—and yours!

For specific ideas, check out editing tips for the faint of heart.

Give Plenty of Praise

Dish out generous servings of praise and positive comments along with your helpful suggestions. Show your student that you notice her efforts; then make gentle suggestions that encourage improved writing without bruising her sensitive spirit. And when you give a final grade, laud her with sincere praise. Show that you notice things she did well and correctly. Remember: if you use an objective grading rubric, you’ll know what these things are!

Watch for the next article in our 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing series: Stumbling Block #9 – What’s the Point? 

Share a comment: Is parental criticism a stumbling block for your children? What objections do you face when you edit or grade their writing assignments? 

Leaving a comment at any Stumbling Blocks article enters you into a drawing for a $25 WriteShop gift certificate. You can earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by commenting on all eleven articles. There’s still time to comment on any previous post!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

Are you looking for a writing curriculum that provides you with specific editing and grading rubrics? If so, you’ll appreciate WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th graders and WriteShop II for 8th – 11th graders. Lesson-specific checklists build confidence by ensuring that you only hold students responsible for the writing skills they’ve learned. 

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Marry Christnos!

I hope everyone is enjoying a wonderful Christmas season!  Here are a couple of cake gems to sweeten the holidays a little bit more.

Holiday’s Happe would make more sense provided that someone named Holiday owned a Happe.  However, that sounds a lot more like a phrase from a Dr. Seuss book than a snowman cake!

I believe this cake is actually telling the recipient to marry someone named Christnos.

Marry Christnos, everyone!

. . . . .

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

Photos used with permission from Jen at CakeWrecks

Brrrr! A winter word bank!

Winter Word Bank with loads of seasonal words related to frosty weather, snow-day activities, and cozy comforts. Includes writing ideas.

Brrrrrr! Here’s an icy blast of words that will give your young writers a leg up when they’re crafting stories and poems about winter. Remember—using a word bank isn’t cheating! It’s simply another great tool to slip into your children’s tool belt of writing aids.

Try the activities below, and stay tuned for more winter writing ideas and prompts!

Winter Word Bank

winter, season, weather, December, January, February, scarf, hat, cap, beanie, mittens, gloves, sweater, jacket, coat, vest, shawl, leggings, boots, pajamas, robe, slippers, socks, booties, wool, fleece, heavy, wrap, bundle, blanket, comforter, quilt, patchwork, skiing, sledding, skating,  jingle, shiver, chill, breath, snowstorm, blizzard, rain, sleet, snow, snowflakes, snow bank, snowball, powder, drift, crust, ice, icicles, crystals, frost, cold, bitter, windy, nippy, gusting, frozen, frigid, sparkling, slippery, icy, crunchy, lacy, delicate, soft, fluffy, knee-deep, powdery, freezing, melting, blustery, cloudy, dreary, drippy, slushy, rainy, snowman, shovel, bells, sled, sleigh, skis, ice skates, snowboard, toboggan, hill, mountain, pond, rink, forest, woods, creek, river, lane, road, holly, pine, cedar, fir, balsam, scent, boughs, wreath, trees, branches, bare, dark, silvery, blue, white, gray, brown, clear, piney, bird feeder, cardinal, suet, berries, hibernate, knit, sew, snuggle, read, book, stories, hearth, smoke, chimney, coals, flames, fire, fireplace, blazing, crackling, glowing, warm, cozy, toasty, spiced, spicy, tea, cider, cocoa, mug, popcorn, sugar, vanilla, spice, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking, aroma, waft

Word Bank Activities

Categories. Here’s a fun pre-writing activity! Copy the list of winter words to a Word document or Notepad. Then have your child copy/paste words into different categories. Alternatively, she can write the words by hand, crossing them off the list as she transfers them to her paper.

The older the child, the more detailed or specific the categories can be. This is not an exact science, so allow freedom and flexibility. Here are some ideas:

General Categories

  • Indoor winter words
  • Outdoor winter words

Specific Categories

  • Adjectives
  • Activities and outdoor-fun words
  • Weather words
  • Clothing words
  • Baking or food words
  • Comfort words
  • Warm and cozy words
  • Cold words
  • Other ____________________

Synonyms. Older students can add to their Winter Word Bank and build up their writing vocabulary by looking up some of the words in a thesaurus and adding a few interesting synonyms to the list. If you need a good thesaurus, I highly recommend The Synonym Finder. It’s my all-time fave!

WriteShop winter word listsUPDATE: The Winter Word Bank is now available as a full-color e-book download from WriteShop. In addition to winter word lists, the e-book contains over 100 printable vocabulary cards and ideas for using them to build writing skills. Only $2.95!


Looking for Christmas word lists? Check these out!

Copyright 2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

Share a comment: What are five of your favorite or most descriptive winter words? Or, What new winter words would you like to add to this word bank?

Stumbling block #7 – Procrastination

Stumbling Block #7 - Writing Procrastination

In our series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing, last week we looked at the problem of laziness. But laziness has a close cousin in the obstacle we’ll explore today: procrastination.

Stumbling Block #7

Problem: The procrastinator waits till the last minute to write her paper.

Solution: Break up assignments over time and provide accountability for your student.

The Pressure of Procrastination

If it weren’t for the last minute, I wouldn’t get anything done.  ~Author Unknown

When we feel overwhelmed, we tend to put off distasteful tasks—or those that seem big and scary—such as cleaning the garage or preparing for a big party. Claiming we work best under pressure, we shop, bake, clean, and decorate in a last-minute frenzy. As time rushes forward and the deadline looms, we sweep piles of laundry and schoolwork into drawers and closets, abandon the balloons and streamers, and purchase a hastily chosen gift card because we never got around to buying a present.

“Procrastinators generally don’t do well under pressure,” says Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at Chicago’s DePaul University. The idea that time pressure improves performance is a myth. In truth, procrastination can result in:

  • Health and sleep problems.
  • Anxiety and panic as tasks pile up.
  • Poor performance and inefficiency.
  • Guilt.

As William James aptly put it, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

Five Steps Toward Overcoming Procrastination

The best way to get something done is to begin.  ~Author Unknown

Putting off a writing assignment till the last minute can lead to a rushed and sloppy paper hastily written just before it’s due. It may also leave your child feeling too pressured or anxious to do a good job. As with the lazy student, the procrastinator needs a strategy. Try these suggestions to help your child make wiser use of her time.

1. Work on adopting a “do it first” attitude.

Tackling unpleasant or disagreeable tasks earlier in the day—when your student is fresh and alert—often means greater progress in shorter time.

2. Establish a deadline for the writing project.

When you don’t give a cut-off date, you imply that your child can put the task off indefinitely. Set a date and stick to it.

3. Divide the assignment into smaller chunks.

While a deadline is important, it doesn’t ensure that your student will pace herself. So in addition to assigning a distant due date for the whole composition or report, give more frequent due dates for parts of the project. For a short composition, assign brainstorming, rough draft, self-editing, second draft, parent editing, and a final draft. For a report or term paper, you’ll also want to see topic ideas, note cards, outlines, etc.

The writing process, by its very nature, is a series of steps. However, the procrastinator is prone to completely skip steps (or else cram several steps into one last-ditch writing session). Assignments spread over several days or weeks—with mini due dates scheduled along the way—help train her to spread out her work and not save it all till the last minute. A schedule or plan that outlines each step makes the best defense against procrastination.

4. Don’t neglect to follow up.

Your student needs to allow drafts to rest between writing sessions. But since she tends to wait till the last minute, she typically leaves no time for revising or refining. Make sure that you hold her accountable along the way with checklists and deadlines, and check her work regularly to keep her on task.

As the parent and teacher, you’re responsible to ensure that your child is doing the work and sticking to her deadlines. We homeschoolers can get lax about this. If you say “I’ll check over your work later,” but fail to do so, you continue to perpetuate the problem of procrastination. By not checking up on your student or asking to see her assignments, you unfortunately model the very behavior you seek to correct.

5. Set up task-appropriate rewards.

Come up with ways to reward your student’s steps of progress. Completing her brainstorming on time or writing her rough draft may earn her some computer or TV time. Finishing a task ahead of the due date could merit even more time to spend with her friends, read for pleasure, or work on her hobbies.

Do you ever feel like YOU are your child’s main stumbling block? If so, you won’t want to miss next week’s article, which addresses parental criticism. Check it out and soak up the encouragement!

Share a comment: Does your child procrastinate? What is one new thing you can do toward changing his or her behavior?

Leaving a comment at any Stumbling Blocks article enters you into a drawing for a $25 WriteShop gift certificate. You can earn up to eleven chances in the drawing by commenting on all eleven articles!

2009 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

WriteShop  provides schedules and checklists that give direction to a procrastinator. Parent supervision is also a key element of the program. Train your little ones early using WriteShop Primary. For older students, choosing WriteShop I and II will help you equip and inspire successful writers!

Photo: fdecomite, courtesy of Creative Commons

Write a Christmas cinquain poem

Write a Christmas Cinquain Poem | Kids love these easy, pattern-based holiday poems!

Cinquain poems are easy to write and a lot of fun too. The simplicity comes from following a set pattern of words and phrases. The resulting poem—five lines in a special shape—is rich with colorful, concrete vocabulary. Here are two examples:

Golden, shiny
Glowing, glittering, sparkling
Twinkles on our tree

. . . . .

Amazed, awed
Watching, waiting, listening
Hurrying to the manger

For a simple holiday writing activity, try assigning some Christmas cinquains. Follow the instructions and pattern in my blog post, Writing a Cinquain Poem. Choose from the following ideas, or come up with your own!

  • Baby/Jesus
  • Mother/Mary
  • Visitors/Magi
  • Ornament/Angel
  • Ornament/Star
  • Ornament/Snowman
  • Cookie/Gingerbread man
  • Giftwrap/Bow
  • Decoration/Stocking
  • Decoration/Wreath
  • Tree/Fir
  • Light/Candle
  • Treat/Candy cane
  • Toy/Train
  • Helper/Elf

Share a comment: We’d love to read your children’s Christmas cinquains!

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