Entries from January 2010 ↓

A recipe for writing fun

Recipe card - bees

A Quick Word about Copywork

I’d like to suggest a new way to incorporate copywork into your schooling. In a future blog article, I’ll take time to extol the virtues of copywork, which I think is valuable for pre-writers to 14-year-olds (or thereabouts). But in a nutshell, copying:

  • Teaches children a number of foundational writing, grammar, spelling, and punctuation skills.
  • Helps them pay attention to detail.
  • Offers penmanship practice.
  • Introduces them to passages of quality literature.

That’s the Reader’s Digest version! For the time being, you can find a more detailed explanation here: An Introduction to Copywork

A Personalized Recipe Box

OK, so are you ready for a super-fun copywork activity for the junior chefs in your family? Your children won’t be delving into literature, but this little exercise does help fulfill the first three points above.

Recipe Card

When I was eleven, I started my own recipe collection in my seventh-grade home economics class—pancakes, Dutchess Spice Cake, and caramel toast were three of my first cards—and I’ve been collecting recipes ever since!

Your children can embark on this journey too. Here’s how:

  1. Buy them a set of cute recipe cards, or print some out on card stock. There are tons of free printables available in patterns to suit both boys and girls.
  2. Sit them down with your own recipes and cookbooks, using sticky notes to mark your children’s personal favorites as well as special family recipes. Make sure to include several simple recipes they can prepare themselves.
  3. Provide pens or pencils and let the copying begin.

Younger, slower, or reluctant writers should have a time limit—perhaps five to ten minutes, depending on the child, but in general, keep this exercise to 20 minutes or less. Motivated writers will have so much fun that they may use this “writing” time as an excuse to avoid other schoolwork, so they’ll benefit from a timer as well.

As your children’s assortment of recipe cards grows, reward them with recipe dividers and a personalized file box to hold their collection.

They’ll treasure it someday, just as I treasure mine!

Editing your kids’ writing: How to find the balance

When editing student writing, what should be our focus? Are we so caught up in the glare of misspellings that we miss the heart of our kids' writing?

Editing your kids’ writing, especially if you haven’t had much experience, can stir up anxiety and concern. How do you find the balance between appreciating the content and picking apart the errors?

The Elements of Writing

Writing includes three main elements: content, style, and mechanics.

  • Content, of course, is the heart of the composition—the story, main message, or thesis.
  • Style is the way the writer communicates the content through word choice, sentence variation, etc.
  • Mechanics includes all those tricky little rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling that govern how the words actually appear on paper.

Mechanical Errors Make the Most Noise

When it comes to giving our children feedback on their papers, many of us are in a muddle. Sometimes the “noise” of a zillion grammatical errors drowns out the content as we zoom in on each misspelled word and sentence fragment.

But is that the place to start? What should be our focus? You’ve probably asked yourself these very questions:

  • Isn’t mechanics an important part of writing?
  • Should I allow inventive spelling, or insist that every word is spelled properly?
  • Should I focus on the main content, or should I address grammar and punctuation errors too?
  • How do I help my kids fine-tune their writing if I don’t point out all the mistakes?

It’s Like Walking a Tightrope

Just as we can correctly—or incorrectly—judge a person’s character based on outward appearance, it’s easy to judge a piece of writing by the mechanical errors we see. We don’t mean for these errors to interfere with our enjoyment of the content, but typically, they do.

The whole editing thing is like walking a tightrope, isn’t it? We don’t want to discourage our children from spilling their ideas onto paper, because the freedom of doing so sparks in them a love for writing. But for fear of dousing that fire, some of us sway too far to the left and never utter a word about grammar or spelling.

And tipping too far to the right are the parents who are so distracted by the glare of dangling participles and grave misspellings that we run amok with our red pens—and completely miss the heart of the child’s writing.

We really can address content, style, and mechanics without throwing our tenderhearted kiddos to the lions. The two-fold trick to finding the balance is remaining as objective as possible and cushioning our suggestions with praise

Use these three simple tips as a guide:

Tip #1 Before the red pen strikes, spend a few minutes identifying something positive about the paper, whether it’s a well-crafted sentence, a strong word choice, or an effective argument. Make sure you point these out to your child!

Tip #2 When you’re ready to begin making suggestions to the paper, focus mainly on content. Do ideas make sense? Do they flow well? Is there enough information and/or detail?

Tip #3 Once the story or essay or paragraph is organized and more rounded out, you can look at word choice and sentence style—and then deal with any grammar, spelling, and punctuation issues that remain.

Sure, the thought of editing student writing can seem intimidating. But if you know what you’re looking for, it can make all the difference!

Here are a couple more articles that can encourage you and help you feel more equipped for the task:

Photo: Joar E.M. Klette. Used with photographer’s permission. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

What you really want to say

     “The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say.” 

Mark Twain

13 warning signs of a bad poetry contest

Are you or your children interested in entering poetry contests? It’s easy to fall prey to a slick scam, so hang onto your doubloons and watch for these warning signs.

13 warning signs of a bad poetry contest, writeshop13 Warning Signs of a Bad Poetry Contest

The main goal of a bad poetry contest appears to be extracting money from poets rather than honoring excellence. Bad contests typically show several of these warning signs. When in doubt, check with your local poetry society.

  1. Unusually large number and size of cash awards (e.g., $58,000/year)
  2. Contest sponsor tries hard to sell you products that incorporate your work, like vanity anthologies (example)
  3. Contest is free to enter, but ‘winners’ have to pay a high price for own copy of book
  4. Contest turns up on “Scam Warning” pages when you search for it with Google
  5. Hard to contact sponsor with questions – responses are slow or evasive
  6. Low standards – not choosy about who gets published
  7. Name is close to that of a prestigious contest but for a small difference
  8. Prize is not money or publication, but ‘agency representation’ or something you must pay for
  9. Hard to find the work of past winners to judge their quality for yourself
  10. Small prize relative to reading fee (e.g., $5 fee for a $50 top prize)
  11. Advertised in mass market magazines (Parade) and newspapers (Sunday comics) unrelated to poetry
  12. You win a prize – but have to pay to attend a convention to receive it
  13. Only short poems (30 lines or less) are accepted – the better to pack them into an anthology
Copyright © 2000-2010 Winning Writers, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Stumbling block #10 – Learning challenges

Learning Challenges | 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing

Welcome back to our tenth—and final—article in the series 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing. I’ve really enjoyed writing each one, and I hope you’ve found them inspirational too.

Today I’m going to spend a few minutes looking at a different kind of stumbling block altogether: learning challenges. 

Stumbling Block #10 

Problem: Learning challenges and special needs create many stumbling blocks to writing.

Solution: Short writing projects, frequent practice, and bite-size assignments are some of the ways to make the writing process manageable.

Does Your Child Learn with Difficulty?

Has your child been diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, or Asperger’s? Does he have an auditory or visual processing disorder? Depending on the severity, it’s likely that his symptoms interfere with schooling to some degree.

Many such children live in a world littered with stumbling blocks that make learning a struggle. While these can include physical limitations like arm and shoulder tension or vision problems, a learning challenge will ultimately result in difficulty performing mental tasks like math problems or writing.

Writing issues can include:

  • Awkward or tight pencil grip
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Poor word and line spacing
  • Poor written expression
  • Problems with details (paying too little attention or obsessing too much)
  • Inattention and carelessness
  • Disorganization
  • Impulsiveness and difficulty planning
  • Poor self-monitoring skills

Helping a Student with Learning Challenges

How do you come up with a plan to help your special needs student? First, recognize that parents are a child’s first and best teachers. You know your child better than anyone, and you care more deeply about his needs. There is much you can do!

I’m certainly not an expert in this area, but I can offer you some helpful suggestions. For starters:

  • Establish a distraction-free work space for your child to do schoolwork: quiet, well lit, uncluttered.
  • Set a regular time to study with your child, and work closely with him.
  • Help him organize study materials before beginning.

As for writing, there are many things you can do to help a child who learns with difficulty. Consider using these ideas:

Graphic Organizers

Students do better when they can use graphic organizers such as mind-maps (clustering), charts, lists, or diagrams to help them outline and plan their work.

Self-Editing Checklists

It’s important for the struggling learner to be able to mark his progress. Provide a writing checklist for every assignment to walk him through self-editing step by step. A checklist (such as the ones introduced in WriteShop Junior, or the comprehensive checklists found in WriteShop I) reminds him of every element that needs his attention. As he compares his rough draft to the checklist, he can make corrections and improvements.

A visually overwhelmed student can use a plain sheet of paper to help him track each line of the checklist.

Colored Pencils

Colored pencilsHave your child use colored pencils to circle or underline potential corrections. Each color can be used for a different strategy: capitalization, spelling, punctuation, repeated words, dull or vague words, etc. The colors provide students with a focus for editing and revising as they revisit their work for each task.

Frequent Repetition and Practice

Make sure writing lessons build on previously learned skills. Good checklists help students apply these skills regularly.

Short, Specific Assignments

Writing projects that are short, contained, and relevant are more effective than fuzzy, open-ended, “write-whatever-you-want” assignments. Single-paragraph compositions are excellent for students who have trouble staying focused. Whether they’re overwhelmed by longer assignments, or they ramble and take rabbit trails, short assignments help them stay on task.

And just as important, make sure your writing program includes topic ideas and clear directions. Give specific requirements for each lesson, from brainstorming to writing, so your student always knows what he needs to do.

Tasks Broken into Bite-size Chunks

A child doesn’t have to learn with difficulty to benefit from working on a writing project in small increments. Breaking the writing process into manageable steps helps all students, including those who are disorganized, lazy, easily overwhelmed, or prone to procrastination. Spreading out assignments over time allows for paragraphs to rest between drafts and eases anxiety and stress.

Appeal to Different Learning Styles

A multisensory approach to writing  helps many students who learn with difficulty.

  • Visual: Use graphic organizers and checklists, calendar or schedule, and written instructions.
  • Auditory: Play word games, give verbal instructions, ask questions to prompt writing.
  • Kinesthetic: Describe textured objects the child can pick up and touch. Same for foods: touching and tasting the real thing makes it easier to describe. When writing about a place, take a notebook and pen and visit the place so your child can describe it firsthand.

Copyright © 2010 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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WriteShop Primary, WriteShop Junior, and WriteShop make excellent choices for the homeschooling parent with a learning-challenged child. Their step-by-step instructions, helpful schedules and lesson plans, and appeal to different learning styles are just a few of the reasons parents have loved using WriteShop.

Images: Lydianne Aquino and Little Blue Penguin, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Writing with your little ones

Most children are natural-born storytellers. They may not have much love for pencil and paper, but it’s not unusual for them to talk your ear off as they share about their day or weave a make-believe story about a blue bird named Monkey George who flew off to buy Band-Aids because he hurt his foot.

Your littles are learning—learning to use their ever-expanding vocabulary, hold pencils properly, and write letters, words, and simple sentences. They’re figuring out that there’s a relationship between spoken and written words.

Whether you choose to use an actual writing curriculum for kindergarten, first, or second grade, or just forge ahead on your own, there are simple activities you can do to foster a love of words and writing in your younger children. Here are three fun ones to get you started!

Write Little Notes

I still remember those sticky, wrinkled, crayon-scribbled notes my children used to write:  Deer mom I louv you so so much! 

To their delight, sometimes I’d stick a note under a pillow or in a pocket for them to find in return. Kids love getting those notes! Write them on index cards, scraps of notebook paper. or hearts cut from colored card stock. The medium doesn’t matter! Roll up flimsy notes and tie them with a piece of string or yarn and hide them in a pajama drawer. Slip sturdy flat ones under a door, into a coat pocket or library book, or under a dinner plate. 

Your children will feel so loved to fnd each special mini-letter! Piggyback on their enthusiasm by encouraging them to write little notes of their own and hide them for others to find. They’ll love it!

Narrate a Wordless Picture Book

Using a wordless picture book, your child can make up a story either orally or in writing to accompany the illustrations. If she can’t write well, let her tell her story as you write it down for her. Try some of these to get her started:

Use Story Starters

Not all children enjoy making up stories, but if they have the basic story elements in place—such as character, setting, and some sort of storyline or plot—they’ll often take right off. World of Animals and World of People StoryBuilders are perfect for this! The printable cards make great writing prompts and set kids off on a story-writing adventure with humorous or inspiring ideas like these:

  • A disobedient dinosaur finds a secret tunnel under the bed
  • A spunky spider plans a surprise in the grandfather clock
  • Disaster strikes while a clever inventor is at the library

Again, make a point of letting pre-writers or children with limited patience or vocabulary dictate to you while you write their words. You’ll get so much more from them if they don’t have to labor over the paper. Older or more skilled writers can tackle the writing on their own. You can even share the pencil and take turns writing parts of the story in round-robin fashion.

Above all, this early elementary age is the time to keep writing fun for your child—and these three simple suggestions will help you do just that.

No grander the second time around

This is what you need when your grand opening isn’t quite grand enough.

. . . . .

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

Winter blues? Jumpstart your homeschooling in 2010

It’s 2010!

And now that your Christmas decorations have (we hope) come down, it’s time to shake off the winter blues and get your homeschool into gear again. Does that excite you, or does it make you want to dive under the covers?

The January Blahs 

Sometimes, it can be tough for homeschooling families to get back into gear in January. Mom feels burned out. The kids lack motivation. Foul weather doesn’t help much either and can often lead to cabin fever and a general sense of “blah.”
As a veteran homeschooler myself, I really want you to succeed—and not just to survive, but to thrive—which is why I love passing on great resources as they cross my path. My friend Terri Johnson of Knowledge Quest offers two fantastic homeschool classes—Homeschooling ABCs and Upper Level Homeschool—which are sure to jumpstart your homeschooling endeavors in the new year.

Signing up for either course means lots of free bonus gifts valued at up to $275, including a January-only BOGO (buy one, get one) so you and a friend can take the class together! Here’s a brief look at each class:

Class #1: Homeschooling ABCs

Homeschooling from A to Z. Whether you’re brand-new to homeschooling or have been at it for a dozen years, this excellent 26-week class will encourage you along the journey of teaching your children. If you feel overwhelmed, unmotivated, or discouraged, this class will provide focus, direction, and encouragement,.

This is absolutely a MUST TAKE class for all homeschoolers – new or seasoned! I cannot recommend it enough! I have been homeschooling for a decade, and last year lost all enthusiasm for homeschooling. I was prepared “to ship them all off to school!” Your class has helped me to refocus my goals, remember why I wanted to homeschool, and get out of the rut we were plodding through!  –LeeAnn, homeschooling mom

It’s only $10 a month for 6 months—an amazing value! To sign up or learn more about the course, check out Homeschooling ABCs.

Class #2: Upper Level Homeschool

Homeschooling Your High Schooler. Are you daunted by the idea of homeschooling through high school? Upper Level Homeschool is an online course specifically designed for homeschooling parents of middle- and high-school students. Don’t let self-doubt or lack of knowledge rob you and your teen of these very exciting years! All you need are a few basic “how-to’s” and your high schooler can be well on his way to academic success and a very bright future.

Writing is one of those areas that can intimidate the bravest of parents, so Terri invited me to contribute the course material for Tackling the Timed Essay. Drawing from the timed-essay lesson in WriteShop II and my workshop, “Teaching the Timed Essay,” I’ve put together a syllabus for you that’s jam-packed with tips for teaching timed writing, including preparing for the essay portion of the SAT college entrance exam.

And there’s so much more to this excellent 13-week course! To sign up for the class or learn more about it, check out Upper Level Homeschool. At just $15 per month for 3 months, it’s the best money you can spend to gain peace of mind about teaching your kids through high school.

Don’t forget that each of these great courses comes with fabulous bonus gifts such as forms, checklists, maps, lesson planners, and more! Check out each class to see the different bonus gifts offered.

Stumbling block #9 – What’s the point?

Stumbling 9 - What's the Point

Sometimes, your teen’s opposition to writing has nothing at all to do with laziness, procrastination, perfectionism, or confidence—and everything to do with relevance. In other words, she resists writing because she wonders: What’s the point?

This brings us to today’s article in the series on 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing.

Stumbling Block #9

Problem: (1) Your student can’t see a purpose for the assignment itself, or (2) she can’t understand why she has to go through all the steps of the writing process.

Solution: (1) Make writing assignments relevant, and (2) help your student see the value of refining her work.

Make Writing Assignments Relevant

Though it’s nice to give our children choices and options, the kind of writing (such as a short report, book summary, or compare/contrast essay) — and even the specific topic of that composition — will be dictated to them from time to time. Like it or not, sometimes they have to write on a subject of our choosing, and there’s just no way around it.

Still, for the most part, students are more willing to write if the assignment feels purposeful. Writing for writing’s sake—to describe a sunset, for example—may not motivate them at all. But writing as it applies to their Civil War studies or a lesson on botany will make more sense to them—and may even spark enthusiasm—especially if it’s a subject they love.

So whenever possible, look for ways to tailor the topic to your students’ interests and passions. After all, the more relevant the writing assignment, the more likely they’ll cooperate.

Writing across the curriculum is one way to accomplish this. You retain control over the general subject matter while offering your child more specific topic choices. Some of these ideas may help get you started:

Demonstrate the Value of the Writing Process

Getting kids to write can be challenging enough, but getting them to embrace the whole writing process is another thing altogether. Each step of the writing process is vital, from brainstorming to final draft, but students often think of these “extra steps” as time wasters.

Editing, revising, and rewriting, for instance, can be downright painful—for both of you! Most kids hate this part of the writing process. They like what they wrote; therefore, they’re highly resistant to making any changes. Regardless of how loudly, tearfully, or convincingly they protest, this is a necessary part of the writing process, and something all writers—including your children—have to do.

Other Skills Take Many Steps

Illustrate how other skills require many steps too, and how these steps are quite similar to the prewriting, brainstorming, drafting, and revising that comprise the writing process.

For instance, playing a musical instrument, a sport, or a video game requires investment of time and a working out of many steps. After all, how do you get to a new skill level except by practice? This makes perfect sense to your teen.

She can also grasp that in order to create a new recipe, a chef has to prepare a dish several times so he can figure out how to improve it. Is it too bland? Too dry? Could it use a topping? Is the texture pleasing to the palate? How would it taste with less salt? More vanilla?

The chef tastes each batch, adds or removes seasonings, and adjusts ingredient quantities. When he’s satisfied, he prepares the dish for others and asks for feedback. Then it’s back to the test kitchen once again!

No Author Publishes His First Draft

A chef would never add an untested item to his restaurant’s menu until he’s sure it’s the best it can be. Refining and perfecting his recipe is a process, and it takes time and patience.

Would your child dream of playing a brand-new or unfamiliar sonatina at her piano recital? Of course not! It’s the piece she’s practiced and refined that she feels more comfortable presenting.

Similarly, no author ever publishes his first draft. His book or article goes through repeated self-editing—and numerous revisions—before he feels ready to submit it to his editor, who in turn adds his own suggestions for improvement. Your child would not enjoy her favorite novels nearly as much had a wise editor not repeatedly put the author through the steps of the editing process.

Remind your resistant writer that she goes through the writing process with a goal in mind: the final draft. After all, it’s not the rough draft that becomes her published writing project; it’s the polished and revised version that she’ll want to share with others.

Once she’s gone through the revising process, ask her to compare her first draft with the final version. When she can see the progress she’s made from that rough beginning to her very best attempt—the final draft, the purpose for the steps in the writing process becomes clearer. Hopefully this means less whining as she learns to approach the steps of the writing process with an improved attitude!

Next week we wrap up our 10 Stumbling Blocks to Writing series with a special focus on special needs: Stumbling Block #10– Learning Challenges.

Share a comment: Which step of the writing process does your child most resist—brainstorming, writing, or revising?

2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

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The Teacher’s Manual for WriteShop I and WriteShop II includes ideas for writing across the curriculum. Suggestions for applying each lesson’s skills to a topic of current study appear in Appendix B.

Photo of girl courtesy of stock.xchng
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