Entries from February 2010 ↓

Words Matter Week – March 1-7

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

~Mark Twain

Words Matter Week Is Coming!

A whole week devoted to the written word . . . and I’m excited!

I confess that I’m a word geek. From playing word games like Scrabble, Boggle, and crossword puzzles to highlighting a passage of breathtaking prose, I have a thing for words (though if you’ve visited my blog more than once, you’ve probably figured that out).

The more I read and write, the more conscious I become of the power of words. Words really do matter.

  • Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. ~Rudyard Kipling
  • Death and life are in the power of the tongue. ~Proverbs 18:21a
  • A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. ~Proverbs 25:11
  • Poorly chosen words can kill enthusiasm, impact self-esteem, lower expectations and hold people back. Well chosen ones can motivate, offer hope, create vision, impact thinking and alter results. ~Nan S. Russell

Yep. Words matter.

And that’s why I’m looking forward to celebrating National Words Matter Week. Sponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), this event focuses on the importance of words, particularly the written word.

How To Participate

Anyone with an interest in words and writing will enjoy participating in Words Matter Week, including educators, bloggers, writers, libraries, and homeschoolers nationwide. There are many creative ways to get involved. Here are just a few:

  • In Our Write Minds: Check my blog every day during Words Matter Week for vocabulary-building and word game ideas, activities for parents and kids, helpful links, a contest or two—and some thoughts on why words matter.
  • Words Matter blog: During March 1-7, you’ll find a daily blog challenge.
  • Words Matter Week: Ideas that encourage participation from homeschoolers, schools, bloggers, libraries, churches, bookstores, and more.
  • Communication FUNdamentals is running a weeklong contest March 1-5, 2010

So I hope you’ll join me next week as we have some fun together exploring why words matter!

A process of discovery

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. “

—Sharon O’Brien

Describing a place: Choosing vocabulary

“Descriptive writing is an art form. It’s painting a word picture so that the reader ‘sees’ exactly what you are describing.”

~Brenda Covert

Describing a Place | Teaching Children to Write with Vivid Vocabulary

What’s the big deal about writing descriptively? For one thing, it’s much more than page-filling fluff. Descriptive writing imprints images into the reader’s mind, making you feel as though you’re “right there.” Its all about engaging the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch to transport the reader and stir emotion. By choosing vivid details and colorful words, good writers bring objects, people, places, and events to life. Instead of merely telling you what they see, they use their words to show you.

Writers use this powerful method to make their pieces memorable—even brilliant—rather than dry and boring. In many ways, description is the most important kind of writing you can teach your children. Why? Because it supports other reasons for writing such as storytelling, informative reports, or persuasion.

Even if your child never aspires to write stories or poetry, description is a wonderful skill to develop. Without it, all other writing falls flat.

Describing a Place

Vivid writing is especially important when describing a place — whether to describe a vista for a travel guide or flesh out a scene in a novel.

Master storyteller Charles Dickens was also a master of using description to create a mood.

It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, arid vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. ~Charles Dickens, Hard Times

But your child doesn’t have to be a Dickens to add color, depth, and interest to his writing. Here, a ninth grader draws on all five senses to describe a place and create a mood.

Moist and salty, a chilly breeze blows in across the swells, bringing with it the pungent smells of seaweed and fish and making me pull my jacket a little closer. Sea spray transforms into fiery prisms as the waves splash against the shore, catch the last golden rays of sun, and toss them up like liquid crystals.

With a few tips and tools, your child can effectively describe a  place too.

Describing a Place | Teaching Children to Write with Vivid Vocabulary

Suppose he’s planning to write about a desert. He’ll need to describe basic desert features, of course: sand, rock, hills, and dunes. But deserts aren’t all alike, so his word choices will need to reflect the kind of desert he wants to write about. For example, if he chooses a desert in the southwestern United States, he’ll probably describe plants such as sagebrush, Joshua trees, yuccas, or saguaro cacti.

But if he’s writing about an oasis in the Sahara Desert, where vegetation is much different, he would instead describe date palms, oleanders, acacia trees, succulents, and desert grasses. His description of either desert scene will spring to life as he tells about these places using rich and appropriate details.

Finding Vocabulary for Describing a Place

How do you help your child study his subject and choose strong words that make his writing sparkle? Whether he decides to write about a desert, city, rainforest, or pond, these ideas will help him find words that will form the foundation of his descriptive piece, narrative story, or report.

Using a Search Engine

Search engines such as Google makes a great resource for inspiration. In addition to collecting general terms about the location’s flora and fauna (the desert, for example), he’ll also find concrete, specific nouns and adjectives that add color to his writing. Suggest that he begin his search by looking up terms like these:

  • desert landscape
  • desert features
  • desert climate
  • desert plants
  • desert animals
  • desert description

What if your child wants to describe a city instead of a desert? City words are trickier to find, and he may have to hunt more. Try some of these search terms:

  • describe city sights
  • describe Chicago, describe Pittsburgh, etc.
  • “describe downtown” (use quotes)

Using Other Sources

Describing a Place | Teaching Children to Write with Vivid VocabularyWhile search engines can lead you to a wealth of information, don’t discount the value of print media such as magazines and books. Also consider digital media such as TV documentaries or DVDs about the subject.

When describing a place, visit in person, if possible. But if not, can you explore a spot with similar features? Many children are visual and tactile learners. If your child wants to describe what a sidewalk looks like, how about taking him outside to explore the sidewalk on your street? It will help him describe the texture, color, and appearance of a city sidewalk, even if you live in a suburb.

Expanding Vocabulary

As your child searches the Internet, ask him to keep an eye out for adjectives that describe desert or city features (or whatever place he wants to write about). Encourage him to come up with words on his own, but also to watch for words he meets in articles or photo captions.

If he doesn’t understand some of the words, pull out the dictionary and make it a teaching moment! And show him how to use a thesaurus (we love The Synonym Finder) to find other words that say the same thing. Both of these exercises will help his vocabulary to grow.

Some Desert Adjectives

Desert: harsh, dry, arid, sparse, severe, hot
Rock: sharp, rough, jagged, angular
Grasses: windblown, bent, dry, pale green, brown
Sand: coarse, fine, glittering, shifting, rippling, sifting, white, golden
Sky: pale, intense, cloudless, azure, purple, crimson
Cactus: tall, short, squatty, spiny, prickly, thorny
Date palm: tall, bent, leather (leaves), frayed (leaves)

Some City Adjectives

City: active, bustling, noisy, busy, clean, dirty, windy
Traffic: loud, congested, snarled
Buildings: old, shabby, rundown, crumbling,  modern, futuristic, sleek, towering, squat
Buildings (walls): brick, stone, marble, glass, steel, graffiti-covered
Monuments, statues: stone, copper, carved, ancient, moss-covered, faded, green, bronze
Sidewalk: concrete, cement, slick, cracked, tidy, littered, swept
Paint: fresh, weathered, peeling
Signs: neon, weathered, worn, bright, welcoming, flashing
Buses, cars, taxis: belching, crawling, speeding, honking, waiting, screeching
People: hurried, bundled, smiling, frowning, eager, rushed

Use these suggestions to encourage your child come up with ideas for describing a place of his own. You’ll both discover that hunting for words can become a favorite pre-writing game! And as your child dabbles more and more with descriptive writing, I’m confident his words will soon begin to “show” more and “tell” less.

. . . . .

Do you struggle with teaching and grading writing? Does your child’s writing need a boost? Consider adding WriteShop to your curriculum choices for this school year!

The first seven lessons of WriteShop I specifically teach your teen descriptive writing. This important skill is then practiced in the remaining informative and narrative writing lessons. In addition, WriteShop teaches—and offers practice in using—a wide array of sentence variations that help to enhance a student’s paper with fresh style and vigor. When combined with strong, dynamic word choices, sentence variations give dull writing new life.

For younger children, WriteShop Primary introduces K-3rd graders to activities that widen their writing vocabulary. Book C contains three  specific descriptive writing lessons. WriteShop Junior, for upper elementary, also provides many opportunities for students to incorporate description.

For more information, visit our website.

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy.

Photos: AliceDietmar Temps, & Phillip Capper, courtesy of Creative Commons


Berry bad spelling



It may be torturous to look at, but it sure is fun to say.


OK, your turn!

. . . . .

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

Image used by permission.

26 golden rules for writing well

26 Golden Rules for Writing Well

  1. Don’t abbrev.
  2. Check to see if you any words out.
  3. Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.
  4. About sentence fragments.
  5. When dangling, don’t use participles.
  6. Don’t use no double negatives.
  7. Each pronoun agrees with their antecedent.
  8. Just between you and I, case is important.
  9. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should.
  10. Don’t use commas, that aren’t necessary.
  11. Its important to use apostrophe’s right.
  12. It’s better not to unnecessarily split an infinitive.
  13. Never leave a transitive verb just lay there without an object.
  14. Only Proper Nouns should be capitalized. also a sentence should begin with a capital letter and end with a full stop
  15. Use hyphens in compound-words, not just in any two-word phrase.
  16. In letters compositions reports and things like that we use commas to keep a string of items apart.
  17. Watch out for irregular verbs that have creeped into our language.
  18. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
  19. Avoid unnecessary redundancy.
  20. A writer mustn’t shift your point of view.
  21. Don’t write a run-on sentence you’ve got to punctuate it.
  22. A preposition isn’t a good thing to end a sentence with.
  23. Avoid cliches like the plague.
  24. 1 final thing is to never start a sentence with a number.
  25. Always check your work for accuracy and completeness.

~Author Unknown

If anyone knows who wrote this, let me know. I’d love to give proper credit.

Help your child plan a funny story

Young children love humor! This brainstorming activity helps primary kids plan a funny story.

Don’t you just love watching your kids develop a sense of humor? I get such a kick out of the things my grandchildren find funny. I wish I could bottle up every silly story, expression, giggle, and laugh and save them for a rainy day!

Once children reach age six or seven, they’re ready to start having fun with humor in their writing. Even if your child is a bit on the serious side, here’s a brainstorming activity designed to help kids think about ideas for writing a funny story.

Advance Prep

Read some funny picture books together. Depending on your child’s age, you can find some great funny-bone ticklers out there!

Since your goal is simply to introduce humor in writing, use this time to read short books with simple yet humorous themes, even if your child’s reading level is more advanced. Here are a few suggestions:

Prepare a blank comic strip for your child to fill in by dividing a piece of computer paper into six equal blank squares to resemble a comic strip. Make the squares as large as possible, perhaps making two rows of three.

Draw a simple story web on a sheet of paper. Draw a circle in the middle and six lines extending out from the circle to resemble a web.

Brainstorm for a Humorous Story

If your child is not familiar with comic strips, show her some examples from the newspaper or www.comics.com.

1. Choose a main character. Ask your child to choose a main character for her funny story (animals, birds, or dinosaurs make good subjects).

2. Think of a story idea that features the main character. If your child can’t decide on an original funny story idea, encourage her to use an idea from a comic or humorous story she already knows.

3. Fill in the story web.

  • Write the topic in the center circle of the story web.
  • Write the details of the story on the story web. Gently prompt her to suggest the details by asking:

Who is the main character of this story?
What happened in the beginning of the story?
What happened next?
Tell me something really funny that happened.
How did the story end?

  • Write down ideas for a title on the story web.

Draw the Comic Strip

Your child will not need to do any writing for this activity.

  • Give her the blank comic strip you prepared. Ask her to draw one picture in each frame using the details from the story web.
  • Since this is the brainstorming stage, discourage her from drawing the pictures in detail. Simple stick figures are best.

 .  .  .  .  .

This is just one of the many fun and creative projects and activities WriteShop Primary uses to reinforce simple writing skills at the primary level. In Book B, children learn to write a funny story using the steps of the writing process, beginning with pre-writing and brainstorming and ending with a published final draft.

Photo: tanakawho, courtesy of Creative Commons.

5 writing tips for kids

1. Break Free from Writer’s Block

“As a writer, I want to choose the exact right words for my story. But when I’m stuck, I try to ask myself, What do I REALLY want to tell the readers? Instead of worrying about perfect sentences, I jot down ideas, phrases, the points I think are most important and also things I think are cool or surprising. Once I have notes on paper, it’s a lot easier for me to figure out how I want to tell the story.” ~David Bjerklie, senior science reporter at TIME magazine

2. Use “To Be” Verbs Sparingly

“‘No more than one to-be verb per paragraph’ will force students to avoid passive voice and strengthen nouns and verbs.” ~Mark Pennington, reading specialist

3. Use Transition Words

“Young writers often get into trouble when going from one idea to the next. Without transitions, a reader is likely to get lost or disinterested. Each paragraph, like the overall body of the essay, needs a beginning, middle and an end.

“Start off with simple transitional phrases. Sometimes one or two words will adequately signify the essay’s development. Words such as ‘therefore’ and ‘finally’ signal to the reader that the essay’s message is progressing. As a test, reread each paragraph, and if they make sense standing on their own, they probably incorporate good transitions. If not, add a sentence introducing a new idea.” ~Sylvan Learning Online

4. Watch out for Contractions and Apostrophes

People often mix their and they’re, its and it’s, your and you’re and so on. If there is something that can hurt the credibility of your text, it is a similar mistake. Also, remember that the apostrophe is never used to form plurals.” ~Sharon at DailyWritingTips.com

5. Edit and Revise Your Writing

“Revise and rewrite. Improvement is always possible.” ~Bob Brooke, author

The breathings of your heart

The breathings of your heart. Sometimes it's just this simple.

What to say? What to write? Sometimes, it’s just this simple:

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.

Photo: Steven Depolo, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Make a Valentine mailbox

Make a Valentine mailbox - a perfect way to encourage kids to write family love letters!

During this season of hearts and chocolates, here’s a fun way to spread some Valentine cheer among your kids—while encouraging a bit of writing along the way!

Make a Valentine Mailbox!

These cute mailboxes belong to four of my grandkids. My daughter Karah found plain mailbox-shaped tins in the dollar bin at Target, which the children decorated with stickers and paint pens.

Making Valentine mailboxes

Unfortunately, by the time Karah decided Mom and Dad needed mailboxes too, Target had run out. So instead, they decorated Chinese take-out containers, available at most party supply stores—and a great alternative to the tins! (Or use a small shoe box or coffee can.)

Share the Love

The six mailboxes sit on a small table, along with a stack of paper squares and a few pencils. From February 1st through Valentine’s Day, everyone has fun writing little notes to each other and hiding them in the mailboxes.

The tins shown above have an especially fun feature: you can raise the flag to announce that there’s mail waiting inside!

Get Creative

Everyone can get into the act. And the fun doesn’t have to stop at plain white notes! Try some of these ideas:

  • Set out a supply of inexpensive Valentine cards—either store-bought ones or printable cards like these, these, and these.
  • In addition to plain white, you can cut squares from pink and lavender paper too.
  • Add stickers to some of the notes.
  • Include colored pens, crayons, or fine-tip markers in the pencil cup.
  • Invite grandparents or others to write notes too (I sneaked some in during a short visit today).
  • From time to time, hide a treat in the mailbox: fruit snacks, a chocolate heart, a quarter, or a trinket such as a Valentine pencil.

More Resources & Links

Will you make Valentine mailboxes? If not, what special things do you do to encourage sibling love at Valentine’s Day?

Helping kids find an audience for their writing

Help your kids find opportunities to creatively publish and share their writing with others!

I’ve been thinking about the importance of giving our kids a wider audience for their writing. After all, if they only write for an audience of one—whether parent or teacher—they tend to write for that person’s benefit alone.

But if we want our students’ writing to improve, shouldn’t we also encourage them to find opportunities to share their stories, poems, and essays with someone other than Mom?

Benefits of a Wider Audience

Having an audience takes your child beyond the point of writing for a grade. Why not start thinking of ways to broaden his understanding of what an audience can be?

Help him experience how others can find pleasure in reading his work. He’ll be rewarded with increased joy and confidence, and I think you’ll begin to see his writing blossom as he takes more pride in his efforts.

Think Inside—and Outside—the Box

When Debbie and I taught WriteShop classes, we always ended the year with a parent tea. The students recited poetry, and we passed out class anthologies. As the children pored over the stories and poems in their spiral-bound booklets, it was clear how much they enjoyed seeing their works in print.

But an anthology is just one of many ways to publish. I want to challenge you to think outside the box, too! Here are some other suggestions for expanding your kids’ writing audience or showcasing their writing projects.

So help your children look for new ways to share their work with others. Once their writing pieces get published—whether in traditional or nontraditional ways—they’ll begin to grasp what it really means to be an author! 

Share a comment: What are some things you do to give your children’s writing a bigger audience?

Photo: Tachie, courtesy of Creative Commons
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