Entries from April 2010 ↓

Making A Book about Me

Children love to look at baby pictures and hear stories about when they were younger. Here's a simple way to record special times by making a Book about Me.

When my children were small, they loved pulling out our family photo albums and looking through the pages. Whether they ended up giggling over leggings and side ponytails or reminiscing about a favorite stuffed toy, they were able to revisit key moments of their childhood with each turn of the page.

A Book About Me

Children love to look at their baby pictures and hear stories about when they were younger, don’t they? Here’s a simple, creative way to help your child record some of those special times by making “A Book about Me.”

Gather a handful of photos of your child at memorable times in her life. Look through the pictures together and talk about them. If your child doesn’t remember certain incidents, share stories and memories about those photos.

Ask your child to choose a few of her favorite photos from different stages—as a newborn, a toddler, and a four-year-old, for example (it’s OK if she can’t remember the event or moment when the photo was taken). Have her paste each photo to the top of a fresh sheet of blank paper.

Below the photo, ask her to write some things about the picture (or if she’s reluctant to write, let her tell you about the photo while you write down her words beneath). Prompt her with simple questions, such as:

  • Where was the picture taken?
  • How old were you?
  • What’s happening in the picture?
  • Who else is in the picture with you?
  • What are you wearing?
  • Why is this a special or good memory?

After she has finished, insert each paper into a page protector sleeve and place the sleeves into a slim three-ring binder in chronological order.

Ask your child to flip through her book of stories and share some of the memories with you. Encourage her to read her memory book to other family members too.

Isn’t this a great idea for helping your littles recall happy times? And as they get older, they can continue adding pages to their books.

. . . .

Although this isn’t a WriteShop Primary activity, you’ll find lots of similar creative writing projects for your younger children in the pages of these parent-friendly teacher’s guides. You can learn more by visiting the WriteShop Primary info pages or viewing sample lessons.

Photo: Abigail Batchelder, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Word pictures

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” 

—Anton Chekhov

Students are ill-prepared for college-level writing

Students are increasingly unprepared to write at the college level

A while back, I talked about the importance of strong writing skills in the workplace. Today I want to take a look at the grim statistics regarding poor writing skills on college campuses and help you explore things you can do now to ensure that your children do not join those ranks.

The Problem on College Campuses

First-time college students face their new post-high school careers with excitement, fear, and any number of challenges. But good writing, for many freshmen, may pose the biggest challenge of all.

Professors want to see concise, coherent and well-reasoned writing assignments. And regardless of the discipline—whether English, history, biology, or art—they expect students to write at a higher level than they did in high school.

Are incoming students unprepared for college writing? We hear again and again that many freshmen lack the most basic skills to write clearly, effectively, and coherently because their working knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and paragraph structure is so poor. According to a recent article by the California State University:

About 60 percent of first-time freshmen enrolling at the CSU each year do not show entry-level proficiency in [college-level English] assessments, even though they have earned at least a B average in the required college preparatory curriculum. As a result, many students must attend remedial classes, which do not count for college credit and add cost and time to earning a degree.

When High Schools Fail to Prepare Their Graduates

Tufts Daily, the independent student newspaper of Tufts University, reports that it’s becoming more and more apparent that the nation’s high schools are not devoting enough time to writing skills and may not be providing students with a strong enough writing-based curriculum.

The Tufts article notes that according to a study by the Chronicle of Higher Education, 44 percent of university faculty members say their students are simply not ready for the rigors of college-level writing.

When College Writing Courses Don’t Teach Writing

Arriving on campus is no assurance of success for incoming freshmen who need basic writing courses but aren’t necessarily getting them.

Professor Stanley Fish says universities should rethink the political and ideological emphasis of most composition classes. He rightly suggests that “unless writing courses focus exclusively on writing they are a sham.”

Fish relates that a few years ago, he became alarmed and curious about the poor writing skills his English graduate students demonstrated in their research papers. Graduate students should write well, Fish believed; especially since they were responsible for teaching undergraduate students how to write in introductory composition classes. Fish asked to see lesson plans for the 104 sections in which English graduate students taught composition to undergrads. He found that in 100 of the sections, “students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization.” Only four sections emphasized grammar, rhetoric, and the craft of writing well. (Eagle Forum Education Reporter)

A Sad but True Example

Several months ago, a friend came into possession of a freshman English paper and shared it with me. Sadly, it serves to reinforce the statistics and testimonials that only too frequently cross my desk. From start to finish, this student’s essay on William Blake’s “The Tyger” is riddled with errors:

  • Uncapitalized proper nouns such as jesus and greek
  • Missing punctuation, including periods
  • Casual language (“…it is actually about more than just a tiger and stuff.”) 
  • Slang (“Allusion is all over the freekin place.”)
  • Misplaced apostrophes and more slang (“Tyger’s have four feet. Cool, huh?“)
  • Use of second person (“If you look at Blake’s history…”)
  • Run-on sentences and sentence fragments
  • Absence of transitions
  • Lack of organization
  • Use of numerals instead of words (“…5 years ago…”)
  • Use of Wikipedia as a “credible” source

This student represents a mere drop in a very full bucket. Thousands of similarly skilled young men and women are accepted into major universities every year—high school graduates whose writing abilities just aren’t up to par.

You Can Make a Difference!

I could continue filling your brain with testimonials and data and examples. But why rehash when the bottom line remains the same? Students are emerging from their high-school cocoons as undernourished butterflies whose wings are inadequately developed for flying through college writing.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You’re in a privileged position to help your homeschooled students. In future articles, I’ll get into more detail, but for now, rest assured that you can:

  • Learn to identify your child’s unique grammar, spelling, and writing issues.
  • Tailor curricula and writing lessons to address those needs.
  • Make sure you’re covering the basics.
  • Expand instruction to include more college prep work.
  • Offer your child what a classroom teacher of 150 cannot: one-on-one instruction, frequent writing assignments, and detailed, consistent feedback.

Copyright © 2010 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Garden verse poetry contest

Spring brings out the poet in me. I’m so rejuvinated by the deepening green of our lawn, the cheer of birdsong, and the cascade of fuchsia bougainvilleas along the garden walls that I can’t help but toss out lovely words like blossom, bloom, and bud.

Every day, clumps of feathery alyssum grow rounder as they fill in the bare patches of earth. Thanks to April showers, March’s seed is giving way to tender blades of new grass. And my perennial coreopsis is shamelessly showing off in the front flower bed.

Are you reveling in spring too? Have you been buying new garden gloves and seedlings? Planting vegetables and flowers? Eyeing a new fountain or bench for your yard? Are you savoring the sights, sounds, and smells of spring? Are words like garden, ladybug, and hollyhock rolling around on your tongue?

Then you’ve got the bug—and you’ll want to know about Horticulture Magazine’s Garden Verse Poetry Awards and a chance to win up to $250! (Contest has ended)

Poems about Spring

For inspiration, check out these websites and savor some spring poetry.

Enter the Poetry Contest

Enter here. The deadline has been extended to May 3,  2010 so you have a whole week  to write a garden-themed poem. There’s no age limit, so why not make this a family activity?

Linger over our Spring Word Bank for even more ideas and motivation.

Above all, enjoy the journey.

The little problem of . . . apostrophe’s?

It’s such a small thing, really—this simple little punctuation mark called the apostrophe. If used correctly, no one pays it any mind. But when it’s misused, we have what ‘s known as an Apostrophe Catastrophe. Let me submit a few for your Wordless Wednesday pleasure.

This first one is a fine specimen of botched punctuation. Who knew the lowly comma could also double as a misplaced apostrophe?

This next one gives us a double dose of enjoyment: Bad punctuation and bad spelling. How sad. Only three words and they messed up two of them!


And finally, a sample of professional workmanship. Perhaps I’ll take my business elsewhere.

. . . . .

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

Teaching writing conventions

Teaching writing conventions--generally accepted standards for written English and grammar--will help kids' writing look and sound its best.

When your student begins to protest: “But I like it this way!” or “It looks okay to me,” it’s high time to introduce the concept of writing conventions.

Defining Conventions

We can define conventions as a set of generally accepted standards for written English. We use conventions to make our writing more readable. In other words, we do things in a certain way so the reader can figure out what we’re trying to say.

Conventions include spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and sentence structure. Students should:

  • Apply spelling rules correctly.
  • Use correct punctuation to smoothly guide the reader through the paper.
  • Use verb tenses correctly.
  • Write sentences that express complete thoughts.
  • Demonstrate paragraph organization and use smooth transitions.

In addition, each kind of writing has its own conventions. For instance:

  • Narrative writing must have characters, setting, and plot.
  • Descriptive writing must appeal to the senses through use of vivid, colorful, precise vocabulary.
  • Expository writing must inform, clarify, explain, define, or instruct.
  • Persuasive writing must present an argument based on facts and logic, and attempt to sway the reader’s opinion.

Teaching Conventions

As a rule, you probably won’t teach a lesson on “conventions,” per se. There are just too many conventions, so it’s better to deal with them independently. Besides, individual concepts stick better when students can apply them in a practical way.

For example, it’s just natural to introduce character, setting, plot, and conflict when you’re teaching your children to write a narrative. You wouldn’t teach these as isolated elements and not have your kids actually write a narrative; the instruction and application makes sense because they’re including these elements in their story.

Similarly, instead of teaching grammar in isolation, make sure you’re providing an immediate way for students to apply their grammar lessons to a writing assignment. If your grammar program is introducing appositives, for instance, require your child to include an appositive in the history report he’s working on.

Reinforcing Conventions

Diligently reinforce concepts by making sure your children are following conventions in their writing.

As they get older, there should be no more excuse for things like comma splices, incomplete sentences, and homophone confusion.

These are the problems you must nip in the bud now, because they’re the very issues that will identify your students as poor writers later on—both in college and on the job. Therefore, give recurring problems focused attention.

Here on the blog, you’ll find lots of help with grammar and punctuation. Other available resources include The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and All About Homophones, both of which can help you teach and reinforce basic but important grammar and spelling conventions. Check them out!

Photo: Erwin Fisser, courtesy of Creative Commons

5 tips for writing concisely

These tips for writing concisely will help teens express as much as possible without using unnecessary words or details.

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy.

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

~William Strunk, The Elements of Style

Conciseness boils down to this: expressing as much as possible without using unnecessary words or details. Concise writing is brief and precise, but that doesn’t mean it has to be dull and dry. Help your children apply some of these tips for more concise writing.

1. Stay on track

Staying on topic is a surefire way to encourage writing concisely. When your student takes tangents and rabbit trails, he loses his focus and ends up with cumbersome, awkward, or disjointed writing. Help him create an outline before he begins writing so that he’s less likely to wander off the path.

2.  Be precise

The more concrete the word choice, the clearer the writing. Your child can be wordy and say “the shaggy gray dog with the long hair hanging in his eyes,” or he can simply say “the gray sheepdog.”

3. Use plain English

Many students mistakenly think that big words impress. In truth, effective writing uses simple, straightforward language. While a handful of mature, well-placed vocabulary words can raise the level of a story or essay, using too many can make a piece of writing seem verbose, over the top, and just plain hard to read. Unless you’re writing for a scholarly audience, don’t overdo the vocabulary.

4. Avoid super-long sentences

To train children to be concise, attach a word limit or try restricting the number of paragraphs and sentences they can use. This will help them say what they need to say in the space allotted.

When kids are first learning to write descriptively and use a thesaurus, the pendulum can swing wildly from three-word sentences to 20 or 30-word sentences. It’s okay to give them the freedom to play with words; they’ll find their center over time. Just know that you may need to gently correct if their zeal begins creating log jams in their writing.

5.  Don’t be redundant

Redundancy refers to extra words or phrases that should be cut out. Your student’s ability to write concisely will always trump filling a page with unnecessary text.

It’s not uncommon for beginning writers to repeat themselves. But such repetition bogs down the writing and makes the reader work too hard. Here are two ways to eliminate redundancy:

  • Add concrete details, facts, or examples instead of rehashing the same point.
  • Slash unnecessary words and phrases. Remember: when two words will do the trick, why use a dozen? Encourage your student to read each sentence and paragraph to see if he can cut out any words. His point will be clearer, stronger, and easier to identify.

Encourage your kids to try some of these tips for writing concisely. They may be amazed to discover how sharp and crisp their writing can be!

Photo: Pete, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Spring word bank


by Karla Kuskin

I’m shouting
I’m singing
I’m swinging through trees
I’m winging skyhigh
With the buzzing black bees.
I’m the sun
I’m the moon
I’m the dew on the rose.
I’m a rabbit
Whose habit
Is twitching his nose.
I’m lively
I’m lovely
I’m kicking my heels.
I’m crying “Come Dance”
To the fresh water eels.
I’m racing through meadows
Without any coat
I’m a gamboling lamb
I’m a light leaping goat
I’m a bud
I’m a bloom
I’m a dove on the wing.
I’m running on rooftops
And welcoming spring!

From In the Middle of the Trees by Karla Kuskin.
Copyright © 1959, renewed 1986 by Karla Kuskin.

Welcoming Spring

Spring is here, and I’m loving it! Every week brings something new to my garden: The grass is thickening and greening up. Our silver maples, usually waiting till May, are in full leaf—just behind the birch trees, fruitless mulberry, and white alders. Daisies, sweet alyssum, and vivid impatiens dance in pots on my porch and patio. A consortium of snails meets on the front walk every morning. And a good drenching rain each week is keeping everything blooming and blossoming.

A Spring Word Bank

There’s so much to write about in spring. Even if your children have been weakened by a bout of spring fever, a word list filled with fresh, cheerful spring vocabulary will help motivate them to describe the season in all its glory. If you’ve enjoyed our other seasonal word banks, you’ll love this one too!

Seasonal Fun

spring, springtime, season, weather, March, April, May, galoshes, hat, jacket, rain boots, raincoat, slicker, umbrella, baseball, bike, kite, roller skates, sidewalk

Over in the Meadow

creek, gurgle, icy, pond, puddles, seep, splash, stream, trickle; copse, dale, earth, farm, field, furrow, garden, hill, loam, meadow, mud, mulch, ooze, orchard, row, soil, trees, vale, valley, woods; apple blossom, bulb, bud, cherry blossom, crocus, daffodil, daisy, flower, grass, grassy, iris, leaf, leaves, lily, maple, pansy, petals, plants, sap, sapling, seed, seedling, shoot, snowdrop, sweet pea, tulip, twig, violet; chard, lettuce, peas, fence, hoe, spade, watering can, wheelbarrow

Welcoming New Life

babies, baby, born, birth, new life, newborn, animals, birds, nature; downy, feathery, fluffy, gentle, soft, tender; bee, bluebird, bunny, butterfly, calf, caterpillar, chick, duck, duckling, eggs, fawn, finch, flock, foal, frog, hatchling, ladybug, lamb, polliwog, scarlet tanager, slug, snail, robin, tadpole, worm; barn, henhouse, nest

In Like a Lion, out Like a Lamb

airy, blow, breeze, bright, brilliant, brisk, cheerful, chilly, clean, clear, clouds, cool, drip, drizzle, fair, fresh, melt, new, rain, rainbow, showers, sky, sparkling, sunny, sunshine, thaw, verdant, vivid, warm, warming, wind, windy, blue, brown, green, pink, white, yellow

Feelin’ Like Frolicking 

blooming, blossoming, bobbing, budding, building, buzzing, cavorting, chirping, darting, digging, dipping, diving, flapping, flourishing, flying, frolicking, gamboling, gardening, germinating, growing, hatching, hoeing, leafing, leaping, nesting, planting, playing, pruning, romping, running, scampering, singing, spading, sprouting, sugaring, swimming, teeming, tilling, waving, winging

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

. . . . .

Share a comment: What does spring look like outside your window today? Pick 5-10 words from the Spring Word Bank that describe spring at your house, and list them in the Comments section.

You must write it

     “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” 

—Toni Morrison



Image: Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons license   

Key to the grammar quiz

Well, how do you think you fared on yesterday’s grammar quiz? Check your answers below.

1.  Your kidding! The Panthers won the championship?

Since the speaker means “You are kidding,” the sentence should begin with You’re, not Your.

2.  Emily’s dog had a thorn in it’s left paw.

In this sentence, it’s is incorrect. Emily’s dog didn’t have a thorn in “it is” paw, so the word should be possessive: its.

3.  This is their first trip to California.

This sentence uses their correctly.

4.  Our homeschool group went to the zoo, we had a great time.

This sentence has a comma splice, which can be fixed any of the following ways:

  • Our homeschool group went to the zoo. We had a great time.
  • Our homeschool group went to the zoo; we had a great time.
  • Our homeschool group went to the zoo, and we had a great time.

5.  Last night, we went to the Franklin’s for dinner.

Franklin’s is incorrect. Since several Franklins live at this home, the sentence calls for a plural possessive: the Franklins’.

6.  Amazingly, there wasn’t a scratch on its fender.

This sentence uses the possessive its correctly.

7.  My friend Jason is a genius he won a math scholarship.

This is a run-on sentence, which can be fixed either of these ways:

  • My friend Jason is a genius. He won a math scholarship.
  • My friend Jason is a genius; he won a math scholarship.

8.  We took it for granite that Grandpa would always be with us.

This is a common homophone error. The correct word is granted, not granite.

9.  Aunt Lucy visited the museum with my family and me.

This sentence is correct. If you remove my family, the sentence still makes sense (Aunt Lucy visited the museum with me).

10.  I shouldn’t of worn white slacks to the spaghetti dinner.

To make this sentence correct, we need to replace of with have: I shouldn’t have worn white slacks.

Did any of these questions give you trouble? If so, take time to review the rules and practice with some simple exercises. Both All About Homophones and The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation offer help with troubleshooting common errors of spelling, usage, and grammar. Take the time to learn (or re-learn) some of the basics. It will make a difference in your writing.

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