Entries from July 2010 ↓

CHN Family Expo 2010 – Ontario, CA

The CHN Family Expo returns to Ontario, CA August 5-8, 2010. This will be WriteShop’s last homeschool convention of the year—and we hope to see you there!

Families from around the state will be gathering for family fun and homeschooling encouragement at the California Homeschool Network’s annual conference, which will be held at the Ontario Marriott. 

Workshops

If you’re looking for fun, creative ways to boost writing this year, I’ll be presenting a workshop at 9:30 a.m. August 6: Gone Fishing: Tips and Ideas to Motivate Young Writers.

Vendor Booth

On August 6 and 7, visit our vendor booth (#117) to ask questions, see what’s new, or browse through WriteShop books in person. Don’t forget to ask for your FREE gift! You’ll love it!

At the convention you can:

Visit the CHN website for workshop schedule, exhibit hall hours, and directions to the convention. See you there!

Why do writers write?

“Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there.”

—Thomas Berger

100-word stories

Here’s a great idea for your 4th-8th graders: Challenge them to write 100-word stories! Not only will this activity appeal to your more reluctant writers, it helps drive home the importance of writing descriptive, concise sentences.

Directions

  1. Read a few familiar folk tales, fairy tales, or fables together.
  2. Have your children choose one of their favorites and place it in a new setting (in the past, the future, outer space, or a laboratory, for example).
  3. Next, have them add characters such as a robot, scientist, detective, or superhero.
  4. Instruct them to write a story that has exactly 100 words. It must have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  5. Try doing this exercise several times. Then, ask your children to pick one of their stories and turn it into a polished final piece. At this point, feel free to let them use more than 100 words, but only as long as they don’t repeat main words and the extra words are really necessary to the story’s success.

Punctuation deliverys needed

Deliverys? Seriously?

The spelling is bad enough, but could you please deliver some punctuation marks? Just ring bell thanks. Or just ring. Bell thanks. Bell thanks kitchen? I’m so confused.

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Stop by every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

Ode to the reluctant writer

Ode to the Reluctant Writer

I can’t write today because I lost my pencil.
I can’t write today because I feel sick.
I can’t write today because my parakeet died.
I can’t write today because I wrote yesterday.
I can’t write today because my fingers are sore.
I can’t write today because my chair squeaks.
I can’t write today because I can’t think of anything to say.
I can’t write today because I don’t feel like it.
I can’t write today because it’s almost time for lunch.
I can’t write today because I’d rather draw.
I can’t write today because I didn’t have any breakfast.
I can’t write today because I ripped my paper.
I can’t write today because my hands are dirty.
I can’t write today because I can’t spell.
I can’t write today because I can’t see the board.
I can’t write today because it’s too noisy.
I can’t write today because I hate writing.
I can’t write today because somebody will copy me.
I can’t write today because I couldn’t get my locker open.
I can’t write today because I have to go the bathroom.
I can’t write today because the sun is in my eyes.
I can’t write today because there’s no more room on my paper.

Robin Staudt

Do You Have a Reluctant Writer?

As you begin to think ahead toward the start of the new school year, why not take a few minutes to gather some encouragement and helpful tips so that you and your child can set out on a better foot come September. Try some of these articles for starters:

Creative Commons photo courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt.

Making a home for oneself

“One writes to make a home for oneself, on paper, in time and in others’ minds.”

Alfred Kazin

Photo courtesy of Susan Gibson © 2009. Used with permission.

How is a writer like a spelunker?

When you set a sheet of blank paper before your child and tell him to write, you might as well toss him into the absolute blackness of a yawning cavern without rope or flashlight and have him find his way out. Either way, he faces a slew of unknowns, and without the right tools to assist him, he’ll be lost.

Just as a spelunker, or caver, uses specific equipment to help him safely explore a cave, every student needs writing tools to help him feel more confident and successful.

So, how are writers like spelunkers? You’ll be surprised at the similarities!

They Need Clear Boundaries

Unless you’re on a tour, there are no handrails or paved walkways in a cave. A first-time cave explorer facing the unknowns of a dark cavern usually has no idea how to start, which direction to take, or how to get back at the end of the day.

That’s why novice cavers go with an experienced guide who can give direction and establish boundaries. When the boundaries are clear, the caver won’t worry about things like winding up in an endless passageway or falling into an underground stream. He also won’t huddle fearfully against a damp wall, paralyzed by the dark, unknown surroundings. Boundaries provide safety to explore.

Writers need boundaries too. It’s pretty intimidating to most kids to face a blank page and have absolutely no idea what they’re supposed to put on it. Students who lack skills and tools either hover anxiously over the page, unable to write at all, or they write in a disorganized, sidetracked manner.

To help your child feel more confident and secure, establish boundaries using some of these ideas:

  • Define the nature and purpose of the writing assignment, such as describe a food, explain a process, tell a personal story, or compare and contrast two novels.
  • Give specific requirements for length, such as number of words, paragraphs, or pages.
  • Provide topic options with the framework of the assignment. For instance, if the student must describe a food, give her several choices from which to pick, or let her come up with her own. When she’s interested in the subject matter and has a say in the topic, her confidence rises.
  • Give clear instructions so the student knows exactly what’s expected.

They Need Supervision, Structure, and a Plan

To practice caving safety, novice cavers need a leader with experience to oversee the expedition. He has a plan, makes sure everyone follows directions, and is responsible for bringing his group of explorers back on time.

Students also need an overseer—a parent or teacher—to ensure their writing success. Even if you establish boundaries for the assignment, your child can still get lost, delayed, or overwhelmed without direct supervision. 

  • Break the assignment into parts to ward off procrastination, dread, and hyperventilation. Just as a caver wears a head lamp to help light the way, your student needs to know where he’s going with his writing assignment too. Illuminate his path by showing him the steps of the writing process. They include prewriting, brainstorming, writing, editing, and revising.
  • Give a deadline for the finished piece—and stick to it.
  • Create a schedule or plan to promote timeliness. Ask your student to turn in each part of the writing assignment on its proper due date along the bigger timeline.
  • Monitor progress. Supervision and follow-through are key to his success. If you don’t check your child’s work each step of the way, you may impede his progress. He’s waiting for your OK before he moves on to the next part of the assignment; failing to follow up with him only encourages procrastination.

They Need the Right Equipment

Unlike a newbie, a seasoned caver would never dream of entering a cave with nothing but the clothes on his back and a pocket flashlight from the Dollar Tree. He knows that as he meets various obstacles during his adventure, the right equipment will serve him well: proper clothing, a good helmet, a helmet-mounted light, spare batteries and bulbs, food and water, and basic survival supplies.

On the other hand, novice writers think nothing of approaching a cavernous writing assignment equipped with nothing but pen and paper, when in truth, they need a well-stocked chest of writing tools.

It may take some time to fill that toolbox, but eventually they’ll have a wide assortment of proper tools to help them write with confidence and skill.

  • Graphic organizers and brainstorming worksheets for planning and sorting ideas
  • Stylistic tools, such as transition words to connect ideas and paragraphs and sentence variations to add interest to the writing
  • A good thesaurus to help them choose strong, accurate words.
  • Checklists or rubrics that remind them what to look for when proofreading and self-editing.

They Need to Develop Their Skills 

Much of what a person learns about cave exploration comes through . . . cave exploration! He can study caving techniques day and night, but until he enters his first cave and starts scrambling over rocks, traversing ledges, and crawling through narrow passageways, all the book learning in the world won’t make much sense.

Writers also learn by doing. As they discover new techniques and skills and put them into practice, they’ll gain confidence in their ability to write—and they’ll show noticeable improvement. Here are five important skills your writers will need to develop:

  • Teachability. They must be willing to take instruction and receive feedback.
  • Observation. Excellent writing samples and parent or teacher modeling can provide positive examples for students to follow.
  • Concreteness. Students need to avoid dull, vague writing by learning to choose strong, vivid words.
  • Conciseness. They also need to learn the art of using fewer words to make their point.
  • Practice with different kinds of writing. Finally, they need a variety of writing lessons so they can learn to describe, inform, persuade, argue, write poetry, tell stories, etc.

Simple tips and tools like these can set your student on the path toward success. And when you provide your child with boundaries, guidance, writing tools, and useful skills, he’ll be better equipped to conquer that once-terrifying abyss of a blank page.

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Where are they now?

A Success Story

I love hearing from students who have found success in school and life. Recently, I received an announcement in the mail from one of my former WriteShop I students (also a homeschool grad), who graduated summa cum laude from Gordon College.

Along with the announcement, Kaeli included a copy of an essay she had written for a grad school application—an essay limited to just 300 words. The irony of this little requirement didn’t escape either of us, for brevity was never her forte, and was in fact the very fly in her WriteShop ointment.

Back in our WriteShop days, restricting this enthusiastic writer to a single five- to seven-sentence paragraph was practically the same as torture. More than once she pleaded for eight sentences. More than once she made a passionate case for those extra adjectives. Much to her dismay, I always stood my ground.

Not that it’s a crime to write a ten-sentence paragraph or use a string of four perfect adjectives. Rather, it was all about a skill we were trying to develop in our young writers: conciseness.

Teaching conciseness is a foreign concept for many of you—you’re just happy to see a complete sentence materialize on your child’s paper! But we discovered that the same limits on paragraph length allowed parents to teach one simple WriteShop lesson to both struggling and eager writers.

The result? The reluctant child sees a doable goal (“I only have to write five sentences”), and the enthusiastic student learns to hone her writing and avoid rabbit trails and unnecessary verbiage.

Kaeli fit the latter profile. Bursting with ideas, she wanted to say it all. But her year in WriteShop taught her instead how to say it best.

Where Are They Now?

It was good to hear from Kaeli. From time to time I think of my former students and wonder, “Where are they now?” Deb and I haven’t taught a class in several years, but it’s really rewarding to see how successful many of these homeschoolers have become:

  • Pastors and missionaries
  • Military men and women
  • College graduates in a wide variety of majors including journalism, English, sociology, criminal justice, Middle Eastern studies, photography, communications, art, music, and theater
  • MA and PhD candidates in English, economics, political science, philosophy, psychology, and theology

In most cases, it’s been eight or more years since I’ve edited their fledgling writing attempts. But I’ve also read some of their recent writing. And what I see now reflects what I saw in my own son as the post-WriteShop years passed: maturity, knowledge, wisdom, growth. They express themselves in different ways, but they have all moved well beyond those WriteShop days.

Laying a Foundation

Some of you are just beginning your journey. You can’t even begin to imagine that one day your child will write an articulate, coherent thought. Others of you have taught WriteShop to several children who are now young adults succeeding in college and the workplace.

We “veterans” have learned that WriteShop served as a launching place, a training ground for instilling the basics of writing, including concreteness, conciseness, clarity, and sentence variety—skills that many incoming college freshmen lack.

Take heart. You’re teaching your children that writing is more than random thoughts tossed onto paper. You’re helping them learn to use important tools that lay a foundation for future writing—writing that will take shape and mature as their knowledge, life experiences, vocabulary, and thinking skills develop.

My girls were intuitive writers, easy to guide and easy to teach. But I didn’t have much faith that my reluctant 12-year-old son (the WriteShop guinea pig) would be able to write. Our journey was hard, and we experienced more than our share of frustration. But diligence paid off. He’s now a 25-year-old PhD candidate whose writing has actually become his work.

Your child may not become a scholar . . . and that’s okay. But good writing skills will take him far in the workplace and in life. So stay the course, and be encouraged that a great deal can—and will—happen between now and adulthood.

I’ll have the nuchos, please

I’ll have the nuchos, please.

On second thought, make that brusheta.

Oh, never mind. Just give me the chicken fingers and some french fried.

Photo courtesy of SpecialKRB/Karen.

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Stop by every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Wednesday for a peek into the world of spelling, punctuation, or grammar gone wrong!

From the mouths of babes: Pre-literacy writing

Alexis Bonari is joining me today as a guest blogger here at In Our Write Minds. I know you’ll enjoy trying this activity with your pre-writers.

On the path to inspiring our children to love reading and writing, we often overlook the fact that there was a time when stories were generated as oral traditions.

Stories were created and then passed down through the generations without the use of written language. Our modern writing and story-telling techniques were inspired by these traditions.

Even before our children are of an age to read or write, they have stories to tell. They often regale us with tales of how their day was spent, or will imagine elaborate adventures starring their favorite fictional character or stuffed animal.

Tap into that creative energy and follow these simple steps to help them develop their own fictional work.

What you’ll need

  • An audio recorder
  • A variety of art materials: construction paper, glue, markers, magazines with pictures and scissors to cut them out, etc.

Steps to creating a masterpiece

1. Brainstorm.

Tell them that you’re going to help them author their own book. Then, help them brainstorm ideas for a story. Write the ideas down on a piece of paper. Help them develop a rudimentary outline. Don’t direct too much. Let them develop their own concept.

2. Write the book.

Get out the recorder and record them telling their new story. Play it back once and let them make any changes they want. Then, get out the construction paper, separate the story into sections, and copy it onto the paper. (Discuss ahead of time what type of pictures they might want for each section so you can organize the book as you go. If they want to add more pictures or change things up, go with it.)

3. Decorate and design!

Help them use the art supplies to draw/paste pictures into the book. Design a cover or chapters if you want. Pretty much anything goes.

If you encourage your children to develop their story-telling skills early, writing will come easily to them. Writing is really about conveying information in a clear manner. Learning this process can be a fun experience for everyone!

Alexis Bonari is a freelance writer and blog junkie. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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