Entries from October 2010 ↓

High school writing: How to help your homeschool teen

I’VE BEEN GIVING YOU an overview of the basic writing stages and writing needs of children at various grade levels. Today I’m wrapping up the series with a look at high school.

Writing is the most important academic skill students need to develop in their secondary education.

Why? Because it’s “the most visible expression not only of what [they] know but also of how well they have learned it” (Carl Nagin, Because Writing Matters).

Use these important high school years to teach, train, guide, and direct. Provide opportunities for your child to work more independently, letting the rope out bit by bit so she has a chance to prove herself. Your goal is to produce a strong, independent writer who’s equipped and confident to enter college or the workplace.

Where Should You Focus?

Secondary students need to:

  • Write clearly, concisely, and correctly for both academic and personal purposes.
  • Develop research skills.
  • Vary sentence structure beyond the subject-verb sentence.
  • Use correct conventions (spelling, grammar and usage). Incorrect or sloppy grammar distracts the audience from the content, so continue working on grammar and punctuation throughout these secondary years until you know their skills are solid.

There are no shortcuts to improving student writing achievement in your home. Teens need:

  • Skill development that builds incrementally.
  • Short, relevant, high-interest assignments.
  • Tools to help them refine word choice and sentence fluency.
  • An involved parent!

How Much and How Often?

  • Have your high schooler write regularly—4-5 days a week—for a variety of subjects.
  • 2-3 short writing projects per month makes a good goal. Your child should take these compositions completely through the stages of the writing process, from brainstorming to final copy.
  • In addition, assign 1-2 longer research papers, each of which can be spread out over an entire quarter. These can range from 4-15 pages, depending on age and skill level. Requirements for a 9th grader should not be as stringent as those for a senior.
  • Tuck in shorter essays, journal writing, book summaries, or responses to current events along the way—assignments that only take a day or so and that don’t require much in terms of editing or revising.
  • To prepare your student for college entrance exams and other timed writing situations, make sure to assign timed essays at least every other week.
  • Keeping in mind her maturity and attention span, spend about 1 hour per day on writing.

Promote Independence but Remain Involved

When our children become teens, it’s easy to think: “They’re getting older. I’ll back off and let them take responsibility.” There will come a time to step back. But that time comes when your child has proven herself trustworthy and reliable.

Even with such a dependable child, you’ll still need to monitor her work. As part of your involvement:

You need to help your teen develop self-discipline and independence, but you also need to hold her accountable. In doing so, you’re preparing her for the demands of college-level writing.

Catch the Whole Series

Helping your K-2nd grader with writing
Helping your 3rd-5th grader with writing
Helping your 5th-8th grader with writing

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

WriteShop I and II are great programs for teaching and reinforcing the steps of the writing process to your junior high and high schoolers. 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Perfect time to write

“There is no perfect time to write. There’s only now.”

-Barbara Kingsolver

Hopscotch: Practice adding story details

Who says teaching writing skills to children has to be dull and rote? In truth, much learning happens when you infuse writing time with creativity, fun, and games!

You can help your child practice adding details to the middle of a story by playing a variation of hopscotch together. While a great activity for any child, it’s especially effective for active, kinesthetic learners.

Advance Prep

  1. Draw a hopscotch grid on the sidewalk or patio, making each square big enough for your child’s foot (about 12″). Indoors, try marking off a grid on the floor using painters’ tape.
  2. Explain to your child that the first square represents the beginning of the story, the four middle squares represent the middle of the story, and the last square represents the end of the story. (The two sets of side-by-side squares separate the middle of the story from the beginning and the end.)


1. Beginning: Have your child stand on the first hopscotch square, holding three beanbags or other markers in his hands. For the beginning of the story, tell him a story prompt that includes a problem the character faces. You may create your own story prompt, use StoryBuilders writing prompt cards, or choose some of these:

  • Chloe was playing tennis on her Wii when suddenly, the tennis ball flew out of the screen and into her room.
  • Michael got a toy remote control spy plane for his birthday, but when he flew it, he discovered it was really spying on him.
  • Ethan’s pillow told him exciting bedtime stories. Every night the stories got longer and longer until Ethan couldn’t get any sleep.
  • Carrie invented a pencil that had a calculator inside so that it did the math when she wrote down the problem. One day, however, it started to answer everything wrong.
  • Bella’s uncle invented a board game with pieces that could move by themselves. Bella would tell the pieces where to move and they would obey her voice. But one day, the pieces told Bella to be quiet! 
  • Hunter bought a robot that cleaned his room. But last week, the robot forgot how to do the chores.
  • The dentist gave Abby a new Talk-a-Lot Toothbrush that told her how to brush her teeth better, but one day the toothbrush said it didn’t like toothpaste.
  • Sam discovered a new snack called Hunger Munchers. One small bite satisfied his hunger for hours. But after a few days, Hunger Munchers stopped working. In fact, with each bite, Sam grew hungrier and hungrier until he couldn’t stop eating!

2.  Middle: Ask your child to think of one detail to add to the middle of his story. This detail should include how the main character would respond to the problem stated in the story prompt.

  • When your child thinks of the detail and states it aloud, invite him to toss a marker and try to make it land (and stay) on one of the middle four squares of the hopscotch boxes.
  • If the marker doesn’t land on one of the middle four squares, retrieve it and hand it to him to toss it again until it does.
  • Ask your child to think of two more details to add to the middle of his story. For each detail, have him toss another marker on one of the four middle squares of the hopscotch boxes. (More than one marker can be on one square.)

When all three markers are on the hopscotch boxes, direct your child to hop down to the other end, skipping over the squares that have a marker.

3. End: Have your child stop at the other end and stand in that square. Ask him to think of a possible ending to the story. After he has stated a possible ending, instruct him to hop back to the beginning, this time stopping to pick up all three markers.

Keeping Score

If your child enjoys keeping score, he may score a point for each of the following:

  • Hopping from start to finish without stepping on a line
  • Hopping from start to finish without stepping outside the boxes
  • Hopping with only one foot in each square (except the first and last squares)
  • Hopping from start to finish without falling over

Repeat the activity as many times as your child is interested, using a story prompt each time and practicing adding three details to the middle of the story.

. . . . .

Created by author Nancy I. Sanders, this hopscotch game is just one of the many fun and creative activities WriteShop Junior uses to teach and review writing skills at the elementary level. This game appears in Book D.

Photo: D Sharon Pruitt. Used with permission.

Frustrations of teaching writing

Your kid is a mess, and you feel like a failure. Learn tips to overcome the frustrations of teaching writing.

You’re in good company if you think teaching writing is downright painful. Many homeschooling moms feel completely inadequate and unequipped for the task. As a matter of fact, if I were to take a poll, most of you would probably say you’d rather have a root canal.

Frustrations of Teaching Writing

Sometime we dream about how nice it would be just to plunk a workbook down in front of our kids and watch clear, engaging, organized stories and essays take shape before our very eyes. But in reality, writing needs to be taught.

Yes, a handful of us have children who will figure it out all on their own, but most children need modeling, teaching, and feedback in order to learn and improve as writers.

Beyond your own self-doubt, you may be struggling to help your kids overcome issues like writer’s block, lazinessperfectionism, or other hurdles that prevent progress. Typically, students want to scribble out a paper and call it done. Then they want you to rave over it! But at the first sign of a suggestion from you, watch out—here comes the meltdown!

This creates tremendous frustration for the parent because you can’t seem to figure out how to make this whole writing thing work. Your kid is a mess, and you feel like a failure.

Isolate the Source

Kid Issues

Mom Issues 

  • Do you feel overwhelmed?
  • Are you trying to teach many children at different levels?
  • Are you disorganized and flying by the seat of your pants?
  • Are you unpredictable in your editing and grading?

Alone or in combination, these factors can contribute to incredible stress, irritation, and discouragement.

Make Simple Changes

You can take small steps toward reducing the level of frustration in your home. These ideas work wonders with all types of learners:

  1. Keep writing assignments short and specific.
  2. Use brainstorming worksheets and graphic organizers to help your child think his ideas through before he begins to write.
  3. Break the assignment into bite-sized chunks, giving mini deadlines along the way.
  4. Choose writing materials that are flexible enough to use with several children at once.
  5. Have a plan: Know what you want to teach and when, and then schedule writing into your week.
  6. Use objective, lesson-specific editing and grading tools to help you evaluate your children’s writing fairly.

Small successes will begin to usher frustration right out the door, leaving encouragement and accomplishment in its wake!

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Photo: Rennett Stowe, courtesy of Creative Commons.

What’s your favorite part of writing?

A couple of weeks ago, I posed a question at the WriteShop Facebook page: What is YOUR favorite part of the writing process—brainstorming for ideas, writing the rough draft, or self-editing and revising? The responses were pretty evenly divided.

  • Rough draft….I get to be sloppy!!!!!
  • Rough draft – definitely
  • A completely finished final draft!
  • My favorite part is self-editing and revising.
  • Brainstorming
  • I like the editing and revising part, the polishing and refining. I have such a hard time with the idea of a “completely finished” final draft…. I have to work on that perfectionism and being able to say “This is good, and ‘good’ is good enough.”
  • I love the creativity and freedom of the rough draft.
  • Definitely the brainstorming and research! I could do it for weeks!


Brainstorming is a lot like spilling out a box of puzzle pieces, finding the edges, and hunting for a few particular colors and shapes. All the parts are there, and you’re working on the framework and key elements, but the main picture is still a big blank.

Those who favor the brainstorming stage love watching an idea begin to emerge. They find joy in the initial bursts of inspiration and creativity, knowing they can sort and organize later.

During brainstorming, you toss out ideas—all kinds of ideas! Some will end up sticking while others will fall by the wayside. Ample brainstorming helps reduce writer’s block by giving you something to say when it’s time to write.

Rough Draft

Writing a rough draft reminds me of shaping a vessel out of clay. You have a sense of what you want to make, and now you’re going to jump in and start creating.

The rough draft is the favorite of those who enjoy watching their story or essay begin to unfold. They love getting started. They love the imperfection. They love playing with ideas and watching them take shape. And they love knowing their best work is yet to come!

This is the time to begin herding those random brainstorming ideas into formation. I like to call the first draft a “sloppy copy” because it gives the writer permission not to be perfect the first time.

Karen emailed me to share how this revolutionized their homeschool writing:

My son hates writing assignments … because he puts so much pressure on himself to be perfect. The phrase “sloppy copy” instead of “first draft” is the breakthrough we’ve been needing. In his mind the assignment is now to make a sloppy copy; therefore he HAS to include errors or he would not be fulfilling the assignment.

Self-Editing and Revising

Once the ideas have begun to form on paper, the tweaking begins. The writer replaces dull or repeated words and ideas, reduces clutter, cuts off rabbit trails, and focuses on polishing the writing.

Like a stream, writing is a fluid entity. Replacing a word, altering a phrase, moving a sentence—these are like adding rocks or removing log jams to redirect the flow of the stream. With even the simplest, most subtle movement, a writer has the ability to alter the direction of the composition. It’s a powerful, beautiful thing.

Editing and revising happen to be my favorite part of the writing process. I just love watching my early ideas find their groove!

What’s your favorite part of writing?

Polish and polish some more

          “I have come to accept the fact that I will never be done learning, and that committing to the time it takes to make things right is part of being a good writer. I want to be a great writer – that means making the effort to polish and polish some more.”

–Jan Cline

Helping your 5th-8th grader with writing

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve looked at basic writing stages of K-2nd graders and 3rd-5th graders.

The middle school years—typically 5th-8th grade—are the time to reinforce and build on previously-learned writing concepts. Motivated or advanced children will be able to take their current writing skills to a new level, while reluctant or resistant children, or those who lack fundamental writing skills, may need to go back to basics.

Use these middle-school years to make sure the foundation is strong. This is the time to work on:

  • Writing complete and more complex sentences.
  • Writing a well-developed paragraph.
  • Improving grammar, punctuation, and capitalization.

How Much and How Often?

Provide your middle schoolers with a steady diet of writing activities. 

  • Have them write 3-4 days a week.
  • Aim for 8-15 writing projects per year (1-2 each month), meaning paragraphs and short reports that go through all the paces of the writing process.
  • Tuck in other writing activities along the way—such as book reports, journal writing, and current events—that don’t require revisions.
  • Spend no more than 45-60 minutes per writing day. Consider both the assignment itself as well as your child’s age and attention span.
  • Students should primarily write 1- to 5-paragraph compositions and occasionally 1- to 2-page reports.

Become a Purposefully Involved Parent

During middle school, students should begin taking more responsibility for their own learning. At the same time, parents need to be purposefully and consistently involved. Though it’s tempting to let your child work independently, this isn’t the time to jump ship and abdicate your role as primary teacher. This means:

  • Overseeing and supervising daily writing.
  • Setting a pace for assignment completion so your child stays on task.
  • Reading and commenting on each writing assignment to show that you’re interested and that you care.
  • Promptly editing and returning work to keep your child from falling behind.

Also see Helping Your Highschooler with Writing

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

 .  .  .  .  .

In Spring 2011, WriteShop will introduce WriteShop Junior Book D, the first in a series of writing curricula for middle and upper elementary ages. To be among the first to get the scoop about the book’s release, join our mailing list by visiting www.writeshop.com and looking for the newsletter sign-up box.

Children in grades 6-8 can also begin using WriteShop I, a great program for teaching and reinforcing the steps of the writing process. Parent supervision is a key element of the program as you learn to equip and inspire successful writers.

Sentence-building game

Does writing time produce a chorus of moans and groans from your children? Then now’s the perfect time to mix it up with a prewriting game!

Prewriting exercises provide great writing warm-up opportunities for children (and adults) of all ages. They can inspire ideas, spark creativity, and stimulate vocabulary.

Here’s a fun sentence-building game that also reinforces parts of speech. All you need are paper, colored pencils, and a pencil or pen.

It moves.

Have players write “It moves” on a sheet of paper, placing a period at the end.

Say: Change the pronoun to a concrete noun (add an article if necessary). Underline the concrete noun in red. (“The horse moves.”)

Say: Change the verb to past tense. Underline the new verb form in green. (“The horse moved.”)

Say: Add an “-ly” adverb that tells “how ” Circle the adverb in yellow. (“The horse moved gracefully.)

Say: Add an adjective. Circle the adjective in pink. (“The agile horse moved gracefully.”)

Say: Start the sentence with a preposition that tells “where.” Underline the preposition in orange. (“Over the hurdle, the agile horse moved gracefully.”)

Say: Add another adjective. Circle the adjective in pink. (“Over the low hurdle, the agile horse moved gracefully.”)

Say: Make all your nouns more concrete. Circle concrete nouns in blue. (“Over the low fence, the agile Lipizzaner moved gracefully.”)

Say: Make the verb more concrete. Underline the verb in purple. (“Over the low fence, the agile Lipizzaner jumped gracefully.”)

Say: Use the thesaurus to find a concrete word for a vague word. Circle your new concrete word in yellow. (“Over the low fence, the agile Lipizzaner vaulted gracefully.”)

Say: Change your sentence structure to begin with a participle (add necessary words/phrases so it makes sense.) Circle the participle in brown. (“Vaulting gracefully over the low fence, the agile Lipizzaner took the lead.”)

Keeping It Simple

With younger children, keep instructions simpler. Here’s an example Julie shared with me. Her family had a lot of fun with this!

Decided to use one of your “games” this morning as we got started with school. (I had to stop my husband from playing so the kids would have a turn!) We used “It moved.” Here’s what we ended up with:

It moved.
The caterpillar moved.
The caterpillar danced.
The tiny caterpillar danced.

The tiny purple caterpillar danced.
The tiny purple caterpillar danced in Chicago.
The tiny purple caterpillar disco danced in Chicago!

Ready to try this fun activity with your children today? I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at their renewed interest in writing!

. . . . .

The Sentence-Building Game is one of the many pre-writing exercises found in WriteShop I and II. Take a look at WriteShop I for your 6th – 10th grader. You’ll love the writing games and brainstorming worksheets that equip and inspire successful writers! 

Bad spelling since 1981

This sign is truly a “diamon” in the rough—rough spelling, that is.

If it’s any indication of Continental Jewelry’s attention to detail, I wonder what they’ve done with my name (which—according to the marquee—is on one of those 439 “diamons”).


And just think! Thers one with your name on it too!

Photo courtesy of J. Grant. Used with permission.

. . . . .

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

Helping your 3rd-5th grader with writing

Middle to upper elementary children express a really wide range of writing abilities.

Some children still struggle to hold a pencil or write words.

Some have strong verbal skills yet remain weak in writing. They can spin a great story and tell it orally, yet they’re not yet able to write independently.

Others are beginning to emerge as writers, still depending on you a great deal (as much or more than ever, it may seem). These children need to dictate ideas and sentences during both brainstorming and writing, though they’re also able to contribute more and more to the actual writing itself.

Finally, there are those who are progressing well through the stages of writing and now work fairly independently.

Encourage the Writing Process

Continue to encourage the writing process so it becomes natural. This starts by helping your child view writing as a multistage process:

  • We plan.
  • We write.
  • We make changes.
  • We write our final draft.

Ultimately, our kids begin to understand that the paper is the product and writing is the process.

How Much and How Often?

For children in grades 3-5, the focus remains on improving sentence structure and writing a solid paragraph.

  • On average, they should spend about 30-40 minutes per day on writing, depending on both age and attention span.
  • In my experience, 8-10 quality writing projects per year is plenty of writing (meaning the piece will be taken through each step of the writing process). That’s roughly one complete writing project a month. Meanwhile, lesser assignments such as book narrations, journaling, and so forth can fill in gaps.
  • A good target is 1- to 3-paragraph stories or short reports. Take care not to rush your child into longer assignments too soon. A concise, concrete, short piece beats a long, rambling, disjointed, dull, repetitive, tedious essay any day—no matter what age the child!

Remain an Involved Parent

These are bridge years, when most students go from largely parent-supported writing pieces to more independent writing. The biggest key to success with this is lots of practice. Fostering independence doesn’t mean you give an assignment and disappear! Even if it seems counterintuitive, continue working closely with your middle and older elementary children. Your 3-5th graders need you to:

  • Model and teach.
  • Oversee their work.
  • Participate with them as needed.
  • Praise their efforts.
  • Give helpful feedback.

Make Writing Fun

Start writing now! If you wait till junior high to begin teaching writing, by then it’s time to get down to brass tacks, and your children may have missed the delight of writing during their elementary years, when they learn that writing is something to enjoy and anticipate.

So most of all, for any elementary child in grades K-5, the writing experience should be fun! Motivation, excitement, and a positive learning environment all help children build confidence in their writing skills as they acquire the ability to write.

Helping your K-2nd grader with writing
Helping your 5th-8th grader with writing
Helping your high schooler with writing

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

 .  .  .  .  .

In Spring 2011, WriteShop will introduce WriteShop Junior Book D, the first in a series of writing curricula for middle and upper elementary ages. Children have so much fun playing writing games, learning to use exciting writing tools, and writing appealing stories such as adventures and mysteries that they hardly realize they’re learning!

We’ll continue posting details and info here at the blog, but if you’d like to be among the first to get the scoop about the book’s release—or even preorder, join our mailing list by visiting www.writeshop.com and looking for the newsletter sign-up box.

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