Entries from January 2011 ↓
January 31st, 2011 — Books and Reading
gen · re (ZHON-ruh), n. a classification of literature or writing by subject or theme in which members of a genre share common characteristics.
It’s never too soon to introduce your children to the concept of genre. Even as their writing skills are just beginning to bloom during their early school years, you can help them identify different types of literature through the books they’re reading.
I’ve always been a reader. Even as a child, I remember enjoying books from many different genres. I adored nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and poems. Among my earliest memories are books about nature and science and stories of children from around the world. In third grade, I must have checked out every children’s biography in our school library. And in fourth grade, you could be sure to find my friend Adele and me—at one house or the other—propped up on pillows with our noses buried deep in a Nancy Drew mystery.
Your Child Knows Genres
There are two main types of genre: Literary genre is meant to entertain and nonliterary genre is meant to inform. Your child might not yet recognize the word itself, but she’s more than likely already familiar with many genres, including:
- Nursery Rhymes
- Personal narrative
- Historical fiction
- Fairy tale
- Science Fiction
There is often overlap between genres. A biography, for example, is also nonfiction and informational. And depending on the subject, it can even blur into adventure or humor.
Help your children recognize and explore various genres and practice related writing skills. As they discover each genre’s unique qualities, students can better appreciate and understand what they read—and apply that knowledge to their writing.
7 Ways to Introduce Genre
- Brainstorm books or stories that fit a genre.
- Visit the library and discover how books are categorized.
- Study a particular genre each month. Read books, discuss their common characteristics, and assign one or two related writing projects.
- Send your child on a scavenger hunt through your home or library bookshelves and have her make lists. She can record the different genres she finds, or she can write down book titles within a certain genre, such as historical fiction or mysteries.
- Play “genre bingo.” Give your child a blank bingo grid and have her fill in the squares with different genres. As she reads different books that fit each genre, she can put a sticker on that square. When she gets five in a row, give her a small prize. And when she gets blackout, buy her a new book in her favorite genre!
- Challenge your child to read different genres from your library. You might put a limit of 3 books per genre to encourage her to read outside of her comfort zone.
- Include some math fun! Make a bar graph to mark and measure the number of books your family reads in each genre.
Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
January 21st, 2011 — Essays & Research Papers, Teaching Writing, Writing Across the Curriculum
Writing across the curriculum is a phrase homeschoolers hear more and more. With many students struggling under the weight of their various courses and moms juggling lesson plans and schoolwork for their large families, your response may well be, “That’s nice. But can it simplify my life?”
Two Birds with One Stone
Unfamiliar with the expression “writing across the curriculum”? Simply put, it means using writing assignments as a vehicle to help kids explore other areas of study.
Those who use a writing program “as is” tend to teach writing as a separate subject, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But if you’re teaching many children or you want to streamline your schedule, writing across the curriculum may be ideal for you. Rather than approach writing as a separate discipline, students apply generic writing lessons to subjects like history, literature, or science. Not only does it boost writing ability, it helps them better understand the content and specialized vocabulary of a particular subject.
Writing across the curriculum increases knowledge of the subject matter while helping students develop critical thinking skills. To prepare for the assignment, they must do a bit of reading or research. As they take in the information, brainstorm, and write, they gain greater understanding of the topic.
Second, it makes everyone’s life simpler. Instead of a “writing” assignment here and a history or literature composition there, the two can be easily combined. The result? Less writing for the kids and less grading and lesson planning for Mom.
Students can use writing across the curriculum to write descriptively by examining details of food, costumes, or objects from a culture they’re learning about. They can write about an oriole’s nest for science, a carved African antelope for geography, a coonskin cap for literature, or a Peruvian flute for music.
If you don’t have the object on hand, a vivid photograph can serve as an acceptable substitute. DK Eyewitness Books make excellent choices because of their clear, intricate photos.
Consider a news article. Students can use the five Ws—who, what, when, where, why—to explore an incident they’re studying in another subject. What a great opportunity to learn more about an historical event, an archaeological find, or a scientific discovery and write an article about it.
Other kinds of informative writing, such as biographies, news articles, or short reports, can also dovetail with current areas of study. That’s what writing across the curriculum is all about!
Looking for more ways to write across the curriculum? Look no further than the personal narrative. Your student might choose to become Joan of Arc (history), Albert Einstein (science), the Apostle Paul (Bible), or George Frideric Handel (music).
After reading about an especially exciting event in her subject’s life, the student must personalize the information to write a brief first-person narrative as if she herself were that individual: journaling with a twist!
Alternatively, she can “interview” the famous person and write a third-person narrative. Writing from a different point of view challenges critical thinking skills.
In junior high and high school, you can incorporate essay writing into just about every subject. It’s important for your teen to articulate an argument, write a defendable thesis statement, and support it with facts, logic, and examples.
Essays can describe, define, persuade, or discuss cause and effect. Students can compare and contrast battles, Bible characters, or ideologies. They can write an exposé on the Virginia Company and its dealings with Jamestown, an opinion about whether the earth is round, or a letter to the editor complaining about the conditions in London factories during the Industrial Revolution.
Projects and Activities
Look for projects and activities that involve writing but don’t necessarily result in formal compositions. Here’s one idea: ditch the traditional—and boring—book report (“This book is about…”) and ask your child to make a mobile by cutting shapes from sturdy paper. On the front, have him color pictures of significant characters or scenes from the book, and on the back, write a colorful description or brief character analysis. When finished, he can string each shape with yarn and dangle the papers from a wire hanger. Such an activity can be adapted to all ages.
Your student’s talents and interests can also play a part in creating out-of-the-ordinary projects. Instead of explaining a process the traditional way, one clever student created an unusual instruction manual for a literature assignment based upon The Lord of the Rings: she explained how to make an Elvish sword. Rather than use notebook paper or a computer printout, she copied her final draft onto parchment paper whose edges she had carefully burned. Then she embellished each page, writing runic characters with a calligraphy pen to create a beautiful project worth keeping and treasuring.
- Draw and label a diagram for science to explain photosynthesis, a volcano, or the water cycle. Include a short written explanation of the process.
- Make a scrapbook of a historical period, famous person, or country (Renaissance, Vikings, Australia), or create one featuring art, music, or science. Depending on the nature of the scrapbook, elements could include daily life, journals, maps, timelines, sketches, flags, plant taxonomies, pressed leaves, photos, biographies, summaries, definitions, and news articles.
- Design a brochure about an historic location. Include drawings and brief descriptions about key events, people, and places.
Inside of "Come to California" brochure
Colonial newspaper advertisements
If “writing across the curriculum” has thus far been a mystery to you—one of those terms that everyone tosses around about but never actually defines—hopefully you now feel better equipped to give it a try with one or more of your children’s writing lessons.
Some of you may decide to use each and every writing lesson for the purpose of writing across the curriculum. Others will only apply a couple of assignments in this manner. Regardless, everyone in your family will benefit.
Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
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If you’re a WriteShop I or II user, you’ll be excited to know there’s a Writing Across the Curriculum section in Appendix B to help you tie each WriteShop assignment into other subjects you’re studying. No projects here, but at least you can direct the lesson toward history or science and kill two birds with one stone! WriteShop Primary for your little ones also offers Writing Across the Curriculum ideas with each lesson.
January 19th, 2011 — Bad Signage Humor
Maybe they really meant ”braided shoe.”
Yes, I’m sure that’s what they meant.
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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!
January 14th, 2011 — Resources & Links
Ryan Fontana joins us today as a guest blogger here at In Our Write Minds. Ryan, who blogs for ecollegefinder.org, shares some great app finds for techno-savvy homeschoolers.
In the past, distance education was primarily referred to as homeschooling. With the recent trend of students enrolling in online colleges and universities, the term is now widely used and can have many different interpretations.
While homeschooling for elementary education and telecommuting for an online bachelor’s degree are in stark contrast, the use of technology and applications (apps) are critical to the success of any student planning to engage in distance learning.
The following applications can be found in the Apple iTunes store. While these are paid apps, the fee is small, and the benefit well exceeds the price.
1. Story Builder: By the use of audio clips, children can expect to improve their paragraph formation as well as integration of ideas. A great tool to build a child’s communication skills.
2. Sentence Builder: Three levels of play and 100 distinct pictures allow elementary students to build grammatically correct sentences.
3. Question Builder: With 1,200 audio clip questions and answers, this app helps students to build inference skills by answering abstract questions.
4. Grammar Prep: Directed toward working professionals (AKA the working homeschool teacher). Use these apps to freshen up on your own grammar skills.
5. Flashcards Deluxe: Flashcards have always been a popular tool for reading and writing. This simplifies the process of combining pictures, information and sound together. Stop wasting paper and go green with this app.
6. SpellDown Spelling Bee: A simple way to put together a fun and challenging spelling bee. With the ability to record audio, this app is a great way to add a new element to the traditional test.
7. ABA Problem Solving Game – What Rhymes?: Strengthen your young child’s foundation for reading comprehension by practicing rhyming games that offer both visual and audio exercises. Students are shown four objects and asked which two rhyme.
8. Forvo Pronunciation: Listen and learn pronunciations of words from over 250 languages.
9. Word of the Day: A great way to kick off each lesson. This fun and simple app offers a new word and its meaning every day.
10. ABA Receptive Identification: Boost your child’s conversation skills with this app that helps to receptively identify the feature, function and class of items, people and places.
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Ryan Fontana blogs about the latest topics and trends regarding accredited online colleges and universities. Visit their blog to learn more about Bachelor’s, Master’s, and online PhD programs.
January 13th, 2011 — Publishing Project Ideas, Writing Games & Activities
This is a tale of two moms.
Cheryl’s son has motivational issues, so she likes to help him approach a concept in many different ways. “If one activity doesn’t cement the idea, another will,” she says. She loves when a curriculum appeals to different learning styles by offering activities that appeal to her hands-on, kinesthetic child.
Jennifer looks for books and materials that just teach writing. She doesn’t want pre-writing activities, games, craft projects, or other “bells and whistles.” To Jennifer, these things are busy work. “I just want to teach my kids how to write,” she says. “I’ll play games another time.”
What Is Busy Work?
bu · sy work n. useless tasks or assignments that appear productive, but merely occupy students.
I remember busy work—inane worksheets my teachers passed out as a dubious reward for those of us who followed directions and finished our in-class assignments on time.
We didn’t get to read a book or play a quiet game in the back of the room. No, our promptness and diligence were punished, in essence, with silly coloring pages and fill-in-the-blank worksheets that kept us quiet while everyone else slogged along.
Sadly, Jennifer lumps word games and craft-based publishing ideas with busy work. She thinks they’re unnecessary and time-consuming.
But my own experience with real busy work reminds me that pushing a pencil around a worksheet is worlds apart from using educational games and other creative activities to enhance learning.
Are you, like Jennifer, tempted to think of such activities as busy work? If so, consider their importance in light of the way most young children learn.
Manipulatives and pre-writing activities are vital, engaging learning aids, unlike those tedious workbooks meant to keep children out of your hair for an hour.
Educational methods such as spelling or vocabulary games help a child’s brain remember new concepts. They teach him about important story elements and help him discover fresh new ways to practice writing skills. Such activities especially benefit young—and usually kinesthetic—learners.
Learning games can teach a child skills such as:
- Adding description
- Developing voice
- Planning a mystery
- Adding details to a story
- Expanding writing vocabulary
- Thinking about story elements such as setting and character
- Summarizing a book
Crafty Publishing Projects
One of the most encouraging and rewarding experiences for any author is to see his work published. Most children love publishing their stories through a fun, imaginative activity.
Not only does this enhance the writing experience, but they end up with a really creative final draft they’re eager to share with others.
Your child can publish his writing project in many ways. For example, he can:
- Create a Top Secret File for his mystery story.
- Make a travel poster or paper “suitcase” for his adventure story.
- Present his report on a three-panel display board.
- Make a decorative invitation or thank-you letter.
- Design a lift-the-flap book or trivia game for an informative report.
The Craft Caveat
Like most young children, Cheryl’s son loves to combine writing and art to create his own “published work.” Your child, however, may not like craft projects as much. Or perhaps you’re not a crafty person and would rather bypass the hands-on activities because they’re not your style.
Either way, it’s still important to encourage your child to produce a final draft because it reinforces the concept of editing and revising. So whether your child creates a crafty masterpiece or simply rewrites his final draft on fresh paper in his best penmanship, remember that the final draft is as much a part of the writing process as brainstorming and writing.
The quickest, easiest way to display your child’s story is to affix it to a slightly larger sheet of colored construction paper. The construction paper forms a simple mat that gives the final draft a polished, published look and reminds your student that he did his best.
Writing = Fun!
You want your child to associate writing with fun, and you want his brain to be stimulated in as many ways as possible through tactile and sensory experiences. So if your writing program offers crafty or game-focused writing activities, take the time to make the suggested props, even if it feels like busy work to you. Most children love using them—and they don’t even realize they’re learning!
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WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior use creative, hands-on activities to teach and review elementary-age writing skills.
WriteShop Primary is currently available in three levels: Book A, Book B, and Book C. WriteShop Junior Book D will be published in Spring 2011. 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
January 6th, 2011 — Brainstorming, College Prep, Editing & Revising, High school, Reluctant Writers
Quick! Take this survey:
- Do your students complain about having to edit and revise their compositions and essays?
- Do they hate having to spend several days on the same writing topic (brainstorming, writing a draft, self-editing, and revising)?
- Do they become apathetic and lose steam by the time they get to the final draft?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, I have good news: Your kids are completely normal! But short of dragging them across broken glass or hot coals, how can you teach them to embrace the steps of the process as a natural, expected part of writing?
Writing Is Hard Work
If you’ve not used a formal writing program before, it’s possible that the writing process is new to your children. Regardless, they’re not alone. I wish there were a magic wand I could wave over them to help them like it better, but in truth, writing is hard work, and it takes time and discipline.
Unless they’re making lists, journaling, or emailing a friend, most writing does require planning, drafting, editing, and revising. This would be true whether you use WriteShop, some other writing program, or simply create your own writing assignments.
Typically, students want to write a paper once and be done with it. They don’t want to brainstorm, and they certainly don’t want to rewrite it. But whether or not these steps of the writing process are built into the curriculum (as they are with WriteShop), it’s really important for children to come to terms with the reality that this is how writers—from students to professional authors—write.
A Look at the Writing Process
There are three main parts of the writing process: brainstorming, writing, and editing and revising.
The student who just sits down to write without having first brainstormed will either stare at the page with a blank look, unable to think of anything, or she’ll write in a fairly disorganized fashion, repeat herself, include unnecessary detail, or omit key ideas. Even in timed-writing sessions, students are encouraged to dash out a quick outline to help them focus on what the question is asking and to keep them from drifting off-topic as they write. Simply, brainstorming focuses a writer. It helps her choose details, plan and organize her story or report, stay on track, and avoid tangents.
Writing is done in stages. The first draft serves to get those rough, new ideas onto the paper. By its very design, the first draft is meant to be revised later.
Editing and revising
Whether or not your child agrees, every paper benefits from revision, and editing gives her a chance to make some modifications. Even this blog article was edited and revised many times before I posted it. I don’t just try to catch typos; I also want to make sure my answers are complete and clear, my thoughts are organized, and my tone is professional yet conversational. This self-editing process tends to be subjective for most of us because we feel an emotional attachment to each and every word. That’s exactly why your child needs to turn her work in to you for objective feedback: She needs an outside opinion in order to write a more polished final draft
Helping Your Student “Get It”
OK. You and I agree that the writing process is important. Yet the $20,000 question remains: How do we get our kids on board? Again, there are no magic answers, but I can offer a few ideas:
Show your teen she’s not alone.
Your student may feel as though she’s the only one who has to plan, write, and revise her compositions. Discovering that the writing process is universal may help her back down a bit. For fun, you might ask her to do a Google search for the term “writing process.” I bet she’ll be surprised to find over 21 million results!
Give freedom to a creative child.
It’s natural to expect a negative response from a reluctant, resistant writer. But if a student who normally loves writing fits this profile too, maybe she feels her creativity is being stifled when she is asked to brainstorm or make changes to her text.
First and foremost, give such a student the freedom to write for the sheer joy of writing—plays, stories, poems, whatever she loves! Separate these experiences from her writing lesson by not requiring her to plan or revise these stories. For her, use the writing process to teach skills in the same way that math drills, piano lessons, or other repetitive activities teach, reinforce, and offer practice. Let her write to her heart’s delight in her free time, but also require her to learn discipline through the structure of the writing process.
As a parent, I’m sure all this makes sense to you. The hard part is communicating it to your student. I find that analogies can help explain things so that she can get it too. Here are some past blog articles that deal with the writing process. Several offer different analogies that compare the writing process with things like gardening, cooking, scrapbooking, and spelunking (caving). See if one or two of these analogies spark understanding in your reluctant student.
Point to the future.
Students who choose to go to college quickly discover that the writing process is taught there as well. And as much as they may grumble and complain, it’s to their benefit to plan, draft, and improve each piece of writing.
Among curriculum sites, public schools, universities, and professional writers’ blogs and websites, the writing process is regarded as key to success. To help your teen see how vital these repetitive skills are, even at the college and professional level, here are a couple of outside sources that further explain the purpose and various stages of the writing process.
In the end, there’s no shortcut to bypass the writing process. Planning and revising are as important to a composition or essay’s success as the actual writing. The best way to avoid arguments, head-butting, and apathy is to train your children while they’re young, perhaps using a program like WriteShop Primary (or the upcoming WriteShop Junior). If they grow up with the writing process, they’ll be more likely to accept and value it, even if they never learn to love it.
Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
January 5th, 2011 — Bad Signage Humor
My bad-signage buddy, Mike, sent me a couple of stellar school-hall spelling and grammar alerts.
Oops . . . “inappropiate” spelling on campus!
You’ve heard of the 3 Rs, right? Looks like they could have used one of those Rs in this hall sign.
A cafeteria for loners
This must be one small cafeteria. And one really special teacher. Wonder where the rest of the teachers eat lunch?
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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!
January 3rd, 2011 — Uncategorized
Do you ever wonder if your writing makes a difference?
As I blog about teaching writing, the thought crosses my mind from time to time: Do I offer anything of substance to weary homeschooling moms of reluctant writers? Do my tips and ideas bring encouragement and fresh insight? Am I making a difference at all?
This morning, I learned about Musings of a Housewife Jo-Lynne’s 2010 Blog Recap Carnival and decided to take up the challenge. As I copied and pasted the first line from each post, I came away confident that my words do matter, and In Our Write Minds does have an impact within my little sphere of influence.
So . . . on this first Monday of 2011, let’s recap the first blog post of each month during 2010 (or the second post, if the first one was a contest or promotion). I’m hoping you’ll find a nugget of encouragement along the way.
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.
No matter the curriculum, whether math, penmanship, or writing, picking the best starting level for your child can challenge the most seasoned homeschooler—especially when said child doesn’t exactly fit a grade-specific mold.
Every single day, almost without fail, the poetry lessons draw more folks to this blog than any other article (with the two most frequently accessed posts being Writing a Diamante Poem and Cinquain Poetry).
Concreteness transports us into a story like nothing else.
I love the deliciousness of certain words—the way something as ordinary as chocolate can take on an entire new personality when dressed up with adjectives like warm, rich, thick, gooey, chilled, creamy, or frothy.
“Summertime … and the livin’ is easy.”
The 4th of July is right around the corner, and if you’re looking for some writing activities to occupy your children in preparation for celebrating Independence Day, this jam-packed, colorful, patriotic word list is sure to inspire some great stories.
When assigning writing to your children, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel with a brand-new lesson.
In generaral, I hope his concrete work is better than his spelling.
I hear it all the time: We’re having self-editing issues.
Do your older children have a hard time thinking of what to give a younger sibling for a birthday or Christmas gift?
Your on? Wow. I’m struck dumb every time I see a sign or ad like this.
January 1st, 2011 — Uncategorized
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Happy New Year! May 2011 be the best and brightest for you and yours.