Entries from April 2011 ↓

Grammar is so overrated . . .

Talk Shows On Mute

Listen, we’re going to let you guys in on a little secret: You can really put your commas anywhere. Grammar’s all a big sham.

Intrigued? So was I!

My friend Mary Jo Tate pointed me in the direction of this amusing look at the evolution (and deterioration) of grammar and punctuation. Enjoy the chuckle!

Grammar’s Dirty Little Secret

Sping is here!

This bunny just doesn’t seem to have that sping in his step anymore. I think he needs to buy an “R.”

. . . . .

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

Photo used by permission of Jen at CakeWrecks

PowerPoint for kids: Great tool for reluctant writers

Introduce reluctant writers to PowerPoint! For kids, making a PowerPoint presentation is a cool way to merge knowledge, writing, and technology.

Some time ago, in preparation for my first webinar, I discovered the joy of making PowerPoint presentations. Call me weird, but I found that I love combining writing with techno-creativity—choosing a template, organizing my ideas into neat bullet points, and adding just the right clipart or photo to each page.

PowerPoint for Kids Who Hate to Write

It may not sound like your idea of fun, but if you have a reluctant writer, I can fairly guarantee that he’d rather make a PowerPoint presentation than write a report by hand. As a matter of fact, allowing your child to display his understanding of a subject in a fresh new way can spark tremendous enthusiasm and eagerness. Creating a PowerPoint presentation appeals to children on so many levels:

  • Perfect for both visual and kinesthetic learners.
  • Appeals to children who are artistic and creative.
  • Appeals to children who love technology.
  • Offers a break from more traditional schoolwork.
  • Teaches important computer and keyboarding skills.
  • Encourages research.

Making It Practical

Children can use a Microsoft® PowerPoint slide show to explain a scientific concept such as photosynthesis, volcanoes, or the water cycle. They can create reports about penguins, submarines, ancient Greece, ballet, or Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Adding photos, clipart, and tidbits of information in bullet-point form, they’re absorbing and applying knowledge. It’s fun, creative, novel, and interesting, making the PowerPoint a great way to mix up traditional report writing with technology. With a few months of the school year still remaining, perhaps the time is right to try something new. Why not introduce your children to PowerPoint?

For some basic tutorials on PowerPoint for kids, start here:

Image: Nicola, courtesy of Creative Commons

WriteShop Junior book covers: Everything’s a process!

The children who are beta testing the upcoming WriteShop Junior series have been learning about the writing process:

  • Brainstorming
  • Rough draft
  • Editing and revising
  • Final draft

They’ve enjoyed watching our book covers go through this process too, and it’s helped them realize that everything worth doing takes time.

So let’s follow our talented artist, Deborah Thomson, as she designs a book cover for us!

Brainstorming

At the initial concept stage, we toss around ideas and settle on a “woodland animals” theme. Deborah throws together some sketches.

The characters are cute! But they’re also a little young for our target age. So we talk about tweaking the drawings so that they’re more suitable for older elementary ages.

Mixed Reviews

The reviews are mixed. Some of our test families love the sketches, others think they’re still too young-looking. We talk with Deborah about creating characters that reflect some of the genres we’re teaching, and she goes back to the drawing board.

Rough Draft

The excitement is starting to build! The animals have taken on an older look. There’s detective rabbit for our mystery theme. And a mad-scientist goose for our science fiction theme. We’re ready for more feedback, so we run these by the families who are beta testing WriteShop Junior.

The verdict? We’re getting warmer! It’s time for a concept cover!

Editing and Revising

Final Draft

Bingo! We have a winner! We give Deborah the go-ahead and she creates the full-color final cover for WriteShop Junior Book F (the third book in our series).

And here’s a peek at the cover for Book D.

And Book E!

I’m wild about our new book covers! Aren’t you?

We would love to publish the first book, WriteShop Junior Book D, within the next couple of months. Praying every detail falls into place!

The “Looks Like” Game


Sultry spring breezes drifted through the open windows, swaying the blinds, teasing our noses with the perfume of honeysuckle and wild roses. It was hard to maintain concentration on American constitutional history. Competing for attention, the open textbooks on our desks lost to the wide-open world outside.

“Hey, Mrs. Wagner! Can we go outdoors and play the “Looks Like” game?” one student pleaded. He was joined by a chorus of “Please?”

“Sounds good to me!” I don’t know of any human being immune to the southern springtime scent of honeysuckle and wild roses.

Playing the “Looks Like” Game

The “Looks Like” game was a favorite metaphor exercise. Kids played the game everywhere: on the bus, in the classroom, and always outdoors. A quick method of jumping into creative images, it freed imaginations even within my most self-proclaimed “unimaginative’ kids.

We grabbed notebooks and pens, scattering into small groups.

Clouds drifted, veiling the sun, then rolled on again. “The sun looks like a puppy wrestling with the laundry,” a child wrote.

Leaves rustled against an azure sky. Another student jotted, “The trees look like feather dusters, cleaning the clouds.”

Dogwood petals and honey locust blossoms scattered across the fields. “The blossoms look like sprinkled soap powder,” penned a young lady.

Back inside our classroom, the kids’ metaphors birthed the images of a new group poem:

Spring Cleaning

The sun hides in a basket of clouds,
                 a puppy playing in the laundry.
Trees dust the sky,
                sprinkling soap powder blossoms
                over the earth’s green carpet.

As the kids demonstrated that day, we naturally see things metaphorically. We constantly compare the way one thing looks to another. Comparison is custom-built into our language. Writing a poem can be as simple as bringing images together through metaphor and simile.

Today with your children, grab pen and paper and play the “Looks Like” game.

What do you see around you? Focus on details and write down:

  • I see __________
  • It looks like __________
  • I see __________
  • It looks like __________

Keep going!

What shared poem will you and your kids write together today to mark a wonderful day of living? Post your poems here in our comment section!

You might also enjoy:

. . . . .

Janet Wagner is a contributor to In Our Write Minds. For over two decades, Janet was an elementary and middle school teacher in two Christian academies, a public district school, and a public charter school. She also had the honor of helping to homeschool her two nieces. Janet and her husband Dean live on the family farm in the Piedmont region of north central North Carolina. Currently, she enjoys a flexible life of homemaking, volunteering, reading, writing, tutoring students and training dogs, and learning how to build websites. You can view her web work-in-progress at www.creative-writing-ideas-and-activities.com.

Brainstorming: It’s like traveling with a plan

The brainstorming process gives direction and focus to writing. It's like planning and mapping out a trip before hitting the road.

Making the Most of a Road Trip

I recently overheard someone claim that teaching students to brainstorm is a futile exercise. “In the real world, no one actually brainstorms,” she said. “We just write.”

This statement surprised me, for it reminded me of taking a trip with little more than a vague notion of a plan (“I want to see the USA”). You can set off on your trek, but without a map, timetable, or sightseeing strategy, you’ll end up rabbit-trailing your way to your journey’s end.

While this may be fine for a bohemian, it can frustrate the traveler who really wants to visit a particular landmark but can’t find the turnoff; annoy her for missing some must-see points of interest because she lingered too long in a mediocre little town; and aggravate her when she finds herself going in circles. Worse, she could end up seeing nothing at all because she has absolutely no idea which way to go.

It’s fun to be spontaneous, but to get the most from a road trip, there’s nothing like an itinerary.

The Value of Brainstorming 

Like a free-spirited traveler, a writer may have a general idea of where he wants to go. He may even know a point or two he wants to make along the way. But without a sense of direction, he too will miss important details, spend unnecessary time on a trivial side note, or spin his wheels in one rut or another.

One of the most valuable pre-writing tools for launching the writing process and avoiding other pitfalls is brainstorming.

Students often struggle with knowing how to move from a general topic to a written essay because that paralyzing blank page stands in the way. Brainstorming is a problem-solving process that helps you:

  • Think freely and openly about your topic.
  • Put pen to paper as you write whatever ideas come to mind.
  • Explore possibilities and connections between ideas.
  • Let new ideas form and shape old ones.
  • Start to bring order and organization to your scattered thoughts.

Most importantly, brainstorming has no wrong answers. It allows you to think through your topic without fear of criticism or perfection.

3 Steps of the Brainstorming Process

  • FREE-LISTING: Free-listing helps you develop an initial page of ideas about the topic by writing absolutely anything—key words, phrases, examples, main points, subpoints, details, illustrations—that come to mind to jog your thoughts about your subject. Free-listing uses the heuristic inquiry, more commonly known as the 5 Ws (and an H)—who, what, when, where, why, how. Once this primary list is “complete,” note which of your ideas would qualify as main points or categories and which would be better suited as supporting details or examples.
  • MIND-MAPPING: Next, filter your free-listing ideas through a semantic mind-map. A semantic mind-map is used to represent ideas, words, or thoughts that are connected to and organized around a central key word or concept. Mind-maps are designed to help create, visualize, classify, and structure ideas.
  • RE-LISTING: Finally, organize your ideas according to the groups or clusters created by the semantic mind-map. Identify the central idea (main point) of the various clusters and list supporting details beneath and prioritize these clusters/main points into a logical order. Re-listing results in a rudimentary outline of your initial thoughts and ideas.

These three steps of the brainstorming process remind me of a coin-sorting machine.

You start off with a jumbled, disorganized pile of coins (ideas). Nickels, dimes, quarters, pennies—there’s no rhyme or reason to their scattered placement on the kitchen table. This is your initial attempt at free-listing.

To start putting the coins in their appropriate place, you gather them up and put them into a coin-sorting machine (semantic mind-map). The machine divides the coins (ideas) by kind, just like the bubbles of a mind-map divide your ideas by category.

Finally, watch as your coins come out of the sorting machine in rows of quarters, dimes, and nickels neatly arranged (re-list). In this way, putting your ideas through a mind-map will help you rearrange them into newly organized lists that set the priorities for your paper.

Taking the Trip

You think about the gazillion places you want to visit. You explore websites and sort through piles of travel brochures. Once you have a sense of where you’re going and what there is to see and do, you plot out a route and plan the details. Along the way you may take a detour or explore a new place, but you’ll never stray far from your original plan.

Because you took time to brainstorm, your readers will enjoy the journey with you—and will thank you for being such an excellent guide!

Copyright 2011 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Homophones at risk

Another batch of homophone fails. Read at “you’re” own risk.

 

sorry lincoln

But apparently it has no trouble “excepting” multiple exclamation points!!!!!!!!

…as is the sign.

. . . . .

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

Conversation Journals

After a busy week in the classroom, Friday evenings were a quiet, delightful treat: Delightful because I got to curl up on my living room couch, with cookies and tea, and read through my students’ journals. Delightful because the brightly colored pocket folders held the written thoughts of my kids, as they experienced classroom life in real time. Delightful because each student and I kept a written, running conversation in the pages of those folders.

Conversation journals, we called them.

Every afternoon, students penned brief summaries of:

  • their observations about each day’s class.
  • what they wanted to remember.
  • what they found difficult.
  • what they would seek assistance on to understand better.
  • what attitudes they had about learning in different subject areas.

They addressed their entries to me, and I responded, thus often beginning written conversations that would last weeks on many topics!

Not only did I gain insight into their struggles with long division, enjoyment of O.Henry’s short stories, or thoughtful concern for environmental issues, but I gained insight into my students’ growth as writers.

Conversation journals are also a handy tool in the homeschooling classroom. They provide a non-threatening context for kids to write at their own proficiency level. Mom or Dad writes back, modeling appropriate language use, but not correcting children’s language.

Such journals allow opportunities for kids to see growth in their own writing ability. And while a parental response should not result in corrections, an adult can examine a child’s writing for topic initiation, elaboration, variety, use of different genres, expression of interests and attitudes, and awareness of the writing process.

The bonus for a parent: insight into which academic concepts need to be taught to a greater depth, how a child is developing as a writer, and a shared journaling experience. That last item is the most precious of all.

Join the conversation!

Related link: Becoming your child’s pen pal

. . . . .

Janet Wagner is a regular contributor to In Our Write Minds. For over two decades, Janet was an elementary and middle school teacher in two Christian academies, a public district school, and a public charter school. She also had the honor of helping to homeschool her two nieces. Janet and her husband Dean live on the family farm in the Piedmont region of north central North Carolina. Currently, she enjoys a flexible life of homemaking, volunteering, reading, writing, tutoring students and training dogs, and learning how to build websites. You can view her web work-in-progress at www.creative-writing-ideas-and-activities.com.

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