Entries from March 2012 ↓
March 29th, 2012 — Publishing Project Ideas, Reluctant Writers
Manila file folders are the darling of both teachers and homeschool moms, who love to turn these ordinary, commonplace office staples into all sorts of fun projects.
Let’s look at two ways you can use manila folders to help your children publish their writing!
1. Reveal Parts of a Story
Try showcasing your children’s writing projects in a lapbook-style flap book. Flap books work especially well when a child wants to reveal one part of the story at a time or hide a surprise ending. They’re simple and fun, and even the least crafty among your kids will enjoy producing a final draft like one of these!
A younger child’s short story can be displayed in a flap book that contains one numbered flap or mini book for every sentence in the story.
Depending on the child’s level of interest, you could cut the flaps from brightly colored scrapbooking or construction paper, and then affix the sentence strips to the colored paper.
Lift-the-Flaps: Beginning, Middle, and End
This flap book is perfect for revealing the beginning, middle, and end of a story.
Cut the front cover of a file folder horizontally to form two or three flaps.
Then cut the story into strips and glue the strips into the file folder under the corresponding flaps. If the story is longer than one page, simply staple additional (uncut) pages onto the back cover of the file folder.
Your child may also enjoy gluing special clip art, magazine pictures, or a small map on the inside of each flap.
2. Showcase a Report or Narrative
Open up a manila folder and fold the edges into the center to make a different type of flap book. Your student can publish a nonfiction report by stapling it in the center and adding photos, illustrations, charts, maps, tables, or graphs to the two outside flaps.
Your child could also use this idea to publish a narrative, using photos or drawings that illustrate parts of the story.
How do you use manila file folders to display your children’s writing assignments?
. . . . .
Each of these flap book activities comes straight from the pages of WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior, two elementary writing programs that incorporate clever publishing ideas into every lesson.
March 26th, 2012 — Encouragement, Reluctant Writers
DID YOU know that my own reluctant, struggling writer is the real face behind WriteShop?
The Boy Who Couldn’t
My son Ben (and Debbie‘s son Brian) were buddies before they even started kindergarten. Peas in a pod, they were: fidgety, kinesthetic, active, smart little guys!
But unlike their older sisters, they didn’t catch on to reading and writing.
Deb and I each had our own methods, products, and ways of approaching these subjects—yet we both struggled to help our boys make progress toward independence. We started and stopped, started and stopped, seeing little fruit.
Has this ever happened to you?
Thinking Outside the Box
Ben had no lack of words or ideas, but he had a hard time holding a pencil (or sitting still, for that matter). Rather than keep waiting until that magical day when he could write the words down by himself, I let him dictate as I wrote.
This was long before I’d ever heard of Charlotte Mason or narration. But it just made sense that if he couldn’t write on his own, all his great ideas would just smolder inside his busy little brain.
I wanted those thoughts to burst into flame! So having him dictate his stories and short reports to me (with lots of prodding, prompting, and questions on my part) was key for us, as it allowed him not only to make up stories, but to express his knowledge and understanding of the different things we were studying.
By the time our boys were 12, however, Debbie and I had become more desperate to see some independence in this area. Allowing them to narrate was all good and well, but they really needed to develop personal writing skills!
We had no idea what we were doing, but figuring it could only help, we committed to teach a writing class for a handful of homeschoolers our boys’ ages.
At first, we drew from a variety of writing materials to teach our students, but to our dismay, they still had trouble putting cohesive thoughts on paper. Clearly, something had to change!
Armed with goals and ideas, Deb and I began creating our own lessons. Imagine our joy when all the children—not just our own boys—began to write with improved content and style.
Cling to Hope
Our girls were intuitive writers, easy to guide and easy to teach. But we didn’t have much faith that our reluctant 12-year-old sons would be able to write. Our journey was hard, and we experienced more than our share of frustration. But diligence paid off. Today, Brian is a high-achieving sergeant in the US Army, and Ben is finishing up his Ph.D. How thankful we are that our exploration of new ideas—coupled with time, patience, trial and error—kept us on the path and allowed our sons to blossom and mature in their own time.
Some of you are just starting your journey. You can’t even begin to imagine that one day your struggling writer will come up with an articulate, coherent thought on his own.
If you’re feeling anxious, take heart. You can learn to teach your children that writing is more than random thoughts tossed onto paper. You can help 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.
Your children may not become scholars . . . and that’s okay. But good writing skills will take them far.
I’m glad you’re here. And when you feel frustrated, remember that I walked that path too. I hope you can take encouragement from my story that a great deal can—and will—happen between now and adulthood!
What’s your story? I’d love to hear it.
Photo credits: Karah Fredricks (“Discouraged”). Used by permission.
Creative Commons photo (“Match”) courtesy of Flickr.
March 22nd, 2012 — Teaching Writing, Writing Lessons
ARE YOUR kids tired of the typcial, ho-hum, “this book is about” book report?
Here’s a fun variation to try: A book report sandwich.
Preparing the Ingredients
First, make templates for the various sandwich ingredients. Using similar dimensions for each item, draw the following elements on plain white paper. Then, photocopy as many as you need onto colored paper.
- Bread slice (2) - brown or tan
- Lunch meat – pink
- Cheese – orange or yellow
- Tomato – red
- Lettuce – green
- Mayonnaise – white
Creating the Book Report
Each “ingredient” represents one element of of the book. After reading a book, write the different parts of the report on the various sandwich fixin’s—much more fun than writing out a traditional book report on lined paper!
- Top bread slice: Write the book title and author.
- Lettuce: Summarize the plot.
- Tomato slice: Tell some interesting facts and details about the main character.
- Mayonnaise layer: Describe the book’s setting.
- Cheese slice: Describe your favorite part of the story.
- Lunch meat: Give your opinion of the book.
- Bottom bread slice: Draw a favorite scene from the book.
When finished, staple your sandwich together into a mini book you can sink your teeth into!
What are some of your favorite creative book report ideas?
March 19th, 2012 — Teaching Writing
READING A STORY CAN BE LIKENED to climbing a mountain. You start by getting familiar with your setting. Next you begin the long, steady climb, with all its zigs, zags, and pitfalls. The most exciting moment comes as you finally arrive at the apex—and then you descend rapidly down the other side. Your journey ends with satisfaction when you reach the bottom.
How can a writer take her readers on such an adventure? Follow a traditional format for telling a good story.
Begin your story with a bit of background. Here’s where you establish the setting, introduce the protagonist, and lay out some key details to provide context for the story.
Conflict is crucial in a good story. The narrative begins to take shape when you introduce a conflict or obstacle. In storytelling, this is known as rising action, and there are several ways a writer can do this:
Man against himself is an internal conflict that arises when the character struggles against his or her conscience. The character may be wrestling with a decision, dealing with a bad habit, or fighting a temptation, for example.
Man against man is an external conflict between two characters. This conflict can be physical, such as a gunfight in the Old West, or it can be emotional, such as a false accusation by a trusted friend.
Man against forces greater than himself is an external conflict in which the character struggles with forces beyond his control. Examples include roaring rapids, a hurricane, a cholera epidemic, or an encounter with a fire-breathing dragon.
If a story were a mountain, the climax would be the peak. This is the turning point of the story. The action is the most exciting or intense, and the characters face the conflict and start to solve it. At the story’s climax, the meteor strikes the earth; the knight slays the dragon and rescues the princess; or the big battle scene occurs.
Once the climax has been reached and the problem resolved, it’s time for the characters to tie up loose ends and bring closure where needed. Known as falling action, examples can include rounding up the cattle after the big stampede; reuniting a man with his long-lost brother; or getting the injured child into the raft and riding the rapids to safety.
The wrap-up of a story is known as the dénouement (day-noo-mon‘). By this part of the story, everything has been resolved and the reader has closure. We see how the characters have changed over time, or how life returns to normal. For example, the bully learns the errors of his ways; the family home is rebuilt after a devastating fire; or wedding bells ring for a couple who have overcome many obstacles and found true love.
These are the five typical stages of storytelling. Clearly, there’s much more to writing a story, including character and plot development. Your first step, though, is understanding what lies ahead.
Are you ready to face the mountain?
Copyright 2012 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
March 15th, 2012 — Grammar & Spelling
I ADMIT IT: English is a crazy language.
I found a list of Top 10 Misused English Words and discovered that I’m guilty of abusing several myself, including decimate, enormity, and ultimate. Who knew? (Apparently, not I!)
So I come to you humbly to present a few more common words and expressions that are often misused or misspelled. See if you catch yourself doing any of these. If so, pick one or two to work on, making sure you teach your children to use them correctly, too!
1. Do you write pouring over?
Instead, write poring over. We pore over books, articles, advertisements, and data, but we pour juice, coffee, syrup, and cream.
Just don’t pour coffee over your books.
2. Do you write leary of?
Though leary appears to be a variant, leery is the standard and preferred spelling. I’m leery of Kim’s grammar advice.
Speaking of which…
3. Do advise and advice confuse you?
Advise is a verb that means to counsel, recommend, warn, or give advice.
Advice is a noun meaning an opinion or recommendation.
It’s common to see someone write, “Thanks for the good advise.” If you tend to make this mistake, may I advise you to take my advice and double-check your spelling?
4. Do you write definately?
This is a common misspelling of definitely. And you definitely want to spell this one correctly.
I know you do.
5. Do you write cirriculum?
When’s the last time you thought about your big toe? Unless you just had a pedicure, it’s probably been a while. But drop a can of tomatoes on that puppy, and ouch! Your toe will draw your attention all day long.
It’s like that with grammar and spelling errors, too. When we’re reading, we don’t really notice properly placed apostrophes and correctly spelled words—nor should we. But an apostrophe in the wrong spot or a simple misspelling can turn an article, menu, poster, or brochure into a throbbing toe.
Because I hang out in homeschooling circles, I often see the word cirriculum used on homeschool message boards, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. If you’re guilty of dropping this brick on people’s toes, remember that ci makes a soft s sound (cigar, cinnamon), but cu makes a hard k sound (cube, curtain). My advice? Spell it correctly—curriculum. Your readers will thank you.
Wait. No, they won’t.
As a matter of fact, they won’t notice at all.
definately definitely a good thing.
Photo: Dan Lecher, courtesy of Creative Commons
March 12th, 2012 — Editing & Revising
As far as most kids are concerned, “editing” and “fun” can never appear in the same sentence.
In their minds, the very word editing conjures up images of a parent or teacher poring over their paper with a magnifying glass with a singular purpose: to find fault.
This can be disheartening, especially when Sensitive Susie honestly and truly believes her paper is perfect just the way it is.
Even when your child takes a stab at self-editing before showing her paper to you, she still may not make any changes. She likes what she wrote, and she doesn’t see the need to fix a thing.
How can you help her turn the corner? Is it possible for editing to go from a hated or dreaded chore to something she actually enjoys? Can you really make editing fun?
At first, she’ll need your help during self-editing. It can take time—often a l-o-n-g time—for her to start seeing her own mistakes. This comes with much practice, so don’t feel discouraged when she doesn’t catch misspelled words or recognize her story’s lack of detail.
Self-editing is a bit of a misnomer. Even if your children use a reliable checklist that details the expectations for the assignment, their eye is not yet trained to seek out their errors. This skill can take years to develop, especially if you’re working with a younger child.
In truth, you’re training your children to become more independent self-editors. As you work alongside them, be patient through the process. As with any other skill we teach our kiddos, it takes time.
Look for the Good
How do we edit or proofread our kids’ papers? Typically, we grab our red pens and hunt down every sentence fragment, misspelled word, and errant punctuation mark until the page fairly bleeds with criticism.
May I whisper a simple secret to you that can absolutely revolutionize the editing process for you and your child?
Start by looking for things she did well.
Before a drop of red ink touches your child’s paper, affirm her by helping her discover what’s right about her story or report, not just what needs fixing. It’s such a simple—and perhaps obvious—concept, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we can admit that too often, we focus on the errors.
Use an Editor’s Tool Kit
Last time, I introduced you to a cool editing kit called a Said It, Read It, Edit Bag. This tool will help you cultivate the skill of self-editing in your children as, together, you look for ways both to affirm and improve their writing.
Working together, try these self-editing tips with your elementary-aged child:
1. Invite her to choose a highlighter marker from the Said It, Read It, Edit Bag.
- As you watch, encourage her to look over the paper by herself and highlight a difficult word she spelled correctly.
- Next ask her to highlight a sentence she wrote correctly by starting it with a capital letter and using the correct punctuation. Praise her for a job well done.
2. Make sure her writing project has all the elements it needs. If not, discuss ideas for improvement, having her write corrections on the blank spaces between the lines.
- Structure. Does the story have a beginning, middle, and end (or an introduction, body, and conclusion, if it’s an essay or report)?
- Organization. Is this a report? Make sure it the main points are organized.
- Character. If the story has a main character, check for descriptive details about him or her.
- Setting. Check to see if your child included details for the setting.
- Plot. Is it a mystery, adventure, or science fiction story? Make sure there is a problem that the character has solved in a satisfactory way.
- Details. Check to make sure your child used details to develop the story. If she wrote a report, are main points supported by facts and other details?
3. Help your child check her mechanics. Instruct her to read the Writing Project aloud (encouraging a younger child to also track each word with her finger). Have her examine each sentence to make sure she:
- Indented the first line of the paragraph(s).
- Began each sentence with a capital letter and used correct punctuation.
- Does not have any missing words in the sentences.
4. Look for dull or repeated words that can be replaced with strong ones. Invite your student to choose one or more weak or overly repeated words and replace them with a synonym. If she can’t think of one on her own, encourage her to use her thesaurus.
5. Have your child circle any difficult words whose spelling she wants to check, look them up in a dictionary, and write each word correctly on the blank spaces between the lines.
By trying some of these simple ideas, editing can become a no-more-tears event. I’m confident you’ll be able to add your own testimonial here one of these days!
“Editing was a dreaded day in the beginning but not anymore.” ~Susan, Florida
“[My daughter] actually looked forward to editing (biggest improvement because she used to hate it). ” ~Andrea, California
“Her self-editing skills really improved. She became more independent.” ~Mindy, Utah
Do you have a favorite trick or tip that inspires happier self-editors?
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WriteShop encourages students to self-edit and revise in order to create a published final draft. These self-editing tips and The Said It, Read It, Edit Bag™ are some of the creative ways WriteShop Junior introduces and encourages self-editing.
Photo of girl in red © Vincent Angler. Used by permission of photographer.
Photo Credits: Creative Commons photos courtesy of Flickr.