Entries from April 2012 ↓

5 ways to use narration with pre-writers

5 Narration Activities for Pre-writers: When age, immaturity, or lack of pencil skills prevent little ones from writing independently

MANY OF YOU have children who are pre-writers. Their busy young minds are bursting with ideas, and their often-hilarious stories and ideas pour forth to the amazement—and amusement—of friends and family.

But since they can’t write yet, what happens to these little tales? We think we’ll always remember them, but before we know it, our children’s words have floated away on the breeze.

What do you do when young age, immaturity, or lack of skill with a pencil prevents your littles from recording their own brilliant thoughts? Simple! Act as their scribe as they narrate to you.

Here are five fun narration activities to get you started:

1. Illustrating a Story

As your child dictates a sentence or a short story to you, write it at the bottom of a large sheet of paper. Next, have him draw or paint a picture at the top of the page to illustrate it.

Alternatively, have him create his picture first, and then ask him to tell you a story about his work of art. Write it beneath the illustration.

2. Retelling

A young or reluctant writer may feel more comfortable retelling a familiar story than trying to plan an original story of her own.

Read a paragraph or short book or excerpt to your child. Have her orally tell the story back to you in her own words. Help her by asking questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?).

As she narrates her story, write it down word-for-word. Sometimes she will give such a mature-sounding narrative that the only thing to remind you of her young age will be words like “catched” or “brang.” Not only will you have recorded her story, you will have a treasured memory of her early speech habits!

3. Narrating a Wordless Book

When age, immaturity, or lack of pencil skills prevents little ones from writing independently, you can act as their scribe as they narrate to you.Using a wordless picture book, your child can make up a story either orally or in writing to accompany the illustrations. Consider some of these:

4. Narrating into a Recording Device

Let your child narrate his account into a tape recorder or digital recording device. When his writing skills have developed sufficiently (perhaps by 2nd-4th grade), you may want to have him write his story from dictation. He can stop and start the recording as he writes his own words on paper.

5. Narrating Letters

Your child can dictate letters to friends or relatives, greetings to missionaries, thank-you notes, etc. If she is old enough, correct grammar and spelling with her and let her recopy the letter in her own writing. To apply this to your schooling, she may write a letter about a field trip she took, a book she read (or you read to her), or an exciting science experiment you did together.

What are the benefits of these simple exercises?

  • They teach young children important skills such as retelling a story, observing their world, and organizing their ideas.
  • They boost confidence and pave the way for later writing.
  • Early writers can share the pencil with you, dictating what they cannot write by themselves.
  • Reluctant writers experience the freedom to put together ideas without the limitations and fear of having to write them down.
  • Often, a child’s speaking vocabulary is more advanced than his ability to write. You may find that even your older children’s stories are more colorful and descriptive when they dictate them to you from time to time.

Why not try a narration activity today? You might just open up a whole new world of words for your pre-writer!

Your Turn

What are some of your favorite ways to incorporate narration activities into your schooling?

 Photo: Misko, courtesy of Creative Commons

7 Poem in Your Pocket Day Ideas


TOMORROW IS the fabulous Poem in Your Pocket Day!

The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends [on Poem in Your Pocket Day]. “Poems from pockets will be unfolded throughout the day with events in parks, libraries, schools, workplaces, and bookstores. ~Poet.org

Ideas to Try

I love these little-known but oh-so-celebratory holidays, and there are many clever ways to embrace Poem in Your Pocket Day! With minimal preparation today, you’ll be all set to celebrate tomorrow.

Here are seven simple Poem in Your Pocket Day ideas to explore:

  • Keep a short poem in your pocket. Look at it often and memorize it.
  • Print some favorite poems and pass them out in your community.
  • Distribute bookmarks with your favorite immortal lines.
  • Post a poem on your blog or social networking page.
  • Add a poem to your email footer.
  • Text a poem to friends.
  • Tweet a poem using the hashtag #pocketpoem.

SHARE! What poem will you keep in your pocket on Poem in Your Pocket Day?

Photo: Anthony, courtesy of Creative Commons

Poetry links and resources

Poetry links and resources for kids, including links to poems and resources for reading, writing and memorizing poems

As we continue celebrating National Poetry Month, I’d like to share a few more great (and free) online poetry links and resources with you.

Poetry Links

Poetry-Writing Workshop with Karla Kuskin – Children’s poet Karla Kuskin helps children turn their words and ideas into descriptive and powerful poems.

Ms. Kuskin includes writing tips that she uses when she writes her own poems, as well as ideas children can use to revise their work.

10 Compelling Reasons to Memorize Poetry – Memorizing a poem can be one of the most fulfilling and fun ways to explore poetry.

10 Classic Poems – Some of the world’s most popular classic poems

Poetry Foundation – Browse for poems by title, poet, or subject matter such as “Animals” or “Stars, Planets, Heavens” (both found in the Nature category).

Poetry in Homeschool - Need help incorporating poetry into your homeschooling? Jimmie of Jimmie’s Collage shares ideas, resources, and links.

Poetry-writing Tips for Children (or anyone!) – Plus a bonus list of 20 poetry anthologies to browse

Interactive Word Mover – Using this online too that’s similar to magnetic words, children can move individual words around to create original poems.

Poetry + Letter Writing = Fun

postage samples

Not only is April National Poetry Month, it’s aslo National Card and Letter-Writing Month! Here are two ideas for incorporating poetry and letter writing.

Write a Letter to a Poet – Let the poets who you are reading know that you appreciate their work by sending them a letter.

Put a Poem in a Letter – Next time you send a letter or holiday hello, treat the addressee to a poem as well. You can put a poem directly into the text of your letter or include a typed or handwritten copy in the envelope.

Your Turn

Have you ever memorized a poem? What is one of your favorites?

Spring Special

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Spring is…

  • brand-new baby birds
  • beautiful blossoms and blooms
  • curriculum conferences
  • decluttering and deep-cleaning
  • planning and purchasing
  • special spring savings for our spectacular supporters

Have you been thinking about ordering for next year? From now until April 30th, 2012, you can save 15% on your order from the WriteShop store using the coupon code SPRING15 at checkout. 

WriteShop Writing CurriculumWriteShop products for every age

The last week in April is going to be busy yet rewarding! If you are attending the SHEM homeschool convention in Springfield, Missouri, I’ll have six sessions packed with tips and encouragement for teaching writing. Please stop by and say hello!

WriteShop is also sponsoring three bloggers who will be attending the 2:1 homeschool blogging conference. If you will be at the conference, be sure to see Stephanie, Shay, or  Maureen for a WriteShop special just for 2:1 attendees!

WriteShop Virtual Convention

Did you know that WriteShop has a booth at the Virtual Homeschool Convention? Unlike other conventions, this one is open 24/7, and you can attend without leaving home. Peruse the shelves and learn what our writing curriculum has to offer your homeschool.


6 ways to strengthen your writing

Looking for ways to strengthen your writing? Try these tips for brainstorming and revising, improving word choice, and constructing better sentences

This article contains affiliate links for products we’re confident your family will love!

Content, style, and mechanics all play an important role in writing a strong essay, story, report, or article.

When we communicate on paper:

  • Our goal is to be thorough, accurate, concise, and concrete.
  • Our writing needs to flow well and make sense.
  • We have to guard against misspellings and sloppy grammar. These can distract the reader and water down our message.

Writers have dozens—even hundreds—of tips and tools at their disposal to make this process easier and improve chances for success. From time to time, I pick different ones to help you or your kids plan, write, or edit more effectively. Try these six ways to strengthen your writing:

1. Brainstorm Before Writing

The purpose of brainstorming is to plan ideas and jot down details to jumpstart your writing. Brainstorming can take many forms, including clustering, mind-mapping, lists, grids, and formal graphic organizers.

Instead of writing full sentences, it’s better to make lists of words and short phrases. Later, as you refer to your brainstorming sheet during writing time, your list of concrete words and other details will jog your memory and keep your writing from taking tangents. Brainstorming keeps you on track.

2. Use Different Kinds of Sentences

Try a combination of simple, compound, and complex sentences. This adds variety and improves the style of your writing. Here’s a helpful quiz on sentence types.

3. Choose Strong Words

Vivid, active, colorful words have the power to paint clear mental pictures and stir the reader’s emotions. When dull, vague, or overly used words clutter up your writing, replace them with stronger, more precise ones.

Dull: Isabella made a nice dessert.
Interesting: Isabella whipped up a rich chocolate mousse.

Watch out for boring words such as fine, nice, or good. Is it a good book, good friend, or good weather? Then express it more specifically.

riveting book, faithful friend, balmy weather

Avoid vague verbs such as cried, said, or went in favor of concrete ones:

The orphan sobbed, wailed, or wept.
Dr. Cooper ordered, whispered, or agreed.
The horse galloped, trotted, or raced.

Check that you haven’t repeated main words too many times. Use your thesaurus to find appropriate synonyms.

Finally, don’t choose words based on how long they are or how clever they make you sound. Otherwise, you run the risk of sounding arrogant. Long, fancy words aren’t always the best choice. Yes, it’s great to use a thesaurus! Just be wise. Pick the best words for saying what you mean.

4. Include Subordinating Conjunctions

Sentence variations can add interest and maturity to any piece of writing. Using subordinating conjunctions is just one way to vary sentence structure, often by combining sentences together:

I shop frugally. 
I save several hundred dollars each month.

Example 1:When the subordinating conjunction begins the sentence, a comma follows the dependent clause.

Because I shop frugally, I save several hundred dollars each month.

Example 2: When a dependent clause beginning with a subordinating conjunction comes at the end of the sentence, don’t separate the two clauses with a comma.

I save several hundred dollars each month because I shop frugally.

Either way, see how using because to combine two short sentences creates a single but more interesting sentence.

If this concept is new to you or your students, print out a list of subordinating conjunctions.

5.  Watch Out for Misplaced Modifiers

Avoid pesky misplaced modifiers—phrases or clauses placed near the wrong noun. To avoid confusion, position a modifier close to the word or phrase it should modify.

Incorrect: Hiking along the overgrown path, a tree stump tripped Fernie. 

Why is this wrong? Because the sentence implies that the tree stump was hiking along the path!

Correct: Hiking along the overgrown path, Fernie tripped over a tree stump.

6. Let Your Paper Rest

Everyone’s writing improves with editing, so no matter how great you think your report or story is, let it breathe for a day. Stepping away helps you become more objective about your writing. Later, you can proofread it for clarity, conciseness, concreteness, and errors.

What’s your favorite writing tip?

Creative Commons photo: Claudio Gennari, courtesy of Flickr.

Experiencing poetry with children

Simple ways your family can incorporate poetry in your homeschool

I’m excited to welcome Mystie Winckler as a guest blogger today as we continue celebrating National Poetry Month

POETRY IS a wonderful component to add to our school days. It develops language patterns, listening skills, and complex thinking ability. Andrew Pudewa writes:

There is perhaps no greater tool than memorization to seal language patterns into a human brain, and there is perhaps nothing more effective than poetry to provide exactly what we want: reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns.

But poetry can also be intimidating.

Here are some simple steps that my family has taken to incorporate poetry in our homeschool. [Please note that this post contains affiliate links to poetry resources we think your family will love.]

Particularly when the children are elementary and younger, focus on introducing and enjoying poems together. Don’t worry about analysis or interpretation or even comprehension. Just let them experience and enjoy poetry at their own level.

Allow the time and space for love and taste to develop before teaching content and analysis. Then the analysis in later years will be more like sharing thoughts about common friends and less like dissecting a dead frog.

Mystie Winckler is a wife, mother, homemaker, and home-educator. Mystie has been married for ten years to her only sweetheart, Matt, a software programmer and web developer; both Matt & Mystie were homeschool graduates themselves. Now they raise & educate their four-going-on-five children. Mystie blogs at Simply Convivial on homemaking, home-educating, reading, and organizing.

WriteShop Twitter Party

WriteShop Twitter Party

It’s a Twitter Party!

 Fast-paced, fun
 Sharing, linking, chatting
Twitter, friends … Virtual chocolate, real prizes
 Celebrating, learning, writing
 Festivity, merriment

You’re invited to a WriteShop Twitter Party on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 9:00 p.m. EST. We’ll have lots of door prizes and virtual chocolate too! Prizes include WriteShop goodies valued up to $100!

Twitter parties can move a little fast, so the easiest way to participate is by using www.tweetchat, www.tweetgrid, or www.tweetdeck. Follow the hashtag #WriteShopParty and @WriteShop to keep up with the questions and prizes.

To start the celebration off, here’s a party favor just for you!

WriteShop Photo Writing PromptWriteShop Photo Writing Prompt #4

The following blogs are helping us out with the party preparations. Be sure to stop by each one and collect the other three party favors!

Pre-Party Giveaway

We’re starting the celebration early with an exciting pre-party giveaway.

You can win your choice of any WriteShop Primary Curriculum Package (e-book version), valued between $29-$34! Enter below using the Rafflecopter widget. (Not sure how this works? Read How to Enter Rafflecopter Giveaways.)

[UPDATE: The winner of the WriteShop Primary e-book package is Michelle S. Congratulations!]

We hope to see you there!

WriteShop Twitter Party

. . . . .

Did you like our fun diamante poem at the top of this post? Why not teach your kids to write their own? Click here for a tutorial!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

4 ways kids can celebrate National Poetry Month

Fun ways to celebrate National Poetry Month with kids!

April is National Poetry Month. Here at In Our Write Minds, I’m posting a different poetry activity or tip list each week to help you incorporate more poetry into your homeschooling.

Pick one or two of these activities to do with your children to celebrate this special literary month. Together, discover the joy of poetry! [Psst … this post contains affiliate links to poetry resources I’m confident your family will enjoy.]

1. Write Magnetic Poems

Kick off National Poetry Month with your kids by putting up a magnet board (a cookie sheet works great) with magnetic words and encourage family members to create their own poems.  Get them started by reading short poems together and posting some of them near the magnet board.

Celebrate National Poetry Month with a fun magnetic poetry kit for kids!Check out these fun magnetic word kits:

2. Enter a Poetry Contest

Encourage your budding poets to enter a contest. Here are several to consider:

Warning: There are lots of poetry contests out there, but they’re not all worth entering. Steer clear of bad poetry contests!

3. Hit the Library

April 8-14, 2012 also happens to be National Library Week! Check out several poetry anthologies from the library and keep them in a basket or on a shelf, along with pads of paper and pencils.

Encourage your children to read several poems each day, writing down the titles and authors of their favorites. When you return the anthologies, have each child check out a book of poems by just one author. For example, if your child wrote down a Shel Silverstein poem on her list, she may want to check out Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, or another book of poetry by Silverstein.

4. Host a Poetry Slam

A poetry slam is a competition where poets read or recite their original work. Host an open mic night or poetry slam where children are encouraged to share their own poems with family, friends, or your homeschool group. Enjoy homemade treats and present awards for “Most Original Poem,” “Best Use of Rhyme,”  “Happiest Poem,” or “Best Alliteration.” Give these a try! When you enjoy, share, and celebrate poetry, you begin building a lifelong appreciation for this well-loved genre.

Your Turn

Share one thing your family or classroom is doing to celebrate poetry this month. 

Photo: c.e. delohery, courtesy of Creative Commons

Pet peeves, apostrophes, and plural family names

What's the difference between plural and possessive? When is it correct to use apostrophes when writing last names?

Pet Peeves

Do you have a pet peeve?

You know, those annoying little things that don’t seem to irritate anyone else, but drive you positively insane?

I actually found a site— GetAnnoyed.com—that lists 500 pet peeves, including:

  1. People who whistle when they are happy.
  2. Greeting cards that throw sparkles, sequins or confetti on the hapless recipient.
  3. People [who] don’t use coasters.
  4. Keeping your Christmas lights up until February.
  5. People who dress their pets.
  6. Leaving the toilet seat up.
  7. Cracking your knuckles.
  8. Road maps that aren’t folded correctly.
  9. People who talk on their cell phone at the movies.
  10. Things sticking out of drawers.

I admit that the items on this short list draw different reactions from me. I think it’s silly to dress a pet, for example, but I wouldn’t call it a pet peeve. I can take or leave an incorrectly folded map. And I don’t mind happy whistling at all!

No, for something to qualify as a pet peeve, it has to drive me absolutely batty. Nuts. Fingernails-on-a-chalkboard crazy.

I have several—as do you (admit it). But let me introduce you to just one of them: the misplaced apostrophe.

The apostrophe has two uses: contraction and possession. Unfortunately, people are so totally confused that they’re always sticking random apostrophes where punctuation marks should fear to tread:

  1. In simple plurals, such as “No pet’s allowed” (should be “No pets allowed”)
  2. In family names when referring to the family as one unit, such as “The Wilson’s live there” (should be “The Wilsons live there”)

Do You Know the Johnson’s Johnsons?

One of these days I’ll write up a lesson on plurals vs. possessives. Today, let’s focus on family names.

Watch out when using apostrophes with last names! Grammar guides can differ on how to use apostrophes, but if you follow these rules, you’ll get it right.

One Person’s Last Name

To show possession of one person, add -’s.

Sarah Smith: Mitts is Sarah Smith’s dog.
Jared Jones: Heinz is Jared Jones’s dog.
Reid Roberts: Arrow is Reid Roberts’s dog.

Last names that end in -s can be tricky!

Right: Arrow is Reid Roberts’s dog.
Wrong: Arrow is Reid Robert’s dog.

Don’t use an apostrophe when you mean to make a plural.

Right: The Smiths also want a gerbil.
Wrong: The Smith’s also want a gerbil.

The Whole Family’s Last Name

To show possession of a whole family: First, add -es or -s to write the family’s last name in plural form. Then, add an apostrophe at the end to show possession.

Right: Pip belongs to the Joneses. Pip is the Joneses cat.
Wrong: Pip belongs to the Joneses. Pip is the Jones’s cat.

Right: Jet belongs to the Smiths. Jet is the Smiths cat.
Wrong: Jet belongs to the Smiths. Jet is the Smiths’s cat.

Using Last Names in Greetings and Invitations

People often get confused when sending greeting cards or invitations. Simply, when sending a greeting from the whole family, do not use apostrophes at all. If you’re just not sure, there are safe alternatives, such as “the Smith Family.”

Plural Example 1: Wes and Samantha Mann (add -s)

Right: Merry Christmas from the Manns
Right: Merry Christmas from the Mann Family
Right: Merry Christmas from Wes and Samantha Mann

Wrong: Merry Christmas from the Mann’s
Wrong: Merry Christmas from the Manns’

Plural Example 2: The Niles Family (add -es)

Right: Happy Anniversary from the Nileses
Right: Happy Anniversary from the Niles Family

Wrong: Happy Holidays from the Niles
Wrong: Happy Holidays from the Niles
Wrong: Happy Holidays from the Niles’s
Wrong: Happy Holidays from the Nile’s 

When sending an invitation, use an apostrophe to show possession of the location. You are inviting them to the family’s house, for example, so even if the word “house” isn’t present, it is implied.

Possessive Example 1: The Berry Family

Right: Graduation celebration at the Berrys
Right: Graduation celebration at the Berrys’ house
Right: Graduation celebration at the Berry home
Right: Graduation celebration at John and Tiffany’s house

Wrong: Graduation celebration at the Berry’s
Wrong: Graduation celebration at the Berry’s house
Wrong: Graduation celebration at the Berries
Wrong: Graduation celebration at the Berries’

Possessive Example 2: Aidan and Leah Davis

Right: Come for cake and ice cream at the Davises
Right: Come for cake and ice cream at the Davises’ house
Right: Come for cake and ice cream at the Davis home
Right: Come for a cake and ice cream at Aidan and Leah’s house

Wrong: Come for cake and ice cream at the Davises 
Wrong: Come for cake and ice cream at the Davis’
Wrong: Come for a cake and ice cream at the Davis’s

A Few More Examples of Plural vs. Possessive

Single person: Mike Miller
Whole family: The Millers
Family’s Possessive: The Millers’ hamster

Single person: Hubert Sing
Whole family: The Sings
Family’s Possessive: The Sings’ parakeet

Single person: Gladys Sanchez
Whole family: The Sanchezes
Family’s Possessive: The Sanchezes llama

Single person: Mrs. Sanders
Whole family: The Sanderses
Family’s Possessive: The Sanderses’ goat

Put it into Practice: Want to give yourself (or your kids) some practice forming plural and possessive last names? Just pull out the phone directory, open to a random page, and give it a whirl! The more they practice forming plurals and possessives, the more natural it will become for them to do so correctly.

Your Turn

What’s your pet peeve (grammar or otherwise)? Share it in the comments!

Creative Commons photo: Matteo Parrini. Used by permission of photographer.

“Never” poems | Write a silly poem

What funny things would your kids "never" do? Let those ideas inspire them to write a silly poem

APRIL IS National Poetry Month. In honor of the occasion, I thought it would be fun to introduce some new poetry activities!

Today, why not have your children write a silly poem? With only a few simple rules to get them started, they should produce some gems in no time at all.


When your children write their “Never” poems, they will need to choose a consonant sound to repeat using alliteration.

al·lit·er·a·tion is the repetition of a consonant sound at the beginning of a word.

Betty Botter bought some butter,
But,” she said, “the butter’s bitter.”

Charlotte shared her sugar
With a shaggy sheep named Shane.


To write your “Never Poem,” you will write one sentence for each of the following, repeating your chosen consonant sound as many times as possible.

  1. Something you would never eat.
  2. Something you would never wear.
  3. Something you would never buy.
  4. Something you would never do.
  5. Someplace you would never go.
  6. Something you would always like to think about.
  7. “And I promise you I will never …”

Once their poems are finished, invite them to choose some words from the poem and write a title.

Of Blue Biscuits and Bouncing Balls

I would never eat blue biscuits.
I would never wear a baggy beaded bonnet with brown buttons.
I would never buy a blind baboon’s broken bicycle.
I would never read a book about boat-building in Bulgaria.
I would never go to Brooklyn to get bologna.
I would always like to think about bouncing balls in the bathtub.
And I promise I will never let Bubba’s bunny eat barbecued beans for breakfast.

Your Turn

Poetry should be shared! I hope you’ll post your kids’ “Never Poems” in the comments.

. . . . .

Photo of blue ball © Sharyn Morrow. Used by permission.
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