Grammar skills your kids must learn

Grammar skills kids must learn! These should be so ingrained in their minds, there's no way they'll misuse or forget them when writing.

Did you know that emus can’t walk backward or that an iguana can stay underwater for nearly 30 minutes?

Did you know that The Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought at neighboring Breed’s Hill or that the state of Maryland has no natural lakes?

While these bits of trivia are interesting (and fun to learn during studies of science, history, or geography), they don’t need to take up permanent residence in your kids’ brain cells.

On the other hand, certain concepts should be so ingrained in your children’s minds that there’s no way they’ll misuse or forget them—including important rules of writing mechanics. Why? Because better grammar contributes to better writing!

Let’s look at three areas of grammar and punctuation every child must master.

Apostrophes, Possessives, and Plurals

Everywhere I look, it seems, random apostrophes are turning up incorrectly in words meant to be plural, not possessive.

Grammar skills kids must learn! These should be so ingrained in their minds, there's no way they'll misuse or forget them when writing.

These are typical examples:

No dog’s allowed
Closed Sunday’s and Monday’s
Wanted: Chef’s and Cook’s
No shoe’s, no shirt, no service

Other times, apostrophes are just misused altogether:

Ladie’s Apparel Sale
Life at it’s best

The correct use of plural and possessive forms may seem like a minor issue. Among educated persons, however, incorrect forms, especially misuses of apostrophes, stand out like red flags. One area executive has said he will not hire an applicant whose letter or résumé includes such an error.” ~Meredith College Grammar Review

Teach your children to use apostrophes correctly. A quick Google search will yield pages of helpful rules, tips, and practice exercises—as well as many humorous examples of apostrophe abuse. Here are a few links to get you started:


Homophones are words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same—and confusion among them contributes to all sorts of writing problems. Common sets of homophones such as except/accept, peek/peak/pique, and principal/principle can trip up both kids and adults. Worse, spell-check won’t catch tricky errors because it’s about meaning, not spelling.

While some people may not care whether a Facebook friend types your instead of you’re, it’s definitely a problem when it comes between a student and an “A” paper or a job applicant and the position he’s applying for.

Like apostrophe misuse, homophone mix-ups can cause the writer to seem uneducated or ignorant, so it’s important to begin teaching children when they’re young to distinguish between these confusing words.

Comma Splices, Run-ons, and Fragments

Commas can be tricky. They’re either overused, underused, or just plain misused! One of the worst culprits is the comma splice, in which the writer sticks a comma instead of a period between independent clauses.

I’m tired of all this rain, I wish the sun would come out again.

Run-ons (also called fused sentences) are “comma splices without the commas.”

I ate deep-fried pickles and Twinkies at the fair they were both delicious.

Sentence fragments are also known as incomplete sentences. Fragments are missing a verb, a subject, or both.

On the other hand, leafy green vegetables.
Running all the way to the wall without stopping.

If your children have trouble with comma splices, run-ons, or sentence fragments, follow these links for helpful rules, games, and tips:

It’s All about Practice!

These are among the most important grammar skills kids must learn. Don’t turn a blind eye to your children’s mistakes. They need to hear these rules over and over again, and they need much practice to reinforce proper usage and develop new habits.

Why not pick one problem area, such as comma splices or its vs. it’s, and work on it regularly until your child experiences frequent success? You’ll put her one step closer to becoming a more confident writer.

Copyright 2012 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Photo: Hand (Carissa Rogers) and book case’s (R/DV/RS), courtesy of Creative Commons

It just gets punnier!

Laughing dog

I’M ALWAYS on the lookout for writing humor to brighten your week. Are you ready for your daily chuckle?

  • They told me I had type A blood, but it was a type-O.
  • Why were the Indians here first? They had reservations.
  • Field trip to the Coca-Cola factory—I hope there’s no pop quiz.
  • Broken pencils are pointless.
  • Did you hear the Energizer Bunny got arrested? Charged with battery.
  • I didn’t like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.
  • Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils?
  • What does a clock do when it’s hungry? It goes back four seconds.
  • I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me!
  • I tried to catch some fog, but I mist.

These puns may be real groaners, but I see that smile! Do you have a favorite pun to share?

Photo: Rachael, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Are you turning your child off to writing?

Your child hates writing! Do you expect too much independence? Give open-ended assignments? Focus on mistakes? These tips will encourage you!

“My child hates writing!” 

Know what? I can totally empathize with you—my son was the poster boy for reluctant writers! These children approach a blank sheet of paper with emotions ranging from boredom to fear. Each attempt produces frenzied erasures, gray smudges, or tears of frustration.

They don’t get why writing is so hard (or worse, why they’re so bad at it), and they wallow in a whole heap of failure.

Homeschooling mamas want to create an atmosphere that fosters a love of writing. We want our kids to feel comfortable around paper and pencil—to know how to organize a brainful of lively thoughts and express them in written form. But sometimes we get in the way of our own goals.


> You expect too much independence.

Younger students may not be ready to write on their own. After all, there’s a lot involved in getting an idea from brain to paper! By the time a child wrestles with spelling or punctuation or a cramped hand, he’s completely lost his grip on that “great” idea, and it vanishes into thin air.

So how much help should you give? As much as your child needs to feel successful.

While our girls were comfortable with writing at a young age, Ben had a terrible time forming words—let alone writing entire stories—even at age 10. Instead of squishing the life out of his creative thoughts, I let him dictate his stories to me as I wrote them down. In time, as he gained confidence and skill, he took over more and more of the writing until he was able to work independently.

> Writing assignments are too vague.

Want to sound the death knell for your child? Tell him to write about anything he wants!

While some children have the confidence, creativity, and interest to embrace this freedom, most just stare glumly at their paper as anxiety mounts:

I can’t think of anything to write about!
How long does it have to be?
What if I do it wrong?

A good assignment always includes clear goals; you’re establishing boundaries for your children when you provide specific guidelines.

1. Define the nature of the assignment

  • Write a book report.
  • Describe a place.
  • Explain how to do a task.

2. Explain the assignment’s purpose.

  • Is it an exercise designed to build skills, or will it follow the writing process and become a polished final draft?
  • Will this become a report to accompany a science project, or is it simply an explanation of a concept to demonstrate his understanding?

3. Make sure tasks are specific and clear.

  • Write one 5- to 7-sentence paragraph.
  • Include a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Using all five senses, describe your favorite dessert.

4. Break the assignment into bite-size steps.

  • Give mini due dates along the way.
  • Check your child’s work so you can offer encouragement and suggestions.

> You consider games and crafts “fluff.”

Most children learn best through hands-on activities, which help your child associate writing with fun! So rather than look at pre-writing activities as busy work, think of them as vital teaching aids. Let them play Mad Libs® or other word games to improve vocabulary, boost creativity, and teach skills.

Start here to find loads of writing activities for different ages.

> You focus on their mistakes.

As you edit your child’s paper, resist the inclination to draw blood from it by attacking every error with your red pen. Yes, you will be distracted by spelling errors, run-on sentences, and misused apostrophes, but don’t let them prevent you from getting to the heart of your child’s message.

Whether or not writing comes easily and naturally, your child has a great emotional attachment to his words. If you criticize his writing, he feels personally attacked.

Instead, search for the good!

  • Identify areas of growth.
  • Offer encouraging comments.
  • Point out places that show improvement over earlier assignments.
  • Highlight examples of strong word choice or proper sentence structure.

Writing is definitely a fluid process—and it can be taught many different ways. But with a few adjustments in attitude and approach, you can help your reluctant writers turn the corner. Where will you begin?

Photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc

Why active verbs trump “to be” words

Using lively, concrete verbs helps students achieve their goal of painting a vivid word picture in the reader's mind

FREQUENT USE of “to be” verbs typically results in weak or passive writing, while active writing draws readers in and keeps them interested. Using lively, concrete verbs helps students achieve their goal of painting a vivid word picture in the reader’s mind.

Your child might write a sentence like this:

My dogs were fast.

While true, it certainly doesn’t conjure up a concrete image. Notice how much more descriptively your child could express his dogs’ speed by using active verbs:

My dogs tore around the field.
My dogs flew like the wind.
My dogs raced across the grass.

What a difference! Coupled with a descriptive prepositional phrase, active verbs lend precise meaning to a once-vague sentence.

You’ll never hear me say it’s wrong or bad to use “to be” verbs; I use them myself! Just help your children become aware of how often they use words like “is” and “was,” and train them not to use these words in excess.

What Are “To Be” Words?

Every student should memorize this short list:

  • is
  • am
  • are
  • was
  • were
  • be
  • being
  • been

Ways to Avoid “To Be” Verbs

Teach your kids to choose active, descriptive verbs. Sometimes a writer can simply replace a “to be” verb with a more specific verb. Other times, he must rearrange the sentence in order for his writing to still make sense. The more sentence variations a student has in his tool kit, the easier it becomes for him to rearrange sentences.

Students should avoid “to be” words when:

  1. Another verb will make the point more clearly.
  2. They find they have already used too many “to be” words.
  3. The writing lacks action.

Weak: Vegetables were being sold by farmers at the produce stand.
Active: Farmers sold vegetables at the produce stand

Weak: A glass of orange juice was refreshing to Monroe.
Active: Monroe drank a refreshing glass of orange juice.

Weak: The first step is to get soap, a bucket, and some old rags.
Active: First, gather soap, a bucket, and some old rags.

Weak: Being lazy and sloppy, Mark never makes his bed.
Active: Lazy and sloppy, Mark never makes his bed.

Weak: Rowan is much taller than Seth.
Active: Rowan towers over Seth.

Weak: Janna is a disciplined, hardworking pitcher for the Rockets.
Active: Hardworking and disciplined, Janna pitches for the Rockets.

Weak: My bike was hit by a car which was being driven by an elderly lady who was in an old sedan.
Active: An elderly lady driving an old sedan struck my bike.

Should We Ban Them?

“To be” verbs play an important role in our language. However, unless you train your child to watch for, avoid, and judiciously replace these words, they will dominate his writing.

Active verbs speak powerfully, while weak verbs say little. {via WriteShop}WriteShop doesn’t forbid their use, but early on in WriteShop I, assignments begin to limit the number of “to be” words a student may use in each composition. To help students avoid “to be” words, WriteShop I encourages them to expand their vocabulary and use sentence variations.

Strong verb use doesn’t stop when a child graduates from high school. Several years ago, a friend took an English class at our local community college. My friend said the instructor only allowed his college students one form of “to be” per typed page!

It’s not that these words should be forever banned; it’s just that active verbs speak powerfully, while weak verbs say little. Limiting students’ use of “to be” verbs forces them to think about their sentence structure and choose their words more wisely.

Your Turn!

  1. Give your children the list of weak sentences only (above). See if they can come up with ways to replace the “to be” word in each. Share a few of their new sentences in the comments!
  2. Have students read through a story or report they wrote recently. Instruct them to use a red pencil to circle every “to be” verb they find (sometimes it helps to read the writing piece backwards, starting from the last word). Now ask them to rewrite one or two of these sentences, using strong, active verbs instead of “to be” words.

Copyright 2012 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Photo: Meagan Wooley, courtesy of Creative Commons.

WriteShop Junior Book D – Review and Giveaway

IT’S REVIEW and giveaway time over at Confessions of a Homeschooler!

Even after combing a publisher’s website, it’s still nice to hear what real moms think about homeschool products, don’t you agree? Erica is a long-time WriteShop fan, and she’s sharing her review of WriteShop Junior Book D. Not only that, she’s giving away free curriculum—and the winner could be YOU!

Head on over for a chance to win your choice of WriteShop Primary Book A, B, or C or WriteShop Junior Book D. Hurry! Entries close October 12, 2012 at midnight EDT.

BONUS: You’ll also find a coupon code for 15% off your purchase in the WriteShop store.


3 reasons teens should read before writing

Teens need to read differently for different assignments. Here are three ways reading can help students prepare for essays and reports.

AT ANY AGE, prewriting activities help your kids warm up, think about their topic, and consider the purpose and audience. Simply, prewriting gets them ready to write!

When working with teens, prewriting activities guide them toward shaping and developing their essays and reports. Prewriting can include any or all of these:

  • Focusing and narrowing topics
  • Determining the direction the paper will take
  • Researching and gathering information
  • Brainstorming, planning, and choosing details
  • Organizing and outlining

From time to time, teens will need to read differently for different assignments. Let’s look at three ways reading helps them prepare for writing.

1. Read for a Specific Writing Assignment

When a student is asked to summarize an article, respond to a piece of literature, or write a reflection essay on a book, she first must read the selection (not merely skim it, as she might for other assignments). Sometimes she’ll have a choice (“read a novel by Mark Twain”), and sometimes not (“read Huckleberry Finn”).

If she completes the task correctly, her written response will show that she both read and understood the material.

2. Read to Gather Background Information

Before choosing a topic for an essay or research paper, it’s important to start with general background information. Skimming through encyclopedia articles on two or three topics should provide a good overview. As your student fine-tunes her choices, she can follow up by reading a few articles or books on the subject.

General background reading will:

  • Give the student a feel for different topics.
  • Direct her toward one or two that especially interest her.
  • Help her narrow a broad topic to a more specific one.
  • Show how certain topics relate to other topics or issues.

3. Read for Research Purposes

Once your student has gathered background information and settled on a topic, it’s time for more in-depth reading and research. At this stage, she should start gathering facts, examples, and scholarly opinions to include in her paper. She’ll want to make use of various sources, including periodicals and other library resources, subject-specific articles, newspaper articles, and books on her topic.

Let’s look at three kinds of sources your teen might read in preparation for research:

Subject-specific Encyclopedias

While encyclopedias are great for general overviews, they’re usually not detailed enough for research purposes. However, libraries usually have a variety of subject-specific encyclopedias that are more focused, have longer entries, and go into greater detail. Examples include:

  • Encyclopedia of Food Science & Technology
  • Encyclopedia of the Holocaust
  • Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History
  • Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy

Online Sources

A website’s URL can provide a good clue as to its reliability as a source.

  • URLs ending in .edu are usually educational institutions and may be good sources for research.
  • URLs ending in .gov are most likely reliable government websites. Usually, these will provide fairly trustworthy and objective statistics and reports.
  • URLs ending in .org are often a non-profit organizations. Beware of any political agendas before citing such sources; an .org website may be a trustworthy research source—or it could be heavily biased.

When searching for online articles, discourage your teen from using Wikipedia as a legitimate source of information. Instead of using Wikipedia as a source, she can let it direct her to journal or newspaper articles, official web sites, and other more credible sources.

To get her started, here are some helpful links to online research sites that can supplement and improve your teen’s research efforts.


In these modern times, students are quick to rely on the Internet to provide source materials for their research. However, it’s always helpful—and often required—to find scholarly books on the topic as well.

Once your own home library has been scoured, head for the library in search of biographies, historical texts, or other works. Without reading or skimming an entire book, a quick look at the table of contents and index will help your teen determine its potential usefulness.

If the idea of research is daunting (as it is to most students!), encourage your teen that she doesn’t have to read every bit of every book. A chapter—or even just a paragraph or two—may be all she needs to read from a particular book to gather a timely quote or an important fact.

Set your teen to reading! Each of these activities—specific assignments, general overviews, and detailed research—is an important prewriting activity that will help pave the way for a solid essay or research paper.

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Photo: Will Ockenden, courtesy of Creative Commons

Create a historical newspaper

Create a Historical Newspaper | Writing about History for Kids

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

Making a newspaper is a great way to learn more about a time period or even a specific day of a famous event. During our homeschooling years, we put together several, including a Jamestown settlement newspaper and a Victorian era newspaper.

This activity is perfect for an individual history project, but several students can also work together. Because there are so many different sections in a newspaper, there’s something for everyone, from the most advanced writer to the youngest child.

TIP: If your children are not especially familiar with newspapers, pick one up at the grocery store. Have them do this free Newspaper Scavenger Hunt (courtesy of Moms and Munchkins) before launching into their project!


Consider the period you are currently (or soon to be) studying. Create a historical newspaper that centers on a specific year, decade, or era. Whether children are working alone or together, their newspaper should include 5-8 articles or sections:

1. National news story

What was happening in the news at the time? (Consider political, social, and religious news of the day in your country of study.)

  • Are you studying about Christopher Columbus? Then the national news story will probably be in Spain.
  • Are you learning about the the Renaissance? Your national news story would be about events in Italy or France.
  • Are you studying an American historical event? This news story needs to happen in the United States.

In addition to library books and other resources, web sites such as, Animated Atlas, and Church History Timeline will help spark topic ideas. For specific help, try websites such as Roman Society, Elizabethan Era, Colonial Daily Life, or Victorian England.

Don’t forget to include a headline!

2. International news story

What was happening elsewhere in the world at this time? To find out, explore a timeline such as World History Timeline B.C. or World History Timeline A.D.

3. Letters to the Editor

Everyday citizens write letters to the newspaper expressing their opinions about current events. Your children might use this opportunity to tell why they think:

  • the Church should not sell indulgences
  • the Virginia Company is misleading new colonists
  • Industrial-era factories shouldn’t hire child laborers
  • the United States should practice isolationism

4. Advertisements

What sorts of jobs did people have during this time period? What were the common occupations of the day? What kinds of things did people buy and sell? Kids can do a little research to find answers to these questions. Then they can write:

  • For sale ads
  • Help-wanted ads (apprentices needed, etc.)
  • Ads for lost animals, runaway slaves, traveling companions, etc.

5. Crossword or other puzzle

Most modern newspapers include games or puzzles for entertainment. Your children can put puzzles in their newspapers, too!

Crosswords are the most “educational” because they require the student to come up with clues. Invite children to come up with crossword vocabulary and appropriate clues that fit the time period. These websites will help them generate a printable puzzle:

6. Vital statistics

Newspapers often include information that tells more about the people of the day. As they create their own historical newspaper, your kids might want to include vital statistics such as:

  • Births
  • Deaths
  • Marriages
  • Crimes
  • Casualty lists during war times

This can be especially interesting when they report about real people. What important people were born? Did anyone of importance get married or die? Was a notorious crime committed during this era?

7. Miscellaneous sections or news

Likewise, most newspapers have sections that provide other types of information or amusement. Invite your students to consider including:

  • Inventions
  • Sports
  • Travel
  • Advice column
  • Doctor’s column
  • Comic strips or political cartoons

8. Photos or other images

In addition to articles and sections, it’s fun to include images! Try a site like Historical Stock for images you can download for free.

Edit: After posting this article, I received an email from the Historical Newspapers Database recommending Timothy Hughes Rare and Early Newspapers as a useful resource when creating your own historical newspapers. You and your students can look at pictures of real newspapers printed during the time period you’re researching.


Your Turn

Making a newspaper is a fun, educational way to practice new skills while writing across the curriculum. Have you ever had your children create a newspaper? What time period did you choose to write about?

Copyright 2012 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape


Photo of RMS Lusitania – Courtesy of Free Pictures at Historical Stock

RAK report – and a winner!

TemStock - Birthday Candles

In honor of my recent birthday, I invited friends and blog readers to join me in celebrating my special day by doing Random Acts of Kindness toward others. The response was overwhelming! Not only was I blessed, but many friends and strangers received gifts of encouragement, friendship, food, and money.

I loved celebrating my birthday this way!

RAK fun … all around the town

First, let me report on my own day of RAK adventures!

Before I left home, I made up and printed a couple dozen small cards explaining the gift I handed out, hid, or left in plain sight. These came in handy as I zig-zagged around town, having more fun than any 58-year-old should be allowed.

1. Dollar Tree Hide-and-Seek! My first stop was the Dollar Tree, where I wrapped dollar bills around a “You’ve Been RAKed” note and hid them under items at the Dollar Tree: a bag of pinto beans, bottle of laundry detergent, a box of candy, etc. I also gave some $5 bills to random shoppers. Loved the expressions on their faces!

2. Pass It Back. Between other errands, I bought gift cards at several locations for the people in line behind me. At McD’s I ordered a $1 Diet Coke and a gift card. When I picked up my gift card at the drive-thru window, I tucked in one of my RAK cards and asked the attendant to hand it to the car behind me. At Wendy’s, I bought myself a $1 burger and repeated the gift-card fun.

I also visited Starbucks and Juice It Up, where I bought gift cards inside and handed them to the next person in line.)

3. Bake and Take. I delivered homemade brownies to two different city fire stations. As a bonus, I was greeted by an old friend from our former church, and he gave me a personal tour of the beautiful Jersey fire station.

RAK Fire Station

4. Brighten a Child’s Day. I took a few minutes to write a letter to our sponsored Compassion child, Mercy. I love the option of sending her letters online. She gets them right away, and I can attach photos of the grandkids and us.

5. More Hide-and-Seek Fun! I hid a few $1 bills around Walmart. It was pretty funny watching some of the “hot spots.” Several people picked the box or can right next to the hidden dollar. Another picked up the box and didn’t even see the little treasure hiding underneath! I love that, because it reminds me of how God chose each person who was meant to find it!

6. Just Because. I handed Walmart gift cards to two random (and very surprised!) shoppers. One lucky mama got her card because I heard her little preschooler singing “Happy Birthday” two aisles away. I hurried toward that sweet voice and told her, “Thank you for singing that song. Today is my birthday!” As the little girl beamed, I handed her surprised mom the gift card.

7. Washing Away the Blues. At the laundromat, I left piles of quarters on the dryers. I haven’t been to the laundromat in a long time. Man, it’s expensive to dry a load!

8. Lift Spirits. I took a moment to compliment a store worker who was tidying up seriously messy shelves at Walmart. Her eyes absolutely lit up!

9. You’ve Got Mail. We shipped a free book to someone in dire financial need. Coincidence that we chatted with this mom on my RAK birthday? I think not!

10. It’s On Me! Taped quarters to a vending machine. I loved watching people walk by as if the coins were invisible. They were just sitting there waiting for the right person to discover them!

11. Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella! I smiled at a sad person. How easy is that?

12. Hold it! I stood at the exit and just held doors for people. And smiled.

13. I Can Use the Exercise! I parked in spots that were farther away or less convenient. Besides, I was in such a lighthearted mood that even the extra walking made me happy!

14. Gas Gift. I tried buying gas gift cards at a couple of gas stations, but they didn’t sell them in smaller denominations. I had already planned out my cash, so instead of skipping the gas station altogether, I got the idea of stuffing a RAK note and some cash in the credit-card slot at a gas station.

15. Cheer Up! I wrote a note of encouragement to a friend.

16. Look, Mom! What child doesn’t love to find money? So I went to the park and dropped some quarters under the play equipment for surprised children to discover. My daughter told me this was her favorite of all my RAKs!

The gift that keeps on giving…

I wasn’t the only one doing Random Acts of Kindness! Exactly 58 of my friends joined me to do a RAK in honor of my birthday! Here are just a few of their stories:

  • The lady in front of me at Wal*Mart kept having her ATM card rejected … I paid her grocery bill. ~Erin
  • My daughter bought food for the animal shelter in honor of your birthday. ~Sharra
  • Surprised some folks with $5 bills at Sprouts this evening in your honor. Big, wide-eyed looks, then smiles and laughs when I said, “Happy birthday to my friend… she said to give it to you!” ~Arleen
  • I am taking an Anatomy and Physiology course and our professor posts lecture notes online. There are always several students that didn’t have time to print out the notes. In anticipation of that, I made 3 extra copies and handed them out to 3 that forgot to do it. ~Denise
  • Helping someone move. We were not asked, but we are jumping in. ~Teri

…and more…

  • McDonald’s cards for a some special ladies and helped one lady sew a purse. ~Susan
  • The Lord put it on my heart to purchase a bunch of socks and t-shirts at Costco.  I wrapped each gift with a bow and a RAK note that said, “You are important to this life and massively loved by God. He wanted you to know that today.” Then I drove to different areas with and distributed the little gifts. ~Debbie
  • My husband picked up In-N-Out for dinner and got a gift card for the car behind him. He could hear the guy loudly exclaiming, “What, no way!!” So fun! ~Christen
  • I collected the carts in the 99 Cent Store parking lot. ~Barb

…and more…

  • Is anyone/everyone else feeling as I am–why don’t I do this more often, every day? The homeless guy with the sign, when I handed him $20 and the peaches I had cut up for my snack: “Hey! That’s a h*** of a lot of money!” :) ~Jenni
  • Today we helped pay for care packages being sent to our troops! Love you Kim, happy birthday!! ~Laurel
  • Cookies delivered to the neighbors! ~Janel
  • Three bags of books packed up to donate to a local church library. ~Heidi
  • Sent 2 encouraging notes this morning to friends going through difficult times.  This afternoon I will serve with “Big Brothers/Big Sisters” at Camp Pendleton. ~Mary

…and more!

  • I got a $15 gas card, then spun around and handed it to the guy behind us. He couldn’t believe it. Even came out a few mins later as I was buckling her in to check that I really was giving it to him and asked why. I said it was for my friends birthday. He loved it! That was fun! ~Christie
  • Got a meal prepared and in fridge for pick up tomorrow for a stressed friend. ~Maggie
  • I paid a friend’s overdue gas bill before their gas was turned off.  ~Rachel
  • At the airport … personally thanked some brave soldiers for their service! ~Pam
  • I was the recipient of one of those RAK’s.  I was at Taco Bell and the person in front of me in the drive-thru paid for my order.  It really made me feel good for the rest of the day.  My bill wasn’t even $3, but it did a lot for my attitude! ~Gail

And we have a winner!

I’m sorry it took so long to post the winner of the RAK Birthday Giveaway. When I didn’t hear back from the first winner by the end of last week, I drew a new name. Congratulations to Lisa G!

A special thanks to each one of you who not only entered the drawing, but who took time to do a Random Act of Kindness as well. The results blew me away! It was the best birthday in recent memory.



5 top vocabulary-building apps

Nokia Lumia 900 Smartphone

creative commons

BECAUSE WE associate smartphones with texting, it’s easy to boil smartphone vocabulary down to a bunch of LOLs and BRBs. While that may be the case in the text-messaging world, it shouldn’t give the handy phones a bad reputation as a whole.

There are tons of smartphone apps that actually improve vocabulary and language arts skills. Here are five favorites among vocabulary-building apps on the market today.

Textropolis | Free

The Textropolis app is “English-class-meets-Where’s-Waldo.” Users must discover hidden words in cities throughout the world to build up their “Textropolis.” The game is designed for students 10 and up, but the lower levels might also work for younger students. This takes simple flashcard studying to a whole new level, helping kids learn through a fun video game adventure.

Word Magic | $0.99

Word Magic is a spelling/vocabulary app made for three- to six-year-olds who are just starting to develop their vocabularies. It shows users a picture of an item and then lists most of the letters for it below the image. For instance, it might show a picture of a hand with the letters H_ND. The student just has to fill in the blanks. This app may be targeted at a young group of people, but it gives parents a new way to help their children learn and grow.

SAT Vocab Challenge | $4.99

Created by The Princeton Review, this smartphone app teaches high school students the vocab they need for the SAT college entrance exam. There are two volumes available for download, as well as a GRE version for potential grad students. SAT Vocab Challenge reviews hundreds of rarely used words that often appear on the SAT, giving students the boost they need before their big test.

Vocab Junkie | $1.99

Vocab Junkie is an app designed to help middle and high school students learn their vocabulary words. It has over 800 flashcards with some of the most useful words in the English language. Users are asked to assess how well they know a certain word after the definition is revealed. The app then repeats words that a student may not have been confident about in the hopes of instilling it into his brain.

This app was created by Brainscape, one of the leading organizations for memory training and cognitive recognition in the modern world. You’ll have no trouble learning from this vocab app.

WordWorm | $2.99

This Android app won’t necessarily teach you new words, but it can be used to recall words you already knowWordWorm can be used at any age, and most people just play it for fun. In this game, you have to connect letters together in strings to form words. You must do this quickly though before the fiery letters burn their way to the bottom. Get as many words as you can in an allotted period of time, and maybe you’ll find something new along the way.

Check out these apps the next time you feel challenging your cranium, and you’ll have a better vocabulary in no time.

Stacy Anderson is a freelance writer and holds a bachelor’s degree in Education and Journalism. She writes guest posts for different sites and loves contributing education and school job related topics.

Modeling writing through conversation

Modeling writing and editing through questions and conversation trains children to be stronger writers who will one day gain their own voice.

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WHEN apprentices work with a master craftsman or artist, they copy their master’s work. Consider the famous painters whose pieces we admire in museums and books. Most of them began as apprentices, but they became famous in their own right for their unique styles and methods.

Think about how we all learned cursive: we followed the model that we were taught in school. Yet, do you know anyone who still writes the same way we were taught? Probably not! Most people have pretty different penmanship styles, even though the original model was similar.

So when you get to the editing part of a writing project, don’t be concerned that you’re helping too much or offering too many stylistic suggestions. Your editing tips, whether broad or specific, serve as a model to the student. In time, he’ll gain his own style and voice.

Modeling Writing Through Conversation

Start with the first draft.

Since this is the sloppy copy, your student should be responsible to self-edit his own paper. It’s his job to take care of some of these problems before he ever turns the paper in to you. You can work on it with him, if necessary, but see if he can do it alone first.

You’ll have the opportunity to give suggestions after he’s gone through his paper by himself and revised it. Over time, students learn that the more time they invest in self-editing, the less “red-penciling” they’ll see from Mom.

Among the things he must look for:

  • Overly repeated words. This is a new concept for most students. It helps to use word banks or a thesaurus to think of different ways to avoid repetition.
  • Sentence limit. He will need to combine sentences, remove sentences, or blend information from two or three sentences into one in order to stay within the confines of a short paragraph of, say, 5-7 sentences.

Help him identify problems that might not be apparent to him.

I found it helpful when working with my own son to ask questions that allowed him to answer without making him feel like the ideas were all mine. Give options and choices. Here’s an example of a dialogue that helps a student hone a paragraph about a favorite stuffed animal.

You:  You used lots of great description in your paragraph, but now I’d like you to tell me some things about Rocket that don’t have anything to do with his appearance. Where did you get him? What is he?

Son:  I got Rocket for my birthday. He’s a stuffed blue jay.

You:  How could you combine some of that information into a topic sentence that doesn’t describe Rocket yet?

Son: (probably with help from you) I got a stuffed blue jay for my birthday.


You:  What do his eyes do?

Son:  Well, they’re shiny. They sort of sparkle.

You:  Those are good words to describe his eyes. What color are they?

Son:  Black.

You:  OK, so…His shiny black eyes (do what?)

Son: His shiny black eyes sparkle.

You:  Where are his eyes located?

Son:  On each side of his beak.

You:  If you combine all that information, you’ll have a great sentence!

Son:  His shiny black eyes sparkle on each side of his beak.

You:  Great! Now that you have the basic sentence, it’s easy to make simple improvements. For example, tell me about his beak.

Son: It’s black and it’s made of vinyl.

You:  How can you incorporate that information into your sentence?

Son: His shiny black eyes sparkle on each side of his black vinyl beak.

You:  See how much clearer this is? Each time you add a description, it helps your reader picture Rocket even better! Now, do you notice a repeated word?

Son:  Black.

You:  Yup! You have some options. You can use your thesaurus and replace one “black” with a synonym; you can remove one use of the word “black” altogether; or you can use a different descriptive word that isn’t a color word at all.

Son: His shiny black eyes sparkle on each side of his ebony vinyl beak.  (Or, His shiny button eyes sparkle on each side of his black vinyl beak. Or, His shiny black eyes sparkle on each side of his vinyl beak.)

You:  One last thing. Since you’ve used the word “his” several times in your paragraph, it might be good to use a synonym here and there. You can use his name or a different synonym for your bird.

Son:  Rocket’s shiny button eyes sparkle on each side of his black vinyl beak. (Or, My bird’s shiny button eyes sparkle on each side of his black vinyl beak. Or, Shiny button eyes sparkle on each side of my blue jay’s black vinyl beak.)

Modeling writing through conversation can take place anywhere along the way, whether it’s during your teaching time or while helping your child revise his story. Even if you don’t always feel secure about your own writing abilities, it’s amazing how much confidence these conversational times can instill in your young writer.

Give it a try!

Photo courtesy of Stockxchng.
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