Entries from May 2013 ↓

Sweet treats: Silly journal prompts kids will love

 Silly journal prompts make writing fun! Kids can describe ice cream flavors or imagine a debate between a toothbrush and a chocolate bar.

SUMMER is calling, and you’re probably making the final push for your kids to finish the school year! Make writing time a little more fun (and sweet) this week with these silly journal prompts.

1. Frosty Dream

An ice cream company has asked you to invent a new flavor. Draw a picture of your creation and write a tempting description.

2. Red Alert!

If all the sugar in the world turned into salt, what would happen to candy stores and their owners?

3. Monsters in the Kitchen

Write a story about a child who turns into a cookie monster and eats only cookies to survive.

4. How Sweet it Is

Imagine that you are escorted to Birthdayland. In this magical world, children eat pieces from gigantic frosted cakes and open presents that fall from hot air balloons. Describe the strange sights and the children you meet. How do you feel after a night in this land? Do you want to go home for your real birthday?

5. The Brush-off

If your toothbrush could talk, what would it say to a chocolate bar? How would the chocolate bar respond?

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photo: eyeliam, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Poetry moment: The Star-Spangled Banner

Memorial Day, national anthem, poetry

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,

Between their lov’d home, and the war’s desolation,

Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land,

Praise the Power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto – “In God is our Trust;”

And the star-spangled Banner in triumph shall wave,

O’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

~ Fourth Stanza of “The Defence of Fort McHenry”

Francis Scott Key wrote “The Defence of Fort McHenry” during the War of 1812. The Baltimore Patriot published the poem on September 20, 1814. A congressional resolution declared these famous words – now known as “The Star-Spangled Banner” – to be our official national anthem on March 3, 1931.

This Memorial Day, we gratefully remember all those who have given their lives defending our country and our freedom.

Photo: Carissa Rogers, courtesy of Creative Commons.

6 compare and contrast essay topics

compare and contrast essay, high school writing prompts

COMPARE AND CONTRAST essays don’t have to be dull and tedious! Your high school students will be sure to enjoy a few of this week’s lighthearted topics.

Help teens stay focused with a four-paragraph outline: introduction, similarities, differences, and conclusion. Motivated writers may need two paragraphs for the comparisons or two paragraphs for the contrasts, and that’s fine, too!

1. All in the Family

Family reunions tend to occur at the time of births, weddings, and funerals. Choose two of these three events to compare and contrast.

2. Fashion Statement

It makes us laugh and makes us cry; it fills our closets and empties our wallets. Fashion, past and present, can be fun to study and even more fun to wear! Compare and contrast the clothing styles of today with the styles from a twentieth-century decade of your choice.

3. Saved by the Bell?

Some people procrastinate every assignment and always arrive five minutes late. Others rise before dawn, meet deadlines early, and arrive at meetings with a quarter hour to spare. You know both types, so it’s time to immortalize them in a compare/contrast essay.

4. Behind Closed Doors

Imagine two modest-sized houses: the first belongs to a young pair of newlyweds, and the other is owned by an elderly couple. Compare and contrast these two homes, including the furniture styles, the gadgets and appliances, and the number of items stored in garages, drawers, and closets.

5. Bucket Lists and Dirty Floors

How does it feel to experience something the very first time? How do your feelings change when the activity becomes an old routine? Think about an experience such as driving a car, going camping, baking a cake, or practicing an instrument. Compare and contrast the first time you tried it with your most recent experience.

6. Cheaper by the Dozen

Piles of laundry, noise levels, schedules, routines—we see so many differences between large and small families. Contrast a few of the differences you’ve noticed, and compare several things that both kinds of families have in common.

If you enjoyed these compare and contrast essay topics, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for high schoolers. 

Photo: surlygirl, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Noun and pronoun variation

pronoun variation, avoid repetiion

Many writers, young and old, often allow their style to suffer from the pitfalls of overly repeated words. That’s one reason  WriteShop I teaches students to avoid unnecessary repetition. Today, let’s talk about ways to make sure proper names don’t become dreaded repeated words in stories and essays.

Using the same pronouns over and over again, such as he, she, he, she, can be just as boring as repeating a proper name. One of my favorite examples of an overused pronoun is found in Kate Douglas Wiggin’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903). Young Rebecca attempts to add “a refined and elegant touch” to her essay on “Solitude,” and the result is this entertaining writing mishap:

It would be false to say that one could ever be alone when one has one’s lovely thoughts to comfort one. One sits by one’s self, it is true, but one thinks; one opens one’s favorite book and reads one’s favorite story; one speaks to one’s aunt or one’s brother, fondles one’s cat, or looks at one’s photograph album. There is one’s work also: what a joy it is to one, if one happens to like work….

You can help your children avoid this kind of redundancy. Teach them these three strategies for writing with proper names, and watch boring reports become compelling narratives!

Noun and Pronoun Variation

Imagine you are writing a paragraph about your dad for Father’s Day. You wouldn’t want to start the first three sentences with “My dad,” and refer to him in last three sentences as “he.” Use pronouns with intention, and be mindful of noun and pronoun variation. Try using “Dad” in the first sentence, “my father” in the second sentence, “he” in the third sentence, and so on.

Remember: if you need to use a name multiple times, mix it up with pronouns so your readers never even notice when repeated words are there.

Proper Name Variations

If you are writing a paragraph about President Lincoln, try using different variations of his name.

  • President Abraham Lincoln is appropriate for the introduction and conclusion.
  • His title alone (the President) will fit well in a sentence about his political duties.
  • You might use his first and last name only (Abraham Lincoln) in a sentence about his personal life or religious convictions.
  • When other options are exhausted, his last name alone (Lincoln) can be used effectively to break up sentences with longer versions of his name.

Again, bear in mind that using a person’s name in every single sentence is also a form of repetition, so you would want to include the pronoun he several times as well.

The Sky’s the Limit with Descriptive Names

What if you are writing an essay about your siblings? Suppose that one paragraph describes your little sister Katie. Instead of just repeating “Katie,” “my sister,” and “she,” think of other ways to describe this special person in your life.

  • Is she the kind of girl who never sits still? Use a nickname like “our busy monkey” in a sentence about her personality.
  • Does she love clothes? Call her “our fashion queen” in a sentence about her appearance.
  • Is she the person who brightens your life? Try a term of endearment like “my little sunshine” or “Daddy’s princess” instead of a simple pronoun.

Repeated words are for lazy writing. When it comes time to write about other people, don’t use proper names over and over again! Try different versions of a person’s name, include noun and pronoun variation, and be creative with descriptive names and terms of endearment. I guarantee your writing will become more engaging and enjoyable.

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.wordpress.com.

Photo: DVIDSHUB, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Bicycle writing prompts for National Bike Month

bicycle writing prompts

MAY is National Bike Month. Get creative wheels turning with these bicycle-themed writing prompts. Let’s roll!

1. Century of Progress

The Wright brothers, Wilbur and Orville, owned a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio before they invented the first airplane. Write about three differences between traveling by bicycle and traveling by airplane.

2. Jolly Holiday

Imagine your favorite place to ride a bicycle. Is it a dirt bike course in a mountain desert, a breezy boardwalk at the beach, or your own neighborhood streets and parks? Describe this place using strong nouns and vivid adjectives.

3. Your Opinion, Please

Do you believe that wearing a helmet while riding a bike should be required by law? Why or why not?

4. Life is a Highway

Did you know that cyclists must follow the same traffic laws as vehicle drivers? When riding a bicycle, you must ride in the direction of traffic, signal before changing lanes, and yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Write about three things that would make busy streets and highways safer for cyclists.

5. Ride for a Cause

Many people participate in bike rides that support a charity or cause. If you were to plan a charity bicycling event, what organization would you want to support with the funds you raise? Why is this organization important to you? Where would you hold the event?

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photo: Emilio Labrador, courtesy of Creative Commons.


2013 Teach Them Diligently and NCHE Homeschool Conventions

In the next two weeks WriteShop will be exhibiting at a couple more homeschool conventions: Teach Them Diligently in Nashville, TN, and NCHE  in Winston-Salem, NC.

WriteShop at Homeschool Conventions

Teach Them Diligently, Nashville – May16-18

Kyra will be our friendly rep at the Teach Them Diligently conference in Nashville this month. With over 10 years of WriteShop experience, Kyra loves to answer your writing questions and explain WriteShop products to you.

NCHE- North Carolinians for Home Education, Winson-Salem – May 22-25

Kyra and Debbie will be greeting you at our booth in North Carolina! These knowledgeable ladies look forward to answering your questions, showing you WriteShop materials, and helping you choose the best level for your children’s and teen’s writing needs.

At BOTH homeschool conventions you can:

WriteShop Writing Curriculum

  • See our full line of WriteShop products
  • Purchase WriteShop materials.
  • Learn how you can teach a WriteShop co-op class in your area.
  • Receive much-needed encouragement about teaching writing.

Whichever homeschool conventions you attend, it’s a great time to stop by our booth to ask questions. Come see what’s new or browse through WriteShop books in person. Visit the convention sites for workshop schedules, exhibit hall hours, and directions to the conferences. We look forward to seeing you there!

Celebrating Children’s Book Week

Children's Book Week 2013

THIS week, May 13-19, is Children’s Book Week. It’s the perfect time to revisit old favorites, and perhaps to add a few new titles to your family library. Of course, with new books pouring off the press every year, it can be hard to sort through all the rubbish. How’s a parent to find the rare jewels of children’s literature?

C. S. Lewis, creator of Chronicles of Narnia, left this wise advice:

“I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last…. It certainly is my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” (Of Other Worlds)

Let’s Celebrate Children’s Book Week

Young, developing minds and blossoming hearts need nourishment through stories of enduring quality. Reading material should be more than just “age-appropriate.” Are your children’s books filled with noble characters, strong vocabulary, and beautiful artwork? As a homeschool graduate, I’m grateful my parents filled their home with books their children and grandchildren will return to again and again.

If you want to introduce your children to some classic titles, these book lists are an excellent place for inspiration. Happy reading!

Newbery Winners

Since 1922, the annual John Newbery Medal has honored American authors for their distinguished contributions to children’s literature. The winner’s circle includes Lois Lowry (The GiverNumber the Stars), Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time), Scott O’Dell (Island of the Blue Dolphins), and Hugh Lofting (The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle).

Take a moment to read the complete list of Newbery Medal winners.

Caldecott Winners

Beginning in 1938, the Randolph Caldecott Medal has been awarded to an illustrator for the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children.” It’s been said that teachers love the Newbery Medal books, but children love the Caldecott winners! I still remember my childish delight at Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. At Christmastime, nothing could parallel the magic of my mother’s voice and Chris Van Allsburg’s paintings as we read aloud from The Polar Express.

See if you recognize some of your family favorites in this list of Caldecott Medal winners.

Classics for the Christian Homeschool Family

The twenty-five moms who compiled this list are the first to admit some of your favorite books may be missing, and not all of their recommendations will suit your family. This is an extensive list, but don’t be overwhelmed. The books are broken up by grade level and divided into sections such as “Anthologies and Poetry,” “Holiday Books,” “Picture Books,” and “Literature.”

Enjoy making your next library wish list from the 1000 Good Books List and celebrate Children’s Book Week all year long!

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.wordpress.com.

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy.

Photo: John Morgan, courtesy of Creative Commons.


10 Mother’s Day writing prompts

Mother's Day writing prompts, Mother's Day journal prompts

WRITING WARM-UPS are always a good idea, even more so at this cherished time of year. These Mother’s Day writing prompts will draw your family together and set pens and pencils in motion!

Descriptive Mother’s Day Writing Prompts

1. Do you notice any similarities between your mother and your grandmother? Describe the personality traits, character qualities, or physical attributes they share.

2. Describe a piece of jewelry that your mother always wears. What makes this piece of jewelry so special to her?

3. Describe a talent, interest, or hobby that makes your mother different from every other mom you know.

4. Think of your mother’s voice when she sings a special song or shares a favorite verse with you. Write three similes for her voice at these times. Is it as soft as a summer wind or as musical as choir of bells?

5. Describe your mother’s decorating style. Use your best adjectives, and include the senses of sight, smell, and touch.

6. Write a color poem to describe your mother. Choose a color, and write three or four similes comparing your mother to things of that color, such as: 

“My Mother Is Yellow”

My mother’s face is as bright as the mid-day sun.

She holds her head high, like a bold sunflower.

Her heart is as cheerful as a field of yellow daisies.

My mother is a treasure, like shiny nuggets of gold.

Other Mother’s Day Writing Prompts

1. Does your mother have a nickname for you? Where did she get that name?

2. Is there a story behind your mother’s name? Ask her why she received her first and middle names. Does she have a nickname?

3. What do you think a perfect day for your mother would be like? Write about one thing you could do to help make that wonderful, imaginary day become a reality.

4. What do you think it means to have a beautiful heart?


Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photo © Karah Fredricks. Used by permission.


Taming the Cluttered Writing Monster

Tips for repairing cluttered writing, disorganized writing, and wordiness

IT’S that time of year again, when your student hands you the writing assignment he supposedly worked on for the past month. Visions of triumph swirl through your head—this will be the crowning writing project of the school year, the showpiece for grandparents’ open house night. Yet now, as you stare down at the jumbled sentences, you see only a disorganized, cluttered mess.

This may seem like the perfect time for a homeschooling mama to panic or retreat. But before you do either, take heart! Your kids have a bunch of words and bright ideas to share with the world. They probably just need a little more guidance and instruction. Arm yourselves against the Cluttered Writing Monster, and let the battle begin!

Cluttered Writing Problem #1: Too Many Topics

Imagine that your 10-year-old’s book summary includes a paragraph like this:

The ship captain was a mean man. He never smiled. Every morning, the captain ate his hot breakfast in his cabin on the ship. The captain’s teeth were crooked. The food always tasted bad on the ship, because the cook was a runaway blacksmith. The cabin boy was the one who always brought the captain’s breakfast. The cabin boy liked to look at the maps in the captain’s cabin. The walls smelled musty, but the maps smelled like faraway places. The cabin boy didn’t want to run away.

Often, students think a “summary” means writing down as many facts as they can remember. But as you know, a one- to three-page summary should focus on a few important topics, not a boatload of trivia. If you want to stop cluttered writing in its tracks, help your child organize his thoughts out loud. Here’s one way to do this:

You: Who is the main character?

Child: The cabin boy.

You: What are four of the most important qualities about this character?

Child: He’s obedient, he loves exploring, he makes friends with everyone on the ship, and he keeps his promises.

You: Where does the story take place?

Child: On the ship.

You: Can you describe the ship in a few sentences?

Child: It has three masts, but one falls down and gets repaired. It has a captain’s cabin full of maps for distant islands. It has a galley full of smelly food and funny music from the cook’s harmonica. The ship was designed to sail quickly and to carry light loads.

Young writers can easily get bogged down with too many ideas. A simple conversation with your child can quickly narrow down the main character, setting, and supporting sentence ideas. Don’t forget to make notes together on a white board or notebook paper. Soon, your child will be able to take a sword to his own papers, cutting right to the point.

Cluttered Writing Problem #2: Too Many Words

Does your teenage daughter use flowery, pretentious writing, also known as purple prose? Consider this overdone paragraph:

Like a brood of vipers, Natalie’s ebony locks hung thickly on her hunched, crooked shoulders like the awful blackness of night. With shifty eyes and a sneaky manner, she furtively glanced at the dark, foreboding, overgrown forest behind her. Oh! How desperately she longed and dreamed and schemed for the day when she and she alone would vanquish the evil queen’s army and defeat every last law-abiding soldier who stood between her and the sweet taste of retribution and victory.

Though such writing would thrill a young Anne of Green Gables, teen writers—especially girls—may need to learn that bigger words and longer sentences don’t make them look smarter. Finding the one right word, and using it wisely, is the mark of a true wordsmith. Help your student cut down the towering monster of wordiness with the sword of concise writing.

What’s Next?

Many factors can contribute to cluttered writing. In addition to disorganization and wordiness, spelling, grammar, and handwriting mistakes may be the problems that plague a child’s papers. Some of these will require intensive one-on-one training, while others may diminish over time.

If paragraph organization, word choice, or sentence style are among your children’s foes, look no further! WriteShop offers a host of writing curriculum for different grade levels. As you reevaluate your homeschool writing materials, you may want to consider one of these programs next year to help your kids tame the Cluttered Writing Monster!

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.wordpress.com.

Photo: mdubinko, courtesy of Creative Commons.


More Mother’s Day writing activities

Mother's Day writing activities, acrostic poems, writing prompts, and card ideas children can make for Mom on her special day.

I’m guest blogging over at Home Educating Family, offering some Mother’s Day writing activities. Join me?

Whether it’s delivering breakfast in bed or creating a handmade card, your children’s hearts are filled up with you, their mama—and on your special day, they can’t wait to present you with their sweet offerings.

Many children, especially younger ones, are eager to bless you on Mother’s Day with something they’ve created themselves, but let’s be honest. Without guidance and direction, it probably won’t happen.

Take advantage of the days leading up to this celebratory Sunday. Why not set out a box of paper, writing tools, and craft supplies and encourage your children to write or create something special for you? They can fashion a crafty gift, write a sentimental letter or poem, or design a pretty card. No matter what they come up with, you’ll be one grateful and happy mom . . .

Read the complete article here and share these Mother’s Day writing activities with your family. Hope they take the bait and shower you with loving words and handmade cards on your special day!

For additional ideas, see last year’s Mother’s Day Writing Activities.

Copyright 2013 © by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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