Entries from July 2013 ↓

Book review writing prompts for high school students

Writing prompts to help high school students write book reviews about style, characters, originality, content, and author voice

Not that long ago, it seems, we would look to magazine writers and newspaper columnists for book reviews. Today, every online customer is a potential book reviewer. No matter what you’re reading, someone wants to know your opinion.

Ask your high schooler to choose one writing prompt for a one-paragraph book review. Or, combine several prompts for a longer critique. Don’t forget to post the polished review on Amazon, Facebook, or a personal blog!

1. As Clear as Crystal

Explain your opinion of the author’s writing style. Are his arguments clear? Are his directions confusing? In his fiction, does he balance internal character development and external action to keep the story moving? Overall, do the author’s word choice and sentence structure make you want to read more?

2. Like Flowers in Spring

Evaluate the fictional characters. Are their actions consistent with their strengths and weaknesses? Are their speaking habits believable? Provide some examples. Analyze the story’s ending: does it flow naturally from what you’ve learned about these characters?

3. As Old as Time

With hard work and imagination, an author can reveal her distinctive creativity within the limits of classic plot structure. Describe the originality–or the copycat features–of her fictional storyline.

4. As Good as Gold

A work of nonfiction, whether a biography or a cookbook, claims a certain amount of special knowledge. Considering how this book advertised itself in the title and table of contents, did the actual product meet your expectations? Was it accurate and well-researched? Did the facts outweigh the propaganda? Did you find extensive, organized information or only repetitious jargon?

5. Like Water in a Desert

We characterize an author as a harsh critic or a compassionate mentor depending on their tone. Did you find this author to be condemning or inspiring? Give examples. Since you have familiarized yourself with the author’s viewpoint, add a recommendation about which readers will find this book most appealing.

If you enjoyed these book review writing prompts, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for high schoolers.

Photo: “Classical Collection” by Les Chatfield, courtesy of Creative Commons.

How listening helps kids learn to love words

Listening and vocabulary go hand in hand. Inspire a love words through read aloud books, conversations, and lessons of faith.

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

Winding my way through a used bookstore recently, I came across a slim paperback called One Writer’s BeginningsIn this memoir, author Eudora Welty (1909-2001) describes the impressions and experiences that shaped her childhood in the American South.

She has much to teach about the learning process of children who later appreciate words and stories. Today, let’s step into her world to see how listening and vocabulary go hand in hand.

Home Life

Looking back on her life in Jackson, Mississippi, Miss Welty recalls:

“Childhood’s learning is made up of moments.”

Those moments began in her home, watching the full moon rise over the front yard or being wakened for an eclipse during the velvety black night. Her love of stories began long before she could read, with the sight of illuminated letters in fairy tale books and the sound of her mother reading aloud.

In the bedroom rocking chair, in the fire-warmed dining room, or in the kitchen on butter-churning day, Eudora knew that any time or place was ripe for reading aloud. Of course, the future novelist listened for stories as much as she listened to them.

While neighbor ladies gossiped on Sunday drives, and while the family seamstress weaved tales through a mouth full of pins, Eudora basked in a world of drama and scenes. She read storybooks by day and soaked in her parents’ hushed conversation by night.

Learning happens when we least expect it, for children are always listening. The stories we tell, and the stories they read, should be good ones.

School Days

In a time when honor-roll grades made local news, Eudora Welty grew up with wild suspense, wondering when can I go to school? By age five, her days were regulated by the brass bell of Jefferson Davis Grammar School. The bubbly singing teacher, taciturn art instructor, and no-nonsense physical education classes left their marks on her memory. It was her high school Latin teacher, however, who fed her soul’s growing love for grammar—her “bone fide alliance with words in their true meaning.”

Eudora learned to respect the well-built sentence as something beautiful and solid, like the State capitol building at the top of her street. The marble floors of the Capitol became her daily path to school and to the library, where the booming voice of an ever-watching librarian could never silence Eudora’s devotion to books. Both marble floors and grammar studies would pave the way for this young girl’s budding talent with words.

Your child’s road to writing may begin at the library, or perhaps a foreign language will spark a full understanding of the way English works. Whatever your method, never stop building; someday, your child’s writing will be solid and beautiful.

Words of Faith

Words—tender, joyful, silly, and sad—filled Eudora Welty’s childhood as her mother sang lullabies and her little brothers learned to laugh. The girl discovered new words all the time, while she listened to her father’s dictation machine or watched silent-film pantomimes and captions in the movie theater.

Listening went hand in hand with movement and dance when the words spilled out from musical phonograph records or from the cheery choruses of Sunday School hymns. As a mature writer looking backward, Eudora felt most blessed to have grown up in the atmosphere of the old King James Bible. Its cadence and poetry would shape many Southern writers for the rest of their lives.

The words swirling around your children come from not only books and school, but from parents and siblings, movies and music. Whether words of entertainment or words of faith, they ought to be uplifting, inspiring, and life-affirming. With this background, your grown children might just one day echo Eudora Welty:

“the act of writing in itself brings me happiness.”

Part 2: Learning to See

Part 3: Finding a Voice

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.com.

Photo: Barbara Hobbs, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Scrapbook journaling: Fun and frugal!

Scrapbook Journaling Ideas for the Non-Scrapbooker

AH, SUMMER … the perfect time to finally print those digital photos (or organize the ones you printed two years ago).

While you upload your Walmart prints (or load your printer with glossy photo paper), you daydream about becoming that mom—the one with up-to-date scrapbooks for each of her six well-groomed, smiling children. Visions of coordinated papers and stickers for every season swirl through your mind. If only you had more hours in the day–and if only it didn’t cost so much!

If this sounds familiar, maybe it’s time for a new strategy (read: relaxed, frugal scrapbooking). Close your eyes, breathe, and give yourself permission to walk away from all the store-bought paraphernalia. Refocus on the memories you want to preserve with a few special photos and the informal art of scrapbook journaling.

Back to Basics

In a bygone era, scrapbooks were books for storing “scrap.” The ribbon from a spelling bee, the poem you memorized for graduation, and a sepia headshot of your best friend would be pasted in your memory book. If you fell in love with a magazine picture of a rose-garden trellis, you might cut it out to adorn the page with your special friend’s photo.

When did we start believing that memory books demand artistic talent and name-brand supplies? My happiest hours are spent cutting and pasting, with little more than the cardstock and memorabilia I have on hand. When my summer scrapbook pages are finished, they usually include a photo from a party, a postcard from a friend, ticket stubs from the movie theatre, and perhaps a theme-park map and birthday sticker.

Look around at the supplies within arm’s reach. Did you save last year’s calendar pictures? Choose one to use as background paper. Did Grandma send home an extra 5 x 7 photo of the family reunion? Make that the focal point. Add a strip of solid colored paper, and you’re ready to write!

What to Write

Scrapbook journaling should be fun and spontaneous. With just a few lines per page, you can record the funny and heart-warming memories behind the photos, cards, and ticket stubs. Share this writing opportunity with your kids, and see what clever captions they come up with!

  • Uncle Bob sneaked up behind me with a water gun after Mom took this photo. I was soaked!
  • My friend Julia mailed this postcard from her mission trip to Brazil. I mailed her one two months later from my camping trip in Yosemite National Park.
  • Our family enjoyed this movie on the big screen, even though Dad fell asleep and Emma choked on her popcorn when the dragon woke up!

Sometimes, you can insert a quote from a letter if you don’t feel like writing. My Grandma often sends notes with her thoughts about a family trip or gathering, so I like to include her words next to photos.

Keep it Simple

Scrapbooks come in all shapes and sizes, but my advice is keep it simple. Try to limit the layers of paper, because thick pages fill up shelf space quickly. Instead of gluing in whole birthday cards, cut out the fronts and make a note of who sent them. Or, cut out the inside greetings and throw the fronts away. {Yes, I’m giving you permission to cut up cards and letters!}

My final hint? Arrange scrapbook pages on letter-sized paper, and store them in sheet protectors and 3-ring binders. This makes it so easy to rearrange pages later. It also allows you to keep one book for the family, and divide up pages later when your kids leave home. Of course, some of you have teen daughters who keep their own girly scrapbooks, but those of you with three rambunctious boys may not have that luxury. Go easy on yourself! Don’t feel compelled to keep four separate books current (most boys don’t care until they’re older, anyway).

No matter how much you do or don’t scrapbook, give yourself grace. No one’s keeping score to see which mom can hoard the most birthday cards. The photo police won’t come knocking if the collage in your hallway is five or ten or fifteen years old. So relax, have fun, and be sure to tell your friends about the wonderful world of scrapbook journaling!

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.com.

Photo: Stephanie Casarez, courtesy of Creative Commons.


Summer writing prompts

summer writing prompts, summer journal prompts

WRITING will be a breeze when your kids pick from our list of summer writing prompts. After they’ve captured the sights of the season on paper, don’t forget to share a cold drink or frozen treat!

1. Umbrellas and Ice Cream and Sunscreen (oh my!)

Write a story using at least four of the following words and phrases: beach umbrella, Sahara desert, ice cream stand, teacup, ice cube, lion, sunscreen.

2. Make a Splash

What could be better than a day at the lake? Write about three water sports or activities you would like to try on a lakeside vacation.

3. Cricket Lullaby

Do you lie awake on summer nights, listening to waves crash against the shore? Do you watch for fireflies through an open window, while breathing in the humid air? Make a word bank filled with nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs that remind you of summer nights.

4. Ripe, Plump & Juicy

Think of your favorite summer fruit. Is it a luscious peach, a succulent strawberry, or a massive melon? Write a list of instructions for preparing and eating this fruit, beginning with how to buy it. Do you drive to the store, walk to a fruit stand, or reach into the branches of a backyard tree?

5. Sky High Rides & Blue-Ribbon Pies

Describe the atmosphere of a county fair. Include the tastes of the fair food, the smells of the livestock, the sounds of the stage shows, and the feel of riding the Ferris wheel (or another favorite ride).

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

Photo: Will Ockenden, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Cultivating a love of reading {and giveaway!)

books, bookstore, love of reading

By Daniella Dautrich

WHEN your child opens a book, does she find a dull and lifeless heap of words? Or, does she see a portal to new ideas and creative adventures?

As a homeschooling parent, one of the best gifts you can impart to your children is a genuine love of reading. There are so many ways to do this, from building a strong reading foundation to working on reading skills.

Today, let’s explore three more ways to cultivate a lifelong love of reading.

A Child’s Bookcase

When my brother and I were young, our parents gave each of us a tall bookcase for our bedrooms. Mine was clean white particleboard. It had a middle shelf for chapter books, a lower shelf for picture books, and room to spare for dolls and knickknacks. Over time, my stacks of fiction, poetry, and reference books grew, while toys were quietly donated or packed away.

I grew up believing that bookcases–and book collections that never stopped growing–were part of normal family life. Just imagine my surprise when I babysat in homes where a few toddler board books and scattered sci-fi novels were the only books around! To this day, shelves full of biographies and classics mean home to me. I take pride in these treasures and know it all started with my very own bookcase. {Thanks, Mom and Dad!}

Bookstore Outings

Our family loved to visit bookstores, where we spent hours on end. These trips might have a stated purpose (to purchase new journals or Christmas gifts for the uncles), or they might be spur-of-the-moment capstones to special restaurant dinners. My parents would buy their coffees, and I would dart straight back to the enchanted corners of the children’s section.

Those timeless hours let me fall in love with books over and over again. Before I had laptop computers and Amazon wish lists, I always knew exactly which book or paper-doll set I wanted for Christmas. I could choose just the right paperback to buy for a friend’s birthday. I had seen it, read it, and touched it in the bookstore.

The Reading Tree

One year, my mom transformed a 3- by 4-foot bulletin board into an impressive piece of fall foliage. Crumpled brown paper, pinned and stapled in place, became a tree trunk and branches. Paper leaves, neatly cut and stacked, stood at the ready. Now, whenever my brother or I read a new book, we could add a leaf to the reading tree.

You can contribute to your children’s love of reading with an autumn-inspired family reading tree of your own!

  • Cut out green, red, orange, and yellow leaves from a free printable template.
  • Explain to your children which books will count for the reading tree and which books won’t. For example: “Only non-text books at or above your grade level.”
  • When your child finishes reading a book, ask them to write the title and author’s name on a leaf. If you haven’t assigned a specific leaf or marker color to each child, always have them add their initials.
  • Watch your child’s reading skills soar—and your homemade reading tree will grow in no time!

WriteShop’s Reading & Writing Gift-Basket Giveaway

WriteShop writing basket

WriteShop is joining in the iHomeschool Network Back to School Toolkits bloghop! We believe reading and writing go hand in hand, so our winner will receive:

…gift basket valued around $50!

Enter using the Rafflecopter widget below.

* See my complete giveaway rules
* No purchase necessary.
* All giveaways are void where prohibited.
* age 18 and older.
* Winners are chosen randomly, by Rafflecopter.
* Unless otherwise stated, winners have 72 hours from the close of the giveaway to claim their prize. If the prize is not claimed within 72 hours, an alternate winner will be selected.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Be sure to check out the other Back to School Toolkits!
iHN Back-to-School Giveaway

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

Bookstore photo: MIKI Yoshihito, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Travel writing prompts

travel writing prompts, summer vacation writing prompts

WHETHER your kids prefer long road trips or weekend sleepovers, these travel writing prompts will fuel their excitement for more excursions. Three cheers for summer vacation!

1. Game On!

Think of a game you could play with your siblings in an airplane or in your family car. List the rules for this competition.

2. Pieces of Home

Many people–even adults–pack a favorite pillow or stuffed animal for any overnight trip away from home. Using your best adjectives, describe the special item that travels everywhere with you.

3. Room with a View

Would you rather spend your vacation in a tent, a motorhome, or a hotel? Explain your answer.

4. Say What?

Recall a time when you tried to interact with someone from another country. How would the scene have changed if you could understand and speak their language?

5. Remember When…

The perfect souvenir can remind us of a wonderful vacation for years to come. Use your five senses to describe the best souvenir you ever bought or received.

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

Photo: Col Ford & Natasha de Vere, courtesy of Creative Commons.

H.I.N.T.S. Book Fair

WriteShop will be exhibiting at the H.I.N.T.S.  Book Fair July 12-13 in Matthews, NC.

HINTS Book Fair

Our WriteShop representative, Kyra, will help and encourage you at the H.I.N.T.S. Book Fair.  She’s looking forward to answering your writing questions, showing you WriteShop products, and helping you choose the best level for your child’s writing needs.

Attend Our Workshop: Building Dynamic Essays in Middle and High School

by Writeshop presenter Kyra Gartrell
Essay-writing is a building process that begins with planning, tools, and organization and ends with a final product–-a well-written essay. Discover how these building blocks help your students gain confidence and skill to conquer the daunting task of writing a successful essay.

At the conventions you can:

  • 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.

Come see what’s new or browse through WriteShop books in person. Visit the convention site for workshop schedules, exhibit hall hours, and directions to the conference. We look forward to seeing you there!

How to write encouraging notes

Pull out the sticky notes! Family members can encourage one another with these fun, creative note ideas. {In Our Write Minds}

WHAT’S the big deal about writing, anyway? For starters, it’s one of the best ways to let loved ones know you care!

Don’t get me wrong. I can talk on the phone for hours, and I look forward to texts and emails as much as anyone. But my face lights up most when I hold tangible words on paper in my hands. When my college roommate left notes on my desk, I saved every one. I kept all the sticky notes my mom hid in my lunch cooler when I worked downtown. Now, if my husband leaves me a love note on the fridge, it goes straight into my treasure chest.

This summer, start a habit of writing encouraging notes to your family members. Soon, everyone will want to get in on the fun!

Stock up on Supplies

Make sure everyone in the house knows where to find the essential supplies. Basically, you need sticky notes, pens, and markers. Go wild and stock up on multiple colors! When you pass the bargain bins on shopping days, keep an eye out for small stationery to add to the stash.

Over time, consider purchasing a family message board for the kitchen or living area. A chalkboard or marker board can be a great spot for writing and receiving encouraging notes. To save these notes, simply snap them with your phone’s camera!

Undercover Ideas

Always feel free to leave notes for family members in obvious spots around the house. But when you’re ready to plan a stealthy surprise, try one of these ideas!

  • Place sticky notes on your child’s cereal of choice or favorite beverage in the fridge.
  • Notes for Dad can be hidden behind his mouthwash in the medicine cabinet, in the sports section of the newspaper, or under his socks in the dresser drawer.
  • The women of the house will be sure to smile when they find encouraging notes in their purse, shoes, or spice rack.
  • For your children, leave sticky notes in tomorrow’s history chapter, on sheet music they need to practice, or on DVDs they need to watch for school. Remind them you’re their number one cheerleader!

If you’re feeling creative, branch out from simple notepaper and write your encouraging notes on a different kind of object:

  • Smooth shells or rocks can bear your gift of words—just be sure to test your pen first. Try a permanent gel marker, Sharpie, or similar writing tool.
  • Choose an unspotted banana and write a message with permanent black ink.
  • Use cardstock and ribbon to create a one-of-a-kind bookmark. Write an encouraging note to a brother, child, or parent, and tuck the bookmark into a book or magazine they’re currently reading.
  • Collect an assortment of golf or ping-pong balls, set them out in a row, and write a sentence (one word per ball). See if the recipient can successfully unscramble your message!

From the Heart

Never underestimate the power of a few simple words. “I love you because…” or “I’m proud of you because…” can do wonders in chasing away fear, discouragement, or miscommunication. Brighten someone’s day and warm their heart with a handwritten note of affirmation or praise. You don’t have to be clever, long-winded, or eloquent. Just be yourself. You are a writer, and your words count!

> Your Turn!

What are some of your favorite hiding places to leave encouraging notes?

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.com.

Photo: Ross Elliott, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Printable Writing Prompt for July

What do hot dogs, passports and sunglasses have in common? Your story! Use your imagination and craft a summer caper with the words included in the word bank. We would love to hear what you come up with!

July Printable Writing Prompt from WriteShop

Click the image above to download the prompt. If you would like to share this prompt with others, link to this post. Do not link directly to the PDF file. Feel free to print this PDF file for your own personal use. Please do not sell or host these files anywhere else.

Here’s a link to June’s printable writing prompt, and be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

*If you are having trouble printing this file, try downloading it to your computer, opening it back up and then print it.

Travel Journal Ideas

travel journal ideas, travel journals, travel writing ideas

IF your family will take a vacation this summer, there’s no better time to start keeping a journal.

Perhaps you don’t keep a regular journal year-round, and the thought of blank space on the page overwhelms you and your kids. Never fear! Creating a written record of wonderful memories can not only be painless, but fun! Here are three great strategies to try with your 2013 travel journal:

1. Kaleidoscope Colors

When I was ten years old, I stepped into the rainbow world of Mexico City. In a swirl of memories, I can still picture my aunt crocheting a bright red shawl for my doll, Felicity. I remember reading my green clothbound copy of The Secret Garden as I sat on the grass in the front yard—a yard surrounded by flowers and guarded by a high gate. And I can see myself admiring the shiny, doll-sized copper pots in a shop filled with whimsical and mysterious souvenirs.

Looking back, I wish I had made more word pictures in my own travel journal. What color was the old-fashioned rotary phone in the hallway? What was the pattern of the patio tiles? I can still see the restoration team scraping the walls of an old convent, but what long-forgotten colors had they just uncovered from beneath the layers of paint?

Challenge your children to write a few lines each day in their travel journal about the colors that describe their trip:

  • The pink sunset over Pacific Ocean cliffs
  • The faded yellow motel billboard
  • The plush royal-blue furniture on the museum tour
  • The black seeds and rich orange flesh of a ripe papaya

2. Great Expectations

As I prepared to leave for college, I imagined what my new life would be like. I spent hours reading the campus guidebook, clicking around the website, and emailing alumni with my many questions. Yet none of my preparations could begin to compare with orientation week that August, when I explored the campus in person for the first time. It was then I learned that tour books are never quite the same as the real thing.

If you want to add a hint of drama to your travel journal, try the “I expected this, but found that” formula:

  • I expected our airplane to fly above the clouds, but we were actually low enough to count the lakes and trace the farmland.
  • I expected to be too excited to sleep, but I amazed myself by sleeping late the first three days.
  • I expected the Mona Lisa to be huge, but the painting was actually pretty small.

3. Dining with a Sense of Place

One of the best parts of vacation is trying new restaurants and foods! We may forget the fast-food joints on the side of the highway, but we cherish the meals on a moving train or in a great-aunt’s kitchen.

When I close my eyes, I can still see the grilled salmon awaiting us on my uncle’s patio table when my family arrived in Colorado. I remember feeling oh so grown up when my friends and I stopped at the ice cream parlor in Jonesville on our rural-Michigan road trip. I can taste the sweet, juicy melon half I savored after a long, hot walk through the streets of Manhattan.

To capture a memorable meal in your journal, try using these prompts:

  • Did you eat at an outdoor café, order from a food cart, or dine in an elegant restaurant?
  • What was the mood or atmosphere? Festive? Casual and relaxed? Formal and serious?
  • How did the food taste and smell?
  • How did the chairs (napkins, tablecloths) feel? What sounds did you hear from the street or the kitchen?
  • What did you notice about the wall hangings, centerpieces, and window coverings?
  • If you ate outdoors, what else was happening in the adjoining street or courtyard?

Well, I’m off to write in my journal. I wish you the best of vacations, and happy writing!

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: Tessa Pagdanganan, courtesy of Creative Commons.

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