Entries from January 2014 ↓

Narrative essay prompts

Build middle school writing skills with fun narrative essay prompts.

NARRATIVE essay prompts provide a launching place from which middle school students can engage in valuable writing opportunities. Immersed in the act of storytelling, young writers will learn to organize thoughts chronologically, include concrete details, and avoid rabbit trails. (Want to help your teens learn more about narrative writing? Our WriteShop I & II writing programs provide lessons you won’t want to miss!)

1. Special Delivery

Write an essay about the time an unexpected visitor came to your door. What changed in your family or your home because of this person?

2. Journey Home

Tell the story of a relative or ancestor who immigrated to the United States. Highlight a few of the challenges they faced while building a new life.

3. Reach for the Gold

With vivid, descriptive writing, relate the true story of an underdog who won a contest, earned a scholarship, or worked hard to become rich.

4. Planting Seeds

Write a narrative about one of the original settlers of your hometown. Why did this individual choose to settle there? What resulted from that choice?

5. Into Darkness

Write the story of a brave doctor, missionary, or relief worker who changed a community for the better. Can you foreshadow the ending with a detail from this person’s childhood or early life? 

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

Photo: Klearchos Kapoutsis, courtesy of Creative Commons

Colorful ways to brainstorm with kids | Ages 9-12

Get creative when you brainstorm with kids ages 9-12: use colorful tools such as flashcards, highlighters, and sticky notes!

By Daniella Dautrich

BRAINSTORMING with your 9- to 12-year-olds doesn’t have to be a boring, black-and-white process. After all, brainstorming is about unleashing creativity. When your children were small, you probably encouraged them to share their thoughts openly, without fear of criticism. Brainstorming in the upper elementary years should be no different!

Why Brainstorm?

Unlike the editing stage of writing, brainstorming is a creative—not critical—process. When a businessman coined the term “brainstorming” over seventy years ago, he wanted to describe a process of coming up with lots of ideas, no matter how silly or wild they seemed. More ideas are always good, he thought, because ideas spark more ideas!

In the 4th through 7th grades, children become more comfortable with words every day. As they start to understand the building blocks of sentences, paragraphs, and essays, they also take notes and make rough drafts, pausing less often to ask, “How do I spell that?”

If you can instill a similar confidence in their abilities to brainstorm, you will overcome a major stumbling block to writing before it ever becomes a problem.

Children are naturally drawn to color. From math manipulatives to poetry, use of color helps memory and inspires creativity. Today, let’s explore three ways to creatively brainstorm with kids—with loads of color!

Colorful Brainstorming with Flash Cards

Perhaps you’ve instructed your son to write a how-to paragraph, such as “How to Make Pancakes.” The writing process should begin with a brainstorming session so he can build a list of steps. Why not spark creativity by using brightly colored flashcards instead of white paper?

Colorful Ways to Brainstorm with Kids {via In Our Write Minds}Spread the multicolored cards over the writing workspace. Ask your child to start writing down different steps of the pancake-making process, one step for each card. Encourage him to write down a step as soon as he thinks of it, whether not he happens to write it in order. When most of the cards are filled, he can rearrange them until he has built a high-rise tower of flashcards, from the first floor (“step one”) to the roof (“final step”).

Remember, this step of the writing process is about ideas and, eventually, organization. While your child should write down plenty of words, there’s no pressure to write complete sentences.

Colorful Brainstorming with Dry Erase Markers

When you ask your daughter to write a descriptive paragraph, she needs a flexible yet structured method for writing down her initial thoughts and ideas. That’s why I like brainstorming with mindmaps (or “idea clouds”). Why not let her color-code her ideas with a whiteboard and dry erase markers?

With a black marker, draw a bubble in the center of the white board, and write the main topic inside (such as “My Bedroom”). Then draw several lines, like spokes on a wheel, from the main circle to secondary circles. Let your child help you choose subtopics to write inside each new circle (such as “furniture,” “toys,” and “pictures on the wall”).

Now, set your daughter free to brainstorm with new lines and circles! Let her use her favorite colored markers for different parts of speech, perhaps a red marker for nouns and a blue marker for adjectives This will reinforce lessons on parts of speech, while allowing her to create a colorful map of her thoughts.

Colorful Brainstorming with Highlighters

In upper elementary years, students are often challenged to prepare a written response to a book they’ve read. The assignment may be a specific character study or simply a summary of the book’s narrative. Find an inexpensive paperback copy (perhaps from a used bookstore), and your student can begin the brainstorming process with colorful highlighters.

Decide on different colors for three or four main topics or themes.

  • For a summary, topics might be the main character’s “childhood,” “travels,” “family,” and “writing career.”
  • For a character study, themes might include “childhood struggles,” “mentors,” and “overcoming faults.”

Colorful Ways to Brainstorm with Kids {via In Our Write Minds}Before your student writes her first draft, have her go through the book and highlight key phrases with the appropriate color. (For added visual impact, encourage her to use colored sticky notes to mark highlighted pages so she can easily find them later.) Now she can outline her essay with all sorts of informative details from the book, instead of relying on memory.

As your kids get older, they probably won’t need more than a pen and paper to plan writing assignments—a few sheets of lined or blank paper for free-listing, mind-mapping, and re-listing should do the trick! While they’re young and bursting with energy, however, let them express their ideas in color whenever it’s time to brainstorm.

Your Turn

What brainstorming tools or tips have worked with your children?

Photos: Nina Matthews, Purple Sherbet Photography, and liveandrock, courtesy of Creative Commons

Writing prompts about unusual pets

Tap into kids' wild dreams about strange, exotic, and colorful pets!

EVERY child dreams of standing out from the crowd with a weird, colorful, or exotic pet. Tap into your kids’ wild dreams with these writing prompts about unusual pets.

1. Fuzzy Regulations

You just learned that pet llamas are forbidden within your city limits–outrageous! Write a letter to your city council explaining your opposition to this local law.

2. Reptile Style

With a tail three times his body length, your long-tailed grass lizard has spent months perfecting his talent for lasso tricks. Design a poster to advertise your pet’s amazing Western stunt show!

3. A Fine Feathered Canvas

Wilbur B. Williams, Esquire, hired the country’s premier portrait artist to paint the family pet–a most distinguished flamingo. In three sentences, reveal how the artist felt when he was first introduced to this bird. Include facial expressions, hand gestures, and dialogue.

4. Arthropod Heartthrobs

Today, Ivy Sherwood married a young man who keeps fifteen spiders as his cherished pets. Imagine Ivy’s personality, appearance, and hobbies. Describe her to someone who has never met her before.

5. Sea Life Soliloquy

Write a short, persuasive speech titled, “Why Jellyfish Make Excellent Pets.”

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

Photos: Peter Harrison (spider), Robert Claypool (flamingo), Sol Robayo (llama), and NBphotostream (jellyfish), courtesy of Creative Commons

So you feel like a failure? Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom

If you feel like a homeschooling failure, remember that the spiritual battle is already won!

By Daniella Dautrich

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

HOW often we try to measure our homeschooling success by home organization, our outward appearance, or our children’s approval. In truth, the victory that matters is in our hearts, hidden with Christ Jesus.

C.S. Lewis reminded believers that “we battle not against flesh and blood” in his classic The Screwtape Letters. Inspired by his writings, we offer this, the third in a series of Screwtape Letters for the Homeschool Mom. May you be encouraged and blessed on your homeschool journey!

My dear Wormwood,

I was delighted to hear that your patient renewed some desirable acquaintances over the Christmas holidays. Her second cousins are just the sort of people we want her to know—rich, superficial, and skeptical of anything they cannot see with their own eyes. Encourage her to care about what these relatives think. Even if spotless houses and $150 jeans and private schools are not important to her, shame her into hiding her real thoughts and personality.

Has she entered the January doldrums, now that Christmas joy is past? Does she move through the house slowly, in a dull, despondent mood? We must take advantage of the situation. Lose no time making her believe that she is a failure who ought to quit homeschooling altogether.

The Prison of the Senses

Imprison the patient’s mind in the world of the five senses. Let her see her house for what it really is: a dining room table covered with crumbs and playdough, a china cabinet overflowing with bills, and a yard that looks nothing like the tidy school playground down the street.

Take her upstairs, and let her count more children than bedrooms. Let her hear a baby crying; make her watch a preschooler litter the floor with toys and clothes. Whisper to her that it’s her own fault: she never earned a teaching credential or degree in child-rearing. What right has she to trust her own abilities?

Perhaps she feels like giving up now. Perhaps she still hopes to understand and control the situation. In either case, your task is to keep her thoughts and activities in the physical realm. By all possible means, distract her from all invisible aid, and keep her ignorant of the spiritual root of her problems.

Dark Clouds of Guilt

By now, she has probably made a lavishly long list of confident resolutions, of promises to the Enemy and to herself. Encourage this promise-making (for of course she cannot keep them!). When she realizes her failure, overwhelm her with guilt. Let the guilt drive her to more and more busyness.

Guilt is a desirable state, because it may lead the patient to neglect her marriage, her sleep, and even her sanity. Most importantly, a cloud of guilt will make her dread her prayers. Soon, she may open her arms to you, begging for any small distraction to postpone the awful duty of prayer.

Paralyzing Fear

Has the mother allowed you to creep into her thought life with visions of fear? Press your advantage, and remember that gratitude looks to the past and love to the present—but fear looks to the future.

The stronghold of fear is paralyzing. She will never be able to clean her house and purge things, in fear that she may need the stuff in the future. She will be unable to discipline her children during the school day, in fear that they will hate her in the future.

Remember, the Enemy wants her to live in the present: loving her children, keeping them safe, meeting their needs, and training their hearts. We want her to be hag-ridden by the future: haunted by visions of angry, illiterate creatures that she failed to properly raise and educate.

Disguise the Troughs

Continually plant and water the idea that her life is an endless uphill battle. Don’t let her expose herself to the Enemy’s mantra that “the battle is already won.”

You see, Wormwood, as distasteful as it seems to us, the Enemy really does love them. We want to feed upon and consume homeschooling mothers, when He wants to give of Himself and fill them up. He allows them to experience spiritual troughs and peaks, because the troughs help them become the creatures He wants them to be. If they will only attempt to walk through the dark valleys, He is pleased—even with their stumbles.

Do not let your patient suspect any of this. Convince her that the trough is permanent, that Heaven is silent, and that her stumbles can never be wiped clean or forgotten.

Your affectionate uncle,


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Photo: edillalo, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Fun writing prompts about magical clothing

Fun writing prompts about magical hats, coats, shoes, and sunglasses will help your kids imagine wild adventures with surprising twists!

YOU’RE never too old to play dress-up (when magical costumes are involved, that is). Invite your kids to flex their creative writing muscles with these fun writing prompts about super-powered clothing.

1. Destination: Foreign Nation

You just discovered a one-of-a-kind hat that allows you to speak any foreign language. Plan a trip for you and your headgear. Where will you go, and why? Who will you meet, and what will you do together? How will the hat make your life easier, and how could it make your trip more complicated?

2. Target Sighted

No one hides from a spy who wears telescopic sunglasses. These cool shades allow Agent Y to see anything in broad daylight up to twenty miles away. Write a secret letter to Agent Y, persuading him (or her) to spy for your country.

3. Once Upon a Time

Slip into your magical overcoat, and you can travel backward or forward in time. Journal about your time-traveling adventure to a castle that was much more than it seemed . . .

4. Clear and Present Danger

Desperate for money, you are forced to sell your most prized possession—a wristwatch that sounds an alarm when the wearer is in danger. Write a description of this fantastic item for potential buyers on Ebay or Amazon. Include plenty of descriptive adjectives to grab the reader’s attention!

5. Footwear Frenzy

You just flew in to Washington D.C. for a formal dinner at the White House. As you unpack, you realize that you brought the wrong dress shoes—these are the shoes that make the wearer invisible! Your taxi arrives at your hotel in five minutes. You can’t wear the sneakers you wore on the airplane, so what will you do?

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

Photo: Paul Stevenson, courtesy of Creative Commons


Winter writing activity: Personify a Season

How is winter like a person? Invite your kids to explore personification with a fun winter writing activity!

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

ON frosty days, have you ever referred to winter as “harsh,” “kind,” or even “fickle”? This week, enjoy a winter writing activity with your kids and teach them to personify a season.

Personification ascribes human qualities such as thought, will, and emotion to non-human creatures and inanimate objects. Personification creates great fun for little ones (who hasn’t enjoyed reading about The Little House or The Little Engine That Could?). For teens, personification can be a handy literary device in their poetry or descriptive writing.

Get ready to gather your kids around the table and explore the possibilities of winter personification.

Step 1: Brainstorming

Ask your kids to imagine Winter as a person knocking at the front door.

  • What does she say? (She calls me outside to play. / She warns me to stay inside.)
  • What does she do? (Winter shows me a world of white, cold trees. / Winter builds sharp, dangerous icicles.)
  • What does she want? (She asks me to feed the birds who didn’t fly south. / She wants me to forget sunshine and summer.)

Step 2: Writing

Now that your kids are armed with ideas, it’s time to add details. Help your children write complete sentences with interesting sentence starters, strong nouns and verbs, and vivid adjectives and adverbs. Prompt them with more questions about Winter.

  • How does she talk? (With gentle whispers, she calls me outside to dance in the snow. / Howling from the rooftop eaves, she sends sharp warnings to stay inside.)
  • How does she act? (Winter pushes me playfully down the sparkling street. / Winter rules from a fortress of icicles and frost.)
  • How does she reveal her character or personality? (Together, we spread banquets for rosy cardinal birds. / I see her stern face, and she sends chills down my spine.)
  • How does she “look” human? (Her snowy gown trails behind her as she waltzes through the woods. / Winter wears a white fur coat and a crown of ice crystals.)

Step 3: Publishing Project

Crafty placemats are a fun way to publish your children’s writing at home. To make winter placemats, you’ll need:

  • Large sheets of paper or cardstock  (11” x 17” pieces would work well)
  • Stickers, photos, pictures of winter, plus glue sticks for collages
  • Scissors and white, blue, or silver paper for hand-cut snowflakes

With a pencil and ruler, lightly draw lines on the paper. Now your children can write their final sentences in marker or pen. Allow them to decorate the blank area with paper snowflakes, photo collages, magazine pictures, or sparkly stickers. Be sure to add the date and child’s initials in a front or back corner.

To preserve their finished work, have the placemats laminated at your local office supply store. Now the family can admire these winter personification masterpieces for the rest of the season—and after-meal clean-up will always be a breeze!

WriteShop Blog--In Our Write Minds

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 also blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: Andrew Magill, courtesy of Creative Commons


Printable Writing Prompt ~ January

The third Monday in January we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his contribution to our country. In 1963 he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.  After reading or listening to his speech, have your children write their own “I Have a Dream” paragraph.

Invite kids to write their own "I Have a Dream" paragraph. {Printable Writing Prompt from In Our Write Minds}


Click the image above to download the printable “I Have a Dream” writing 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.

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

New Year’s resolutions for writers

Resolve to build and reinforce writing skills with hands-on activities for each of the four seasons.

JANUARY is the perfect time to set goals for learning and growing with our families. If your journey in 2014 will include writing lessons with any age, then this list of New Year’s resolutions for writers is for you.

Inspired by common metaphors and figures of speech, our playful list includes a lesson to be learned in each of the four seasons. Let the hands-on adventures in writing begin!

Spring: Resolve to Polish Your Writing

Spring cleaning rituals remind us to notice details, from closet doorknobs to dusty cabinets. When we take time to scrub, buff, and polish our belongings, we learn to appreciate each part of our home—and we begin to understand how all the parts work together.

Invite your children to help you polish wood furniture, hardwood floors, or heirloom silver. Ask them to describe the difference before and after their efforts. Then, the next time they turn in a dull piece of writing, remind them why we need to edit: if you polish your writing, you’ll make it shine!

Summer: Resolve Not To Cherry-Pick Facts and Examples

The summer months offer opportunities for enjoying hand-picked fruit. If possible, arrange for your teens to spend an afternoon picking cherries, strawberries, or other delicate fruits. Do they choose only the best and ripest specimens? Explain to them that while a basket of smooth, plump fruit is the most appealing, it doesn’t accurately represent the whole tree (or crop).

Through high school and college, your teen will likely write research papers on a variety of topics. Although it’s tempting to cherry-pick examples—to include only the most convenient evidence—it’s important to present both sides of the picture. A paper about a well-known author should discuss both the fans and the critics. A paper on historic events should weigh opposing, contradictory sources. Help your teen remember: When you cherry-pick examples, your readers lose sight of the whole tree.

Fall: Resolve to Encourage Late Bloomers

When the showy flowers of summer fade, fall gardens burst into new and beautiful colors. Pink and purple asters, warm heleniums, and goldenrod are just a few of the late bloomers that delight autumn gardeners and attract migrating butterflies on their journey south.

Mom of late bloomers, you might be tempted to give up when it comes to teaching writing. But don’t lose hope! Encourage your child by reading aloud, letting him dictate assignments, and trying different writing programs, such as WriteShop. Your child might be a late bloomer, but he will brighten the world in his own special time.

Winter: Resolve to Celebrate the Snowball Effect

Rolling down a white winter hillside, a little snowball can quickly gain mass and momentum. At the journey’s beginning, that fluffy snowball won’t have much to brag about. When it reaches the end of the long white slope, however, the snowball is really something to see and admire!

Look back on the past year and recognize the snowball effect in your child’s writing skills. Each lesson learned, no matter how small, builds on the last until progress is overwhelmingly clear. Celebrate the small successes and tiny achievements. Each one is building your child into an independent, well-equipped writer.

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna who adores all four seasons.

Photo: Ann, courtesy of Creative Commons
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