Entries from March 2014 ↓

Kids can learn by teaching others!

Make writing lessons more effective by asking your kids to "teach" others what they're learning!

This article contains affiliate links.

I’ve been writing and blogging for a while now. Yet no matter how many times I’ve read the rules for using hyphens between adjectives, I never got the hang of it. Until last Thursday, that is. That was the day I explained hyphens to someone else.

“No matter what you’re studying, when you turn around and teach someone else, and the sooner the better, you deepen your understanding of the subject.” –Deb Peterson, learning and training consultant

Homeschooling moms are often just one step ahead of the kids as we learn new facts and concepts to teach them. Yet don’t you find that when you prepare a lesson and explain it them, the information becomes implanted in your own mind in deeper, more lasting ways?

Just think how much your kids could benefit from similar opportunities to teach someone else what they’ve been learning!

Older Students: Teach Younger Children

When homeschooling multiple ages, it often makes sense to ask your high schooler to tutor a younger sibling in one or two areas. If 16-year-old Greg is a math whiz, why wouldn’t you want him helping 8-year-old Krista? This teaching time can build brother-sister relationships if you as the parent are careful to foster a spirit of mutual kindness and respect.

But what if that math whiz still struggles with writing and grammar concepts (hyphens, for instance)? You can still ask him to teach a grammar concept to his little sister. It will probably benefit him more than it will Krista—but that’s okay! It’s a great way to cement a concept in his mind as he introduces something new to his younger sibling. While you might not assign this “teaching time” every day, you may find huge benefits in scheduling it once or twice a week.


Mom: Krista, as part of your grammar lesson, Greg’s going to explain something new about punctuation. I need you to be a good listener, okay?

Krista: Okay.

Greg: I’m learning how to use this little punctuation line called a hyphen. You use it between two adjectives sometimes. Adjectives are words that describe things.

Krista: I know about adjectives!

Greg: Good. Just making sure. So, sometimes you have a sentence with two adjectives in front of a noun, like this: “I wore a warm winter coat.” Do you think we need a hyphen between “warm” and “winter”?

Krista: I don’t know.

Greg: No, because nothing changes when those adjectives work alone. You can either say “warm coat” or “winter coat.”  They’re both right. But, if I changed it to “I wore a button-down shirt,” then you would need a hyphen. That’s because those words can’t work alone to describe my shirt. You wouldn’t say “button shirt” or “down shirt.” That doesn’t even make sense!

Krista: I still don’t get it.

Greg: Okay … the hyphen’s job is to make two words work together as one adjective. Pretend you have a blue striped dress. What are your two adjectives?

Krista: Blue and striped.

Greg: Right! Now, if you want to explain that the stripes—not the dress—are blue, you would use a hyphen and write “blue-striped dress.” The hyphen makes the “blue” and “striped” work together. They become one adjective that describes your dress.

Krista: Hyphens are confusing!

Greg: That’s okay. It just takes practice. How about if we practice with a few more examples? I’ll write down some phrases. I want you to read each phrase, but leave out one of the first two words. If the meaning of the whole phrase changes, we’ll know we need to add a hyphen. Try this one.

Krista: Chocolate covered marshmallow … chocolate marshmallow … wait! The marshmallow isn’t chocolate. It’s white!

Greg: Right! And “covered marshmallow” doesn’t make sense either! That means it needs a hyphen: chocolate-covered marshmallow.

Which of these examples need hyphens?

1. peanut butter cookies   2. three hour flight   3. windy autumn day   4. yellow cotton socks   5. funny looking clown   6. sunny Saturday morning   7. brown haired girl   8. forest green paint

(Answers: 1–yes; 2–yes; 3–no; 4–no; 5–yes; 6–no; 7–yes; 8–yes)

Younger Children: Meet Your Editing Buddy!

WriteShop Primary Book B introduces the idea of using “editing buddies” to encourage young children in the writing and editing process. Choose a small doll, stuffed animal, or action figure that only makes an appearance when it’s time for your first, second, or third-grade child to edit a writing project. Any kid can step into the role of teacher when an editing buddy is there to listen!

Girls are often all too happy to “play school” with their dolls. With a child-sized chalkboard, your daughter will spend hours teaching Saige or Princess Anna how to write reports, poems, or friendly letters. She can also sit side-by-side with her doll as they “work together” to edit a story.

Your boys, however, might resist the idea of playing teacher. You’ll have to think outside the box to make “teaching time” fun! Perhaps your son loves playing army. Ask him to wear camouflage when it’s time for a writing assignment, and surprise him with a G.I. Joe action figure standing at attention on the school table or writing center. Explain that G.I. Joe has been slacking with his writing lately, and the country needs your son to hammer this soldier into shape!


Mom: Can you tell G.I. Joe why I underlined these three words in your writing assignment?

Child (in a tough, military voice): Because those words are BORING!

Mom: What should G.I. Joe do about that?

Child (yelling like a drill commander): Change them to words that aren’t BORING!

Mom: I’ll let you work on that for a few minutes while I’m on KP duty.

Child: Yes, Ma’am!

Have you ever used editing buddies in your writing lessons? Have you asked your kids to learn by teaching? Share your experience in the comments below!

Daniella DautrichDaniella 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: Carissa Rogers, courtesy of Creative Commons

Detective writing prompts

Kids who love a good mystery will dive right into these detective writing prompts.

DO your kids go crazy for mystery stories? Do they dream of becoming world-famous super sleuths? If so, these detective writing prompts are sure to please!

1.Tricks of the Trade

Imagine you are a private investigator who must gather clues for a strange case in a quiet fishing village. Describe how you will you dress, act, and speak to blend in with the local residents.

2. The Art of Deduction

Ask a family member if you can borrow a purse or a pair of shoes. After studying these items, write down everything you can learn about their owner using only your senses of sight, touch, and smell.

3. Secret Weapons

Technology provides modern-day detectives with many tools they simply didn’t have two hundred years ago. Compare and contrast the objects on a detective’s desk in Victorian England with the items in a detective’s office today.

4. The Jury is Out

In your opinion, should a detective be excused for breaking the law if his actions result in punishment for criminals and justice for the innocent? Develop your answer in paragraph form.

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

Photo: Images Money, courtesy of Creative Commons

6 writing strategies for wordy kids

Writing strategies to help highly verbal children create more concise, manageable stories

I often write about reluctant writers and their struggles to produce just a few sentences.

But what do you do with an enthusiastic, highly verbal student who (when left unchecked) scrawls out a 19-page tome? How can you encourage this eager child—and her boatload of ideas—while helping her write a more manageable story?

Today we’ll take a look at some strategies for reining in wordy writers.

The Problem with Long Stories

Teaching children to self-edit is an important goal. Most kids already have a hard time finding their own errors, but it can be completely overwhelming when they’re faced with that stack of 19 pages to edit, polish, and revise.

Not only that, long stories are often filled with tangents that wander away from the main action, so it’s wise to teach kids to narrow their focus and write concisely.

Until your child has developed the skills to plan, organize, and write cohesively, you’ll want to guide her to write stories of a more manageable length. At first, encourage her to stick to a fixed number of paragraphs. If she wants to embellish and expand (or even write a novel), she can do that in her free time.

In most cases, stories that are super long have these common characteristics: 

  • Overly broad topic
  • Many characters
  • A number of different settings
  • Many plots, subplots, and rabbit trails
  • Long, wordy sentences or run-ons

Writing Strategies for Wordy Kids

Rather than try whittling down a long story into a shorter one, it’s usually much cleaner to start over. Challenge your child to keep her new story to five paragraphs or two typed pages by following a few simple guidelines.

1. Narrow the topic.

Instead of tackling a vast subject like the Ohio flood of 1913, it often helps to take a mental snapshot—zeroing in on one moment in the midst of a bigger experience.

2. Use fewer characters.

Perhaps she could write about one main character who must save his sister as the flood waters rise. Or, she could focus on a member of the Akron fire department who helps one family get to safety.

3. Stick with one setting.

Many changes in scene and setting add to a story’s length. Though a verbal child might want to have multiple scenes in her story, suggest that she settle on one or two. 

4. Limit the passage of time.

Writing about an event that spans days or weeks pretty much guarantees that the story will be long and involved. But if she sticks to a time frame of several hours, she’ll more easily manage the story details. 

5. Choose details wisely.

Details are important! They add color and interest, and they engage the reader. By all means, encourage her to describe characters, emotions, settings, and events. At the same time, caution her that trying to fit in all of her great ideas can bog down the writing or steer her off course. 

6. Be precise and concise.

Enthusiastic writers enjoy words, don’t they? But often, their stories are tangled with awkward sentences and long strings of adjectives.

Without discouraging your student from developing a more mature writing style, explain that long sentences and big words don’t always produce good writing. Guide her to use simple language and choose more precise words.

A helpful strategy is to first invite her to write a skeleton of each sentence that includes a subject and predicate. Once she has the basic story structure in place, she can carefully choose modifiers, sentence variations, figurative language, or other details to expand each sentence and make it more colorful.

Even if their prose is a bit over the top, we’re thrilled when one of our children finds joy in writing. In what ways do you guide your wordy young author to write more concisely?

Image courtesy of bugphai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Spring photo writing prompts

Excite a child's imagination with these photo-inspired spring writing prompts!

CHILDREN seem to burst with imagination this time of year. Don’t let them keep their ideas and stories locked inside! Inspire them to create wonderful worlds of fancy with these delightful spring picture writing prompts.

Mysterious Meadows

Many years ago, a delivery boy disappeared in this quiet field of flowers. The only thing he left behind was his faithful bicycle. What clues will you discover when you look deeper in this meadow? Where did the boy really go? Why did he leave his bicycle behind?

Excite a child's imagination with these photo-inspired spring writing prompts!

Locked in Stone

When the winter snows melted, the townspeople discovered a girl who had turned to stone. Write a story about this girl, using at least four of these words: spell, message, sunrise, water pitcher, shoes, twin sister, royal stables.

Excite a child's imagination with these photo-inspired spring writing prompts!

A Garden Guest

You wake up in a strange cottage and hear voices in the garden. Who will you meet along the garden path? What instructions will they give you, and what will happen if you don’t obey?

Excite a child's imagination with these photo-inspired spring writing prompts!

If you enjoy writing and journal prompts like these, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photos: bm.iphone, Elliott Brown, and MAClarke21, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Why does writing matter? Part 2

Teach kids that writing matters for many future jobs and careers!

By Daniella Dautrich

PARENTS know that writing matters. It allows our children to form ideas, cement their knowledge, and spread their thoughts to others. Still, your kids might wonder if they’ll ever really use writing in their future professions. If so, encourage them that writing is important to many careers. Specifically, help them think about these four fascinating jobs that require communication through the written word!

The Mad Scientist

Students who love math and science are inclined to argue that writing isn’t important. But if one of your kids pursues computer science, chemistry, psychology, or another related field, his research will only be as valuable as his communication skills. There’s no point to scientific inquiry if you never share your work with others. This is why grad students hope to get their papers published in academic journals or conferences.

Academic papers require a broad range of writing skills, including a mastery of vocabulary, the ability to summarize main points for abstracts and related work sections, and an understanding of logical organization.

For a research scientist, writing doesn’t end with a PhD dissertation. More papers—and most likely a grant proposal here and there—are what it takes to share scholarly ideas, experiments, and results with our ever-changing world. 

Passing the Bar

Has one of your children dreamed of becoming a lawyer or legal assistant? It’s not too early to teach the skills she’ll need for technical legal writing. Reinforce her knowledge of grammar and punctuation on a regular basis. Help her identify and fix sentence fragments or dangling modifiers in her own writing and the writing of others.

Legal writing takes many forms, from preparing contracts and wills to writing persuasive briefs for court cases. Ideally, these documents are written with clarity and directness.

Of course, the legal profession involves plenty of archaic words and Latin phrases. Prepare your daughter now by instilling a sense of familiarity with these strange, confusing terms. Read aloud from a variety of old books and play memory games to learn Latin roots.

Just the Facts, Sir

When your sons hear “cops and robbers,” they probably imagine police officers with sirens, pistols, and shiny badges. Did they know that police jobs can also include writing? Full-time officers respond to many incidents throughout their shift, and they often end the day by writing police reports.

A police report describes the who, what, where, when, and how of a crime for supervisors and jury members. These narratives should be clear, detailed, and organized. Once the officer has gathered information from victims and witnesses, examined physical evidence, and possibly made an arrest, he must write it all down.

If your students desire careers in law enforcement, help them practice telling stories in chronological order. Encourage them to write with distinct paragraphs for the beginning, middle, and end. Always push them to write in the active, not passive, voice! (“The truck driver swerved and hit the telephone pole” is much more informative than “The telephone pole was hit by a vehicle.”)

The Sales Pitch

Careers in marketing and advertising come in all shapes and sizes, from traditional 9-5 jobs to freelance work-from-home positions. What do these roles share in common? Strong writing skills!

If your daughter is someday hired to develop radio commercial scripts or magazine print ads, she will need to engage her audience with witty, fresh, and memorable writing. No room for dull or vague words here!

Perhaps she’ll work on website development for a clothing company or restaurant chain. Sensory, descriptive writing is often the key that converts clicks into sales! From company slogans to “back-cover copy” (the blurb on the back of a book), writing skills can transform simple products into golden eggs for both employers and employees.

I’m sure you can think of even more real-world jobs that require strong writing skills. Discuss these with your kids over lunch or dinner. We’d love to hear what you come up with!

Photo: Leonid Mamchenkov, courtesy of Creative Commons

Geography journal prompts

Jump into geography with your kids using these journal prompts about children around the world!

EXPLORE foreign cultures with your kids as they write about children around the world! These fun geography journal prompts will help jumpstart your adventures.

1. My Own Little Corner

If you lived in the Russian city of Moscow, your family might share an apartment kitchen with two other families, and you might fold up your bed every morning to save space! Imagine how your life would be different in Russia, and journal your thoughts.

2. School Days

If you attended school in Morocco, you would probably go home for a two-hour lunch break each day and return to school for classes until 5:00 p.m. Compare and contrast this schedule with a typical school day in your home.

3. Fiesta Dreams

If you lived in Mexico, you would probably celebrate El Día de los Niños (Children’s Day) on April 30. On this day each year, schools and streets overflow with colorful candies and piñatas, while music and laughter fill the air. Make a list of ten activities you would include in a “Children’s Day” celebration.

4. The Family Table

If you lived in Armenia, you might enjoy eating sarma—grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat. Don’t forget to try some tomato sauce and plain yogurt on top! Write an appealing description of this dish for a restaurant menu.

5. Cheers, Mate!

If you lived in the remote Australian outback, you might attend the School of the Air. A  satellite network would allow you to view real-time classes on your computer, while web cameras and email would help you interact with your teacher. What would you like most about attending the school of the air? What would you like the least?

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

Photo: woodleywonderworks (globe) and Juan Antonio Capó Alonso (stone wall), courtesy of Creative Commons


Why does writing matter, Mom?

Yes! Writing matters--because the freedom to think and persuade will always matter.

By Daniella Dautrich

DO your efforts to teach writing feel like an ongoing tragedy (or comedy)? Perhaps you slog through the lessons and tell the kids it’s important, when you’ve never cared much for writing yourself. Now they look at you with that awful question on the tip of their tongues:

Why does writing matter, Mom?

If you’re not quite sure how to answer them, it may help to remember this: to teach writing is to set a mind free. When you press on week after week, you help preserve the freedom to think and critique—the liberty to spread ideas and inspire hope.

The goal of education is true understanding. Hearing and reading add up to half of the equation. Writing makes up the other half.

  • Once we’ve heard or read something, writing lets us reflect and respond.
  • Memory drills rehearse facts; writing lets us compare those bits of information, see distinctions, and form judgments.
  • Culture bombards young people with cookie-cutter thoughts; writing helps them form their own ideas, shaping them into something orderly and beautiful.

When you teach your kids to write, you give them the power to share their own experiences and to persuade others. These tools will become invaluable as they step into their adult roles in the world.

Words from the Pulpit

If your son is called into ministry one day, he may find himself speaking to an audience every week. While sermons begin with prayer and study, they take their full shape on paper. The writing skills your kids learn today—such as brainstorming, research, and organization—could have profound impact on future generations. Well-crafted words can live in the minds and hearts of the listener longer than we might imagine.

Blogging with Purpose

When your daughter marries, she may choose to embrace the high calling of stay-at-home-mom. In this role, giving and receiving support from like-minded women is essential! Teach her writing and blogging skills today, and she will carry the ability to connect with other moms (and perhaps earn a side income) wherever she goes.

Proper grammar and spelling, practiced in your homeschool day after day, can become badges of credibility in public forums like blogs. Clear, concise writing can engage new readers in fresh ways through blogs about family life, homemaking, or homeschooling. Take advantage of opportunities today to prepare your daughter for a writing outlet in the future.

Spreading a Message

At some point, your grown children may feel drawn to work or volunteer in the nonprofit sector or political realm. Who knows? Perhaps your one of your kids will run for a local office or start a nonprofit organization!

From candidates to interns, spokespersons to secretaries, the visionaries who staff political offices, think tanks, and charities all rely on writing skills. Proofreading an editorial or article? Fine-tuning a ballot statement? Mass-mailing a fundraising letter? It’s time to roll out your revision toolkit! Self-editing (and editing other people’s writing) is perhaps the most important real-world writing skill.

I hope you’re encouraged as you consider ways your children will write in the future. Next week, we’ll look at more unexpected careers that involve writing!

Photo: Kathleen Franklin, courtesy of Creative Commons

CHOH Conference and Curriculum Fair

WriteShop will be attending the CHOH (Christian Homeschoolers of Hawaii) Conference March 14-15. This conference will be held at Kalihi Union Church, Honolulu, Hawaii.

CHOH Conference WriteShop

Visit the vendor booth

As you begin looking toward the next school year, it’s also the perfect time to stop by the WriteShop booth to ask questions, see what’s new, or browse through WriteShop books in person.

At the convention you can:

  • See our full line of WriteShop products
  • Purchase the newest WriteShop Primary books.
  • Thumb through the exciting new WriteShop Junior materials.
  • Learn how you can teach a WriteShop co-op class in your area.
  • Receive much-needed encouragement about teaching writing.

Attend Kim Kautzer’s workshops

Kim Kautzer

Gone Fishing: Tips and Ideas to Motivate Young Writers

Friday 12:30 -1:30

Inspiring Successful Writers (Teaching Teens)

Friday 4:30 -5:30

Writing Strategies for Special Need Kids

Saturday 1:00 – 2:00

Growing Your Child’s Vocabulary

Saturday 3:00 -4:00

Visit CHOH’s website for more information.

March Free Printable Writing Prompt

This month we have two printable writing prompts– one geared toward teens and the other for elementary kids!

Elementary students: Take a trip to the zoo! Which animal would you take home for a pet?

Teens: The world is changing. What change have you observed over the past five years?

March Printable Writing Prompt from Writeshop

Click the image above to download the “Zoo Writing Prompt” and the “Changes in the World” 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!

Library writing activities with kids

Head to the library for some kid-friendly writing activities!

By Daniella Dautrich

DO you ever get to spend an afternoon at a favorite coffee house to read, work, or do some lesson planning? Then you know there’s nothing like a fresh learning atmosphere to make old familiar tasks more fun and appealing!

If your kids are starting to drag their feet with writing assignments, plan a special writing day at your local library. With a little thinking ahead, you can create a memorable school day with your elementary-age children.

Interview a Librarian

The day before your library visit:

Set out a spiral notebook (or a clipboard with lined paper) for your child. Help him write a list of five interview questions for the local librarian. Be sure to leave several blank lines after each question for the answer.

Hint: Questions can range from work experience to educational interests to creative ideas. For example: How long have you worked or volunteered here? What kinds of books do you like to read the most? What do you think of the new library remodeling project?

At the library:

Find a librarian who doesn’t seem too busy. Encourage your child to introduce himself and ask his interview questions. If he lacks confidence about writing down answers on the spot, perhaps you can write down the librarian’s responses on scratch paper. Then find a study table where your child can fill in his interview sheet with neat, unhurried handwriting.

Brainstorm with Picture Books

The day before your library visit:

Decide on a topic for your child’s next writing assignment. Will she write a story about dogs and cats, or a descriptive paragraph about a ballerina? Once you’ve agreed on a topic, she can look forward to brainstorming with picture books at the library.

Hint: Check your library’s website, and make a list of book titles and call numbers the day before your visit. This will save time and energy with your little ones when you get there.

At the library:

Gather two to four picture books on your child’s writing topic, and find a comfortable reading area. As you look through the pictures (not the text), encourage her to make a word bank of words and phrases related to her topic. Illustrations of a ballerina might prompt her to write down hair in a bun, sparkling eyes, pink tights, black leotard, stretching, bending, reaching, tall, thin, and graceful. As long as she stays engaged in creating her list, try not to offer your own ideas. She will enjoy using her very own word bank when it’s time to finish the writing assignment later in the week.

Revise with Reference Books

The day before your library visit:

Make sure your child has completely finished the first draft of a writing assignment. When he gives it to you, circle or underline all the vague words, boring nouns, and ho-hum verbs and adjectives.

Hint: Younger children will need more help with this activity. Older elementary and junior high students should work independently, for the most part.

At the library:

Let your child research the call numbers for a thesaurus. Depending on the particular library and book title, he may need to peruse the reference shelves. When he has chosen one or two promising books, find a study table where he can revise his writing assignment from the previous day. Using the thesaurus, he can replace weak, low-information words with words that pop off the page and make the reader hungry for more.

Of course, most of these writing activities can easily take place at home on a rainy day. But I’m sure your family will appreciate a change of scenery and a change of pace when you share uninterrupted writing time at the library.

Photo: John Blyberg, courtesy of Creative Commons
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