Entries Tagged 'Editing & Revising' ↓

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

Time-saving editing tips for writing teachers

Facing a stack of essays? These time-saving editing tips will help co-op and classroom teachers find balance.

Whether you’re teaching a homeschool co-op or five high school English classes, editing and grading compositions and essays has the potential to suck the very life out of you.

Even if you devote a mere 5 minutes a week to 100 compositions, you’d spend over 8 hours on this task alone. The wise teacher will realize it’s probably impossible to give full attention to every student’s paper each week. The time-saving editing tips that follow will help you streamline the process so you can find the balance that works for you.

1. You Don’t Have to Do It All

You can strive for different levels of “completeness” when editing papers.

See how each successive level of editing requires more time and effort? Working within your time limits, pick the level that will be the most helpful for the students. For example, correcting all the errors is not only time-consuming, it hinders students because they need to wrestle a bit on their own to improve their writing. It can be more effective to correct one error and then point out others.

2. Stagger the Workload

Edit a certain number of papers each day. If you teach several classes, assign each class a different due date for written assignments.

Another idea? Quickly peruse class papers and divide into piles of good, average, and poor writers. Consider giving poorer writers feedback first, since they need more time to grow and improve.

3. Take Breaks

Editing marathons are unproductive because your brain grows fuzzy after a while. When you’re fresh, you’re more objective, but as you tire, you can become cranky and irritable, which in turn may make you more critical in your evaluations.

Take short breaks where you might:

  • Walk around the block.
  • Make a cup of tea.
  • Eat a handful of nuts.
  • Start dinner.
  • Toss a ball with the dog.

After one of these quick activities, you can go back to work refreshed.

4. Set a Reasonable Time Limit

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in working through the first half of a stack of essays that you run out of time. To avoid this, figure out how many papers you need to edit or grade, and divide the time available by this number. If you have 10 hours available this week in which to edit 40 papers, that’s 15 minutes per paper.

Set a timer and get to it! At first, you’ll probably have to adjust your estimated grading time, but this will make it possible to give papers fairly equal attention.

5. Adopt the One-in-Four Rule

Tell students you will collect all papers for a given assignment, but don’t announce from week to week when their paper will be picked for review. Once you’ve collected the stack of compositions, mark three-fourths of them “Completed.” Give your undivided attention to the rest. Next time, choose different students’ papers.

Hint: To keep everyone on their toes, always pull one or two papers from the “three-fourths” stack as well.

6. Assign Oral Presentations

On the first day of oral presentations, students should come prepared with two copies of the composition they will read in front of the class. Instruct them to mark your teacher’s copy according to your prior instructions (e.g., highlight topic sentences or thesis statements, circle “to be” words, underline sentence variations, put an “x” over synonyms they’ve chosen, etc.).

Each day, as time permits, choose students randomly to read their compositions. Alternatively, assign specific students to speak on specific days of the week instead of collecting all papers at once.

As they read, evaluate their writing style and give a grade.

7. Give Students a Choice

Edit each student’s choice of  composition. First, have them complete three writing assignments through the second-draft stage. Then, invite them to pick one of their second drafts to undergo teacher or peer editing (your choice). Return edited drafts and assign a final draft, which will then receive a grade.

Another option: Have students create a portfolio of checked-off compositions from which they select the best for you to grade. As an alternative, invite them to choose one of three consecutive writing assignments for you to grade.

. . . . .

Do you face a stack of essays and compositions each week? How do you streamline the editing and grading process?

Photos: Jo Naylor (essays) and Vancouver Film School (class), courtesy of Creative Commons

Why do we need to revise writing? {Show, don’t tell!}

Kids who ask "Why do we need to revise?" can discover for themselves how much better their writing sounds when they take time to improve it

Only at Your House?

Picture yourself at the kitchen table with the kids gathered round. Everyone is working on their latest writing projects, scribbling out a story or article, when this conversation happens:

Child: I’m done, Mom.
You: Great! Let’s set it aside for now. You can revise it tomorrow.
Child: Whaaaaat? Why do we need to revise?
You: Because revising is an important part of the writing process. 
Child: But, Mom, I like it the way it is! I don’t want to change anything
You: Every paper can be improved. Did you know even professional authors revise their work?
Child: {scowling} You just don’t like anything I write.
You: {sigh}

Dear homeschool mama, if it makes you feel better, you are not alone. It’s the rare child who actually enjoys revising a paper. When it comes to writing, frankly, many children see Mom as the bad guy, that mean old parent who’s never satisfied.

Let’s take some steps to change that impression, shall we? Read on…and make sure you {and your kids} catch the fun video at the end.

A Call to A.R.M.S.

A story isn’t finished until the writer has read it through and made changes. There’s always a way to improve what we’ve written.

Revising is a call to A.R.M.S.

  • Add description and detail.
  • Remove words, phrases, or sentences that don’t fit or make sense.
  • Move words or sentences that would work better in another spot.
  • Substitute vague words with stronger synonyms, dull words with interesting ones.

Why Do I Need to Revise?

Until kids finally “get” the value of revising, they’ll probably resist—but that doesn’t mean it will always be the case. Though they need to be taught the benefits of self-editing, they must also discover for themselves how much better their writing sounds when they replace dull words or rephrase an awkward sentence.

More importantly, they need to realize you’re in their corner. Like a piano teacher or soccer coach, you can encourage their progress even as you help them hone their developing skills.

Working together to revise a paper gives you a chance to do more than find fault! Start by pointing out things they’ve done well (such as making strong verb choices or writing an especially descriptive phrase).

Believe me, knowing you’re not just looking for their mistakes is highly reassuring.

Show, Don’t Tell

Pinterest is pretty amazing sometimes (okay, all the time) . . . and all the more so when I discover a gem like the little video below, in which two students act out the process of revising a story. This entertaining 5-minute clip will “show” much better than I can “tell.”

I’m sure your own kids could relate to the child who made the shift from “I’m all done” to “Well, maybe there are some things I could fix” to “Wow! It really does sound better now!”

Not only that, now you have some fresh ways to make suggestions that build up your children and encourage their writing efforts. Happy revising!

Copyright 2013 © by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Image: Denise Krebs, courtesy of Creative Commons.

A short {brief, concise} history of synonyms

Did you know American English began as a hybrid of old British dialects? Teach your kids this fascinating history of synonyms!

If you’ve taught writing for awhile, this scene might sound familiar:

Mom: Let’s replace some of those repeated words with interesting synonyms.

Child (grumbling): Why do we have so many words that mean the same thing, anyway?

Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (David Hackett Fischer)Perhaps you’ve wondered about this yourself. If so, make yourself a mug of hot tea or coffee, dust off your copy of The Synonym Finder {the links in this post are my affiliate links because I’m convinced you will love these books}, and let’s have some fun exploring the history of English synonyms!

Although few of us can claim British ancestry, Americans share a cultural inheritance from the speech folkways of Great Britain. United States dialects find their origins in four separate waves of English immigrants, described in David Hacket Fischer’s marvelous cultural history, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Fischer has much to tell about English speech patterns, including some of the synonyms that emerged in colonial America.

English Puritans (1629-1641)

From the eastern counties of England, middle class Puritan families began a great migration to the New World in the early seventeenth century. Most of these families came from urban areas, and they settled the towns that became New England, New Jersey and New York.

The Puritan ministers and magistrates, trained in Latin at Cambridge University, brought a plethora of multi-syllable words to their New England pulpits. The country members of their congregations naturally adopted some of these formal words. New Englanders also invented words of their own with fancy-sounding Latinate endings, such as:

  • -ize, -ous
  • -ulate, -ticate
  • -ical, -iction
  • -acious, -iferous

When words like rambunctious and splendiferous began appearing for the first time, Boston especially became known for a “florid, pompous” style of speech.

Distressed Cavaliers & Indentured Servants (1642-1675)

The colony of Virginia was a welcome haven for the Royalist and Anglican elite. From the south and west of England they came, bringing the language and manners of London nobility. Quickly, the Virginia colony emerged as a hierarchical society, where upper-class families took pride in rank and reputation.

Most Virginia immigrants were young men who earned a living as poor tenant farmers (75% crossed the Atlantic as indentured servants). If they shared one thing in common with their masters, it was their set of regional speech patterns. For instance, a Virginian might use like instead of “as if” (“he looks like he’s sick”)—a sentence construction not found in New England. Virginians also had a distinct vocabulary:

  • Chomp for chew
  • Flapjack for pancake
  • Howdy for hello
  • Laid off for out of work
  • Skillet  for frying pan
  • Tarry for stay
  • Yonder for distant

These had become archaic words in Britain by late 1700s, but they survived and flourished in the American South.

The Society of Friends (1675-1725)

When William Penn recruited Quakers to settle in the Delaware Valley, thousands would settle in West Jersey, Pennsylvania, and North Delaware. Some of these Quakers came from Holland and Germany, but it was the Irish, Welsh and English Friends who shaped the culture of the middle colonies.

English Quakers largely hailed from the North Midlands of England, a land originally colonized by Viking invaders. Norse-speaking shepherds and farmers were the ancestors of lower middle class Quakers, humble people who valued simplicity and hard work. They spoke in plain and forceful language, with little use for Latin and French.

The dialect of the North Midlands favored thee and thou in place of “you.” Horses whinnied instead of neighed, and farmers commonly exclaimed by golly, by gum, or good grief! Other distinctively northern terms that immigrated to the middle colonies include:

  • Bamboozle for deceive
  • Budge for move
  • Cuddle for caress
  • Dad for father
  • Flabbergasted for extremely surprised
  • Frightened for scared
  • Grub for food
  • Mad for angry
  • Nap for a short sleep
  • Sick for ill
  • Spuds for potatoes
  • Swatch for a fabric sample
  • Wed for married

The Borderland Immigration (1717-1775)

In the early eighteenth century, the first waves of a mass migration swept through the American colonies. Desperately poor and stubbornly proud, these men and women came from the North of Ireland, Scottish lowlands, and northernmost English counties. These borderlands, too accustomed to the wars and violence of competing monarchs, had harbored fighting men with fierce clan loyalties for centuries.

Unlike the other English immigrant groups, the border immigrants came to America in search of material prospects rather than religious freedom. In time, they came to settle in the American backcountry, an untamed wilderness from the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains to the lower Mississippi Valley. There, they introduced the southern highland speech, filled with critters and young-uns and hants (ghosts). The border immigrants brought distinctive vocabulary words from North Britain to America, including:

  • Brickle for brittle
  • Cute for attractive
  • Nigh for near
  • Scoot for slide
  • Honey as a term of endearment

As Albion’s Seed carefully explains, American English began as a wonderful hybrid of old British dialects. New words from the Indians, the Spaniards, and others added to our language over time, until the language emerged as we know it today. Encourage your children to enjoy this cultural heritage as they search for just the right words in their writing.

Happy synonym hunting!

WriteShop Blog--In Our Write MindsDaniella 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:  Les Haines, courtesy of Creative Commons.

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.


Self-editing: Identifying common spelling errors

In addition to identifying common spelling errors, kids need to master often-confused words like "your" and "you're."

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy.

Writing can overwhelm the most rugged of students, which is why I often mention the importance of breaking the writing process into bite-size pieces. But did you know it’s equally important to make editing a step-by-step process too?

When students self-edit a story or report, they often have trouble spotting their own errors. They already think their paper is accurate and well written, which makes it hard to believe anything needs to be fixed.

Instead of trying to identify every error in a composition, perhaps the two of you can focus on just a few things at a time. When looking at spelling errors, for example, zoom in on the ones most likely to cause trouble. Here are a few tips you can suggest:

Circle Words Whose Spelling You’re Unsure About

Use a colored pencil so words are easy to spot.

Refer to a dictionary or electronic speller to double-check spelling.

Don’t rely on spell-check when typing on the computer. It isn’t always accurate.

Spell Using Whole Words

Don’t use abbreviations.

  • through, not thru
  • lightnot lite
  • okaynot OK

Don’t use text-speak.

  • you, not u
  • are, not r
  • everyone, not evry1

Check for Most Commonly Misspelled Words

Spend a few minutes reading Facebook posts and it’s soon apparent that children aren’t the only ones who have trouble remembering spelling rules!

Work regularly on often-confused words to make sure everyone knows how to use them correctly. In addition, both you and your students should watch for these errors during proofreading and editing sessions.

One word or two?

  • cannot = one word
  • a lot = two words
  • all right = two words

It’s or its?

  • it’s = it is
  • its = shows that something belongs to “it”

You’re or your?

  • you’re = you are
  • your = shows that something belongs to “you”

They’re, there, or their?

  • they’re = they are
  • there = a place or location
  • their = shows that something belongs to “them

Loose or lose?

  • loose = when something wiggles or moves about
  • lose = fail to win; to misplace or no longer possess something

Then or than?

  • then = shows time
  • than = makes a comparison

Uncertainty about spelling is often a stumbling block to successful writing. By working together on small tasks that improve spelling, the larger task of writing may one day become less daunting. Why not start this week with some of these suggestions?

Photo: Glenn Fleishman, courtesy of Creative Commons.


The magic of 3

Learning specialist Kendra Wagner joins us today as a guest blogger.

“The Magic of 3

Ask teachers what is meant by this phrase and they will likely answer: “The 3 body paragraphs of a 5-paragraph essay.”


I tell my students that the 5-part essay is designed to frame your thinking and make you a smarter person! It is a model of speaking or writing that is common across the professions of law, public speaking, journalism, and storytelling.

I make the analogy to football practice, with a warm-up, 3 main drills, and a cool-down. I also explain how, in the courtroom, TV and movie lawyers use 3 arguments with a short intro and their concluding statements. This wakes the kids up.

Ah, the power of what happens on a screen.


Notice I didn’t call it the “Rule of 3”  because there are many strategies to becoming a skilled writer, and many “right” ways to write.

Some kids find freedom in this, but others find it restricting: Why can’t writing be more like math? One correct answer. One correct way of constructing a sentence.

When these students beg to write only two body paragraphs, or a hefty four, I’ll let them if they make a good case for why a book character makes only two turning-point decisions in their novel, or for why the science museum might only have two interesting exhibits.

While the “Magic of 3” makes a great template to hang a child’s hat on, it should not be too rigidly enforced. Though a powerful paper can consist of two body paragraphs with compelling reasons or examples, these usually work best after establishing a comfort zone with the “Magic of 3.”

More Applications of the Magic of 3

The “Magic of 3” doesn’t stop with main points and paragraphs; it also applies to sentence building and word choice. I think you’ll find the following tips helpful as you guide your budding writers.

3 Topic Sentences

Here’s a good guideline: require students to come up with 3 options for a topic sentence (or thesis statement), and then choose one for their story or essay. This encourages prevention of topic sentence phobia, and reinforces the idea that there is no single right way to write.

3 Powerhouse Verbs and Adjectives

During the revising process, when students’ writing seems flat (or “wimpy,” as some of my middle schoolers call it), it is likely missing some powerhouse verbs and interesting adjectives.

Offer this guideline for powerhouse verbs: For every 3 long sentences, there should be at least 3 strong emotion or action verbs somewhere within those 3 sentences. (For 4th grade and above, a long sentence = 10-25 words.)

There should also be 3 adjectives, which can be as simple as color or number words.

These verbs and adjectives can be distributed in any way across the 3 sentences. Not every sentence needs one.

First try: We went to the water park. I liked the Geronimo slide best, but my brother was scared. It was hot and we all had fun and then went home.

Revision: We played all day at the water park and slid down ten slides. My favorite was a fast one called Geronimo, and it was the scariest, so my brother hung onto me as we skidded down. We beat the heat by staying in the water all day.

Verbs: played, slid, hung, skidded, beat, staying
Adjectives: ten, favorite, fast, scariest

3 Conjunctions

When kids are stuck at short, simple sentences, suggest using one of the 3 most common conjunctionsand, but, so—in the middle of the sentence, with a full sentence on either side of the conjunction. This is known as a compound sentence.

First try: I really like soccer. I get to do a lot of skill practice. It is all year round.
Revision: Soccer is a way to improve a lot of different skills, and you can practice and play year-round.

First try: There are many ways to use time wisely doing homework.
Revision: Homework is important, but students need to find ways to use their time wisely to get the most out of it.

3 Sentence Builders

When students need to improve word retrieval, sentence development, and ease with writing in a show, don’t tell style, provide the following drill practice. Have them create single, unrelated sentences using at least of the “5 Ws and How” in each sentence. For example:

After the long meeting, Lucy raced home in a flash to feed her dog, who was waiting on the porch.

  • when
  • who
  • how
  • why
  • where

Thanks to Kendra Wagner for guest blogging today! A learning specialist in Seattle, Kendra teaches children reading, writing, and thinking skills. Her specialty in ADD and dyslexia grew out of her work in schools as a reading specialist and consultant. She has a particular interest in written expression and helping unearth children’s voice. Visit Kendra’s websiteblog, and Facebook page.

Photos: lollyknit and rodimuspower, courtesy of Creative Commons.


Model writing through conversation

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

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

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

Modeling Through Conversation

Start with the first draft.

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

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

Among the things he must look for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You:  What do his eyes do?

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

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

Son:  Black.

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

Son: His shiny black eyes sparkle.

You:  Where are his eyes located?

Son:  On each side of his beak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Son:  Black.

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

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

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

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

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

Give it a try!

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Photo courtesy of Stockxchng.

The pain of grading writing | Tips for homeschool moms

Tips for Grading Writing | Is there anything harder than getting kids to write? According to homeschool moms, it’s evaluating that writing!

IS THERE anything harder than getting a child to write? According to most parents, it’s trying to grade that writing!

Your mind swirls as you worry, “How can I possibly grade objectively?”

  • I’m no writer. Who am I to judge my child’s writing?
  • I can’t get past the spelling and punctuation errors.
  • I don’t know have a clue what I’m looking for.
  • How do I offer suggestions?
  • How can I be both honest and merciful?
  • How can I justify the grade?

Often, in light of these worries, you avoid giving important feedback. Or worse, you cut back on writing altogether.

Edit First, Grade Later

Writing is a process. Though younger children aren’t ready to put their stories through a massive overhaul, they can certainly work beside you as they learn to edit and make simple changes.

Older students with more skills and confidence should revise their compositions several times.

Self-editing gives them a chance to review their own paper (ideally using an objective checklist) and make some improvements. Once they have self-edited and written a revised draft, it’s time for a second pair of eyes—yours—to review the paper.

Trying some of these editing tips will help you feel more equipped for the task.

1. Get the big picture

First, hide the red pen! Read the whole paper all the way through. Don’t stop to fuss over run-on sentences or misspelled words. Just read. Take in the main ideas.

2. Use an objective rubric

This keeps you from making guesses about the paper or imposing unrealistic expectations on your child’s writing.

3. Look for one thing at a time

Read through the paper several times.

  • The first time, look at the content. Does the story or report make sense? Are there enough details, facts, or examples? Is there a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end?
  • Next, you might inspect your child’s word choices. Are there repeated words that could be replaced by appropriate synonyms? Vague or weak words that could be exchanged for stronger, more concrete ones?
  • Finally, examine the writing for mechanics, including correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

4. Make some positive comments

Encouragement is the goal, so don’t just attack the errors. Instead, also seek out and comment on things your child did well.

  • Did she spell some difficult words correctly?
  • Did she write a completely error-free sentence?
  • Did she make some great vocabulary choices?
  • Did you appreciate a particular descriptive detail or well-defined point?

Change Your Focus

1. Do you have stinkin’ thinkin’?

Before you get totally overwhelmed by the stress of it all, shifting your perspective can make a huge difference!

Instead of worrying about how to become the perfect, impartial, encouraging grader, admit that you really do know more than your child and—with a few tools under your belt—you’re capable of rising to the task.

A renewed dose of confidence will remove the millstone of perfection that’s hanging around your neck.

2. Discriminate

Did you know you don’t have to grade every piece of writing?

  • Some writing, such as daily journals, may need nothing more than a checkmark or happy face to say “Done!”
  • Other pieces may only need a plus (+) for a good effort, a minus (-) for an unsatisfactory effort, or a simple checkmark if it’s okay.

Then you can turn your concentration toward grading those papers that need the most attention.

3. Adopt a positive outlook

When grading a paper, you may find yourself just as inclined to find fault as you did during editing. Remembering these key points will keep you optimistic about your kidswriting efforts.

  • Identify areas of growth. During the grading stage, continue to offer positive and encouraging comments that bless your child’s efforts. Point out places that her writing has improved since the first draft.
  • Consider your child’s ability and level of competence. Take care not to heap high-school level expectations on your sixth grader. Though older and younger students might complete the same writing assignment, the high schooler will typically use stronger vocabulary, better sentence structure, and more mature content.
  • Don’t compare your kids’ papers. Instead, hold them to an impartial standard that gives each one a chance to shine. Susie’s vocabulary and writing style may be more developed than Johnny’s, but if both meet the assignment’s requirements, they can each receive a top grade.

Following these tips will help you take a more positive approach as you learn to edit and grade more objectively. By doing so, you’ll also encourage your children’s success as they grow in their writing abilities.

Need more help in this area? Check out these past posts!

Your Turn

What are some of your favorite tips for grading your kids’ writing assignments?

 Photo Credit: Dreamstime stock photo

Taking the tears out of editing

Taking the Tears Out of Editing | Ways to make the editing process more fun for kids!

As far as most kids are concerned, “editing” and “fun” can never appear in the same sentence.

In their minds, the very word editing conjures up images of a parent or teacher poring over their paper with a magnifying glass with a singular purpose: to find fault.

This can be disheartening, especially when Sensitive Susie honestly and truly believes her paper is perfect just the way it is.

Even when your child takes a stab at self-editing before showing her paper to you, she still may not make any changes. She likes what she wrote, and she doesn’t see the need to fix a thing.

How can you help her turn the corner? Is it possible for editing to go from a hated or dreaded chore to something she actually enjoys? Can you really make editing fun?


At first, she’ll need your help during self-editing. It can take time—often a l-o-n-g time—for her to start seeing her own mistakes. This comes with much practice, so don’t feel discouraged when she doesn’t catch misspelled words or recognize her story’s lack of detail.

Edit Together

Self-editing is a bit of a misnomer. Even if your children use a reliable checklist that details the expectations for the assignment, their eye is not yet trained to seek out their errors. This skill can take years to develop, especially if you’re working with a younger child.

Taking the Tears Out of Editing | Ways to make the editing process more fun for kids!

In truth, you’re training your children to become more independent self-editors. As you work alongside them, be patient through the process. As with any other skill we teach our kiddos, it takes time.

Look for the Good

Taking the Tears Out of Editing | Ways to make the editing process more fun for kids!How do we edit or proofread our kids’ papers? Typically, we grab our red pens and hunt down every sentence fragment, misspelled word, and errant punctuation mark until the page fairly bleeds with criticism.

May I whisper a simple secret to you that can absolutely revolutionize the editing process for you and your child?

Start by looking for things she did well.


Before a drop of red ink touches your child’s paper, affirm her by helping her discover what’s right about her story or report, not just what needs fixing. It’s such a simple—and perhaps obvious—concept, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we can admit that too often, we focus on the errors.

Use an Editor’s Tool Kit

Last time, I introduced you to a cool editing kit called a Said It, Read It, Edit Bag. This tool will help you cultivate the skill of self-editing in your children as, together, you look for ways both to affirm and improve their writing.

Said It, Read It, Edit Bag: Self-editing toolkit from WriteShop

Self-Editing Strategies

Working together, try these self-editing tips with your elementary-aged child:

1. Invite her to choose a highlighter marker from the Said It, Read It, Edit Bag.

  • As you watch, encourage her to look over the paper by herself and highlight a difficult word she spelled correctly.
  • Next ask her to highlight a sentence she wrote correctly by starting it with a capital letter and using the correct punctuation. Praise her for a job well done.

2. Make sure her writing project has all the elements it needs. If not, discuss ideas for improvement, having her write corrections on the blank spaces between the lines.

  • Structure. Does the story have a beginning, middle, and end (or an introduction, body, and conclusion, if it’s an essay or report)?
  • Organization. Is this a report? Make sure it the main points are organized.
  • Character. If the story has a main character, check for descriptive details about him or her.
  • Setting. Check to see if your child included details for the setting.
  • Plot. Is it a mystery, adventure, or science fiction story? Make sure there is a problem that the character has solved in a satisfactory way.
  • Details. Check to make sure your child used details to develop the story. If she wrote a report, are main points supported by facts and other details?

3. Help your child check her mechanics. Instruct her to read the Writing Project aloud (encouraging a younger child to also track each word with her finger). Have her examine each sentence to make sure she:

  • Indented the first line of the paragraph(s).
  • Began each sentence with a capital letter and used correct punctuation.
  • Does not have any missing words in the sentences.

4. Look for dull or repeated words that can be replaced with strong ones. Invite your student to choose one or more weak or overly repeated words and replace them with a synonym. If she can’t think of one on her own, encourage her to use her thesaurus.

5. Have your child circle any difficult words whose spelling she wants to check, look them up in a dictionary, and write each word correctly on the blank spaces between the lines.

By trying some of these simple ideas, editing can become a no-more-tears event. I’m confident you’ll be able to add your own testimonial here one of these days!

“Editing was a dreaded day in the beginning but not anymore.” ~Susan, Florida

“[My daughter] actually looked forward to editing (biggest improvement because she used to hate it). ” ~Andrea, California

“Her self-editing skills really improved. She became more independent.” ~Mindy, Utah

Do you have a favorite trick or tip that inspires happier self-editors?

. . . . .

WriteShop encourages students to self-edit and revise in order to create a published final draft. These self-editing tips and The Said It, Read It, Edit Bag™ are some of the creative ways WriteShop Junior introduces and encourages self-editing.


Photo of girl in red © Vincent Angler. Used by permission of photographer.
Photo Credits: Creative Commons photos courtesy of Flickr.
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