Entries Tagged 'High school' ↓

Book review writing prompts for high school students

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

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

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

1. As Clear as Crystal

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

2. Like Flowers in Spring

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

3. As Old as Time

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

4. As Good as Gold

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

5. Like Water in a Desert

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

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

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

High school cause and effect essay prompts

cause and effect essay topics, high school writing prompts

WHEN high school students are confronted with information or current events, they should be able to independently analyze the data or situations. These cause and effect essay prompts will help your teen draw conclusions about underlying causes and intended (or unintended) effects. A family discussion may help your high schooler brainstorm and organize ideas before he starts writing.

1. He Who Fights with Monsters

Violent video games and toys are pervasive in our society. Could this be caused by malicious, money-hungry marketers, or is it simply a reflection of human nature? Do toy guns and first person shooter games lead to more crimes, or do they actually prepare young people for better self-defense?

2. Daddy’s Home

Sadly, it has become ever more common to see broken homes and absent fathers. What do you think has caused this breakdown of marriage, and what are the effects on children who grow up without a male role model in the home?

3. Give Me Liberty

Gun control is a divisive topic. From your experience or research, why are guns withheld from law-abiding citizens? What happens to freedom when a citizen can no longer own and carry a weapon? What happens to crime rates?

4. Some Things Money Can’t Buy

In our nation, personal debt has skyrocketed over the last century. What has caused the massive growth of school loans, credit card debt, and thirty-year mortgages? What is the effect on an individual, family, or country when debt is entered into so freely?

5. Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better

Have you heard that boys statistically get more attention than girls in a classroom? What do you think has caused the integration of young men and young women in educational settings, from high schools to youth groups to summer camps? What are some of the positive effects of this social policy, and what have been some of the negative or unintended effects?

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

Photo: Alexandra Tengco, courtesy of Creative Commons.

6 compare and contrast essay topics

compare and contrast essay, high school writing prompts

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

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

1. All in the Family

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

2. Fashion Statement

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

3. Saved by the Bell?

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

4. Behind Closed Doors

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

5. Bucket Lists and Dirty Floors

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

6. Cheaper by the Dozen

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

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

Photo: surlygirl, courtesy of Creative Commons.

7 tips for teaching free verse poetry

free verse poetry, poetry, poems, free verse, national poetry month

WHEN you think of free verse poetry, do words like modern, unfamiliar, or even scary come to mind? It’s probably because much of modern poetry is either too confusing or too graphic.

The good news is that some poets have combined the best of literary talent and historic research, and their work is too good to pass up! That’s why I am recommending Margarita Engle and her free verse novel The Poet Slave of Cuba for our April celebration of National Poetry Month.

This is the story of Juan Francisco Manzano, a talented boy growing up on the sugar plantations of nineteenth-century Spanish Cuba. His greatest curse—and his greatest blessing—is this: he is the Poeta-Esclavo, the Poet Slave.

Engle’s book masterfully portrays the tragic struggles and sweet triumphs of a slave culture in the not-so-distant past. The stories, while tastefully drawn, do portray human suffering in a stark, startling manner. For that reason, this book is recommended for high school, or perhaps junior high at the parent’s discretion. As you read this book, keep in mind the following tips for teaching free verse poetry.

1. Compare Free Verse Poetry with Prose

Poets usually write free verse poetry using grammatical, non-rhyming sentences. Their free verse stanzas might look deceptively similar to prose. Help your children understand the difference between poetry and everyday prose using this exercise:

  • Choose a stanza from The Poet Slave or other poem. Example: I am the big brother of two freeborn babies, twins / a brother and sister, my own / free, so free, / while I am not.
  • Ask your child to rewrite the stanza in their own words, using as few words as possible. Example: I am older than my baby brother and sister. They are twins. Both of them are free, but I am not free.
  • Read the two versions out loud until your children can hear the difference.

2. Read Aloud to Understand Lines and Pauses

A line in a free verse poem can be as long as a sentence or as short as a single word. Poets put great care into making each line the perfect length to convey a thought or a feeling. Teach your children about pauses at the end of lines by taking turns reading aloud:

  • Practice breathing at the end of lines, not in the middle of them.
  • Take shorter pauses at the line break when a sentence in one line is continued in the next.
  • Take longer pauses at the line break when the two lines have separate thoughts.

You may also enjoy a more in-depth discussion of stanzas and line breaks in free verse poetry.

3. Identify Imagery and Themes

tips for teaching free verse poetry, reading poetry, imagery, themes, free verse, poemsIn The Poet Slave, references to feathers, wings, and birds start appearing in the very first stanza. This poem, however, is not about birds. The story is about a mind, soul, and body longing to be free. Note how the imagery (feathers, wings) and the theme (freedom) are closely tied together.

When you study free verse poetry, help your children identify the key images in the poem. Ask them to keep a list of ways these images are used. Most importantly, help them see the parallels between the imagery and the overarching theme.

4. Watch for Alliteration

In The Poet Slave, the proud Marquesa says:

They flicker all around him, like fireflies in the night.

This is an example of alliteration. This poetic device is fun to find—and even more fun to read. Keep an eye out for alliteration when reading free verse poetry.

5. Listen for Sound Patterns

Teach your children to be aware of sound patterns in free verse poetry. Interesting sound patterns show up when the words in a poem mimic the sounds in the story. We can almost feel la Marquesa slowly exhaling when she says:

The sight of so much invisible music
makes me sigh.

6. Try a Hands-On Experience

The Poet Slave of Cuba offers a first-person glimpse of a house slave’s world: the central courtyard, the tiled floor mosaics, the delicate blooms of tuberose and jasmine. When you read a free verse poem with your children, try to find real-world examples of things in the poem. For example:

  • The art enthusiasts in your family will appreciate making a mosaic with brightly colored scraps of paper.
  • If you live in California or Florida, you might visit a historic Spanish-style home such as the Casa de Rancho Cucamonga.

7.  Make a Character Study

A character study can be as informal as a lunchtime discussion between you and your child. It can include a T-Chart to compare the inner qualities of two characters in the story. Or, you may assign a character study essay. Your older child will choose one person in the poem (such as Juan) and write about how he learns to overcome his own character flaws.

For example, the poet slave Juan is surrounded by superstition from an early age, and he sometimes wishes that he knew how to pray. His journey into manhood teaches him not only about faith in God, but also about the true meaning of mercy.

I hope you’re excited to try a study of free verse poetry with your family, and especially your high schoolers! If you want to start with a shorter poem, try one of these classics:

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.

Photos: Janne Hellsten and cuatrok77, courtesy of Creative Commons.

What’s your viewpoint? 5 writing prompts for opinion essays

high school writing prompts, high school essay prompts, opinion essay prompts

Motivate your high school students to write by allowing them to express their own opinions! Here are five hot topics to get their wheels turning.

1. Not So Fast…

Nothing can ruin a vacation as quickly as a speeding ticket on a wide-open highway. Do you think speed limits are a good idea, or do they hurt more people than they help?

2. A Book by its Cover

Everywhere you look, false advertising is rampant. Misleading words and images sell political candidates, beauty products, convenience foods, tobacco, and alcohol. Do you think we should allow (or require) the government to regulate advertising media? Or, does false advertising simply come down to freedom of speech?

3. Lights, Camera, Distraction!

Safety, communication, developing interpersonal skills—all are issues to consider when deciding whether children should use cell phones and social media. What’s your opinion?

4. Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle?

Every human being is a steward of Earth’s resources. Do you believe that society should encourage more recycling? Or, should we learn to use less stuff in the first place?

5. The Golden Egg

What is the most important key to success? How much do staying in school, learning a foreign language, and earning a college degree factor into your idea of success?

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

Photo: David Lofink, courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

Essay writing: Using direct quotes

 high school essay writing, college prep essays, direct quotes, quotations

Are your high schoolers ready for college-level writing?

One test is how well they incorporate quotations into essays and term papers. I’m not talking about tossing one or two overused, ancient proverbs or a boring dictionary definition in the intro paragraph. I’m talking about the big “R” – research!

What’s So Important?

As elementary children, we learn to write summaries. We absorb information and spill it back on paper in our own words. In high school, we meet new expectations. Now we must study source texts and create our own unique opinion (a thesis statement). Every point in a thesis statement must be defended by evidence.

Consider a headline news article. A journalist may make strong assertions, such as:

The police department will take drastic measures to prevent future incidents.

We are much more likely to believe this statement if it is followed by a quote from someone with authority:

Police chief Jason Roberts says, “I will not allow anyone in my department to wear their uniform off duty until further notice.”

Now the writer has offered evidence.

High school and college essays require evidence. If your daughter is writing about Jane Austen’s heroine Elizabeth Bennet, she must include words from the author’s (or the character’s) own mouth. If your son is writing about Northern attitudes toward slavery during the Civil War, he should avoid generalizations by including quotes from different people of that era.

Comma or Colon?

The following sentences are punctuated correctly. Can your student guess why?

  • Elizabeth calmly replies, “Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of dancing.”
  • “Indeed, sir, I have not the least intention of dancing,” Elizabeth replies.
  • Elizabeth Bennet holds her tongue about her awkward suitor: “Mr. Collins might never make the offer, and, till he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.”
  • Elizabeth wisely understands that her cousin “might never make the offer, and, till he did, it was useless to quarrel about him.”

In the first two examples, the quotation is set off by a comma. Grammar rules tell us to always use a comma after a verb such as said, asked, or replied when it appears just before a quote.

In the third example, the sentence would convey a complete thought even without the quotation. Rule of thumb: never use a colon unless there are at least seven words before the quotation.

In the fourth example, the quote needs no commas or colons to set it off because of the little word that. When you use that, you can start the quotation mid-sentence, without ellipses or a capital letter.

A Note about Tense

The Block Quote

A block quotation is set apart with a special indent and no quotation marks. Use the block-quotation format to quote several consecutive sentences – or one especially long and complex sentence. Rule of thumb: use a block quote when the quotation is five lines or longer.

In the blogosphere, block quotes often appear in political or religious commentaries. In high school English essays, block quotes are effectively used to write about drama and poetry. Block quotes are like dessert; they should be used carefully. Too many can give the impression that a writer is lazy, trying to fill the page with words that are not his own.

Consider this block quotation from Robert Frost’s poem “Birches”:

It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.

Block Quote or Quotation Marks?

If ellipses were used to shorten the above sentence, it would work nicely with quotation marks: “It’s when I’m weary of considerations, / And life is too much like a pathless wood / Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs / Broken across it….”

Give Credit Where Credit’s Due

Plagiarism is a growing concern in colleges and universities across the nation. Prepare your high school student by teaching him to be above-board as a writer. If he uses someone else’s idea, he must quote their words or mention their name to avoid plagiarizing. If he references someone else’s book, article, or webpage, he must include that source in a “Bibliography” or “Works Cited” page.

Every teacher and professor may have slightly different guidelines, but MLA citation format is a good place to start. A good reference can be found here: MLA Citation Examples.

With thoughtful research, well-chosen quotations and careful citations, your student’s writing will be ready for the college campus… and beyond.

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: Elliott Brown courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

Is your high schooler ready for college?

ACCORDING TO a recent report from the national ACT board, far too many students are graduating high school without the skills needed for college and career.

The statistics are sobering, but take heart! There are steps you can take to help prepare your teens for college.

College Prep Tips and Resources

Start by checking out the following links:

     “Don’t succumb to the temptation to throw in the towel, just when the rewards promise to be so great! Homeschooling through high school is worth the effort! It’s one of the best times you’ll have with your children, before they launch and start their own lives at college or beyond. Stay the course, and finish strong.”

~Lee Binz, The HomeScholar

Infographic: Unprepared for College

Here are some additional statistics to remind you (and your teen) of why purposeful college preparation is so important.

Based on a work at College@Home. Used with permission.

5 tips for teenage writers

tips for teenage writers, descriptive writing, thesaurus, wordiness, rambling, rabbit trails

MORE OFTEN than not, my blog posts encourage parents of kids who hate to write. That’s why it was refreshing to hear from a teen who actually wants to improve her craft:

“I am 15 years of age and enthusiastic about creative writing. I mostly have trouble finding words to describe something. I tend to repeat words a lot, making the story boring and not very interesting. I have tried to mix it up, but my teachers have said it became too overwhelming to read. I  was wondering if you could give me some tips.” –Melissa

Writing that’s too wordy, disorganized, or lacking in description can definitely cause a reader to feel overwhelmed. In order to capture—and keep—their readers’ attention, students need to work on content, style, and mechanics. These tips for teenage writers will help your student improve in each of these areas.

1. Improve Description

Vivid description is one of the most useful tools a writer can use to hook and hold readers. Appealing to the five senses, descriptive writing paints word pictures using concrete, specific vocabulary.

Words, like paint, can be as subtle as watercolor or as rich and vivid as oils. Choosing the right words—and in the right amounts—entices readers and invites them to linger.

Explore these articles for tips on writing more descriptively:

2. Replace Repeated Words

Synonym Finder 150x210Writers sometimes use repetition on purpose, such as for dramatic effect.

However, if a student tends to repeat words because he’s careless, lazy, or unable to think of synonyms, his writing will soon sound monotonous.

Use a Thesaurus

A good thesaurus is one of the best tools a student can use to replace repeated words. I like The Synonym Finder, but if your kids prefer an online thesaurus, try Thesaurus.com. When they type in the word they want to replace, a bunch of options will come up.

Use a Dictionary

Word differences can be subtle, so when choosing a synonym, students should look it up in the dictionary if they don’t know what the new word means.

For example, suppose your teen has repeated the word anger several times within a paragraph or two. If the character’s anger is mild, and he simply feels bugged about something, the writer should be able to replace anger with annoyance or irritation. However, rage—a violent, out-of-control anger—would not be an appropriate substitute in this case, even though the thesaurus lists it as a synonym.

3. Stay on Track

Do you notice a lot of rabbit trails in your teens’ writing? Is it hard for them to stick to the point? When their writing rambles, they run the risk of losing their readers: if their thoughts are jumbled, their writing will be jumbled too.

To avoid rambling, writers must know what they want to say—and have a plan to get them there. Graphic organizers, outlines, brainstorming worksheets, or mindmaps can help sort and organize ideas before beginning to write.

4. Avoid Information Overload

Does your student cram too many details into her writing? While description can add depth and richness to writing, too much detail can weigh down a story.

Steeple Chase 2009Imagine yourself running barefoot through a field. The air is crisp and fresh, and you long to feel invigorated. Unfortunately, you keep stepping in sticky mud, which slows your progress and keeps you from enjoying the run.

If your teen’s writing contains too many details, or she tends to be heavy-handed with her description, her readers will feel as though they keep getting stuck in the mud. She can pick up the pace by offloading unnecessary details.

5. Watch Out for Wordiness

How does an author find the balance between writing in a concrete, sensory, descriptive manner and writing in an imposing, pretentious way?

While it’s important to try out new words, have fun with the thesaurus, and use vivid language as she writes, it’s just as crucial that your child use new vocabulary with care and humility.

A wise writer chooses her words carefully. Her writing is concise yet descriptive. When she uses too many new or strange words, her writing begins to sound pretentious or even arrogant. Help her find a good balance between stuffy vocabulary and overly simplistic word choices. Invite her to write smaller words and shorter sentences if she leans toward verbosity.

Your Turn

Is there one area that poses the greatest writing challenge for you or your student? Which tips for teenage writers will you apply first?

. . . . .

WriteShop IINeed more help? WriteShop II teaches these skills (and more) to help teens become stronger writers. To learn more about WriteShop II for your high schooler, visit our website at www.writeshop.com.

Photos: D Sharon Pruitt (girl), and Richard Vermillion (muddy foot), courtesy of Creative Commons. Used by permission.

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10 writing truths for reluctant teen writers

10 Writing Truths for Teens: How can you encourage your teen when he feels stuck?   What should you tell him when he can’t seem to get started writing?How can you encourage reluctant teen writers when they feel stuck?

What should you tell them when they can’t seem to get started writing?

What advice can you offer when perfectionism rears its ugly head and they have trouble accepting their own mistakes?

Typically, you can’t say or do much—especially if they’re already in a funk. But if you can bite your tongue and sit on your hands till a teaching moment arises, they might be willing to consider one of these ten truths.

1. It’s not just you. I promise.

Writing isn’t always easy. I’m sure you think you’re the only one who suffers from writer’s block, but it might help to know that even famous published authors will agonize over a word, a sentence, or a paragraph.

2. There’s no penalty for a bad first draft.

“The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” ~Robert Cromier

3. If you’re stuck, explain to someone what you’re trying to write.

My adult son is a former reluctant writer. But even to this day, as a Ph.D. student, he’ll call me from time to time when he hits a writing roadblock. Often, I do nothing more than listen and offer the occasional “Mm-hmm.” But the act of thinking aloud and tossing around ideas can open up the floodgate, and he finds that the log jam of words will finally loosen.

Time's Up!4. Set a timer.

Having trouble getting started? Grab a kitchen timer and set it for 15 minutes. You can do anything for 15 minutes, right? And some days, you may not even hear the beep.

5. To write well, it helps to read well.

Reading teaches you how words work. You can become more attuned to detail, imagery, voice, and sentence construction. There’s no guarantee that being an avid reader will automatically make you a polished writer, but reading certainly lays a foundation for writing in many ways.

6. Style comes with practice.

Writing may not be second nature to you, but you will learn to develop your own writing style over time.

7. It’s better to write poorly than not at all.

You can always improve your rough draft. Don’t get hung up on perfection. Everyone revises!

“The first rule of writing is to write. The second rule of writing is to rewrite. The third rule of writing is the same as the second.” ~Paul Raymond Martin

8. Don’t write and edit in the same sitting.

I can’t tell you how many little errors I catch when I revisit a piece of my own writing even one day later! I know it’s tempting to just “get it over with.” But really, you’re much wiser to let that essay marinate for a couple of days. When you come back to it, you’ll be more likely to see it with fresh eyes and be willing to make changes.

[Of course, this means you can't wait till the last minute to write your rough draft. 'Nuf said.]

9. Learn to edit your own work.

This is one of the most valuable writing skills you can acquire. The more adept you become at self-editing, the less you have to rely on others to point out flaws. Before you turn your paper over to your parent or teacher, proofread and revise it first.

  • Am I being too wordy?
  • Repeating myself?
  • Making my point?
  • Varying my sentence structure?
  • Using descriptive detail?
  • Punctuating properly?

Your writing will always benefit from a second set of eyes, but learning to edit your own work is a lifelong skill every student needs to develop. While you’ll never be completely objective about your own writing, the ability to self-edit is equally important as having another person do it for you.

10. Edit your writing as if it were someone else’s.

Take an emotional step away from your paper. Imagine that it was written by the kid who flips burgers at McDonald’s, and begin to look for ways the writing could improve. It’s much easier to be objective when you pretend that your composition isn’t actually yours!

Copyright 2012 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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. . . . .

WriteShop  provides schedules, checklists, and detailed instructions that give teen writers direction and help them stay on task. Choosing WriteShop I and II will help you equip and inspire successful writers!

Freewriting exercise: The Writing Well

When students have a deep “well” of words and ideas from which to draw, their compositions becomes more vivid and concrete.

Although it’s is one of the most necessary and helpful steps of the writing process, brainstorming can stump a reluctant writer—even if she’s using a worksheet, graphic organizer, or parent prompting.

You:    What comes to mind when you think of the beach?
Child: Sand and water.
You:   
Great! What else?
Child: That’s all I can think of.

And that’s on a good day!

Prime the Pump

When students have a deep “well” of words and ideas from which to draw, their compositions becomes more vivid and concrete. That’s why WriteShop repeatedly emphasizes the need for adequate brainstorming as a routine part of the writing process. But if their well is dry and they can’t come up with enough words or ideas, their compositions will fall flat.

To keep ideas fresh and flowing, students need to prime their writing pumps on a regular basis. By practicing frequent brainstorming—especially when there’s no added pressure to write a composition—they’ll discover that they can think of words more quickly and abundantly. An freewriting exercise like the Writing Well is a perfect training tool!

The Writing Well

The “Writing Well” is a freewriting exercise designed to stimulate vocabulary, ideas, and impressions on a particular topic. It makes a good pre-writing activity, but it’s really brainstorming practice in disguise!

Kept in a small notebook, these brainstorming results can also become a “seed book”—a resource, word bank, or collection of ideas—when writing future compositions.

Student Directions

  1. You will find it helpful to keep your “Writing Well” in a spiral notebook for easy reference.
  2. Use a separate page for each topic. You may use both front and back if you wish.
  3. Before beginning, choose a topic and write it at the top of the page. Then set the timer to write for five full minutes.
  4. The purpose of this exercise is to write down all the words, phrases, or sentences that come to mind about your chosen topic within the five minutes allotted.

If you get stuck, try some of these ideas:

  • Picture the topic in your mind. Use your five sensessight, sound, touch, taste, and smell—to describe details.
  • Ask yourself questions about the subject matter—who? what? when? where? why? how?
  • Use a photograph or magazine picture to jog your thoughts.

At first this activity may seem difficult. You may wonder: How can I write about one thing for five whole minutes? Relax! Over time you’ll find that it has become more natural to transfer ideas from your head to your paper.

Some of these exercises will lend themselves to becoming compositions. Put a colorful star at the top of the page if you might like to develop this into a paragraph or story in the future.

Parent Tips

In the beginning, your child may have trouble writing for five full minutes. Perhaps you could set the timer for three minutes, then increase it to four, and finally to five over the course of several weeks.

If your student brainstorms very generally about a topic, you might suggest next time that she narrow her topic even further. For example, if she writes on the topic of animals, she’ll probably include a list of many kinds of animals. Next time, have her select just one of those animals (such as dogs, monkeys, or whales) and make a “Writing Well” for that subtopic, including as many details as she can.

Should your student repeatedly make lists of words only, challenge her to begin writing descriptive phrases, too. Sometimes these will be factual and sometimes experiential. For example:

If she’s writing about “red,” words and phrases might include:

  • ketchup
  • stop signs
  • making Valentines for my family
  • embers glowing in the fireplace
  • fire engines
  • Dorothy’s ruby slippers
  • the crimson sunset on our vacation in California

If she’s writing about Grandma, phrases might include:

  • baking chocolate cookies together
  • lives in an apartment in Miami
  • smells sweet like roses
  • takes a ceramics class in her clubhouse
  • silver hair
  • favorite color is pink

The random list of “red” words and phrases probably won’t ever be developed into a paragraph. On the other hand, the “Grandma” list definitely has potential to become a great descriptive composition at some point.

Writing Well Topics

Are you ready? Dip your ladle deep into the Writing Well and pull up a full, soaking draught of words and ideas. Then spill them over a fresh page—and let the writing begin. Here are some topics to get you started!

  • a famous place I would like to visit
  • my dream car
  • gardens
  • books
  • animals (farm animals, jungle creatures, pets, birds, insects)
  • birthdays
  • the beach
  • fishing
  • obeying
  • snow
  • sounds that make me happy (nervous, afraid)
  • my childhood toys
  • my favorite meal
  • my grandpa (or other family member)
  • our pantry
  • Saturdays
  • things I like about myself
  • heaven
  • the color blue (orange, yellow, gray, green)
  • things that make me feel cozy
  • new uses for duct tape
  • If cars could fly…
  • If I had to live underwater…

Copyright © 2012 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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. . . . .

“The Writing Well” is one of the supplemental writing activities tucked into the appendix of the Teacher’s Manual for WriteShop I and II.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr. Other photos courtesy of stock.xchg. Used with permission.
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