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Top posts to pin from 2013

These 2013 Top Posts include writing tips, journal prompts, essay topics, & help for reluctant writers

LOOKING back on 2013, we were hard pressed to pick only twelve favorite blog posts. Our final list of most shared and most memorable articles includes teaching ideas and writing tips, journal prompts and essay topics, and timeless encouragement that never goes out of season.

Which one is calling your Pinterest board’s name?


It used to be acceptable to type a double space after periods. Why did the rules change?

Double Space after Periods? Just Say No!


Encouraging your reluctant child to brainstorm with graphic organizers, lists, and mindmaps

How to Brainstorm with Reluctant Children


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

Essay Writing: Using Direct Quotes


Creative journal prompts help you write about childhood memories and childhood secrets!

22 Writing Prompts that Jog Childhood Memories


compare and contrast essay, high school writing prompts

6 Compare and Contrast Essay Topics


writing family stories, writing your family history

Let’s Write Family Stories!


travel journal ideas, travel journals, travel writing ideas

Travel Journal Ideas


How to Write a Standout College Application Essay @writeshop

How to Write a Standout College Application Essay


Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom @writeshop

Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom


Are you using gracious writing in emails, blogs, & social media? Learn simple ways to bless your online community with kind, caring words.

Writing with Grace


Play this fun game to introduce children to writing a descriptive narrative using 5 paragraphs.

 What’s in my Bag? Intro to Writing a Descriptive Narrative


Gifts for grammar geeks, writers, and literary buffs! From dining room to game room, there's something clever for everyone on your list.

10 Gifts for Grammar Geeks and Writers

We hope you enjoyed our top blog posts of 2013! (Which was your favorite? Leave a comment and let us know!)

And, of course… Happy New Year!

Summer writing contests for kids

summer writing contests, writing contests for kids

THEY’VE MASTERED new grammar concepts and sharpened their editing skills. They’ve learned brainstorming and outlining tricks of the trade. Since last September, your kids have become more confident writers. Motivate them to keep learning through writing contests for kids!

Although some of these contest deadlines are much later in the year, your kids might prefer writing during the long days of summer vacation.

If you’re looking for more writing contests, check your local library. Libraries such as those in Phoenicia, New York or Berkshire County, Massachusetts offer exciting prizes for young writers of many ages!

Writing Competitions 2013

No cash prizes, but winners will receive a detailed, five-page writing assessment

  • Website:  writingclassesforkids.com
  • Who is eligible: Ages 8-18
  • What they’re looking for: A piece of fiction that demonstrates character, conflict, and action in 500 words or less
  • Deadlines: June 30, 2013 (fiction set in the real world) and November 30, 2013 (fantasy, science fiction, etc.)

A Book That Shaped Me

The Library of Congress summer writing contest for the Mid-Atlantic region

  • Website: loc.gov/bookfest/
  • Who is eligible: Rising 5th and 6th graders in participating library districts
  • What they’re looking for: A one-page essay about a book that made an impact on your life
  • Deadline: August 12, 2013
  • Entry Form

Patriot’s Pen

Cash prizes awarded by the Veterans of Foreign Wars

  • Website: vfw.org/Community/
  • Who is eligible: Grades 6-8 (as of November 2013)
  • What they’re looking for: 300-400 word essay on “What Patriotism Means to Me”
  • Deadline: November 1, 2013
  • Entry Form

Voice of Democracy

College scholarships sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars

  • Website: vfw.com/Community/
  • Who is eligible: Grades 9-12
  • What they’re looking for: 3-5 minute speech on “Why I’m Optimistic About our Nation’s Future”
  • Deadline: November 1, 2013
  • Entry Form

Totem Head’s Story Contest

Encouraging kids to write adventure stories in 1500 words or less

  • Website: adventurewrite.com
  • Who is eligible: Ages 5-18
  • What they’re looking for: Mysterious or suspenseful adventure stories that begin with the phrase, “So there I was”
  • Deadline: December 31, 2013
  • Entry Form
Photo © Karah Fredricks. Used by permission.

Celebrating Children’s Book Week

Children's Book Week 2013

THIS week, May 13-19, is Children’s Book Week. It’s the perfect time to revisit old favorites, and perhaps to add a few new titles to your family library. Of course, with new books pouring off the press every year, it can be hard to sort through all the rubbish. How’s a parent to find the rare jewels of children’s literature?

C. S. Lewis, creator of Chronicles of Narnia, left this wise advice:

“I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last…. It certainly is my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” (Of Other Worlds)

Let’s Celebrate Children’s Book Week

Young, developing minds and blossoming hearts need nourishment through stories of enduring quality. Reading material should be more than just “age-appropriate.” Are your children’s books filled with noble characters, strong vocabulary, and beautiful artwork? As a homeschool graduate, I’m grateful my parents filled their home with books their children and grandchildren will return to again and again.

If you want to introduce your children to some classic titles, these book lists are an excellent place for inspiration. Happy reading!

Newbery Winners

Since 1922, the annual John Newbery Medal has honored American authors for their distinguished contributions to children’s literature. The winner’s circle includes Lois Lowry (The GiverNumber the Stars), Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time), Scott O’Dell (Island of the Blue Dolphins), and Hugh Lofting (The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle).

Take a moment to read the complete list of Newbery Medal winners.

Caldecott Winners

Beginning in 1938, the Randolph Caldecott Medal has been awarded to an illustrator for the preceding year’s “most distinguished American picture book for children.” It’s been said that teachers love the Newbery Medal books, but children love the Caldecott winners! I still remember my childish delight at Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. At Christmastime, nothing could parallel the magic of my mother’s voice and Chris Van Allsburg’s paintings as we read aloud from The Polar Express.

See if you recognize some of your family favorites in this list of Caldecott Medal winners.

Classics for the Christian Homeschool Family

The twenty-five moms who compiled this list are the first to admit some of your favorite books may be missing, and not all of their recommendations will suit your family. This is an extensive list, but don’t be overwhelmed. The books are broken up by grade level and divided into sections such as “Anthologies and Poetry,” “Holiday Books,” “Picture Books,” and “Literature.”

Enjoy making your next library wish list from the 1000 Good Books List and celebrate Children’s Book Week all year long!

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.wordpress.com.

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

Photo: John Morgan, courtesy of Creative Commons.


Homeschooling, copyright, and consumable workbooks

homeschool copyright, copyright, consumable workbooks, worksheets, legal, frugal, photocopy

IT’S NOT easy navigating the muddy waters of copyright. For instance:

  • When is it legal to photocopy a workbook?
  • Is it okay to use an acetate overlay in order to keep workbook pages pristine?
  • Can I resell a workbook that my child used but didn’t actually write in?

Last fall, Practical Homeschooling magazine published a piece I wrote: When Frugal is Illegal. Recently, they added the article to their website, and it has created a flurry of controversy!

When Frugal Is Illegal: Avoiding the Copyright Trap

As a whole, homeschoolers are a thrifty bunch. Feeding, clothing, and educating a family—usually on one income—presents challenges, and prudent moms are always searching for ways to save.

To cut curriculum costs, homeschoolers share e-books, scour used curriculum sales, or copy fill-in-the-blank workbooks. Confused by copyrights, they’re often unaware that some of these activities are legal . . . and some are not.

The Issue of Ownership

In our world, the concept of ownership goes something like this: I bought it. It’s mine. Therefore, I can use it any way I want. However, there are laws that supersede personal ownership. For example:

  • It’s illegal to park next to a fire hydrant even when you own the car.
  • Though you’re the owner, your homeowner’s association can forbid you to paint your house blue.

We understand these laws. We may not like them, but we typically obey. Why, then, is it so hard to wrap our heads around copyright?

Maybe because we’re dealing with something intangible: creations of the mind known as intellectual property . . .

(Take the copyright quiz and read the complete article here.)

Let’s talk! Do you tend to respect or ignore copyrights?

I realize copyright is one of those hot-button topics that’s sure to ruffle a few feathers and stir up some passion. So please, let’s keep the discussion civil.

Copyright 2013 © by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Help your child get published in a magazine

Children's Magazine, kids publishing

DO YOU have a child who loves to write? Encourage your creative son or daughter to learn more about the real-world publishing process. Submitting original work to an editor just might be the perfect spring project!

The magazines below—most listed in the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market guide—make a great place to get started.

Stone Soup 

Bimonthly magazine

  • Website: StoneSoup.com
  • Who they publish: Children ages 8-13
  • What they’re looking for: “Writing and art based on real-life experiences. We have a strong preference for writing on subjects that mean a lot to the author. Stories should have good descriptions, realistic dialogue, and a point to make.” Free verse poetry accepted.
  • Submission Guidelines

New Moon 

Bi-monthly magazine for girls ages 8-14, edited by girls aged 8-14

  • Website: NewMoon.com
  • Who they publish: Girls and women
  • What they’re looking for: Girl-centered fiction, and non-fiction stories about “real girls doing real things written by girls. These can be about anything the girl has done personally, or she can write about something she’s studied.”
  • Submission Guidelines

Amazing Kids! Magazine

Kid-created, award-winning monthly online magazine

  • Website: Mag.Amazing-Kids.org
  • Who they publish: Children ages 5-18
  • What they’re looking for: Kid-friendly, age-appropriate original creative works done by kids and teens, including recipes, travel stories, science and technology, poetry, art, photography, and videos.
  • Submission Guidelines

Skipping Stones

Bi-monthly award-winning, nonprofit magazine designed to promote cooperation, creativity and celebration of cultural and ecological richness

  • Website: SkippingStones.org
  • Who they publish: “We encourage submissions by children of color, minorities, and under-represented populations.” Poetry accepted from youth under age 18 only.
  • What they’re looking for: Contemporary, meaningful, or humorous fiction for middle readers or young adults. Non-fiction with multicultural, nature, or cross-cultural themes. Wants “material that gives insight to cultural celebrations, lifestyle, customs and traditions, glimpse of daily life in other countries and cultures.”
  • Submission Guidelines
Copyright 2013 © by Kim Kautzer


Double space after periods? Just say no!

It used to be acceptable to type a double space after periods. Why did the rules change?

One space between sentences.

I know, I know. Most of us who learned to type on one of those—whatchamacallit—typewriters have a thing for hitting the space bar twice.

Unfortunately, that “two spaces” rule is going the way of the dinosaur. Modern word-processing programs are intuitive. Did you know they automatically insert a little more room after the end period, question mark, or exclamation point so that you don’t have to?

As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t. As you’re typing away at the keyboard, it may seem counterintuitive (or even wrong) to only add one space at the end of a sentence. You might even feel as though you’re committing the unpardonable sin!

But maybe—just maybe—the time has come to stop inserting two spaces after ending punctuation. 

If my word doesn’t hold enough sway to convince you, here are few more voices on the subject.

Butterick’s Practical Typography

Spaced Out

Space Invaders

Grammar Girl: How Many Spaces After a Period?

GOOD Design Daily: Do You Double Space After Periods?

Though it was once acceptable, many think it’s a habit worth breaking. Are you game? If I could learn to stop using a double space after periods, I’m confident you can too!

Are you a one-spacer or a two-spacer? What do you think about this somewhat-controversial subject? 

Copyright 2013 © by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Photo: Henry Bush, courtesy of Creative Commons.

12 favorite posts from 2012

The words are on everyone’s lips: Where did 2012 go?

I wonder that too. What a full, busy, interesting year! As I look back at the blog over this past year, I thought it would be fun to highlight each month’s most popular post. Which was your favorite blog post during 2012?


10 Writing Truths for Teens


Editing Tools for Young Writers


Book Report Sandwich


Build Skills with Puzzles and Word Games


The Pain of Grading Writing


5 Summer Writing Activities from Pinterest



4 Things You’re {Already} Doing to Raise a Writer 


4 Tips for Writing College Application Essays


RMS Lusitania - Free Pictures at Historical Stock Photos.com

Creating a Historical Newspaper


Grammar Skills Your Kids Must Learn


Playing in the Grass by PatrickLim1996

10 Ways to Reduce Writing Stress


6 Christmas Journal Prompts

6 Christmas Journal Prompts That Make Writing Merrier

I’m looking forward to all that 2013 has in store. I  hope you’ll join me as together we inspire and motivate our young writers!

5 top vocabulary-building apps

Nokia Lumia 900 Smartphone

creative commons

BECAUSE WE associate smartphones with texting, it’s easy to boil smartphone vocabulary down to a bunch of LOLs and BRBs. While that may be the case in the text-messaging world, it shouldn’t give the handy phones a bad reputation as a whole.

There are tons of smartphone apps that actually improve vocabulary and language arts skills. Here are five favorites among vocabulary-building apps on the market today.

Textropolis | Free

The Textropolis app is “English-class-meets-Where’s-Waldo.” Users must discover hidden words in cities throughout the world to build up their “Textropolis.” The game is designed for students 10 and up, but the lower levels might also work for younger students. This takes simple flashcard studying to a whole new level, helping kids learn through a fun video game adventure.

Word Magic | $0.99

Word Magic is a spelling/vocabulary app made for three- to six-year-olds who are just starting to develop their vocabularies. It shows users a picture of an item and then lists most of the letters for it below the image. For instance, it might show a picture of a hand with the letters H_ND. The student just has to fill in the blanks. This app may be targeted at a young group of people, but it gives parents a new way to help their children learn and grow.

SAT Vocab Challenge | $4.99

Created by The Princeton Review, this smartphone app teaches high school students the vocab they need for the SAT college entrance exam. There are two volumes available for download, as well as a GRE version for potential grad students. SAT Vocab Challenge reviews hundreds of rarely used words that often appear on the SAT, giving students the boost they need before their big test.

Vocab Junkie | $1.99

Vocab Junkie is an app designed to help middle and high school students learn their vocabulary words. It has over 800 flashcards with some of the most useful words in the English language. Users are asked to assess how well they know a certain word after the definition is revealed. The app then repeats words that a student may not have been confident about in the hopes of instilling it into his brain.

This app was created by Brainscape, one of the leading organizations for memory training and cognitive recognition in the modern world. You’ll have no trouble learning from this vocab app.

WordWorm | $2.99

This Android app won’t necessarily teach you new words, but it can be used to recall words you already knowWordWorm can be used at any age, and most people just play it for fun. In this game, you have to connect letters together in strings to form words. You must do this quickly though before the fiery letters burn their way to the bottom. Get as many words as you can in an allotted period of time, and maybe you’ll find something new along the way.

Check out these apps the next time you feel challenging your cranium, and you’ll have a better vocabulary in no time.

Stacy Anderson is a freelance writer and holds a bachelor’s degree in Education and Journalism. She writes guest posts for different sites and loves contributing education and school job related topics.

Build skills with puzzles and word games


TODAY IS National Scrabble Day, and my mind has turned to word games. That’s right! Scrabble, the granddaddy of all word games, has its very own designated holiday, celebrated each year on April 13.

Celebrate National Scrabble Day

In honor of National Scrabble Day, why not join the fun by engaging your family in one of these Scrabble-themed activities or projects?

  • Scrabble – Play the official crossword puzzle board game.
  • Scrabble – Play this free online version!
  • Boardless Scrabble – Speed Scrabble played with just the tiles
  • Anagrams – Test your skills! An anagram is a word or phrase made by transposing the letters to create another word or phrase. For instance, MARCH is an anagram of CHARM. Scrabble players must rearrange tiles to create words, so anagrams make great practice!
  • Word and Letter Games – Find letter-matching games, Scrabble activities, Scattergories-type worksheets, and other skill-building games. Activities and printables. (This is an ESL site, but the activities translate well to native English speakers.)
  • Printable Scrabble Game – print your own board and pieces. Or, download and print these realistic “wood” tiles for FREE!
  • Printable Word Scramble and Cryptogram Worksheets – Similar to anagrams, cryptograms provide practice with rearranging letters. These are arranged by both theme and grade.
  • Handmade Gifts for Scrabble Lovers – Even if you can’t actually make these crafts today, you can begin planning some serious Scrabble-themed Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and birthday gifts.

  • Pinterest Scrabble Craft Ideas – Find all sorts of great ideas for converting Scrabble elements into photo frames, wall art, Christmas ornaments, magnets, and more!

Tap into the Benefits of Word Games

Whether you play online—or with pencil, paper, cubes, tiles, or game boards—word games are great for building vocabulary and thinking skills. Besides Scrabble, there are other favorites too! Challenge your children with some of these stimulating activities.

Popular letter-arrangement games include:

Benefits: Vocabulary development; improved spelling skills; cognitive and social benefits; mental stimulation

Paper and pencil puzzles offer more options for word lovers:

Benefits: Boredom busters; mental stimulation; improved brain function; better concentration; vocabulary development; improved spelling skills

Structured games that focus more on word meanings include:

Benefits: Improved language skills; social benefits

Your children will think they’re getting a break from school to play games, but you’ll know differently. Using word games and exercises that are stimulating, educational, and fun, you’ll be helping your kids give their brains a workout!

Your Turn

What are your family’s favorite word games?


8 writing ideas from Pinterest

8 Writing Ideas from Pinterest | In Our Write Minds

My name is Kim, and I’m a Pinterestaholic . . .

Well, maybe it’s not THAT serious, but I do love Pinterest. It’s simply the best way to keep online recipes, photos, tips, and craft ideas categorized—even the ones I think I’ll never actually get around to using!

In addition to pinning salad recipes, organizational tips, and ideas for a future kitchen remodel, I’ve been collecting scads of writing ideas, too. Here’s a toe-dip in the water of great writing ideas from Pinterest:

1. Paint Chip Contractions

Who knew you could have so much fun with paint chips? This Paint Chip Contractions activity will help your kids practice forming contractions.

Paint Chip Contractions

2. Boggle

Isn’t this the most fun? It’s a Printable Boggle Board! Boggle makes an outstanding pre-writing game for all ages, from elementary through high school. It’s a great way to dust off the cobwebs and get ready for writing time.

Printable Boggle Board

3. Paint Chip Synonym Garden

Use colorful paint chips in graduated hues to make a Paint Chip Synonym Garden. It’s a hands-on vocabulary-building tool that keeps dull or repeated words at a minimum. This is ideal for middle-schoolers, but you can certainly use it with younger students as well.

Synonym Paint Chip Flower

4. Traffic Light Transitions

Make a Traffic Light Transitions poster. This terrific visual will remind children to use transition words to connect sentences and paragraphs.

Traffic Light Transitions

5. Journal Jar

Journaling is another way to loosen stuck thoughts and ideas. Make this cute Journal Jar, which includes a link to colorful, printable topics you can cut out and add to the jar. Children will have fun picking out topics, whether you do daily, bi-weekly, or weekly journaling. For added fun, let them give input about what they’d like to write about!

Journal Jar

6. Venn Diagrams

When teaching children to compare and contrast, a Venn diagram is a useful tool. And when you add a kinesthetic dimension for your hands-on learners, it’s even better! Here’s a Paper Plate Venn Diagram that’s been used to compare and contrast two different versions of “The Princess and the Pea.” You can really run with this idea in so many ways!

Paper Plate Venn Diagram

7. Writing a Strong Lead

Students of all ages can struggle with how to introduce a topic or start a story. I love this free printable poster I found through Pinterest: What Makes an Effective Lead?

What Makes an Effective Lead?

8. Lists

I’ve long been an advocate of list-making, so I especially love this link to a great resource for printable lists, including book lists, lists of descriptive adjectives, and this list of strong verbs. Watch your children’s vocabulary soar!

List of Strong Verbs

Be sure to follow WriteShop’s Pinterest boards for more creative grammar and writing activities like these!


Have you been bitten by the Pinterest bug? Leave your link in the comments and I’ll be happy to follow you, too!

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