Entries Tagged 'Teaching Writing' ↓
June 22nd, 2010 — Editing & Revising, Teaching Writing, WriteShop
From time to time, parents ask us whether WriteShop aligns with the Six Traits of Effective Writing.
6 + 1® Trait Writing is a model for teaching and assessing writing. Originally, it was intended less as a teaching tool and more as an evaluation tool to help teachers identify student strengths and weaknesses.
Although WriteShop wasn’t developed according to the Six Traits model, our products do offer comparable tools to teach, edit, and evaluate your children’s writing. After all, our goal is to help you become a more effective teacher, and these skills and tools just make sense—no matter what name they go by!
Creating Good Writers
Students become good writers through modeling, discussion, and plenty of practice. But most parents—even those who are intuitive writers—need specific guidelines and rubrics to help them teach writing systematically and effectively, including:
- Explicit instruction for how to teach the writing process (along with specific writing skills).
- Guided writing (modeling) and discussion.
- Step-by-step student directions.
- Practical application of grammar and spelling to writing.
- Checklists, rubrics, and other tools to help edit and evaluate writing.
WriteShop and the Six Traits
Though our products may not fully align with the Six Traits model, both WriteShop I & II and WriteShop Primary give you the instruction and guidance you need to teach writing with confidence!
However, two favorite WriteShop tools—the Writing Skills Checklists and the Composition Evaluation forms—do meet many criteria of the Six Traits model.
The elements of the Writing Skills Checklist allow you to give your junior high or high school student valuable suggestions and a chance to improve his or her paper. And the Composition Evaluation form provides a rubric for effective, accurate grading.
Each of the Six Traits (listed below) is followed by specific elements WriteShop I and II look for in a composition.
The main focus or purpose for writing
- Did the student follow directions for the assignment?
- Did he include lesson-specific content?
- Did he support his ideas with details?
The internal structure of the writing
- Did the student use appropriate topic and closing sentences?
- Did he use transition words when necessary?
- Did he communicate clearly?
The sense that the writer is speaking directly to the reader
- Did he write in the correct narrative voice for the assignment?
The use of concrete, colorful, precise vocabulary to communicate meaning
- Did the student use vivid, active, colorful words?
- Did he avoid vague, repeated, or overused words?
- Did the student limit use of passive voice (“to be” words)?
The flow and readability of the text; effective use of sentence variations
- Did the student communicate clearly and avoid awkwardness?
- Did he use a number of interesting sentence variations?
- Did he use his tenses properly?
The mechanical correctness, including spelling, punctuation, and grammar
- Did the student adhere to conventions of form?
- Did he correctly use punctuation, capitalization, and grammar?
- Did he spell correctly?
- Did he use correct sentence structure?
WriteShop Primary materials for kindergarten to third grade also align well with the Six Traits model, both for teaching and evaluating. For more information about WriteShop products, visit www.writeshop.com.
June 7th, 2010 — Editing & Revising, Encouragement, Homeschooling, Teaching Writing
Grading and commenting on your kids’ writing is one of the most valuable elements of writing instruction. But it also gives the most grief to parents, who often feel unqualified to identify and evaluate written strengths and weaknesses.
Seeds of Doubt
A host of “ins” and “uns” seems to attack parents when it comes to writing, making us doubt our ability to edit and grade objectively. With regard to teaching or evaluating writing, do you ever use any of these words to describe yourself?
Many of us wear these monikers like millstones around our necks, allowing the weight of our insecurities to immobilize us. At worst, teaching and grading writing don’t happen at all, or at best we’re sporadic, leaving Mom feeling guilty and our children awash in frustration.
It’s not that we don’t think it’s important to give our children input. But don’t we all have excuses?
- I’m afraid I’ll be too hard on my child.
- I don’t know how to grade a paper—there’s too much guesswork.
- What do I know about writing? I’m just a math-science person.
And heaven forbid Mom should set aside her worries and actually make a comment. The smallest hint of suggestion from you and the drama begins.
- But I like it this way!
- You’re always so critical.
- You never like anything I write!
Myths about parent editing
As a parent, perhaps you simply don’t know how to give objective input. So either you don’t give feedback at all—and therefore see no improvement—or you offer suggestions that make your child feel picked on or rejected. To help you renew your perspective, let’s look at three myths about parent editing.
Myth #1 – Editing and grading writing are too subjective.
- Fact: Learning to edit is a process for both student and parent.
- Fact: Many aspects of a composition CAN be evaluated objectively.
Myth #2 – It’s too difficult to edit and grade writing.
- Fact: The more you edit and revise, the easier it will become.
- Fact: Familiarity produces recognition—you will catch on!
- Fact: There are tools (rubrics and checklists) to help you.
- Fact: You don’t have to find every mistake. Even addressing just a few errors can help your child’s writing begin to change course.
Myth #3 – Editing and grading writing is for professionals.
- Fact: Many parents cannot find mistakes in their children’s writing—but you can improve your skills! If you feel weak in a particular area such as grammar or spelling, take a “crash course” to refresh yourself. Buy a second student workbook and study the subject alongside your kids. Or, consider a resource like The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation to help you brush up on key rules.
- Fact: You CAN learn to edit and grade. Programs like WriteShop Primary, WriteShop Junior, and WriteShop I are good examples of homeschooling products that guide and direct parents through the writing and editing process.
Over the next few weeks, you’ll not only gain tips and tools to make editing and grading easier for you, you’ll also learn ways to help your children participate in the process through self-editing and revising.
We’ll start next week with tips for Editing and Evaluating Writing: Grades K-3.
I also know that parents tend to panic more as junior high and high school draw near. So if you have older kids, you’ll be happy to know I’ve got you covered as well. Stay tuned!
Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
May 14th, 2010 — Conventions, Homeschooling, Teaching Writing
This morning I presented a jam-packed workshop at the Schoolhouse Expo, a virtual homeschool conference sponsored by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. The hour whizzed by as I shared tons of ideas for ways to creatively introduce and expand your children’s writing vocabulary. Here are just a handful of suggestions from today’s session.
Be a Writing Role Model
You’ve heard that if you want your children to become readers, they need to see you reading. Likewise, to raise writers, you must make sure they see you writing. When your child writes, think about stopping to write as well.
- Draw attention to your writing. Point out times that you use writing to communicate with others.
- Talk about writing opportunities. Explain the purpose for each kind of writing and the target audience, handwriting vs. computer, etc.
- Let your child see you prepare for a Bible study, keep a prayer journal, or take notes during church.
- Have your child help you write letters, even such routine ones as ordering items from an advertisement or writing a letter of praise or complaint to a company. This helps the child to see firsthand that writing is important to adults and truly useful.
- Take time to write in your journals together.
Copywork has so many benefits, including providing students with excellent writing models. You can use various copywork passages as opportunities to look up unfamiliar words, which is a great way to naturally expand your children’s vocabulary.
You can purchase resources specifically intended for the purpose of copying. Or simply encourage copying Bible verses, hymns, favorite poems, passages of literature, or famous quotations.
Suggest Making Lists
Making lists is an effective writing tool for all ages. Most children like to create lists anyway, but writing out lists—from the mundane to the meaningful—also helps them become more organized. Taken a step further, when list-making is used as a brainstorming tool, it can even help students plan the elements of an essay or story. And it also helps build context-specific vocabulary.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Show them how you keep a calendar, make grocery lists, write daily to-do lists, add to an ongoing list of projects, etc. Then your kids can make their own lists of schoolwork, dates for soccer practice and games, family birthdays, etc.
- They can inventory furniture in a room or items in a junk drawer, jewelry box, or medicine cabinet. Talk about different ways to name common objects.
- Likewise, they might make lists of their various personal possessions such as baseball cards, stuffed animals, shoes, or CDs. Collections, such as seashells or Matchbox cars, often have specific or specialized names. Learning these helps contribute to vocabulary growth.
- Another suggestion is to create word lists: Your child can begin a list with a word that describes a texture such as rough or slippery, or a character quality such as gentle, brave, or faithful. Then have him use a thesaurus to look up synonyms for that word to expand the list.
. . . . .
If you missed it, you can still get an Expo to Go ticket that will give you access to all the MP3 audios beginning May 31, 2010. It’s been a wonderful event, and I highly encourage you to grab a ticket so that you can take advantage of the encouragement and ideas that each outstanding speaker has offered. At $19.95, it’s an outstanding deal! Just click the Expo to Go image to the right. >>>
My homeschooling days are well behind me, but I still gleaned so much from the excellent sessions. Hope you take advantage of “Expo to Go”!
Photo courtesy of StockXchg.
May 3rd, 2010 — Teaching Writing, Writing Lessons
I love the deliciousness of certain words—the way something as ordinary as chocolate can take on an entire new personality when dressed up with adjectives like warm, rich, thick, gooey, chilled, creamy, or frothy.
Such descriptive words bring everyday foods to life.
Magazine writers, cookbook editors, food bloggers, and restaurant reviewers are experts at describing a food. They definitely know the value of a well-turned phrase! Using appetizing words like simmering, hearty, robust, browned, and spicy, they tempt the reader to try a new recipe or visit an out-of-the-way cafe with enticing offerings like these:
The cake looked like a homespun masterpiece. It was fluffy as a pillow, toasty brown, and shot through with plum-colored swirls. Serious Eats
This cream of mushroom soup hasn’t lost one jot of its butter-laden, cognac-kissed suavity. “Soup” is too prosaic a term for the pungent, earthy silkiness in every bowlful. Fungi beg for the honor of giving their lives this way. 239 Best Dishes to Eat in Philly
Plump shrimp, sautéed with chile flakes and served with a salad of oyster mushrooms, cucumber and corn, turned out to be everything I wanted on a Saturday morning: fresh, vibrant and crunchy, with just enough spicy zing to wake me up. Salma Abdelnour, Best Restaurant Dishes of 2007
Broiling a nice juicy steak until it spatters and hisses and crusts up in all the right places is wonderful. Roasting a chicken and seeing the skin crisp up in the oven while the meat goes tender beneath is lovely, too. And most of the ills in the world can be cured with a few savory pork-stuffed dumplings, dripping broth and juice. The Wednesday Chef
I could marinate in these all day. Pun intended.
Ah, but it’s also possible to describe a food—even one you normally like—in a way that totally robs the joy of eating it. Or to describe “iffy” foods like okra, black licorice, or liver and onions that are popular enough with some folks, but we just can’t abide ‘em.
“Yucky Foods Worth a Second Taste” tells why some people don’t like—among other foods—tomatoes. Given the description, I can understand why! To me, a good tomato is ripe, sweet, and juicy. But as the article explains, the “slimy, jellylike substance around the seeds, thin skin, [and] grainy pulp” send some people running from this salad staple.
Whoa. Almost had the same effect on me.
And last week, a friend’s Facebook status lamented the horrors of a recent fast food experience. She complained:
Just had the worst breakfast [I have] *ever* had. Ever. I love Sausage McMuffins and went for Burger King’s knock off. Imagine an English muffin soaked in artificial butter oil, toasted, assembled with a spongy egg-like substance, cheese whiz or something, and a sausage puck. Now, wait a few hours, microwave until completely indestructible, and serve to an unsuspecting consumer. It was malevolently bad.
Melanie’s description has had its effect. Off to BK, anyone?
And this description of how to eat raw oysters, though intended to set the novice at ease, sure doesn’t inspire me to rush out to my nearest oyster bar!
Stay calm when faced with a half-dozen to a dozen barnacled, irregular and slimy oysters set on your party’s table. If you’re an oyster eating novice, attempt to suppress the look of horror at not only the aesthetics of the shellfish, but how you’re going to manage extracting the oysters from their watery home.
And the Ugly
Then there’s just plain ugly food. You know the kind I’m talking about: Undercooked. Overcooked. Burned. Mystery meat lurking in an old margarine tub at the back of the fridge. An unnamed vegetable weeping at the bottom of the crisper. The leftover cup of grayish, congealed gravy. Things sprouting fur and fuzz.
The stuff no one wants to—or should ever—eat.
Some people are experts at describing a food that’s ugly. In children’s literature, Shel Silverstein and Roald Dahl pretty much top the list. Silverstein’s poem “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out” contains some of the very best of “worst food” descriptions you’ll find! Adjectives like grisly, gloppy, withered, rubbery, curdled, and moldy perfectly describe a food that, to put it kindly, is beyond its prime. Here’s an excerpt:
. . . Prune pits, peach pits, orange peels,
Gloppy glumps of cold oatmeal,
Pizza crusts and withered greens,
Soggy beans, and tangerines,
Crusts of black-burned buttered toast,
Grisly bits of beefy roast.
The garbage rolled on down the halls,
It raised the roof, it broke the walls,
I mean, greasy napkins, cookie crumbs,
Blobs of gooey bubble gum,
Cellophane from old bologna,
Rubbery, blubbery macaroni,
Peanut butter, caked and dry,
Curdled milk, and crusts of pie,
Rotting melons, dried-up mustard,
Eggshells mixed with lemon custard,
Cold French fries and rancid meat,
Yellow lumps of Cream of Wheat. . .
It’s a fun poem! Hope you’re inspired to read the whole thing.
So there you have it—the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of describing a food. Have I whetted your appetite for descriptive writing? If so, I challenge you and your kiddos to grab a food from the refrigerator, study it carefully, and come up with a list of words to describe it—for better or for worse. And if you’re brave enough, leave a comment sharing your lists with us. We’re hungry to read them!
. . . . .
If you’re looking for curriculum to help your students write more descriptively, consider WriteShop Primary Book C for grades 2-3, WriteShop Junior Book D for grades 3-4 (or even grade 5) and WriteShop I for grades 6-10. WriteShop I has a great lesson on describing a food, but each of these levels offers several lessons on concrete description that will draw out the best in your young writers and make their writing sparkle with interesting, colorful vocabulary.
April 19th, 2010 — Grammar & Spelling, Teaching Writing
When your student begins to protest, “But I like it this way!” or “It looks okay to me,” it’s high time to introduce the concept of writing conventions.
We can define conventions as a set of generally accepted standards for written English. We use conventions to make our writing more readable. In other words, we do things in a certain way so the reader can figure out what we’re trying to say.
Conventions include spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and sentence structure. Students should:
- Apply spelling rules correctly.
- Use correct punctuation to smoothly guide the reader through the paper.
- Use verb tenses correctly.
- Write sentences that express complete thoughts.
- Demonstrate paragraph organization and use smooth transitions.
In addition, each kind of writing has its own conventions. For instance:
- Narrative writing must have characters, setting, and plot.
- Descriptive writing must appeal to the senses through use of vivid, colorful, precise vocabulary.
- Expository writing must inform, clarify, explain, define, or instruct.
- Persuasive writing must present an argument based on facts and logic, and attempt to sway the reader’s opinion.
As a rule, you probably won’t teach a lesson on “conventions,” per se. There are just too many conventions, so it’s better to deal with them independently. Besides, individual concepts stick better when students can apply them in a practical way.
For example, it’s just natural to introduce character, setting, plot, and conflict when you’re teaching your children to write a narrative. You wouldn’t teach these as isolated elements and not have your kids actually write a narrative; the instruction and application makes sense because they’re including these elements in their story.
Similarly, instead of teaching grammar in isolation, make sure you’re providing an immediate way for students to apply their grammar lessons to a writing assignment. If your grammar program is introducing appositives, let’s say, require your child to include an appositive in the history report he’s working on.
Diligently reinforce concepts by making sure your children are following conventions in their writing.
As they get older, there should be no more excuse for things like comma splices, incomplete sentences, and homophone confusion. These are the problems you must nip in the bud now, because they’re the very issues that will identify your students as poor writers later on—both in college and on the job. Therefore, give recurring problems focused attention.
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation and All About Homophones are two great resources for teaching and reinforcing some basic but important grammar and spelling conventions. Check them out!
April 16th, 2010 — Essays & Research Papers, High school, Teaching Writing
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Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
~William Strunk, The Elements of Style
Conciseness boils down to this: expressing as much as possible without using unnecessary words or details. Concise writing is brief and precise, but that doesn’t mean it has to be dull and dry. Help your children apply some of these tips for more concise writing.
1. Stay on track
Staying on topic is a surefire way to encourage writing concisely. When your student takes tangents and rabbit trails, he loses his focus and ends up with cumbersome, awkward, or disjointed writing. Help him create an outline before he begins writing so that he’s less likely to wander off the path.
2. Be precise
The more concrete the word choice, the clearer the writing. Your child can be wordy and say “the shaggy gray dog with the long hair hanging in his eyes,” or he can simply say “the gray sheepdog.”
3. Use plain English
Many students mistakenly think that big words impress. In truth, effective writing uses simple, straightforward language. While a handful of mature, well-placed vocabulary words can raise the level of a story or essay, using too many can make a piece of writing seem verbose, over the top, and just plain hard to read. Unless you’re writing for a scholarly audience, don’t overdo the vocabulary.
4. Avoid super-long sentences
To train children to be concise, attach a word limit or try restricting the number of paragraphs and sentences they can use. This will help them say what they need to say in the space allotted.
When kids are first learning to write descriptively and use a thesaurus, the pendulum can swing wildly from three-word sentences to 20 or 30-word sentences. It’s okay to give them the freedom to play with words; they’ll find their center over time. Just know that you may need to gently correct if their zeal begins creating log jams in their writing.
5. Don’t be redundant
Redundancy refers to extra words or phrases that should be cut out. Your student’s ability to write concisely will always trump filling a page with unnecessary text.
It’s not uncommon for beginning writers to repeat themselves. But such repetition bogs down the writing and makes the reader work too hard. Here are two ways to eliminate redundancy:
- Add concrete details, facts, or examples instead of rehashing the same point.
- Slash unnecessary words and phrases. Remember: when two words will do the trick, why use a dozen? Encourage your student to read each sentence and paragraph to see if he can cut out any words. His point will be clearer, stronger, and easier to identify.
Encourage your kids to try some of these tips for writing concisely. They may be amazed to discover how sharp and crisp their writing can be!
April 8th, 2010 — Teaching Writing, Writing Lessons
“One of the cornerstones of powerful writing is the use of concrete details that can tell your story for you. I don’t care if you’re writing a sales letter, a blog post or a short story for The New Yorker, you need details.” ~Sonia Simone, Copyblogger.com
Concreteness transports us into a story like nothing else. It’s the key that unlocks the door of the reader’s imagination. If your child’s paper is vague and sketchy, what happens? She loses her readers and they come away without a clear understanding of the characters, setting, or event. Instead, her writing should contain specific, concrete details to hold her readers’ attention and give them a mental picture of the topics she’s discussing.
Choose Words Wisely
Concrete writing engages the senses. Your child’s descriptive and narrative writing should employ strong, colorful word choices that allow readers to experience an object, setting or situation through sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
Robust nouns and active verbs always pack more punch than weak ones that are simply preceded by a string of adjectives or adverbs. Not to say they don’t have their place, but adjectives and adverbs should boost—rather than define—the words they modify.
Search for Word Pictures
It’s fun to ask your children to search for descriptive, concrete passages in the books they’re reading, such as this excerpt from The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Down the face of the precipice, sheer and almost smooth it seemed in the pale moonlight, a small black shape was moving with its thin limbs splayed out. Maybe its soft clinging hands and toes were finding crevices and holds that no hobbit could ever have seen or used, but it looked as if it was just creeping down on sticky pads, like some large prowling thing of insect-kind. And it was coming down head first, as if it was smelling its way. Now and again it lifted its head slowly, turning it right back on its long skinny neck, and the hobbits caught a glimpse of the two small pale gleaming lights, its eyes that blinked at the moon for a moment and then were quickly lidded again.
Notice how Tolkien paints a haunting image of Gollum as he makes his wily approach. Can’t you just imagine that scene in your mind’s eye? Can you see the thin padded fingers and toes and feel the cool smoothness of the rocks in the weak moonlight? Can you picture the secretive, insect-like prowler with the luminous eyes?
This passage from The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith describes a different scene altogether:
Two days passed—two days in which more rain fell, great cloudbursts of rain, drenching the length and breadth of Botswana. People held their breath in gratitude, hardly daring to speak of the deluge, lest it should suddenly stop and the dryness return. The rivers, for long months little more than dusty beds of rust-coloured sand, appeared again, filled to overflowing in some cases, twisting snakes of mud-brown water moving across the plains…. The bush, a dessicated brown before the storms, turned green overnight, as the shoots of dormant plants thrust their way through the soil. Flowers followed, tiny yellow flowers, spreading like a dusting of gold across the land.
Powerful verbs—drenching, thrust, spreading—propel this passage along. Imagery of the river as a snake and flowers as gold dust appeal to the senses. The reader feels the quench of thirst and drought. Such is the power of concrete writing.
Your children can learn to write more vividly too. For starters, encourage them to:
- Recognize the importance of using specific vocabulary.
- Pay attention to detail.
- Add more description.
- Replace tired, vague words.
Introduce the Thesaurus
A thesaurus is a writer’s best friend (my all-time favorite is The Synonym Finder by Rodale). A thesaurus will help your child find synonyms for repeated words that keep cropping up in the writing. It can also help her find more specific words to replace dull words that contribute to boring prose.
And if you’re looking for curriculum to help your students write more descriptively, consider WriteShop Primary Book C for grades 2-4 (or even older) and WriteShop I for grades 6-10. Both offer several lessons on concrete description that will draw out the best in your young writers and make their writing sparkle with interesting, colorful vocabulary!
March 15th, 2010 — Reviews, Teaching Writing
The Confusing World of Homophones
“If your going too the movies, make sure you don’t by to many sweets.”
Your/you’re. By/buy. To/too/two. These often-confusing (and frequently misused) words are called homophones—words that sound the same but are spelled differently.
While the difference between its and it’s may not seem like a big deal to some, using these two little words—or any homophone—incorrectly can make us seem ignorant and uneducated. You see, whether or not they mean to, people often form first impressions simply by reading our writing. Isn’t this why our shelves brim with English references, grammar programs, and spelling books? It IS important to us that our children write as accurately as possible.
It’s never too late to teach the rules to your kids. And if you didn’t quite grasp these concepts during your own school days, it’s not too late to learn or re-learn the rules yourself.
All About Homophones
All About Homophones is an exciting new curriculum that will unlock your children’s understanding of these confusing word sets. Author Marie Rippel says:
“Teaching homophones can be tough! They sound the same, but they aren’t spelled the same, and they don’t mean the same thing . . . [All About Homophones] is a complete teaching tool kit that helps you demystify homophones and homonyms for students. They’ll learn and master spelling easily through interesting worksheets and games they love to play.”
One Book, Multiple Grades
Take time to teach your children about homophones so they’ll learn to correctly spell and use these word sets.
Because the worksheets are divided into sections by grade level, All About Homophones is perfect for teaching multple grades. One book includes reproducible worksheets for grades one through eight, making the program budget friendly too.
Lessons You’ll Love
The book includes a comprehensive list of common homophones and recommends which grade to introduce each one. And All About Homophones offers a variety of activities that appeals to different learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.
These aren’t your ordinary dull worksheets! Whimsical illustrations and engaging activities maintain your children’s interest while helping them make sense of each new set of words. Here are some of the ways your children will learn about homophones:
- Homophone Worksheets to reinforce reading and writing.
- Graphic Organizers to help teach the meanings of each set of words.
- Crossword Puzzles, Riddles, and Tongue Twisters to reinforce with fun and humor.
- Card Games with cards and instructions for playing several different games.
- Student Record Sheets
- List of Homophones
- List of Homophone-rich Books to read with your children
Click here to see sample pages from All About Homophones.
Now in the WriteShop Store
We’re always looking for top-notch products that reinforce writing, grammar, and spelling, so we’re excited to announce that All About Homophones is now in stock in the WriteShop store. Stop in and check out this great new resource. Teaching your children to use homophones correctly is one of the best gifts you can give them. Order yours today!
If I haven’t yet convinced you of the importance of teaching homophones—or if you think your children can simply trust their spell-check to correct these troublesome words, you’ll want to read Owed to the Spell Checker. One of my favorite examples of homophone confusion, this humorous poem illustrates just how easy it is to mix up words that have similar sounds.
March 2nd, 2010 — College Prep, Grammar & Spelling, High school, Teaching Writing
Words Matter Week: Day 2
Words matter. And not just the words themselves, but also the grammar, spelling, and punctuation that make those words easier and more pleasant to read and understand.
In truth, no one particularly notices when a piece of writing is structurally sound and fairly free of errors. When the reader isn’t distracted by gross misspellings or misplaced apostrophes, he’s able to take in the words and thoughts in a simple, straightforward manner.
That’s one reason it’s so important that we write with care—and teach our kiddos to do the same.
Does Casual Writing Have Its Place?
This isn’t to say that everything we write needs to be pressed through the “grammar sieve” to strain out every wayward punctuation mark or imprecise word. I’m all for casual writing in the appropriate context, such as a quick note left on the kitchen table or a slapdash email to a friend. And I truly understand typing errors we all make when our flying fingers transpose a couple of letters or we miss the “shift” key.
But when a piece of writing—even a casual email or comment on a discussion board—contains pervasive errors, keyboard accidents can no longer be blamed. As an example, here’s a simple snippet from a blog comment I came across some time ago:
now i know its been WAY to long!! the only one I can reckonsie is Alvin and thats because hes a boy! I so need to come a visit ya’ll this summer and see the family, its been to meny years
Judging a Book by Its Cover
Our writing can reveal certain things about us. For example, what conclusions do you draw about this particular writer based on her one little writing sample? Is she kind? Friendly? Most likely. Educated? Careful? Attentive to detail? Probably not.
Granted, careless grammar doesn’t bother everyone. People who don’t use proper grammar and spelling themselves won’t know (or for that matter, care) whether you or your children use proper grammar and spelling.
But many people are pretty picky about such things—college admissions folks and employers among them. Your student’s writing may be judged and perhaps even rejected simply for failing to stick to conventions. Why?
- Valid arguments lose their credibility and impact when the text is riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
- Spelling errors and poor grammar can suggest that a job or college applicant is sloppy at best and ignorant or uneducated at worst.
- If an employee is not attentive to detail in emails, reports, or memos, the promotion may go to someone who is.
Conventions? What Conventions?
OK, I admit it. It’s hard for me to write anything—even an e-mail—without editing and revising it a dozen times. I’m sure part of that comes from being a writer and an author of a writing curriculum. I feel like my writing is always under the microscope, even when it’s not.
This doesn’t mean everyone has to be that way. A quickie email to a good friend can have a bunch of sentence fragments and a misspelled word—and in that context, who really cares? But when writing is up for public scrutiny—even on a discussion board—and you hope to be taken seriously, you’ll want to give as much attention to convention as to content.
Find the Errors
Just for kicks, scroll back up to the writing sample and see how many errors you can find before you read my list below. There are a lot! Even better, ask your children to edit it. It would make a great lesson.
Here are the mistakes I found.
- now – should be Now (as in: Now, children, a sentence always begins with a capital.)
- i – should be I
- its – missing apostrophe (it’s)
- to – should be too
- !! – never use more than one exclamation point
- the – see #1
- reckonsie – should be recognize (as in: I almost didn’t recognize that word.)
- thats – missing apostrophe (see #2)
- hes – missing apostrophe (notice a pattern here?)
- a visit – and visit? for a visit?
- y’all – I’ll give her this one since it’s a casual note.
- comma splice – …see the family; it’s been too many years. Or …see the family. It’s been too many years. Or …see the family because it’s been too many years.
- its, to – see #2 and #3
- meny = should be spelled many (as in: Goodness! I’ve found so many mistakes.)
So . . . how’d you do? Did I miss anything?
The Final Draft
Here’s the gussied-up version—with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation:
Now I know it’s been WAY too long! The only one I can recognize is Alvin, and that’s because he’s a boy! I so need to come visit y’all this summer and see the family; it’s been too many years.
The friendly sentiments shine through, don’t they? It’s like cleaning soot from a window. Instead of zeroing in on the grimy, dirty pane, we can focus on the cheerful scene beyond the glass.
Just as cleaning up grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors greatly enhanced the message above, editing and polishing our own writing can clear the way for our message too. So make it a point to teach your children proper writing conventions, because words—and the way we write them—matter.
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Don’t forget to enter our Words Matter Week haiku contest. Deadline is Sunday, March 7, 2010. Contest has ended.
February 23rd, 2010 — Teaching Writing, Writing Lessons
“Descriptive writing is an art form. It’s painting a word picture so that the reader ‘sees’ exactly what you are describing.”
What’s the big deal about writing descriptively? For one thing, it’s much more than page-filling fluff. Descriptive writing imprints images into the reader’s mind, making you feel as though you’re “right there.” It‘s all about engaging the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch to transport the reader and stir emotion. By choosing vivid details and colorful words, good writers bring objects, people, places, and events to life. Instead of merely telling you what they see, they use their words to show you.
Writers use this powerful method to make their pieces memorable—even brilliant—rather than dry and boring. In many ways, description is the most important kind of writing you can teach your children. Why? Because it supports other reasons for writing such as storytelling, informative reports, or persuasion.
Even if your child never aspires to write stories or poetry, description is a wonderful skill to develop. Without it, all other writing falls flat.
Describing a Place
Vivid writing is especially important when describing a place — whether to describe a vista for a travel guide or flesh out a scene in a novel.
Master storyteller Charles Dickens was also a master of using description to create a mood.
It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled. It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, arid vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness. ~Charles Dickens, Hard Times
But your child doesn’t have to be a Dickens to add color, depth, and interest to his writing. Here, a ninth grader draws on all five senses to describe a place and create a mood.
Moist and salty, a chilly breeze blows in across the swells, bringing with it the pungent smells of seaweed and fish and making me pull my jacket a little closer. Sea spray transforms into fiery prisms as the waves splash against the shore, catch the last golden rays of sun, and toss them up like liquid crystals.
With a few tips and tools, your child can effectively describe a place too.
Suppose he’s planning to write about a desert. He’ll need to describe basic desert features, of course: sand, rock, hills, and dunes. But deserts aren’t all alike, so his word choices will need to reflect the kind of desert he wants to write about. For example, if he chooses a desert in the southwestern United States, he’ll probably describe plants such as sagebrush, Joshua trees, yuccas, or saguaro cacti.
But if he’s writing about an oasis in the Sahara Desert, where vegetation is much different, he would instead describe date palms, oleanders, acacia trees, succulents, and desert grasses. His description of either desert scene will spring to life as he tells about these places using rich and appropriate details.
Finding Vocabulary for Describing a Place
How do you help your child study his subject and choose strong words that make his writing sparkle? Whether he decides to write about a desert, city, rainforest, or pond, these ideas will help him find words that will form the foundation of his descriptive piece, narrative story, or report.
Using a Search Engine
Search engines such as Google makes a great resource for inspiration. In addition to collecting general terms about the location’s flora and fauna (the desert, for example), he’ll also find concrete, specific nouns and adjectives that add color to his writing. Suggest that he begin his search by looking up terms like these:
- desert landscape
- desert features
- desert climate
- desert plants
- desert animals
- desert description
What if your child wants to describe a city instead of a desert? City words are trickier to find, and he may have to hunt more. Try some of these search terms:
- describe city sights
- describe Chicago, describe Pittsburgh, etc.
- “describe downtown” (use quotes)
Using Other Sources
While search engines can lead you to a wealth of information, don’t discount the value of print media such as magazines and books. Also consider digital media such as TV documentaries or DVDs about the subject.
When describing a place, visit in person, if possible. But if not, can you explore a spot with similar features? Many children are visual and tactile learners. If your child wants to describe what a sidewalk looks like, how about taking him outside to explore the sidewalk on your street? It will help him describe the texture, color, and appearance of a city sidewalk, even if you live in a suburb.
As your child searches the Internet, ask him to keep an eye out for adjectives that describe desert or city features (or whatever place he wants to write about). Encourage him to come up with words on his own, but also to watch for words he meets in articles or photo captions.
If he doesn’t understand some of the words, pull out the dictionary and make it a teaching moment! And show him how to use a thesaurus (we love The Synonym Finder) to find other words that say the same thing. Both of these exercises will help his vocabulary to grow.
Some Desert Adjectives
Desert: harsh, dry, arid, sparse, severe, hot
Rock: sharp, rough, jagged, angular
Grasses: windblown, bent, dry, pale green, brown
Sand: coarse, fine, glittering, shifting, rippling, sifting, white, golden
Sky: pale, intense, cloudless, azure, purple, crimson
Cactus: tall, short, squatty, spiny, prickly, thorny
Date palm: tall, bent, leather (leaves), frayed (leaves)
Some City Adjectives
City: active, bustling, noisy, busy, clean, dirty, windy
Traffic: loud, congested, snarled
Buildings: old, shabby, rundown, crumbling, modern, futuristic, sleek, towering, squat
Buildings (walls): brick, stone, marble, glass, steel, graffiti-covered
Monuments, statues: stone, copper, carved, ancient, moss-covered, faded, green, bronze
Sidewalk: concrete, cement, slick, cracked, tidy, littered, swept
Paint: fresh, weathered, peeling
Signs: neon, weathered, worn, bright, welcoming, flashing
Buses, cars, taxis: belching, crawling, speeding, honking, waiting, screeching
People: hurried, bundled, smiling, frowning, eager, rushed
Use these suggestions to encourage your child come up with ideas for describing a place of his own. You’ll both discover that hunting for words can become a favorite pre-writing game! And as your child dabbles more and more with descriptive writing, I’m confident his words will soon begin to “show” more and “tell” less.
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Do you struggle with teaching and grading writing? Does your child’s writing need a boost? Consider adding WriteShop to your curriculum choices for this school year!
The first seven lessons of WriteShop I specifically teach your teen descriptive writing. This important skill is then practiced in the remaining informative and narrative writing lessons. In addition, WriteShop teaches—and offers practice in using—a wide array of sentence variations that help to enhance a student’s paper with fresh style and vigor. When combined with strong, dynamic word choices, sentence variations give dull writing new life.
For younger children, WriteShop Primary introduces K-3rd graders to activities that widen their writing vocabulary. Book C contains three specific descriptive writing lessons. WriteShop Junior, for upper elementary, also provides many opportunities for students to incorporate description.
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