August 13th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
Summer may be screeching to a close, but these imaginative summer vacation writing prompts can still inspire your children. Whether they’re floating in a houseboat or roaming the local nature center, real or imaginary summertime outings can be packed with adventure!
Kids will love to picture themselves zooming down a rollercoaster, working as a cruise director, digging up dinosaur bones, or heading off to sports camp. Each prompt is so much fun, they may want to choose all of them!
1. My Kind of School
This summer, your family has decided to take a “learning vacation.” Options include participating in a dinosaur dig in Utah, exploring ancient ruins in Rome or Greece, or snorkeling at a coral reef off the Australian coast. Which one would you vote for? Write about three things you would like to explore, discover, or learn about on this vacation.
2. House Float
Imagine your family will live on a houseboat for a week this summer. Write about four things you will do on this vacation.
3. Good Sports
Are you crazy about baseball? Is volleyball your game? Maybe you love sailing, soccer, or gymnastics. Imagine your surprise when your parents tell you they’re sending you to sports camp this summer! What kind of sports camp will you attend? Write a paragraph describing three skills you want to learn or improve while you’re away. Make sure to explain why each one is important.
Instead of traveling this summer, what if your family decided to vacation at home? Talk with your mom or dad about fun places within 100 miles that you have never been to before, such as botanical gardens or nature centers; zoos; museums; historical landmarks; parks or recreational sites; sports centers; amusement parks; or community theater.
Now pretend you have visited one of these places during your “staycation.” Write a journal entry describing your day. Use your five senses to tell about what you saw, heard, and felt. Don’t forget to describe some snacks or meals, too!
5. Cruisin’ Kids
A cruise ship has hired you to be their Children’s Activities Director. Make a list of 10 or more crafts, games, activities, and special events you will plan for this summer’s cruising families.
If your children have enjoyed these, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
August 11th, 2014 — Homeschooling
This article contains affiliate links for products we think your family will love!
A designated writing center in your home not only invites your kids to write and create, it provides a space to corral all the writing supplies so they’re handy and available whenever the muse (or the assignment!) strikes. Large or small, a writing center is just one feature of your homeschooling space. Below, I’ve gathered ideas for writing centers from Pinterest that fit every home, whether you have a sprawling schoolroom or no room to spare.
1. Over-the-Door Pocket Writing Center
Handy yet space-saving, a see-through shoe organizer that hangs on the back of a door makes a great place to stash writing supplies. Some, like this one, have a couple of larger pockets to accommodate paper too. I love how A Bowl Full of Lemons has organized this vinyl organizer.
A Bowl Full of Lemons
2. Writing Center in a Bag
My friend Maureen at Spell Outloud organizes writing supplies in a portable tote. This Organizing Utility Tote from Thirty-One Gifts, is sturdy enough to hold teacher’s manuals, paper, and folders. Side pockets hold pens, pencils, and more. If you’re using WriteShop Junior Book D or Book E, this is a fabulous way to keep everything you need at the ready.
3. Writing Center for Primary Ages
Here are tons of ideas that especially cater to young writers in kindergarten to third grade. You’ll find storage solutions of all kinds along with ideas for stocking your writing center with brainstorming and writing supplies, reference books, and creative publishing tools.
In Our Write Minds
4. High School Writing Center
When your kids enter high school, they’ll trade fancy paper and markers for slightly more sophisticated writing tools. Here’s a list of supplies you may want to consider for your teen’s writing center.
Following in His Footsteps
5. Writing Nook
A tabletop (or similar surface) paired with rolling storage work together to create a writing, notebooking, and lapbooking center. This one is part of a larger schoolroom that took over the family dining room, but it can also find a home in any available corner of your home.
6. Mobile or Dedicated Writing Center Ideas
If you’re not sure what sort of writing center will work for you, check out this post. You’ll find suggestions for establishing and stocking both permanent and portable centers, along with ideas for younger children and teens.
Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers
SPECIALTY WRITING CENTERS
You might want to create a specialty writing center! Whether it’s a little cubby for your preschooler’s writing supplies, a super-portable tin or box that takes up no room at all, or a temporary writing center devoted to a special area of study, one of these ideas may be just the ticket.
1. Mini Writing Center in a Box
Fill a tin or small box with paper, stationery, envelopes, stickers, and writing tools that your younger children can call their own, such as this one:
Adventures in Mommydom
2. Subject-Specific Writing Station
Here’s a brilliant idea! Create a temporary writing center dedicated to a topic you’re going to be studying for several weeks or a month. This birds writing station invites children to explore and write about birds. It includes writing prompt cards, bird fact cards, bird booklets, and bird-themed lined paper. You could make similar writing stations devoted to sharks, flowers, Japan—whatever! What are you studying about? The possibilities are endless.
3. Portable LEGO Story Folder
Do you have a LEGO lover? Boys can be prone to reluctance when it comes to writing, but this LEGO-themed writing folder may turn his crank! It may not be a traditional “writing center,” but because it’s slim and portable, he can take elements for his stories wherever he goes! As an added bonus, you’ll find printable LEGO story pages here too.
Home Grown Learners
Do you use a dedicated writing center in your homeschool? Linking up to the 2014 “Not” Back-to-School Blog Hop.
Permission obtained from original sources to use each of the above photos.
August 6th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
Stir up some spectacular storytelling creativity with August’s free printable story prompt! Invite the kids to pick several words from the list and start spinning a tale of mystery or enchantment.
Click the image above to download the Spectacular Storytelling free writing printable. If you would like to share this free writing prompt with others, link to this post. Do not link directly to the PDF file.
Check out our huge archive of prompts from Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
August 4th, 2014 — Grammar & Spelling
Across the Internet, it’s all the rage to poke fun at grammar and spelling bloopers that appear on signs, websites, and even Facebook posts.
A quick tour around the web will lead you to articles with titles such as:
- Top 5 Annoying Grammatical Mistakes
- 10 Punctuation Mistakes That Make You Look Stupid
- Five Grammar Errors That Make You Look Dumb
- 8 Grammatical Errors That Could Scare Away Readers
- 10 Résumé Mistakes That Can Cost You The Job
I won’t lie—there are some pretty hilarious examples out there. Funny as many of these are, however, this amazing scope of writing errors has begun to knock some sense into people. Homeschoolers, educators, and business folks alike are becoming increasingly concerned about teaching correct usage to this generation of students.
Bad Grammar Ruins a Good Message
Grammar and punctuation are a big deal. I don’t think I can say this too many times: poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation can interfere with your student’s writing success.
Sloppy grammar can render an otherwise great paper ineffective, because no matter how compelling the argument, some people just can’t get past the glare of those mechanical errors. Your teen may have interesting, clever things to say, but if his command of English usage is poor, it will get in the way of a good written message.
We’ve heard the old adage: Never judge a book by its cover, but let’s be honest. Right or wrong, we all make snap judgments about every person we meet. The way someone dresses, his hairstyle, his table manners, and the way he speaks can make us think highly of that person—or not so highly.
Writing that contains incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation can have a similar effect. A person may be bright and articulate, but if his writing is riddled with errors, it can actually make him appear uneducated and can jeopardize employment or advancement opportunities.
So what’s the purpose of grammar and punctuation? Basically, these writing conventions help students communicate clearly, avoid ambiguity, and prevent misunderstandings. Here’s a humorous example:
The murderer protested his innocence an hour after he was put to death.
By adding a bit of punctuation, the true meaning of the sentence becomes clear:
The murderer protested his innocence. An hour after, he was put to death.
What a difference in meaning!
There are tons of grammar rules to help students improve the way they communicate in writing. Through practice and application, your children will find that most grammar concepts eventually become second nature.
Where Do You Start?
There’s a lot to learn. Where should you begin? What concepts should you teach? Diagramming may have its merits, but more practically:
- Does your student understand when to use which instead of that?
- Does he correctly use affect and effect, their/there/they’re, and other frequently flip-flopped homophones?
- Can he identify and fix misplaced modifiers?
- Does he know when to use I and when to use me?
Grammar matters, so make it an important part of teaching writing. Teach correct punctuation. Practice using homophones correctly. Work on your kids’ grammar skills.
You can all brush up together! Why not start with these six helpful links?
July 30th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
Whether your kids are applying for a job in a candy shop or rebuking a naughty vacuum cleaner, these writing prompts for letter writing will inspire creativity—and even a few laughs!
1. The Sweetest Job
Your favorite candy store is hiring children. Write a letter to the owner of the store explaining three reasons why you are the perfect person for the job.
2. Pet Protests
Pretend you are a family pet who wants more freedom. Write a letter to your owners in which you ask them to give you one or two new privileges. Make sure to give several good reasons for your request!
3. Wish You Were There
Think about a recent educational field trip or memorable outing. Perhaps you explored an amazing science museum, took the plunge at the local waterpark, went to a Civil War reenactment, or toured a potato chip factory. Write a letter to a grandparent, cousin, or friend describing your experience. Include at least three details about something you saw or did. When you’re finished, mail your letter!
4. You Shouldn’t Have
Have you ever held a grudge against the brush that pulled your hair or the vacuum that sucked up your shoelaces? How did you feel when a pen leaked ink on your favorite shirt or the toaster burned yet another bagel? Think about a time when an inanimate object caused you a bit of distress, and write a letter to this object to express your disappointment.
If your children have enjoyed these, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
July 28th, 2014 — Publishing Project Ideas, Writing Across the Curriculum
Do your children tell you they hate writing?
Because kids learn differently, traditional writing assignments may not turn the crank of an artistic, kinesthetic, or logical learner. If this describes your child, maybe it’s time to take a break from book reports and essays and try a few project-oriented writing activities instead.
Projects that spring from a child’s interests—or that tie writing to other topics—add extra meaning to subjects like science or geography. To a reluctant learner, writing becomes less intimidating when it takes a back seat to an art activity or walk in the woods!
Nature studies should be an integral part of every homeschool. This week, let your kids explore the natural world through activities that are long on fun and short on writing. These nature inspired writing projects, which appeal to struggling and enthusiastic writers alike, make a great place to start!
1. Make a Nature Notebook
Charlotte Mason enthusiasts are especially fond of nature notebooks, but any student who is attracted to wildlife—or who loves to explore sand dunes, gardens, or woods—will enjoy creating a nature notebook.
Take the kids on a nature walk, or visit a botanical garden or zoo. Encourage them to observe and sketch plant or animal life and jot down rough notes or interesting facts they learn from posted signs or docent talks.
Later, beneath their sketches, your young naturalists can write captions or journal entries listing observed details, facts gathered from trusted sources, and their own impressions.
If you spend a weekend at the beach or mountains, the nature journal might be a thematic, one-time activity for your kids. But it can also be an ongoing, evolving project they add to regularly.
2. Make a Nature Craft: Explaining a Process
Invite your children to make a craft from items found in nature. Using their imaginations, they can create whimsical or practical items such as:
Painted rock animals
Diorama of a jungle, forest, or beach scene
Pressed-flower greeting card
Take a photo of the kids as they complete each step of the process. Then, using the photos as a guide, let them write the steps they took to make the craft.
Younger children can write simple, basic instructions. Older students’ directions should be clear enough that someone could follow the steps and make a similar project.
Kids who are totally into this activity may have fun printing out the photos to make an illustrated instruction manual or turning their how-to instructions into a mini book.
Check out these links if you need craft ideas:
Nature Crafts for Kids – Martha Stewart
10 Nature Crafts for Kids – Spoonful
Crafts Made from Nature – Kids Activities Blog
3. Make a Life-Cycle Book
If you’re currently studying about the life cycle of a plant, butterfly, frog, or other growing thing, your children can make a life-cycle mini book.
You will need a sheet of computer paper or cardstock, drawing pencil, colored pencils, and a book with pictures the kids can use as a reference when drawing.
STEP 1: CREATE THE BOOK
Make a simple 8-page mini book according to either the video or diagram below:
Video Tutorial: Make an Instant Book
PDF Diagram: Make a Folded Mini Book
STEP 2: DESIGN THE COVER
On the front cover, draw and color a picture that tells something about the subject of the mini book. Alternatively, cut and paste a photo to the booklet’s cover. Add a title, such as “Life Cycle of the Frog.”
STEP 3: ILLUSTRATE THE BOOK
On the inside pages, adding one illustration per page, draw and color up to 6 pictures to show each stage of the life cycle.
Leave room at the bottom of each page to write information. For example:
Apple: 1) seed, 2) seedling, 3) tree, 4) bud, 5) flower, 6) fruit
Moth: 1) egg, 2) caterpillar, 3) chrysalis, 4) moth
STEP 4: WRITE DETAILS
Younger children can write a word or two below each drawing. Older students should write 1-2 sentences that explain the life stage shown.
Enjoy getting out in nature this week and dabbling in one of these fun projects. Your children will be writing, but they’ll be smiling all the way!
July 23rd, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
Minecraft is all the rage. No wonder it’s getting easier to find Minecraft-inspired educational and writing activities to motivate your children!
Our last set of Minecraft writing prompts was so popular, we promised to come up with more. Now you can capture your reluctant writer’s interest with six new Minecraft writing prompts that encourage descriptive, narrative, and informative writing.
1. If You Build It
Use your imagination to design a Minecraft building such as a shop, cave dwelling, mansion, or theater. What will you design? How will you persuade others to come to your building? Make a list of 6-10 reasons why people will love this place.
2. Minecraft Scenario
After a terrifying shipwreck, you find yourself on a beach. You don’t know where you are, and it will soon be dark. What will you do?
3. Avatar Adventures
Write a story about your Minecraft avatar. How did you arrive in your world? What are some of your goals? Who are your allies?
4. It’s a Zoo!
You have been hired to build an enclosure for a Minecraft zoo. Choose a mob to live in your enclosure, and describe the enclosure you will build for them.
5. Tools of the Trade
Describe three Minecraft tools and explain how you like to use them.
6. Dear Grandma
Your grandma has never seen Minecraft, and she has asked you to help her understand it. Write a letter in which you explain what Minecraft is and why you enjoy playing the game.
Did you enjoy these writing ideas? If so, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
July 21st, 2014 — Contests & Giveaways
Have you been drooling over WriteShop Junior Book E? Kris at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers is hosting a giveaway at her blog! Here’s your chance to win the complete Value Pack, which includes the Teacher’s Guide, Student Activity Pack, Time-Saver Pack, and Junior Writer’s Notebook.
WriteShop Junior is a creative writing program that appeals to many learning styles. As with all WriteShop products, Book E helps you guide students through the steps of the writing process. To keep the experience fun, each lesson includes games and activities that teach and review important writing and self-editing skills.
Book E is recommended for 4th and 5th grade, but many families are using it successfully with 6th and 7th graders as well.
Moms and Kids Love Book E!
“I really like that WriteShop is gently scripted and that it offers possible answers while I am guiding and prompting my child.” Michelle, Delightful Learning
“This is a fun introduction into formal writing instruction for her. She has felt very successful.” Lisa, Chickens, Bunnies, and Homeschool
“She loves it! They’ve hit just the right point between learning and fun, and the hands-on activities are always a hit.” Shawna, Tenacity Divine
Easy to Teach
The Book E Teacher’s Guide holds your hand as you take your child through activities that teach prewriting, brainstorming, writing, editing, and publishing. Even though lessons follows a consistent format, the activities offer loads of variety to ensure that your kids eagerly anticipate each lesson.
You’ll also appreciate the schedules that divide the writing process into manageable chunks, making WriteShop Junior easy for you to teach and easy for your child to understand. The program works equally well for reluctant writers and motivated ones. Everyone will feel successful using this exciting new program!
Read Kris’s review of WriteShop Junior Book E and enter the drawing.
Giveaway ends Wednesday, July 23, 2014.
July 16th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
It’s fun to take inspiration from a photo, especially when the image is unusual enough to tickle the imagination! Your children are sure to love these four creative writing photo prompts that invite them to write whimsical stories about mysterious and magical places!
1. The Butterphant
While on a walk through a blossoming meadow, you discover a mouse-sized elephant with butterfly ears flitting among the flowers. What is it doing? Are there others like it? Is it friendly? What will happen if you capture it?
2. Castle on the Moor
Use at least five of these words to tell a story about this photo: wind, balcony, window, dungeon, troll, treasure, knight, mysterious, lonely, rescue
3. Honey, I Shrunk Myself!
Who is this tiny man? Where is he? What is he taking a photo of? What emotions is he feeling? Write a story explaining what’s happening in this picture.
4. Toy Story
Day after day, these Pez heads sit quietly on display in the candy store. But when the store closes in the evening and the owner goes home, funny things begin to take place! What happens at night in the candy store? Write a story from the point of view of one of the Pez heads.
Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
July 14th, 2014 — Uncategorized
Part 1: How to Edit and Grade Writing | Editing High School Papers
One of the hardest parts of teaching writing is knowing how to evaluate a paper. It seems like such risky business—a subjective effort characterized by inconsistency and wild guesses. Last week we might have let an error slip by, yet this week we’ll red-pencil that same mistake with a vengeance.
One thing is certain: Arbitrary grading will never help your student become a better writer.
Homeschooling moms are always relieved to learn that parts of writing can be quantified. Sure, there will always be judgment calls about clarity, content, and organization. But here’s the good news: when you’re able to give a grade based on (mostly) measurable standards, your confidence will soar!
I learned to grade papers by trial, error, and necessity when I first began teaching writing. Many years and hundreds of papers later, those methods have proved solid and reliable—and I’m confident they’ll help you’ll feel more prepared.
1. Use an Evaluation Form
If you’re anything like I used to be, you worry about under- or overcorrecting. You make stabs in the dark. Your daughter’s paper may “feel” like a B, but when she asks why she didn’t get an A, you don’t have a good answer. You simply don’t know how to tackle that final draft.
But guess what? You’ll be miles ahead when you use a rubric that helps you grade objectively.
This can be:
- A rubric that comes with your writing program, such as the WriteShop I and II composition (and essay) evaluation forms;
- A printable grading form you find online; or
- One you create yourself using the assignment’s standards.
2. Tell Students What to Anticipate
Before they start writing their rough drafts, teens should already know what you’ll be looking for along the way. That way, there won’t be any bombshells when they get their final grade—a grade determined not by your random whims, but by how well they met the expectations of the lesson.
3. Expect Progress
You edit earlier drafts and grade final drafts.
Remember: most student’s papers will be much better by the end because they’ve been revised and rewritten at least twice. Therefore, don’t be surprised if the final drafts score consistently well. Your goal is mastery, so it’s natural to see progress and improvement from draft to draft!
4. Know What to Look For
GRADE FOR CONTENT
The meat of a paper is its content, which you grade according to subject matter, substance, argument, evidence, logic, or other relevant criteria.
If this is an essay, also include an evaluation of the thesis statement. In one or two sentences, the thesis should state the essay topic, give the purpose of the essay, and suggest the main points that will be developed in the paragraphs that follow.
A typical writing assignment goes through each of these stages:
Not every paper must jump through these hoops. For the learning experience of proper writing, only one paper at a time needs to go through the entire writing process. For example, a book report, science article, biography, literature essay, or history report might be evaluated on content alone.
GRADE FOR STYLE AND ORGANIZATION
When grading a paper’s style, look at the kinds of words and sentences your student has used. Style can include concreteness, conciseness, sentence variety, tense agreement, and voice.
An effective essay is also unified and well organized. Each paragraph in the body of the paper should begin with a topic sentence telling the main point of the paragraph. In a persuasive essay, each paragraph should begin with a sentence that makes a claim. The body of that paragraph, then, should support the claim with examples, facts, and logic. The more solid the content, the higher the grade you can assign.
A fictional story or narrative will be organized in a different way, but it should still flow well from start to finish. For a stronger grade, this kind of prose should follow the five stages of storytelling.
GRADE FOR MECHANICS
Grammar, punctuation, spelling, and sentence completeness fall under the heading of mechanics. A high-scoring paper will be free (or nearly free) of mechanical errors.
Run-on sentences, sentence fragments, or misplaced modifiers will count against the final score, while using parts of speech and punctuation marks accurately and making sure words are correctly spelled will contribute to a higher grade.
5. Assign Points
Ah, that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? How do you decide how many points to give? There are many ways to assign/deduct points, such as:
- Content can include paragraph unity and development, subject matter, use of details and examples (40 points)
- Style can include voice, readability and sentence fluency, sentence variety, vocabulary, conciseness (40 points)
- Mechanics includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, and correct sentence structure (20 points)
- Content can include thesis, development of main points with facts and examples, topicality, conclusion (45 points)
- Style can include organization, clarity/fluency, sentence style and complexity, parallelism, vocabulary, use of transitions (45 points)
- Mechanics includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, and correct sentence structure (10 points)
6. Take Attitude into Consideration
When bad behavior persists from beginning to end—even if the paper itself has improved—you’re well within your rights to give consequences. So if your teen’s attitude has been just awful throughout the entire writing process (e.g., unwillingness to brainstorm thoroughly, disrespect for deadlines, refusal to accept feedback or make changes), take this into account when giving points.
7. Be Flexible and Fair
What happens when you find mistakes in the final draft? As a rule, don’t penalize students for mistakes they weren’t told about earlier in the editing process. If you happened to miss something during parent editing (and therefore failed to bring it to your teen’s attention), he can only assume what he’s written is correct.
Let’s say, for example, that you didn’t catch an awkwardly written sentence in an earlier draft—but it jumps out at you in the final. As you’re grading, you might let that one slide. Point out the error, certainly, but assure him you’re not penalizing him for your earlier oversight. Kids always appreciate fairness!
On the other hand, if he’s simply careless with spelling or punctuation, or he writes a sentence fragment when he clearly knows better, you’re within your rights to deduct points accordingly.
Finally, if you’ve discussed the paper and identified ways to improve it—and the final draft reflects many positive changes—give full points whenever possible (along with kudos, of course!).
Grading high school papers doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start small. Be consistent. Cheer your kids on. I know you’ll get the hang of it!