February 26th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
EVERY child loves to daydream, whether about magical worlds or making this world a better place. If your kids need a writing warm-up this week, let them choose one of these journal prompts about dreams and wishes.
1. Stardust Stories
Do you ever wake up in the morning and wish your dream from the night before would come true? Write about one of those dreams and why it was so special to you.
2. Sweet Surprises
Best friends often share their dreams for the future. If you could make one wish come true for a friend, what would it be? Write a short poem (four to eight lines) about how you’d plan this wonderful surprise.
3. Magic in a Bottle
You have just discovered an ancient genie who will grant you three wishes. You may only ask for physical things, not intangible ideas such as “peace” or “happiness” or “fame.” What will you choose, and why?
4. Seeking Funds, Changing Lives
Imagine you are a fundraising coordinator for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a non-profit organization that grants wishes for children with life-threatening diseases. Brainstorm three goals or ideas for raising money, and write a paragraph describing one of these strategies.
Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
February 25th, 2014 — High school, Teaching Writing
SPEECH writing offers a rare chance for students to impact an audience in lasting, meaningful ways. Through this kind of written and oral communication, they can learn to convey truth in a world with where morals are blurred and virtues are disappearing. Thus, speech writers combine narrative, descriptive, explanatory, and persuasive skills, arranging a composition to make both logical and emotional appeals. After all, rhetoric (the art of persuasion) should engage the whole person, not just the mind or heart.
Even if your son will never enroll in a speech and debate club, encourage him to present an original speech in a group setting such as a class, family gathering, or graduation party. These speech-writing tips for students should help him get started!
The Prewriting Stage
When you write a speech, the prewriting stage represents about a third of the entire process.
- Choose a topic you feel strongly about. If you don’t care about the subject matter, neither will your audience.
- Evaluate your potential audience. Will you speak to a mixed group of teenagers or to a room of retirees? What are their values and interests? What kinds of music and cultural references will they relate to?
- Understand your purpose. Are you writing a speech to entertain, inform, or persuade? If you intend to persuade, are you trying to reach a like-minded or neutral audience or an openly hostile group?
- Research and brainstorm. Start gathering your facts and examples, and make a list of possible talking points.
The Writing Stage
Writing the first draft should consume about 20% of your time as a speech writer.
- Develop a “hook.” You need to capture the audience’s attention at the beginning of the speech and motivate them to keep listening. A humorous story or a startling statistic may serve this purpose, depending on the type of speech you’re writing.
- Construct a thesis. Your speech should present a clear message, with each sub-point logically leading to the final conclusion.
- Build a relationship with the audience. Establish your credibility as a speaker by demonstrating your connection to the topic. Did a hobby, a favorite author, or a family experience lead you to choose this subject?
- Organize your ideas. Offer a preview of what’s to come in the introduction, and be sure you follow those points in order.
- Finish with a strong conclusion. When you reach the end of your speech, restate your thesis and tie everything back to your introduction.
The Editing Stage
The editing stage requires another third of your time as a speech writer. As you revise, check for these items:
- Grammar. Poor writing could cause an audience to stop taking you seriously, even if your main message is solid.
- Style. In the writing stage, you focused on substance (what to say); now you can focus on style (how to say it). Without resorting to overdone “purple prose,” you can practice writing techniques such as parallelism, repetition, alliteration, and series or lists.
- Time. Read your speech out loud. It shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes.
- Sound. When you read the speech aloud, do you stumble over unnatural words and phrases? Perhaps you need to rewrite with more direct, simple language. Is your flow of thoughts easy to understand? Is your vocabulary appropriate to the audience’s age and education?
- Appeal to the senses. Your speech should engage the imagination—not put people to sleep! Do you use figurative language to help the audience visualize concepts? Include a descriptive passage to help them hear, feel, and touch your topic. Try to include narratives that people will identify with. You don’t need too many details… just enough to make the stories ring true and help you explain your persuasive points or morals.
- Organization. You can arrange your speech chronologically, topically, by comparison/contrast, or in some other way. Just be sure you’re consistent.
- Politeness. Have you used appropriate language throughout? Have you written with respect for yourself and others? The best speeches display compassion and empathy, rather than tear others down.
The Pre-Performance Stage
Once you’ve written and revised your speech, it’s time to practice! Try to memorize it, and watch your speed so you don’t speak too quickly. Practice in front of a mirror so you remember to move naturally, incorporating hand/arm gestures and facial expressions. Experiment with volume, high and low pitch, and pauses (take notes about what works and what doesn’t.)
Finally, have confidence! Stage fright is part of life, but the greatest performers have learned that passion and honesty set the speaker—and the audience—at ease every time.
Daniella Dautrich studied classical rhetoric at a liberal arts college in Hillsdale, Michigan.
February 19th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
THE Winter Olympics may be drawing to a close, but it’s never too late for your kids to flex their creative writing muscles with mix-and-match writing prompts. Extreme sports are just a stone’s throw away with WriteShop StoryBuilders card decks!
- WriteShop offers four different StoryBuilders sets: World of Sports, World of People, World of Animals, and Christmas.
- Each deck of 192 cards offers endless combinations for hilarious or serious stories, with 48 different choices for each story element: character, character trait, setting, and plot.
- Cards can be randomly picked for “wild card” journaling, or carefully chosen if your child already has a topic in mind.
- Younger children can dictate their stories, while older or more confident children write their own.
- Award-winning StoryBuilders are the perfect writing warm-up activity!
This week, give your kids a taste of the World of Sports StoryBuilders! To get their creative juices flowing, we chose the four writing prompt cards pictured below. Write the words on index cards or squares of colored paper. Then pass them out and let the fun begin!
If your children enjoyed this taste of StoryBuilders writing prompts, consider getting a whole pack of them from the WriteShop store. Just download and go! And don’t just take our word for it—check out these reviews:
Finally, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
February 18th, 2014 — Editing & Revising
Whether you’re teaching a homeschool co-op or five high school English classes, editing and grading compositions and essays has the potential to suck the very life out of you.
Even if you devote a mere 5 minutes a week to 100 compositions, you’d spend over 8 hours on this task alone. The wise teacher will realize it’s probably impossible to give full attention to every student’s paper each week. The time-saving editing tips that follow will help you streamline the process so you can find the balance that works for you.
1. You Don’t Have to Do It All
You can strive for different levels of “completeness” when editing papers.
See how each successive level of editing requires more time and effort? Working within your time limits, pick the level that will be the most helpful for the students. For example, correcting all the errors is not only time-consuming, it hinders students because they need to wrestle a bit on their own to improve their writing. It can be more effective to correct one error and then point out others.
2. Stagger the Workload
Edit a certain number of papers each day. If you teach several classes, assign each class a different due date for written assignments.
Another idea? Quickly peruse class papers and divide into piles of good, average, and poor writers. Consider giving poorer writers feedback first, since they need more time to grow and improve.
3. Take Breaks
Editing marathons are unproductive because your brain grows fuzzy after a while. When you’re fresh, you’re more objective, but as you tire, you can become cranky and irritable, which in turn may make you more critical in your evaluations.
Take short breaks where you might:
- Walk around the block.
- Make a cup of tea.
- Eat a handful of nuts.
- Start dinner.
- Toss a ball with the dog.
After one of these quick activities, you can go back to work refreshed.
4. Set a Reasonable Time Limit
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in working through the first half of a stack of essays that you run out of time. To avoid this, figure out how many papers you need to edit or grade, and divide the time available by this number. If you have 10 hours available this week in which to edit 40 papers, that’s 15 minutes per paper.
Set a timer and get to it! At first, you’ll probably have to adjust your estimated grading time, but this will make it possible to give papers fairly equal attention.
5. Adopt the One-in-Four Rule
Tell students you will collect all papers for a given assignment, but don’t announce from week to week when their paper will be picked for review. Once you’ve collected the stack of compositions, mark three-fourths of them “Completed.” Give your undivided attention to the rest. Next time, choose different students’ papers.
Hint: To keep everyone on their toes, always pull one or two papers from the “three-fourths” stack as well.
6. Assign Oral Presentations
On the first day of oral presentations, students should come prepared with two copies of the composition they will read in front of the class. Instruct them to mark your teacher’s copy according to your prior instructions (e.g., highlight topic sentences or thesis statements, circle “to be” words, underline sentence variations, put an “x” over synonyms they’ve chosen, etc.).
Each day, as time permits, choose students randomly to read their compositions. Alternatively, assign specific students to speak on specific days of the week instead of collecting all papers at once.
As they read, evaluate their writing style and give a grade.
7. Give Students a Choice
Edit each student’s choice of composition. First, have them complete three writing assignments through the second-draft stage. Then, invite them to pick one of their second drafts to undergo teacher or peer editing (your choice). Return edited drafts and assign a final draft, which will then receive a grade.
Another option: Have students create a portfolio of checked-off compositions from which they select the best for you to grade. As an alternative, invite them to choose one of three consecutive writing assignments for you to grade.
. . . . .
Do you face a stack of essays and compositions each week? How do you streamline the editing and grading process?
February 12th, 2014 — Holiday & Seasonal Ideas, Writing & Journal Prompts
THE sweetest holiday of the year is just around the corner! We’re sure you and your kids will enjoy these Valentine’s Day writing prompts–complete with cards, chocolate, and flowers!
1. Around the World
Write a story about a Valentine card that gets lost in the mail. Write your tale from the Valentine’s perspective.
2. Sugar, Sugar
Imagine you are on a strict diet. List five ways you could avoid eating sugary treats on Valentine’s Day.
3. That’s Amore
Describe the perfect Valentine’s dinner date for your mom and dad. Where would they go, and what would they eat? Would it be fancy or casual? Describe the music, the table setting, the decorations, and the view.
4. Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
On the night of February 13, every last flower mysteriously disappeared from all the florist shops in town! As the most talented reporter for the Bridgeport News, you have been assigned to cover this story. Write the first paragraph of an article for the front page of the morning news.
5. It Takes Two
In poetry, a “romantic couplet” is formed by two lines with rhyming words at the end. Write one or two romantic couplets about someone who was born or married on Valentine’s Day.
February 11th, 2014 — WriteShop
“One of the best things about WriteShop is the confidence built through small steps, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept!’” –Tammy, Florida
WriteShop Junior Book E
Have you been eagerly awaiting the second level of the WriteShop Junior series? Though we’re not quite ready to start taking pre-orders, we did want to announce that Book E’s release is right around the corner!
Exciting news! But we need to be honest and say we don’t have a definite date yet. Originally, we thought Book E would be ready a year ago. Then we hoped to publish it in time for the current school year. With all its myriad pieces, the project has taken much longer than anticipated, and believe me, it’s nice to be nearing the finish line.
Where, exactly, are we in the publishing process? The Teacher’s Guide will be going to print in the next few weeks. The Student Activity Pack (over 130 pages) is still in various stages of final editing, but (hurrah!) it’s mostly finished. Our wonderful illustrator, Deborah Thomson, and graphic designer, Becky Thomson, have created top-notch worksheets you and your kids will just love. (Scroll down to download a FREE lesson!)
Quality is important to us. This means spending hours poring over details, proofreading and tweaking to make Book E a pleasure for moms to teach and a joy for children to use. If you can be patient for just a while longer, you’ll be rewarded for the wait with a stellar upper-elementary homeschool writing program. Author Nancy I. Sanders has done it again: WriteShop Junior Book E is absolutely incredible!
Don’t just take it from us. The moms who test-drove WriteShop Junior Book E can say it way better:
“My own feelings of inadequacy in the area of writing quickly faded away. Heartfelt thanks for creating WriteShop for moms like me!”
–Tammy, New Mexico
“My son says, ‘I love WriteShop! If you learn to do it right, writing’s not so scary.’ I don’t know what that says about my instruction in the past, but I know it says a lot about
WriteShop Junior!” –Jennifer, Illinois
“I am amazed at the progress my daughter has made
in her writing. Her confidence has increased, and it shows
in other areas, too.” –Hillary, Indiana
About WriteShop Junior
Appeals to Different Learning Styles
WriteShop Junior is a creative writing program that appeals to many learning styles. As with all WriteShop products, Book E helps you guide your kids through the steps of the writing process. To keep it fun for everyone, every lesson includes visual, auditory, and kinesthetic games and activities that teach and review key writing and self-editing skills. The best part? Your children will learn to love writing.
“I am so pleased … This was a great program—better than anything we’ve tried. It kept her engaged and interested. I think WriteShop Junior
is amazing!” –Mary, Pennsylvania
“My 5th grader really gained confidence in editing her own work. She also exclaimed often how much she loves WriteShop. This is a girl who really has not enjoyed writing before now.”
– Heather, New York
Appeals to Different Ages and Skill Levels
Whether you have a more advanced child or one who is just beginning, the program is flexible so children can work at their own level. Book E is recommended for 4th and 5th grade, but many of our test families used it successfully with 6th and 7th graders as well. Parents also appreciated being able to use the program with children who learn with difficulty:
I just wanted to take a moment to thank you.
“My son is very challenging to homeschool so I
am very surprised by his response to this curriculum. He LOVES it! The creativity WriteShop adds to each lesson is a plus for our family. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!” –Michelle M., Florida
“Love, love WriteShop. I think it ‘fits’ every child … even my high-functioning special needs boys. Excellent product!”
What Kinds of Writing Does Book E Teach?
Book E has 10 lessons (chapters). Most parents choose the schedule that spreads each lesson over three weeks (so, 30 weeks to complete Book E). Lessons 7-10 introduce 5-paragraph writing.
- Fables (Character and Voice)
- Humor (Humor and Dialogue)
- Adventure (Scene and Setting)
- Science Fiction (Blending Fiction with Scientific Fact)
- Mystery (Elements of a Mystery)
- Concrete Poetry (Creating a Shape Poem)
- Personal Narrative (Intro to 5-Paragraph Writing)
- Descriptive Narrative (Describing Three Items or Events)
- Book Report (Responding to Literature)
- Nonfiction Report (Collecting Facts)
Want a sneak peek? Download a Sample Lesson from WriteShop Junior Book E. (If you would like to share this lesson with others, link to this post. Do not link directly to the PDF file. Feel free to print this PDF file for your own personal use. Please do not sell or host this file anywhere else.)
. . . . .
Are you looking forward to seeing Book E? We’d love to hear your thoughts!
February 10th, 2014 — Teaching Writing
This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy.
PERHAPS you’ve always wanted to write a fictional story based on an old family photograph, but never knew quite where to begin. Or maybe you have a child who bubbles over with stories, and you want to gently offer guidance for the story-writing process. Whether you are young or old, writing fictional stories can be a wonderfully stretching, self-expressive, and even healing process.
The art of creating fiction is a fluid process. Ideas lead to outlines; outlines lead to new ideas. Writing a first draft may reveal new possibilities for characters and settings, so you decide to outline again, and more ideas emerge.
Whatever your plan of action, don’t be afraid to write. Write honestly and courageously, and write as often as you can. As your story unfolds, keep these three building blocks of the creative process always in mind.
Unlikely Combinations: The Brainstorming Process
Original stories spring from curious minds. What if my childhood toaster came to life? What if a mail-order bride was secretly a spy? The possibilities are endless when you open your mind and heart to unlikely combinations. A deaf composer, a blind ice skater, a baseball pitcher without a right hand—these are the things great stories are made of. The characters inside your head will become just as riveting when you imagine their lives and dreams and personal challenges in a way that no one else ever could.
Before Suzanne Collins became famous for her dystopian trilogy The Hunger Games, she was simply a writer who asked questions. What if “reality TV” entertainment came at a truly violent price? What if ancient Greek myths and Roman gladiatorial games were ultimately reborn in North America’s future? The author’s imagination combined ideas and images until she had created something wholly memorable and new. This is the fiction writer’s brainstorming process.
Broad and Fine Brush Strokes: The Outlining Process
Sometimes, you’ll begin a story with a single vivid picture: an empty road at dusk, a half-submerged bridge, an ancestral castle. At other times, your mind’s eye will zoom in on the particulars: a red hair ribbon, a pile of shells, or a snippet of conversation. Like the broad sweeps of color and the fine details of a painting, both are important, and both equally valid starting points for a story. Now you need an outline, a place to organize your content and fill in the gaps.
We find a profound example of creative organization in the Genesis creation account. All is formless and empty in the beginning. Then the Author turns on the light, so to speak, and the work of outlining begins. He creates three major settings (aren’t there three acts in your story?): the sky, the water, and finally dry land. The broad brush strokes are complete.
A setting would be dreadfully dull without the props to build a scene. So the Creator/Author drapes the bare land with plants: twisting vines, shy flowers, and showy trees. He fills the sky with sparrow songs and eagle calls, and generously sprinkles the water with fins and scales and sticky tentacles. Don’t forget the land-dwelling creatures—hairy and slimy and everything in between! The scene is set with sounds and colors; there are pets to cuddle and foods to eat.
A scene is lifeless without characters to speak and hide and stumble and grow. Finally, the Author introduces a man and a woman. A romance is born, and a family line commences for better or worse. An epic story can come to life, for the work of outlining is now complete.
Careful Selection: The Storytelling Process
After so much brainstorming and outlining, it’s tempting to clutter our stories with too many people, unnecessary facts, and boring details. We must make careful, conscious selections. You would never serve 45 different dishes to your children for lunch. Your daughter would never expect you to paint her bedroom in 36 shades of pink, blue, and orange. Likewise, a good story doesn’t need every moral lesson (or every gruesome detail) from the author’s imagination.
Some parts of the story will ultimately remain in the writer’s head, so her readers can enjoy only the best parts.
This is why I love the portrayal of Walt Disney in the recent movie Saving Mr. Banks. Using every power of persuasion, Walt finally convinces Pamela Travers to let him make Mary Poppins (and the turbulent childhood memories it evokes) into a timeless, magical movie: “Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”
Whether you’re writing for yourself, an audience of three, or the thousands in your circle of acquaintances, take the time and imagination to polish your story. Life is messy and cluttered, but good stories remind us of a world where order and hope and redemption are always possible.
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 also blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.
February 5th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
Pretend you work for a greeting card company. Can you come up with a custom card using the following candy heart sayings? Have fun with these “heart-to-heart” conversations!
Click the image above to download the “Heart Conversations” free printable writing prompt. If you would like to share this prompt with others, link to this post. Do not link directly to the PDF file. Feel free to print this PDF file for your own personal use. Please do not sell or host these files anywhere else.
Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
February 3rd, 2014 — Writing Games & Activities
WORDPLAY and word games can reenergize kids who feel bogged down with school work. If you need a break from formal writing activities this week, gather the family together for some fun with palindromes!
A palindrome is any word or phrase that reads the same either forward or backward. A few single-word examples are bib, civic, radar, level, and mom. The challenge of creating longer, multi-word palindromes (such as a nut for a jar of tuna) often produces hilarious results!
The ancient Greeks and Romans quite enjoyed this kind of wordplay. Archeologists discovered a palindrome on a stone tablet in the ruins of Pompeii, a Roman city destroyed in 79 AD. The stone reads: “Sator Arepo tenet opera rotas” (roughly translated as “sower Arepo works with the help of a wheel”). 2000 years later, people like Leigh Mercer were still playing with palindromes—he published this famous phrase in 1948: “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!”
Did You Know?
- The longest single-word English palindrome—according to the Oxford English Dictionary—is tattarrattat (an onomatopoeia-type word for knocking on the door).
- According to the Guinness Book of World records, the longest single-word English palindrome is detartrated (past tense for removing tartrates).
- One of the world’s longest palindromes was generated by a computer program in 2007. It contains 17,826 words!
A Palindrome Writing Game
- Give each family member a piece of paper, and ask everyone to write down a 3-letter palindrome (such as eye).
- Now pass the papers to the left, and ask everyone to write down a 4-letter palindrome (such as noon).
- Pass the papers to the left again, and ask everyone to write down a palindromic proper name (such as Lil or Bob).
- Pass the papers to the left again. Ask each person to use all three words in a sentence. (Example: Take LIL to the EYE doctor at NOON.)
- Start a new round, or continue adding single-word palindromes to your existing sentences. (WOW! LIL SEES the EYE doctor at NOON!)
For an extra challenge, older students can try their hands at writing multi-word palindromes. Remember, the phrase or sentence must sound the same whether you read the letters forward or backward. For tips on getting started, read more about the original “Panama” palindrome.
Remember that with longer palindromes, punctuation and word spaces don’t matter—just the actual letters.
For More Reading…
January 29th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
NARRATIVE essay prompts provide a launching place from which middle school students can engage in valuable writing opportunities. Immersed in the act of storytelling, young writers will learn to organize thoughts chronologically, include concrete details, and avoid rabbit trails. (Want to help your teens learn more about narrative writing? Our WriteShop I & II writing programs provide lessons you won’t want to miss!)
1. Special Delivery
Write an essay about the time an unexpected visitor came to your door. What changed in your family or your home because of this person?
2. Journey Home
Tell the story of a relative or ancestor who immigrated to the United States. Highlight a few of the challenges they faced while building a new life.
3. Reach for the Gold
With vivid, descriptive writing, relate the true story of an underdog who won a contest, earned a scholarship, or worked hard to become rich.
4. Planting Seeds
Write a narrative about one of the original settlers of your hometown. Why did this individual choose to settle there? What resulted from that choice?
5. Into Darkness
Write the story of a brave doctor, missionary, or relief worker who changed a community for the better. Can you foreshadow the ending with a detail from this person’s childhood or early life?
Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!