May 19th, 2014 — Teaching Writing
By Daniella Dautrich
In many ways, writing is like cooking or decorating: the key elements are variety, beauty, organization, and harmony.
Stop and take a good look around your home. Savor the aroma of rich stew simmering on the stove, and admire the colorful pillows piled on the sofa. The keys to teaching and practicing fantastic writing might be hiding right under your nose.
Writing Is like Cooking: It’s All about Variety
Whether we’re planning weekly menus or a special holiday feast, variety is the magic word. We try to alternate hot and cold dishes. We aim to please our family’s palates by pairing blander, starchy items with spicier foods. We excite the taste buds with sweet and savory combinations while serving a variety of colors for the sake of beauty and nutrition. And, of course, we include different textures—few people can stand an all-squishy diet of oatmeal, yogurt, mashed potatoes, and Jell-O!
Writing is a lot like cooking. A colorful sentence or crisp new word can increase the flavor of any composition.
A well-planned paragraph displays a wide range of sentence structures. Clearly, adverbs, present participles, and past participles used as sentence-starters can lend an aura of spice and surprise. Beginning sentences with prepositions adds interest and appeal. Short sentences add punch.
Writers should also stir in delicious new words for flavorful, concrete writing. Instead of repeating the same old words in their paragraphs, your kids can find synonyms for a fresh sound every time!
The next time you serve a new dish for lunch or dinner, ask your kids to describe it in as many ways as possible. How many adjectives can they come up with?
Explain one step of the preparation/cooking process to them. Challenge them to rephrase what you told them in several different ways. Can they explain it back to you using both short and long sentences?
Writing Is like Decorating: Embrace the Limits
Writing can also be compared to decorating. I like to think of decorating as the art of embracing limitations. The size and purpose of a room—as well as the family budget—present limits. Within these boundaries, we aim for organization, balance, and harmony.
We choose colors to create the desired mood. If you want a relaxing bathroom, you might choose creams or blues, but probably not bright orange. If you want an energetic, cheerful kitchen, you might opt for green or yellow curtains, but probably not a black floor or gray walls.
Writing demands similar judgment calls. Consider the scope and purpose of a paragraph. Is it organized around one topic? If a particular sentence doesn’t belong, take it out. Over-eager children sometimes clutter their writing with too many thoughts. Encourage your son or daughter to remove a few ideas, saving them for new paragraphs later.
Teach your kids to “decorate” their writing to suit the mood. If they’re writing about a serious topic, silly stories and examples probably don’t belong. If they’re writing to a casual audience, keep the flowery words to a minimum.
The next time you edit a piece of your child’s writing, look for an idea, phrase, or sentence that just doesn’t seem to belong. Prompt your child: “Wouldn’t this be a great topic for another paper?”
Keep the atmosphere light rather than critical by asking your child to look around the room: “Is there something in here, like a knick-knack or a picture on the wall, that doesn’t quite belong? Can you think of a better place in the house where we could put it?” Similarly, if a shelf or tabletop looks especially bare, talk about ways an interesting photo, pretty candle, or other decorative detail might make the space more complete.
If it’s all the same to you, make your child’s day by taking her suggestions!
If you love cooking and decorating, let your hobbies and expertise influence the way you teach writing. Your enthusiasm will spill over to your children, and maybe—just maybe—they’ll never see writing the same way again.
May 14th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
Do your kids dream of skydiving, piloting jet aircraft, or orbiting the earth in astronaut suits? Then these writing prompts about flight will help them take wing!
1. Mile-High Celebration
A skywriting pilot wants to create a message in the sky for a new high school graduate. Make a list of five short sentences (two to three words each) the pilot could choose from.
2. Not in Kansas Anymore
You and a friend just won a free trip on hot air balloon. Where will you go? What will you see and do when you get there?
3. Free Fall
In 2012, Felix Baumgartner made a skydive jump from an altitude of 128,097 feet—about 24 miles above the Earth. After four minutes in the air, he deployed his parachute and drifted safely down. Imagine you watched the jump from the Roswell, New Mexico mission control. What concerns and thoughts would have entered your mind? What would you have asked Felix when he landed?
4. I’m an Earth Orbiter
You are an astronaut living and working in the International Space Station. Journal about a day in your life. Do you feel isolated up in space, or exhilarated by your scientific projects? How do you feel about sharing tight living spaces with five other crew members? How do you fill your free time?
5. The Sky’s the Limit
From the Wright Brothers to the Tuskegee Airmen, from Charles Lindbergh to James Doolittle, the history of aviation is filled with ingenious inventors, expert engineers, and courageous heroes. Write about one aspect of aviation that you would like to learn more about. Be creative: military reconnaissance, jet design, control tower operation, and airline customer service are all excellent topics.
Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
May 12th, 2014 — Books and Reading
This article contains affiliate links for books we’re confident your family will love!
Today marks the beginning of Children’s Book Week (May 12-18). Since 1919, this annual celebration has been the perfect time for adults and youngsters to enjoy new authors and books together. This week, take the time to rediscover old classics and find some new favorites as you read aloud with your kids!
The look and sound of English books for children may have changed over the last 150 years, but one thing never changes: stories of heroism and courage in the face of mystery and danger have always been in high demand! This list of juvenile novels and chapter books—while by no means complete—gives a snapshot of children’s books about adventure over the years.
The American Revolution
With rebels and soldiers, patriots and spies, the American Revolution has long provided the perfect backdrop for historical fiction aimed at kids. Of course, the stories weren’t always written from the American perspective. In True to the Old Flag: A Tale of the American War of Independence (1885), British scholar George Alfred Henty presented the war from the Redcoat point of view. Known as “The Boy’s Own Historian,” Henty wrote over 100 books that entertained and instructed readers on both sides of the pond in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The historical fiction was aimed at young ladies when Alice Turner Curtis wrote A Little Maid of Bunker Hill (1916). In this now-forgotten chapter of the “A Little Maid” series, Millicent Austin of Charles Town, Massachusetts celebrates her tenth birthday, learns lessons about friendship, and becomes a role model to her younger brother and sister. Sound familiar? That’s because the beloved American Girl doll “Felicity” taught similar lessons to little girls of the 90s. In Felicity Learns a Lesson (1991), author Valerie Tripp delights readers with Felicity Merriman, a heroine caught between loyalists and patriots in Williamsburg, Virginia.
If you’re looking for a beginning chapter book for boys, don’t miss a new release called The Redcoats are Coming! (2014) by WriteShop’s own Nancy I. Sanders. This exciting installment of “The Imagination Station” series—based on the popular Adventures in Odyssey radio drama—follows curious cousins Patrick and Beth as they travel back in time to the world of John Hancock and Paul Revere.
There Be Pirates Here
Ever since the debut of Treasure Island (1883), young readers have dreamed of treasure maps and tropical islands, with relentless one-legged pirates ever on the pursuit. Boys especially sympathize with the narrator Jim Hawkins, who comes of age on the high seas of the 18th century. When Robert Louis Stevenson first serialized this story for a children’s magazine, could he have imagined the scores of movie and television versions his story would inspire? One thing is certain: this story that began as a scribbled map to amuse a child has become classic junior-high reading material.
If your kids prefer pirates with a more fantastical flair, find a reprint of the original Peter and Wendy (1911). J. M. Barrie adapted the story from his 1904 stage play, and the characters of Peter Pan and Captain Hook have ever since been engraved on our memories. Nothing compares to reading this classic aloud by candlelight at dusk. Tonight, step aboard the pirate ship Jolly Roger in the blue waters of Neverland!
In the 20th century, children’s authors created plenty of mysterious pirate ships to haunt and enthrall young readers. Clyde Robert Bulla’s Pirate’s Promise (1958) tells the tale of an orphan sold into slavery and later captured by pirates. Avi’s Captain Grey (1976) has held more than a few readers spellbound with the story of Kevin Cartwright, a prisoner of pirates. More recently, pirate novels for children ages 8-12 have focused on the adventure-laden War of 1812.
Want to read about twin brothers who also happen to be escaped slaves? Check out The Twins, the Pirates, and the Battle of New Orleans (1997) by Harriette Gillem Robinet. Interested in the British side of the story? You’re sure to enjoy Gerald Hausman’s Tom Cringle: The Pirate and the Patriot (2001). Following the exploits of a fourteen-year-old naval lieutenant, this book was crafted by an author who has spent many summers on the tropical island of Jamaica.
We hope you and your children will share many more adventures through the pages of books! If you read any good American Revolution or pirate stories this week, won’t you leave a comment and let us know?
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.
May 7th, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
Pick a Prompt: Free Printable Writing Prompts!
May is a great month for picking flowers … or for picking fun writing prompts for children! So this month we’re offering a printable with not just one, but 6 different journal prompts to choose from!
Kids can cut apart the printable and draw a new prompt each week, or pick one each day and color the square after it is completed.
Click the image above to download the “Pick a Prompt” free writing printable. If you would like to share this poetry printable 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.
Have you visited our huge archive of writing prompts? New prompts added every Wednesday!
May 6th, 2014 — Conventions
WriteShop is exhibiting at three homeschool conferences in May 2014: Arlington Homeschool Book Fair, NICHE, and NCHE! Come see us!
Homeschool Book Fair
Do you have elementary-aged children? Kim Kautzer will encourage you in her featured workshop:
Gone Fishing: Tips and Ideas to Motivate Young Writers
IA Conference (NICHE) – Network of Iowa Christian Homeschool Educators
Des Moines, IA,
NCHE – North Carolinians for Home Education
Visit the vendor booth
As you begin looking toward the next school year, it’s also the perfect time to stop by the WriteShop booth to ask questions, see what’s new, or browse through our full line of WriteShop products in person.
- Purchase BEFORE the June 1 price increase takes effect
- Thumb through the exciting new WriteShop Junior Book E materials –>
- Learn how you can teach a WriteShop co-op class in your area
- Receive much-needed encouragement about teaching writing
We are looking forward to meeting you!
May 5th, 2014 — Holiday & Seasonal Ideas
MOTHER’S DAY is the perfect time for children to show Mom that she is the family’s cherished queen. This year, why not give your kids some gentle hints that you’re hoping for the royal treatment? Start by making paper crowns to stash away for Sunday (and don’t be afraid to use felt or silk flowers if you’re feeling fancy!).
When it comes to handmade gifts, your kids are sure to love our palace-perfect Mother’s Day writing projects. Older children will need little more than supplies and ideas to create their original Mother’s Day surprises. If you still have small children, pass along these ideas to a grandparent, Dad, or older sibling.
Write a Royal Proclamation
One hundred years ago, President Wilson signed his Mother’s Day Proclamation to announce a new national holiday. Your children can write their own Mother’s Day proclamation with a fun medieval twist!
Begin by gathering a large sheet of paper, at least 11×17 inches. White butcher paper or light-colored, non-shiny wrapping paper would work well. Your kids will also need a thick black or brown marker.
The proclamations can include several items:
- Official opening such as Hear ye, hear ye! Let it be known throughout (street / city / state) that today is hereby proclaimed a celebration in honor of (Mom’s full name)
- List of ways the family will celebrate Mom
- List of gifts the family must present (hugs, kisses, kind words, cheerful obedience, cards, flowers, hour of alone time)
- List of things Mom is not allowed to do (specific chores, cooking, errands)
Attach wooden dowels or paper-towel tubes to the top and bottom of the finished proclamation (for easier reading by the town herald). Then roll it up like a scroll and tie it with a pretty ribbon.
Write a “Real-Life” Fairy Tale
Mother’s Day is a day to remember that fairy tales do come true! Encourage your artistic child to write and illustrate a story especially for Mom.
Provide your little storyteller with plenty of blank sheets of white paper or cardstock. Use a three-hole punch on these pages ahead of time. Also, use a ruler to draw several lines at the bottom of each page where the text will go.
For the illustrations, make sure your child has access to family photos, scissors, glue sticks, and plenty of crayons or sharpened colored pencils.
The story can go in any direction. Ideas could include:
- Traditional opening such as: Once upon a time…
- Wedding where the princess (Mom) marries her prince (Dad)
- Sparkling castle built just for the new queen
- Wardrobe full of beautiful outfits for the queen to wear
When the story is finished, tie ribbons through the three sets of punched holes to keep the pages together. Or, display the story in a small binder with a decorated cover.
Write a Royal Menu
Every Mom looks forward to Mother’s Day tea, brunch, or breakfast in bed. Encourage your family to set the table or breakfast tray with a custom menu that adds the royal touch! Here are some ideas to get them started:
- Use a rectangular piece of heavy cardstock for the menu.
- Write a fancy title, such as: Blissful Mother’s Day Breakfast.
- Write creative titles for each of the menu items, such as: Golden Nugget Breakfast Potatoes, Melodious Melon Salad, Enchanted Meadows Spinach Quiche, & Carefree Creamed Coffee.
- Design a decorative border around the menu with markers and stickers.
Whatever your royal celebration looks like, we hope you have a beautifully blessed Mother’s Day!
Find more Mother’s Day writing ideas here:
Daniella Dautrich enjoys writing, crafting, cooking, and making memories with her Mother.
April 30th, 2014 — High school, Writing & Journal Prompts
GREAT actors use many techniques to get inside the minds of their characters. With these Shakespeare journal prompts, high schoolers can learn firsthand how writing helps actors bring characters to life!
1. Fairy Antics
You are the mischievous fairy Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. You just learned that you applied a love potion to the wrong young man, and now two men are pursuing the same woman! Journal about your reactions to your mistake. Are you a little bit sorry? Are you looking forward to a day of entertaining mix-ups? Are you confident you can fix your mistake?
2. Midnight Meeting
In the first scene of Hamlet, two night guards convince Horatio to watch for a ghost who resembles the dead king. When the ghost appears, Horatio commands it to speak. You are Horatio. Write about your thoughts when you first call to the ghost. Are you truly afraid or simply curious? Do you believe in ghosts, or do you suspect the guards are playing tricks on you?
3. Word Games
When the English King Henry courts the French princess Katherine in King Henry V, he speaks very little French and she speaks very little English. You are Katherine. Journal about your thoughts during your conversation with your future husband. Are you shy, hopeful, or confused? Do you use all your language skills, or do you pretend to know less English than you really do?
Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
April 28th, 2014 — Teaching Writing
By Daniella Dautrich
BEFORE April flies away, we want to highlight National Card and Letter Writing Month! It’s a great time to remind your kids how to format a letter (heading, greeting, body, and closing) with the friendly letter boogie. And, if you’re out shopping, grab a few art and stationery supplies so your kids can design and write homemade birthday cards or creative pen-pal letters.
If you and your family sit down to write a few cards and notes this week, take some time to think about people who could especially use a letter of encouragement. We all know someone in a challenging season of life. You can teach your children to write uplifting, cheerful messages to friends and relatives with these easy tips!
Thinking of You
Ask your child to think of someone who might need an extra ray of sunshine in their day. Maybe you know a:
- High school student worried about exams.
- Friend who recently moved to a new town.
- Widow who can no longer drive to visit her children and grandchildren.
When your child picks a recipient for her “thinking of you” letter, offer her a choice of brightly colored stationery and note cards. Now, it’s time to brainstorm for ideas, such as:
- A funny story about something that recently happened in your family.
- An interesting book you enjoyed and your thoughts / recommendation.
- A recipe you tried and how the dish turned out.
Decorate the finished letter or envelope with stickers, drawings, or funny cartoons. These are always sure to bring a smile!
Get Well Soon
It shouldn’t be hard to think of someone under the weather who would perk up when a letter arrives in the mail. Do you know:
- An athletic child or teen who is home on crutches?
- Someone recovering from surgery?
- A friend who missed a weekly activity (church, sports practice, club meeting, etc.) because they were sick?
- An elderly friend who doesn’t feel well?
Handwritten notes don’t have to be long to boost a friend’s spirits. Besides the obvious “I’m sorry you’re sick” and “get well soon” lines, your child can be creative and include other encouraging tidbits, such as:
- A Bible verse or short poem.
- A recommendation for a song or movie you think they might enjoy.
- Ideas for activities you can do together when they get well.
After the note is signed, include a tea bag, a pressed flower, or a favorite photograph. Your friend will appreciate these little gifts while they recover from injury or illness.
Sometimes, we realize too late that we’ve hurt someone else’s feelings. Has your child ever embarrassed a friend accidentally? Forgotten to include another child in a group game or activity? Help her understand which kind of situations are best forgotten or left alone, and which call for a phone call or letter of apology.
If you decide that a letter is appropriate, help your daughter or son write a sincere, heartfelt note:
- Begin by explaining why you’re sorry.
- Tell how much you love / value / respect them, and what their friendship means to you.
- Express your hope for the relationship (forgiveness, continued friendship, etc.).
Letters of encouragement come in all shapes and sizes, for many seasons and situations in life. Model good letter-writing habits for your children, and soon they’ll look forward to expressing themselves in creative, memorable ways.
April 23rd, 2014 — Writing & Journal Prompts
Put an educational spin on your kids’ favorite sandbox game with a creative writing activity. I’m willing to bet these Minecraft writing prompts will spark enthusiasm in the most reluctant writer!
1. Reap What You Sow
As a Minecraft crop farmer, you’re getting tired of beets, potatoes, and carrots. If you could sow three brand-new crops, what would you choose to grow? Explain what you will have to do to harvest your new crops.
2. The Choice is “Mine”
Do you prefer playing Minecraft in Survival mode or Creative mode? Write one or two paragraphs explaining your reasons. Before you start writing, make a Venn diagram that compares and contrasts these two modes.
3. Toolbelt Tactics
Would you rather build a castle, a tree house, or a bridge? Describe the Minecraft tools, materials, and supplies you will need to accomplish your goal.
4. Dear Diary
A website is sponsoring a Minecraft writing contest and awarding a prize of 2000 gold nuggets to the winner.
- Write a diary or journal entry describing your most exciting Minecraft adventure.
- Record your entry using Minecraft’s Book and Quill.
- You may include up to three entries in your diary.
5. Making a House a Home
It’s time to decorate your Minecraft house! Make a list of 10 structural features you want to include, such as wood floors or a glass roof. Then make a list of 10 decorating ideas, such as lighting and furniture.
If your kids have enjoyed these Minecraft activities, follow the link to another fun set of Minecraft writing prompts. Also, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!
April 21st, 2014 — Poetry
Pinterest is filled with resources, tips, and ideas to use in your homeschool. Since April is National Poetry Month, what better time to share a few favorite poetry activities from our Pinterest Poetry Board? While reading and listening to poems, creating poetry notebooks, and learning about poetic devices, your kids’ interest in poetry will surely grow!
Most of these can be used with all ages, from elementary through high school.
1. Paint Chip Poetry
Start by gluing words from magazines onto paint chip pieces (or just writing the words on the chips). Then set your kids loose making poems from the word chips. They can arrange and rearrange to their hearts’ delight until they’ve created the perfect paint chip poem.
Paint Chip Poetry
2. Poetic Devices Mini Book
Teaching poetic devices? You’ll love these free Figures of Speech mini posters to download and print.
Poetic Devices Minibook
RhymeZone, an online rhyming dictionary, helps kids find rhyming words, “near” rhymes, and rhymes by number of syllables. It’s a great resource when they’re trying to find just the right word for their verse!
4. Five Fabulous Features of Children’s Poetry
Explore poetry with fun listening activities that help your children identify five exciting features of poetry:
- poetic devices such as metaphors and personification
It’s an entertaining way for newbies to dip their toes into the unfamiliar waters of poetry.
5 Features of Children’s Poetry
5. Popcorn Poetry! Repetition and Onomatopoeia
Pop! Bang! Zing! Work on poetic elements of repetition and onomatopoeia using popcorn as the springboard. This activity is especially fun for your youngest poets!
6. How to Keep a Poetry Notebook
Creating and maintaining a poetry notebook is a wonderful way to help children and teens appreciate poetry. Their notebooks can contain poems they write themselves, verses they copy onto specialty papers, poets’ biographies, and more.
Keeping a Poetry Notebook
7. “I Am” Poems
Art and poetry meet in these colorful, eye-catching pieces—a beautiful way for kids to identify their best character qualities.
“I Am” Poems
You might also enjoy 8 writing ideas from Pinterest (mostly for elementary grades) and 7 Pinterest ideas for high school writing. Be sure to follow all of our great Pinterest boards for loads of writing, teaching, and homeschooling ideas!
Photos used by permission from the original source.