Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Woe Is I, Jr. Lessons: Chapter 7

I have written lessons to accompany Woe Is I, Jr., a grammar handbook for kids. You can read my introductory comments here.

1. Read chapter 7. Do what she suggests, with one exception. Instead of writing a poem to fool a spell checker, you may write a short e-mail to a real or imaginary friend. Here is a silly message I sent to a friend which totally fooled my spell checker: Ewe just knead too no eye halve you're back.

2.   Choose three words that stump you when you need to spell them. Make a secret code, so they stump you no more.

3.   Choose ten of the word pairs on pages 76-84. Write a tongue twister for each pair, using both words correctly.

4. Share your favorite tongue twister in the comments.

Go to Lesson 8.

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Student Author

I really have nothing to do with Finding Faith, other than to have taught its author, Rachel Rittenhouse, in an English class last year. I'm proud of the way Rachel wholeheartedly pursues her dreams at age 16, and I wish her the best as she launches this, her first book in a series of three. Visit her website to discover more.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Woe Is I, Jr. Lessons: Chapter 6

I have written lessons to accompany Woe Is I, Jr., a grammar handbook for kids. You can read my introductory comments here.
This one is short and easy!

1.   Read chapter 6.

2.   Using “The Respectables” list on pages 70-71, write a short dialogue between two people, one who always uses contractions and one who never uses them. What adjectives would you use to describe each of these people?

3. Leave a sample of your dialogue in the comments!

Go to Lesson 7.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Important Things

Who: Young or reluctant elementary-aged writers

What: Follow Margaret Wise Brown's pattern from The Important Book in which she illustrates a helpful structure for paragraph writing.

1. Read The Important Book or click the above book cover to see sample pages.
            “The important thing about a spoon is that you eat with it.  It’s like a little shovel, you hold it in your hand, you can put it in your mouth, it isn’t flat, it’s hollow, and it spoons things up.  But the important thing about a spoon is that you eat with it.

            The important thing about a daisy is that it is white.  It is yellow in the middle, it has long white petals, and bees sit on it, it has a ticklish smell, it grows in green fields, and there are always lots of daisies.  But the important thing about a daisy is that it is white.”
2. Observe the pattern Brown uses. (See #4.)

3. Choose a topic. Brainstorm reasons you think your topic is important. Use this webbing tool to organize your initial thoughts.

4. Imitate Brown's pattern, but make one adjustment. In Brown's paragraphs, her middle sentence--the one that tells why the object is important--is one long string, separated by commas. I recommend writing separate sentences with periods.

A template would look like this:

The important thing about _____________________ is ________________________.

Detail #1

Detail #2

Detail #3

But the most important thing about _____________________ is ___________________.

Write a minimum of three of your very best details.

5. Revise and edit! Are the sentences in logical order? Does one flow well into the next? Are the words spelled correctly? Spruce up the paragraphs to make them your very best.

6. Share one of your important paragraphs in the comments.

Student samples:

The important thing about God is that He has power over Satan. He is unchangeable and holy. He loves and protects us from Satan. He is majestic and perfect. He wants us to love him and he gave us the Bible so we can read it. He sent his only Son to die for us on a cross and save us from our sins. But the important thing about God is that He has power over Satan.

The important thing about Grandmom and Pop pop is that they are fun to be with. They like to cuddle with us when they're watching TV and Eagles' games. Pop pop sometimes sneaks us candy when Grandmom is not looking and he always has long prayers! Grandmom always has a good meal ready when we get there on Thursdays and after we have a fill of TV Grandmom takes us on in a game of Nines. Every time we go there they spoil us and give us more graham cracker pudding than we should have. But the important thing about Grandmom and Pop pop is that they are fun to be with.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Woe Is I, Jr. Lessons: Chapter 5

I have written lessons to accompany Woe Is I, Jr., a grammar handbook for kids. You can read my introductory comments here, the lesson for chapter 1 here, the lesson for chapter 2 here, the lesson for chapter 3 here, and the lesson for chapter 4 here.
1.   Read chapter 5 and do what O’Conner suggests.

2.   English teachers don’t usually prefer students to begin sentences with “there is” or “there are.” See if you can figure out why. Write a couple of there is/there are sentences. Then revise them to remove there is/there are. Which ones do you think are stronger? Why?

3.   Write a list of “I wish” or “If I” statements. (Bonus: Write an “I wish” or “If I” poem. Adapt the “I wish” model just a bit. Begin each line with I wish I were. How can you revise the final line to make it fit this new format?)

4.   Write sentences to show the difference between the pesky look-alikes (60-61).

5. Would you mind sharing your statements or poems in the comments?

Go to Lesson 6.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Beyond Portfolders


Oregon Trail

The Olympics

Study of Pennsylvania

Monday, December 9, 2013

Writing Metaphors

"Happiness is a warm puppy."      
~ Charles M. Schulz

1. Watch Charlie Brown and his friends sweetly sing metaphors in their song "Happiness Is...." (The song begins at 1:30.)  

A metaphor, if you need a refresher, is a comparison between two nouns without using "like" or "as." In this assignment, students compare an abstract term with concrete images.

2. Brainstorm words to transform into metaphors. Here is a start: spring, summer, fall, winter, fear, happiness, disgusted, sad, scared, exciting, soft, rough, sweet, salty, fast, noisy, quiet, any color....
3. Allow students the pleasure of writing sensory-rich images for their word(s). Help them, if necessary, by encouraging them "to use color, sounds, actions, and sensations of touch and smell in their metaphors" (Any Child Can Write 76).

Some student examples:
  • Noisy is screaming kids in the street playing with their friends.
  • Noisy is lions roaring in the zoo because they are mad about being in a cage.
  • Red is a yummy Red Delicious apple being cut up and sliced into a pan, cooked for applesauce, and dumped on a cake.
  • Red is an enormous firetruck racing down the street to get to a fire.
  • Green is a tree that waves as the wind whistles through its leaves.
  • Orange is a juicy fruit that when you take a bite it splashes onto your face.
  • Autumn is colorful leaves falling to the ground.

If you like pre-writing sheets, here's one.

This idea was prompted by Harvey S. Wiener in Any Child Can Write, 75-77.

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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Woe Is I, Jr. Lessons: Chapter 4

I have written lessons to accompany Woe Is I, Jr., a grammar handbook for kids. You can read my introductory comments here, the lesson for chapter 1 here, the lesson for chapter 2 here, and the lesson for chapter 3 here.
1.   Read chapter 4 and do what O’Conner suggests.

2.   Watch Schoolhouse Rock’s Verb: That’s What’s Happening.

3.   I found the following paragraph explaining how to make a sandwich.

My favorite sandwich is a spicy roast beef delight, and making it is such a tasty adventure. Simply retrieve two slices of fresh one-hundred percent whole wheat bread, and spread spicy brown deli mustard and mayonnaise to the inside of each slice. You will then add three thick slices of roast beef to the bottom slice of bread, as well as red onions, two slices of tomato, and a slice of green leaf lettuce to the top piece of bread. Now, place the two slices of bread together completing this scrumptious sandwich. Finally, cut the sandwich in half and serve with a handful of your favorite chips as you enjoy this masterpiece.

Remove or cross out all verbs in the paragraph. Do you agree with O’Conner that “without a verb, there’s nothing going on”?

4.   Write a paragraph about your favorite birthday moment.  Copy and paste it twice. Change the first one to present tense. Change the second one to future tense.

5. Share your present tense birthday moment in the comments.

Go to Lesson 5.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Words That Get the Axe

If you're literally looking for a list of really amazing words to cut from your students' very wordy papers, check out this thing. It's got quite good suggestions. Maybe it's just the stuff you need to help them follow the classic advice from Strunk and White: "omit needless words" (The Elements of Style 23).

No, really. See the ten words you can chop from a student's writing that no one will miss.


Thanks, Cynthia, for sending me the link.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Woe Is I, Jr. Lessons: Chapter 3

I have written lessons to accompany Woe Is I, Jr., a grammar handbook for kids. You can read my introductory comments here, the lesson for chapter 1 here, and the lesson for chapter 2 here.
1.   Read chapter 3. 

2.   Complete You’re Mighty Possessive.

  • In the first column, list careers from A to Z (architect, businessman, carpenter…). Don’t worry if you can’t use every letter.
  • In the second column, list tools essential for each career (blueprints, briefcase, handsaw…). They don’t have to be alphabetical, unless you really want to challenge yourself.
  • In the third column, show that the tool belongs to an individual in that career (the architect’s blueprints, the businessman’s briefcase, the carpenter’s handsaw…).
  • Finally, in the fourth column, show that the tools belong to several individuals in that career (the architects’ blueprints, the businessmen’s briefcases, the carpenters’ handsaws…).

3.   Practice your possessives at www.chompchomp.com. Complete the handouts or interactive exercises for Apostrophes. Practice distinguishing it’s/its, they’re/ their/there, and whose/who’s in Word Choice.

Go to Lesson 4.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Woe Is I, Jr. Lessons: Chapter 2


I have written lessons to accompany Woe Is I, Jr., a grammar handbook for kids. You can read my introductory comments here, the lesson for chapter 1 here.
1.   Read chapter 2 and do what O’Conner suggests.

2.   Write five words for each plural ending (s, es, ies) which don’t appear on any of O’Conner’s lists. (You can do this informally or use the worksheet here.)

3.   Write about a recent trip to a store. Make every noun plural.

4.   Practice your plurals here.

5. Show us what happened at the store in the comments.

Go to Lesson 3.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

I Know What I Like, a Pattern to Follow

Norma Simon wrote I Know What I Like, a picture book with a very specific pattern.

The first set goes like this:
I like to make pudding.
I like to make pictures.
I like to make faces.
But I don't like to make my bed or pick up in my room. (I do it anyway.)
The rest are like it.
I like to (verb)....
I like to (same verb)....
I like to (same verb)....
But I don't like to (same verb)....
After reading the book together, talk about the pattern: three likes followed by a don't like. (If you can't find a copy of this out-of-print book, you can still easily do the assignment. The prewriting sheet will help you.)

Under Set 1 on the prewriting sheet, write an example together. If you have a student new to writing, the sentences can be simple like Simon's. For students who can do more, encourage longer, more detailed sentences.

Here is one student's example:
I like to make fresh chocolate chip cookies (and eat them).

I like to make up funny jokes that make me laugh so hard I cry.

I like to make whoopie pies with aunt Elisabeth because we don't see her very often and she makes great whoopie pies!  I like it because sometimes Poppop sticks M & M's in them when Grandmom is not looking because if she is he is in big time trouble!

I don't like to make "awkward scenes" in the grocery store because that turns my mom hot pink and I throw a fit and sooner or later my bottom starts hurting from that spanking! Well, I have never done it, but I also don't want to try.
Invite your children to work on the other three sets.

If appropriate, push your writers beyond their first draft. Revising their writing will polish it, making it shine a little brighter.

Please post an "I like/I don't like" set in the comments.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Portfolders: More Than Cutting, Coloring, and Pasting


What is wrong with this picture?

Nothing, really. If your students follow all of the instructions, they will end up with a mini- book that highlights the seasons of the year. 

The problem is that someone else did most of the work. All that is left for your students to do is cut, color, and paste.

Can you accomplish a similar goal, allowing your students to more fully engage in the process of learning, doing more than complete a worksheet in disguise? 

I think so. And it's not difficult!

First, teach a lesson on seasons in whatever way best suits you and your children. It need not be formal or lengthy. You can read books about the seasons, taking special note of the trees. You can talk about how trees change from season to season. You can watch a video on the seasons or find pictures on the internet. 

Let your student choose a colored sheet of paper. Cut it to the size you want. If you want each section to be 2.5" x 2.5", then you should cut it to 2.5" x 10".

Mark the four sections of the accordion-fold book by drawing (with a pencil)  light lines. These lines will be erased later. You can fold it back and forth now, or wait until it is complete.

Your students will draw, color or paint, and label a tree for each season. If the block is large enough and you want to add a dash of writing to the assignment, have the students write a brief caption about or description of each tree. They will also decide on a title and make a cover illustration.

If this is a once-and-done project, your students can draw and write directly on the accordion-fold book. But if you want to reduce the chances of tears (and a ruined project), it might be better to make blocks of paper that can eventually be pasted in each section. That way, if one tree is a flop, it can be redone. No big deal. Same with the captions. They can be typed and pasted to the frames which means less pressure to get the handwriting to fit exactly right in a small space.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An Acrostic Poem

Do you have reluctant writers in the house? Maybe you can entice them with an easy assignment: an acrostic poem about themselves because, you know, it's pretty easy to write about ourselves.

1. Have them write their names vertically on a sheet of paper.  








2. Ask them to write descriptive phrases of themselves for each letter. Janessa's looks like this:

Jr is my nickname that my dad gave to me when I was little. It stands for Janessa Renae.

crazy human being (that can sometimes be annoying)

ever has, never will like going to bed

ats lots of baked oatmeal because it is very "rumbly to my tumbly"

ugar is what I like best because it is good to eat but it is not good for you.

hopping is fun to do with Grandmom because she gets me anything I want.

n actress

3. You have a choice here. You can accept the acrostics "as is," or you can encourage your writers to go beyond the first phrases spilled out on paper, revising some or all of the lines to make them more descriptive. Some kids will be open to toying with their work after setting it aside for a day.

Others might need a little push to revise. For them, you can make specific rules. Let's think of a few possibilities.
  • No word may be repeated.
  • The acrostic must include at least one strong verb, adjective, and adverb.
  • Include alliteration in one line.

A related idea:
Make an acrostic poem for something else you are studying. It could be a time period (Revolutionary War), a person (George Washington), a place (Pennsylvania), anything really.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Woe Is I, Jr. Lessons: Chapter 1

I have written supplementary lessons for Woe Is I, Jr., a grammar handbook for kids. You can find my introductory comments and the first lesson here.
1.   Read Chapter 1 and do what O’Conner suggests.    

2.   Watch Schoolhouse Rock’s Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla, a video about pronouns.  

3.   Write a paragraph or two about a funny or scary or challenging activity you did with someone else. The catch? Don’t use any pronouns. Copy and paste it; then rewrite it with pronouns. When you compare the two, what do you discover? 

4.   Practice your pronouns at www.chompchomp.com. Complete the handouts or interactive exercises for Pronoun Case.

5. I would love to see your funny, scary, or challenging paragraphs in the comments. Please share.

Go to Lesson 2.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Writing Process Described

A mother of a six-year-old girl wrote to Julie at Bravewriter.com to detail her experience with homeschooling. The part that struck me--and that I direct you to here--describes the process of working on a fairytale project with her daughter. She does well at showing the writing process, the goals fixed on nurturing her child's voice and building her confidence rather than insisting on correctness. You can find the description here in the fourth paragraph which begins, "I told her we were going to do...."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Woe Is I, Jr. Lessons: Introduction

It wasn't long ago that I mentioned a grammar handbook for kids: Woe Is I, Jr. by Patricia T. O'Conner. I said then that I might work the book into lessons here, but I changed my mind and  made supplementary lessons for the book instead.

I will post them on Mondays, chapter by chapter. Choose as many or as few as you like. The goal is to enliven the study of grammar by moving kids, grades 5ish to 8ish, away from the monotony of workbooks to assignments that allow them to tap into their creativity.

Having the book will be essential. It is the spine of the study.

Okay, call your student(s) to the computer. It's time to begin!


Let’s start by playing a little game, okay? I say a word. You blurt out the first word that comes to mind.


Here we go.                       

Ice cream:



If you’re like most kids, you probably said happy words for ice cream and beach and a not-so-happy word for grammar. But here you are with not only a grammar handbook but a supplement as well—and not a beach or bowl of ice cream in sight. Poor you!

It’s okay, though; it won’t be as bad as you think. At least I hope not. The goal is not to transform you into a grammar guru but to help you master the basics of your language which will benefit your life no matter where you go, no matter what you do.

Fortunately for you, Ms. O’Conner didn’t write a dense, dry, boring book. She wrote a lively one, engaging and witty. Through the text, she talks directly to you, the “younger grammarphobe.”

But I must warn you that she makes an assumption about kids: she assumes you are attracted to words that erupt from your ears, nose, and mouth. You know, words like earwax and boogers, vomit and belch. If vocabulary like this grabs your attention, be prepared to chuckle as you learn. If it offends you or insults your intelligence, overlook it to explore the concepts underneath. Remember, the alternative is dense, dry, and boring.

As you’re reading Woe Is I, Jr., you can do the following, as much or as little as you and your teacher decide.

1.   READ each chapter carefully, pretending that Ms. O’Conner is your tutor sitting beside you on the couch. When she asks you to do something, do it. Avoid the temptation to be a passive reader. Instead, think, engage, learn. Letting your eyes glaze and your mind wander will only waste your time, and you’ll know no more grammar than when you started.

2.   WRITE short pieces to help you apply the concepts you are learning. After all, if you can’t apply the grammar, what good is it? Right? I can’t hear you. Right? (Typing the pieces is recommended, as it will make the entire process easier.)

3.   COMPLETE the handouts included with this supplement. Handout titles are underlined and linked.

4.   PRACTICE concepts by following the links to more grammar fun.

You are now ready for the introduction. Enjoy!
1.   Read the Introduction of Woe Is I, Jr.

2.   Are you a grammarphobe, “somebody who has a phobia, or, fear, about grammar”?  If you were to camp on the line below, where would you pitch your tent?
(I’ll check in with you later to see if the tent moves one way or the other.)

3.   Okay, get it out of your system before you read any farther. Write a piece about anything—your opinion of grammar, for instance—with your absolutely worst grammar. Put punctuation marks in random places. Spell words incorrectly. Forget capital letters. (Even if you don’t have a single English teacher gene in your body, the sight of your writing will probably make you tremble.) Read it aloud. What do you think? Then give it to a friend to read. What is his/her reaction?

4.   How much do you already know about grammar? Well, let’s find out. In the left column of Grammar Glossary, write what you know about each word. Don’t worry if the sheet is bare when you’re finished. Blank spaces show you have some learning to do--which isn’t a bad thing.

5. I would love to see your "bad writing" example. Would you mind putting it in the comments?

Go to Lesson 1

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hey, Little Ant

Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose is the perfect book to teach point of view, but this time let's use it to encourage students to write in four modes: persuasive, expository, narrative, and descriptive.

Here are some assignments, which may be paragraph length or longer, that students can complete:

1. Read Hey, Little Ant.

2. Camp on the last page, where the narrator asks the reader whether the kid should step on the ant. Write a persuasive piece, giving your opinion of what the kid should do. Of course, it is important to include convincing (or funny) reasons and/or examples to back up your opinion.

3. Study the picture of the ant on the last page. Describe the ant as he awaits his fate. Use lots of details which include the senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch).

4. Write an expository piece. Explain the situation between the boy and the ant OR explain the procedure for killing an ant OR explain the ant's get-away plan.

5. Write a narrative piece. Tell the story of the kid and the ant OR tell the story of a time you encountered an insect.  What did you do?  (It's okay to embellish it to make it more interesting!)

Those are my ideas. If you think of ones that suit you better, use them instead!

Share students' finished pieces in the comments. It would make my day!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

The Bible in Drawings

Who: Preschool and elementary ages

What: Illustrate and write captions for a Book of the Bible

When: During family devotions

How: When I had little people to teach about Jesus, I read the Bible with them. For the projects shown here, I read a chapter aloud each morning. The girls chose something from the chapter to illustrate, and wrote a caption to summarize their drawing. We accomplished three goals with this simple project: hearing God's Word, practicing drawing skills, and writing brief summaries.

Note: I didn't mandate the cover drawings. One certain someone liberally borrowed her older sisters' ideas, much to their annoyance.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Making a Magazine

Who: Any age

What: "Publish" a magazine about a topic/theme of the student's choice

Collect a variety of magazines for your students to browse, or look through the magazine collection at your local library.

List the types of pieces included in the magazines.

Invite students to brainstorm possible themes for their own magazines (e.g. sports, fashion, animals, adventure, current events, history).

The assignment (to be modified to your situation)
  • Write and revise at least five substantial* pieces: articles, advice column, interview, etc.
  • Make at least  four miscellaneous pieces: puzzles, advertisements, comic strips, etc.
  • Make a cover and a Table of Contents.
  • Put it all together in an attractive presentation.
        *You can define substantial for your students.

Set a deadline. (Remember that too little time may result in rushed products, but too much time may encourage procrastination.)

Ask students to write a proposal for you, their publisher. With their best writing, they need to explain their vision for the magazine.

       Possible content to include:
  • An explanation of the topic/theme and why they chose it
  • A brief overview of the pieces they plan to write
  • A brief overview of the extras they will include
  • A  plan for how they will budget their time to meet the deadline
  • An explanation of  how they hope their completed magazine will look

As the publisher, you need to approve the proposal or return it for further work.

Set aside time each day for researching, planning, writing, revising, and laying out the magazine. To help students stay on target, consider giving them a chart for setting goals and recording completed work.

Magazines may be bound in regular binders or taken to an office supply store for  coil or spiral binding.

Please send me pictures!  I want to see the results. : )

My Favorite Writing Projects

Short writing exercises and stand-alone assignments have their place, but when I am looking to foster increased motivation, I daydream about projects. What projects can I suggest that will hook and keep a kid's attention?

Ones that have worked well for me so far are...

Magazines: I love this one because students are free to follow their creativity. You can find an explanation here.

Portfolders (aka lapbooks) - Portfolders kept our family busy for years. You can read why I like them so much and take a peek into some of ours here.

Notebooks - When we were ready to venture beyond portfolders, we headed to notebooks. I show some of them here.

Pen Pal Project - I tried this idea with a group of eighth graders. You can read more about it here.

Coil or spiral bound book - What's better: to have a bunch of writing pieces spread here and there or to have the best ones bound together in a book?  I think the latter. See a post here.

Blog - When my girls were young writers, the four of us started a blog.  It gave them a reason to write and an audience outside of our home. It's old, but it's here. For an AP History class, my oldest daughter made blogs for Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Adams. So many possibilities!

If you're noticing your students plodding through their work, the vision for learning lost, introduce a project centered on a subject they love.

See if the sparkle returns.
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