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.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Coilbound Books

Year ago I offered a class in my home. The objective for the students was simple:  to write a variety of pieces to include in a coilbound book. The students included a cover, Table of Contents, dedication, and About the Author. Simple but effective.

Your students can make their own books, too. Maybe they have ten (or so) pieces scattered on notebook paper. Have them walk through the writing process for each one, moving the pieces from rough to polished. Or maybe you're at a loss for what should go in the book. If that's the case, browse through the ideas in Inspiration. Choose assignments that will interest your students and get them writing.

Details to Consider:
  • Because these are polished pieces, they need titles.
  • Typing the pieces will make the books look crisp and finished.
  • You will have a sturdier book if you print the text on cardstock.
  • Illustrations would add a nice touch.
  • I highly recommend the extras: the cover, Table of Contents, dedication, and About the Author.
  • Binding is available at office supply stores. It's fast and it's cheap.

Once the books are ready, set them on the coffee table where family and visitors can page through them. Don't be surprised if you find the authors looking through them as well. They'll be that proud!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Using AAAWWUBBIS Clauses

I began reading If You Give a Dog a Donut by Laura Numeroff and noticed the "if" clause on the first page. On the third page, I saw the "when" clause. Hmmm, I thought, this series might be a good one to teach adverb clauses.

Yeah, I know, "adverb clause" sounds too technical. I prefer calling them AAAWWUBBIS clauses as Jeff Anderson does in Mechanically Inclined.

What do you need to know about them?

1. They begin with the following words:

although      after      as      when      while      until      before      because      if      since

2. They can occur anywhere in the sentence: beginning, middle, or end.

3. Where there is an adverb clause, there is a comma nearby (two commas if the clause is in the middle of the sentence).

4. They depend on complete sentences. If you write an adverb clause without one, you will end up with a fragment.
Here are examples from two of Numeroff's books:

"If you give a dog a donut, he'll ask for some apple juice to go with it."
"When you give him the juice, he'll drink it all up." 
"It will go higher and higher, until it gets tangled in the apple tree." 
"While he's waiting, he'll play a quick game of soccer."

To give your students practice with writing and punctuating AAAWWUBBIS clauses, have them write their own series of sentences, each one including a word from the AAAWWUBBIS list. 

Make the task more challenging by having students write their own If You Give... story, mimicking Numeroff's pattern by starting and ending the story at the same place.

Example (Numeroff's writing with my revisions to fit the assignment):

  • If you give a dog a donut, he'll ask for some apple juice to go with it.
  • When you give him the juice, he'll drink it all up.
  • Because he likes it so much, he'll ask for more.
  • Since there won't be any left, he'll want to make his own.
  • He'll go outside to pick apples, after leaving behind a mess.
  • When he's up in the tree, he'll toss you one.

If all of the rules are followed correctly, the goal of the lesson is accomplished.


...if your students want to have their own versions of an If You Give... book, invite them to revise their sentences to make the story flow naturally, since it sounds clumsy to have every sentence structured the same way.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Mini-Study on Helen Keller

When I mentored a young history buff this past summer, I asked her to choose a person or event to study. She chose Helen Keller. I brainstormed fun and challenging writing assignments for her, which I now share with you! Use the ideas as stand-alone assignments or in a project.

Project Ideas:
  • Make a blank book with Keller as the subject.
  • Display the assignments in a portfolder with various flaps and folds.
  • Print each piece on cardstock and compile the collection in a book with coil binding, comb binding, strip binding, or book-style binding, available at office supply stores.
  • If you have multiple students completing the assignments, make a book (similar to the previous idea) with chapters. Students can brainstorm creative titles for each section.

Do a KWL chart

Set aside time (one hour?) when you’re doing something with others—playing with friends or sisters, helping Mom in the kitchen—to be deaf, blind, and mute (any or all). Write about your experience.

Read about one of Helen’s many temper tantrums. Write about the incident, once from Helen’s point-of-view, once from Annie’s.

"Interview" Annie or Helen.

What lessons can we learn from Helen’s life?  Write a paper with an engaging lead and a satisfying conclusion.

What word best describes Helen? Write a paragraph with several examples.

Write a poem about Helen and/or Annie. Find some structures here.

Write a scene based on the picture below. Be sure to answer who, what, when, where, why, and how. Include the senses.
~Helen Keller & Annie Sullivan - July, 1888~ Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Write a quote from Keller's autobiography in braille.

Your own ideas (I never assume my ideas are the only or best ones. Getting you out of the gate is my goal.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Inspiration Provided by...Snowflake Bentley

Who: Elementary and middle school students, although adaptations can be made for younger students

What: Write a biographical picture book, using the format modeled by Jacqueline Briggs Martin in Snowflake Bentley.

  • Read Snowflake Bentley.
  • Notice how Martin includes interesting information about Bentley in the story and in the sidebars.
  • Choose a person who intrigues or inspires you.
  • Find books, websites, and/or articles about the person.
  • Read. Read. Read.
  • Use a graphic organizer (like the first page of this one) to help you gather important information.  Add any other categories you like. To avoid plagiarizing someone else's work, write your notes after the resources have been set aside.
  • Instead of writing a report about the person, write a story as Martin did. If there is anything in Martin's writing that you want to imitate, like her beginning, that's okay. Just use your own words.
  • Remember, writing is a process. A draft is the beginning, not the end. Ask someone--or two someones--to read your draft, ask questions about it, and make helpful comments, all to aid you in making your story better.
  • Break the story into chunks suitable for a picture book.
  • For a handful of pages, write a sentence or two for sidebars that give additional information about your person. Notice the page in Snowflake Bentley that says, "He could pick apple blossoms and take them to his mother. But he could not share snowflakes because he could not save them." On the right is related information about Willie and his mother that Briggs chose to share there rather than in the story.
  • Present your story in a blank book or any other way you like.
Note: This post contains affiliate links.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Education in Stages

Now that my oldest daughter is in college and my youngest is leaning toward high school, I find myself reflecting on our homeschooling years, specifically the goals that motivated my choices during each stage. Here is my list so far.

My Goals for the Elementary Years
  • Solidify the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic.
  • Breadth
  • Flexibility
  • Integrate subjects (i.e. science, history) with reading and writing.
  • Develop/capitalize on the love of learning.
  • Build a literate environment in the home.
  • Make learning a lifestyle.
  • Read aloud often.
  • Living books
  • Projects
  • Exploration
  • Field trips
  • Limited out-of-the-home commitments
  • Engaging, not tedious
  • Develop an ear for Spanish.
  • Learn to type.
  • Learn to read music.
  • Build a strong foundation.

My Goals for the Middle School Years
  • Increase responsibility and independence.
  • Increase the expectations for writing.
  • Deadlines and time management
  • Stretch reading skills. Nudge toward classic literature.
  • Continue to read aloud.
  • Begin taking outside classes to learn from other teachers.
  • Study Spanish.

My Goals for the High School Years
  • Independence
  • Depth
  • Develop ability to manage time and meet deadlines, preparing for college or work.
  • Lots of classics
  • Learn from other people, primarily through AP classes.
  • Prepare for the SAT. (Take it multiple times.)
  • Volunteer and work outside the home.
  • Study Spanish.

My Goals for All of the Years
  • Know and love Jesus.
  • Serve others.
  • Prepare for the next stage, keeping the end goal in sight.
  • Expect excellence (not perfection) always.
  • Discover strengths and weaknesses. Exercise both.
  • Strong work ethic
  • Responsibility
  • Commitment
  • Learn how to learn; strong study habits
  • Well-rounded kids

The End
When our children are finished with high school, they may not choose to pursue a college education, but  they will be prepared for it--or any other direction God leads them.

free clip art

Friday, October 4, 2013


There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, "It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!
                                ~Edward Lear

Limericks appeal to kids because they are silly and simple to write. They appeal to teachers because they are an easy way to show rhythm and rhyme scheme.

Bruce Lansky, a children's poet, has a refresher course on limericks here.

These two sheets are good for introducing kids to limericks.

What can your kids do with their limericks?
  • Add them to a book of poetry. (See more poems to try here.)
  • Invite their friends to write some, too. Make a special-edition limerick newsletter.
  • Write and illustrate several for a mini book. To lengthen the book, include the limericks of siblings, friends, and you
  • Share them in the comments. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How I Became a Homeschooler

Once upon a time I was a teacher in an eighth grade classroom. 

One year a shy girl with illegible handwriting sat in the front desk. She had joined our private Christian school after homeschooling didn’t work for her.

“Sheesh.  Couldn’t the mom even teach the kid handwriting?”

A boy was supposed to be in my class the next year. His sister had been a cherished student; his dad, a colleague. The family decided to homeschool him instead.

“Oh, please; how can parents be so arrogant to think they can be the sole teachers? The mom isn’t even trained!”

After school one day, a bubbly girl, who planned to be homeschooled in high school, babbled on about the successes of homeschoolers, audaciously claiming that colleges pursue them.

“How ignorant! What a silly girl.”

Fast forward several years, soon after my first daughter was born. The details are sketchy, but somehow my husband and I ended up in a lively conversation with my family. He said something positive about homeschooling, insinuating that we might do it someday. I was horrified.

“Me? I will never homeschool.”

Then he did it. I remember standing in my daughters’ room—now we had two girls—next to the bunk beds. He asked me to consider homeschooling. Why there, I do not remember.

I laughed. I said I couldn’t do it. I said I would have to take my foot out of my mouth after all the things I had said about homeschoolers.

But I also agreed to pray about it.

I prayed and I looked for books. I requested a catalog from Bob Jones, the only name I knew associated with homeschooling.

Then some new families began attending our church: homeschooling families. I watched these kids in the youth group, amazed at their maturity, their respect for adults. I decided that if homeschooling could turn out kids like that, I wanted to do it, so I prayed and searched for resources with more resolve, even spending time with one of the mothers, asking her for any help she could give. (And she wasn’t a trained teacher. Gasp!) Foot removal had begun.

A short time later, a family organization offered Debra Bell’s The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling in exchange for a donation. My donation got me more than a book; it got me a mentor. I scoured and marked Debra’s book, eventually researching the list of websites in the back, trying to find the curriculum that best fit me.

Meanwhile, I continued to be the mommy I loved to be, reading piles and piles of books to my girls, visiting the library, doing crafts, playing, drawing, teaching my oldest to read, and including them in almost everything I did. I was giving my girls the richest childhood I could, having no idea that I was already homeschooling.

Eventually, I got to Five in a Row on Bell’s list. A perfect match for four-year-old Michaiah and me. We read the same picture book every day for a week. We did short lessons inspired by the book, one day studying the art, another day the language arts, a third day, the science, etc. It was gentle but rich. Michaiah loved it, so much so that I had to let her know that we needed a break on the weekends.

Oh, but kindergarten was coming. I needed to put on my teacher hat and get serious. It was time for real school.

Once again, I researched, looking for curricula I liked, this time in each subject area.  I found what I wanted, ordered all I needed, and prepared to begin.

It wasn’t long before the eager little learner and her mommy began to wilt. Learning wasn’t as much fun anymore. Before this grand experiment, we would read a chapter book from start to finish, if we chose. Now we were supposed to read a certain number of pages, do a simple activity, and quit that subject for the day. Since I was playing teacher, that was okay with me, until I’d hear Michaiah say, “Read more.  Keep going.  I want to find out what happens next.”

I don’t know how long I tried making school work, but I didn’t like the thought of losing my precocious student to boredom or frustration. I decided to return to what had worked before, pulling out Five in a Row once again. This time, I planned unit studies around Five in a Row books, adding many hands-on activities and portfolder projects to our day. We found our niche!

At first it was scary to tell people we were homeschooling. I didn’t have grand answers for the wary questions, especially about socialization, the one question that intimidated me more than any other. I deflected, saying, “We’re taking it a year at a time.” With each passing year, though, my roots of conviction deepened, giving me confidence that we were doing what was right for our family.

Now, with our oldest daughter successfully navigating life and academics at a state university, I am in awe of all God did to lead us. He truly provided all we needed to prepare her for the rest of her life.

And those crazies in my classroom? Now that I’m one of them, they don’t seem quite so crazy anymore.

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