Old School Spelling

Every single one of the English topics we study has been approached higgeldy piggledy from the very beginning, and that includes spelling.  Recently, like two weeks ago, recently, we went back to doing old school spelling.  We start with a pre-test on Monday, practice all week, and then have a test on Friday. My kids, shockingly, are loving it.  In fact, I asked Isaac what homeschool thing we’ve done lately that he likes (in hopes of inspiration for a post) and he said “spelling”.  I pressed him for why he would say spelling.  Does any kid ever say, “You know what I really liked today?  It was my spelling practice.”   No, they do not.  He couldn’t give me a reason so I am forced to speculate. Old School Spelling We’re using this ancient little brown speller that was written for one-room schoolhouses back in 1928.  It smells strongly of … Keep on reading

Draw a Story Starters

My kids' favorite way to do a quick writing practice.

One of the things I’ve been working on with my kids is just getting things down on paper when they are given a writing assignment.  They seem to have these mental blocks where they just stare at the paper. So I made these story starters to use during a timed “writing frenzy”.  Since you draw from four different idea bags, this method gives endless story starters. Before we start writing the kids chose one slip of paper from each of the baggies.  In one baggie is the topic, in another is the problem, in another is an adjective, and in the last is an object.  You can mix the cards around any way you like for your story.  In the cards drawn below, either the mom could be crazy or the math homework could be. The rule for our writing frenzy is that everyone has to write for the entire … Keep on reading

Poetry Books For Kids

I took my kids into our library with one goal in mind: have them fall in love with poetry.  I wondered if it was an insurmountable task.  I’ve read them poems lots of times before.  Sometimes they even like them.  Sometimes.  If it’s Shel Silverstein anyway.  But I was determined this time to help them enjoy a wider range of poems.  My end goal is for them to enjoy writing poetry, but I’m not sure you can ever truly enjoy writing poetry if you haven’t learned to enjoy reading and listening to it. I took my lofty goal into the library and headed over to the poetry books section.  There were so many to choose from!  I hardly knew where to begin.  I soon found myself falling back on some already old favorites.  I knew my kids would like them, but I also knew I wanted more than what we … Keep on reading

Teaching Spelling, A How To Guide

I never learned all the spelling rules.  I’m a natural speller and I kinda hoped my kids would be too.  I just look at a word, even one I’ve never seen before, and use my innate instinct to tell if it’s right or not.  Sometimes I have to look words up, but it’s a gut feeling that I know something doesn’t look right that sends me to the dictionary.  My kids got none of this instinct.  The spelling gene just kind of skipped over them. I’ve long maintained that the hardest subjects to teach are often the ones you are best at.  When something just comes easy to you it can be hard to break it down into easy chunks for someone who struggles with it.  It took me a long time to figure out the best way to teach spelling to my kids, but we’re finally making really good … Keep on reading

Message in a Bottle Creative Writing

Assigning kids to do creative writing always seems like a good idea to adults, but it can be daunting for emergent writers.  Goodness, it can be daunting even for experienced authors.  Sometimes there’s nothing worse than a blank slate.  Some kids will take right off with a story on their own no matter what, but most need some kind of idea, story starter, or specific assignment.  Tell a kid to just “free write” and chances are, you’ll see a blank stare.  Instead, give them an idea to get their creative juices flowing. Here’s an example of a creative writing assignment instead of just creative writing: Gather a map, a bottle with a lid for each kid, and some sort of water container.  We found our bottle at a thrift shop for a dollar, but a plastic pop bottle works just fine too. We also live right by a lake, so … Keep on reading


Idioms are phrases that have both a literal (exact) and a figurative (understood) meaning.  They can’t be understood by evaluating the individual meaning of their parts.  For example, if I say “when pigs fly” you may know the literal meanings of the words “when,” “pigs,” and “fly,” but that still doesn’t let you in on the figurative idea that something is never going to happen. John Randal wrote a poem that gives perfect examples of the figurative language of idioms: ‘You can’t cry over spilled milk!’ my mother always said. ‘Life’s not a piece of cake!’ she hammered in my head. ‘That’s the way it goes, that’s the way the cookie crumbles’ My mother saved her idioms for all my idiotic troubles. “Don’t cry over spilled milk” is another perfect example of an idiom.  Literally, it means that you shouldn’t cry if you spill a glass of milk, but figuratively, … Keep on reading

Persuasive Writing

Persuasive writing can seem a little intimidating at first, but if you understand some basics of what to include, it can be really fun for kids to try.  Simply stated, it’s any writing that is trying to convince someone of something.  We use persuasion all the time everyday – when you’re convincing Mom to let you have that cookie, or when you want your sister to go for a bike ride with you, or when you don’t think that punishment is fair and you want to negotiate a new one.  The question is, can you convince me in writing? Persuasive writing gives kids a chance to tell their opinions and ideas instead of just facts like a lot of other essays (although some supporting facts go a long way in convincing people!).  Writing like this can take on a lot of different formats: a letter to the editor compare and … Keep on reading

Diamante Poems

A diamante is a seven lined poem that doesn’t rhyme. Diamante means “diamond” in Italian.  A diamante poem is shaped like a diamond.  The first and last lines are the shortest, with the lines in the middle increasingly longer. Diamante poems are a great starter poem to help kids warm up to the idea of writing poetry, especially when you want to show them that poems don’t have to rhyme.  Poetry uses concise and powerful language to describe things; that is exactly what diamante poems do.  Before you even begin to explain how one is written you can brainstorm a list of topics, then make a big word wall of nouns, verbs, and adjectives that describe your topic.  This will open their minds to the kinds of concise descriptions poems use.  Once you have your brainstorms all written down, go over the rules of diamante poems. Here are the basic rules: … Keep on reading

The 6 Traits of Writing

When my kids write I never just slap a grade on what they’ve done. Instead, I give them real feedback using the 6 traits of writing: Ideas and Content Organization Word Choice Sentence Fluency Conventions Voice I typically give them a score for each trait 1-5, along with a brief comment about what they did well and how they can improve. Effective writing includes ideas that are valuable and interesting.  It should be organized in a logical, effective way.  Word choice should be specific, descriptive, and memorable.  It should include sentence fluency that is smooth, with sentences of varying lengths and varying patterns.  It should have conventions that are correct and communicative rather than being riddled with mistakes.  Finally, effective writing is full of voice, meaning it has a personal tone specific to the author.  Here is a printable form that will help you as you evaluate your kids’ writing. … Keep on reading

East of the Sun and West of the Moon

Norway is a Scandinavian country in the far north of Europe.  It is an old country, civilized for many thousands of years. It is the land of the Vikings, their gods, sprites, elves, and monsters. The Norse have many old tales handed down for generations by skalds, poets and storytellers.  East of the Sun and West of the Moon is one of them. One of those tales is East of the Sun and West of the Moon.  It has been retold many times.  Here we offer our version of East of the Sun and West of the Moon.  Read it with your children, then have them make puppets or drawings and retell the story in their own words.  You can click on the link above or on the picture below to get the printable. Narration Once you’ve read the story and made a project to go along with it, finish … Keep on reading