How To Use Writing To Learn Thinking

I’ve always wanted my kids to be thinkers, not the sort of people who can be led around by the nose by advertisers, politicians, and people in authority. I have been homeschooling since 2003 and my two oldest boys are now 19 and 18 respectively.  They are thinkers.  So I’m going to tell you now how to use writing to learn thinking.  It’s not as hard as it sounds. You do this: Have the child summarize information he’s read into his own words. Write down the summary. Give his opinion of the reading. But the process takes years so here’s the progression in more detail. Start with Narration Narration is an effective technique to use with younger students, up to about 4th grade or until your child can write comfortably on her own. It’s also really simple and requires no preparation for the teacher. All you do is read aloud a … click to read more

Teaching Kids to Write a Story

Teaching kids to write a story is about a lot more than just saying, okay let’s all write a story.  Real authors plan their plots, think about their character’s motivations, think about character roles, create a world, and begin with a problem and a solution to that problem before they ever start to write.  Even if much of that happens in their heads.  It’s these tools, this knowledge about planning, that makes for a real writer. For years now I’ve felt frustrated that we give kids substandard tools when asked to perform tasks.  We hand them dinky, kid sized hammers when they build their first bird house.  They get gifted these cheapo brushes and horrible watercolor trays to learn to paint with.  We even hand them stupid plastic knives and then tell them to practice cutting up vegetables, as if it’s even possible. No wonder so many kids feel talent-less. … click to read more

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 … click to read more

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 … click to read more

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 … click to read more

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 … click to read more

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 … click to read more


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, … click to read more

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 … click to read more

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: … click to read more