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

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. … click to read more

Allie’s Amazingly Artistic Alliterations

Writer’s workshop is my favorite part of our school day.  We spend a little time together doing a mini lesson about the writing process, grammar, or just ways we can improve our writing, and then we have all kinds of fun just writing! Name Alliterations To teach about alliteration, introduce your kids to Alliteration Allie.  She’s a cute little stick girl (so you can draw your own visual right in the middle of the lesson without any prep time!) who likes to make alliterations from people’s names. Use the names of your littlies and come up with some fun alliterations together.  Here are my kiddos’ names: Talkative Tyler Electrifying Elizabeth Incredible Isabel Jinxed Jason Alliteration Brainstorm Start by writing a letter at the top of a sheet of paper and set 3 minutes on the clock.  Have kids write down as many words as they can on their page that … click to read more


As part of our writer’s workshop I often (almost daily) give little mini-lessons.   They are short lessons on spelling, grammar, improving as a writer, and other brief topics.  5-10 minutes is the most I spend on a mini-lesson.  Often mini lessons are only a minute or two.  I love doing ones that involve wordplay.  Palindromes are words (or phrases) that are the same right to left as from left to right.  Kids can’t help but love them!  Word Palindromes Here are a few simple word palindromes: noon peep radar pup mom dad bib pop tot wow See how you can spell them forward or backward and it’s the same? Dr. Seuss loved palindromes.  They’re just fun!  See if your kids can come up with a few.  Try giving them little letter tiles or magnetic letters to build the words with. Phrase and Sentence Palindromes They aren’t always just words … click to read more

A Look at the Writing Process

We’ve been writing a lot of stories lately in our writer’s workshop.  We’ve been focusing on using interesting, unfamiliar characters and describing them well so our readers can picture them.  I’m going to take you through each of the steps in the writing process so you can see what it looks like, 9 year-old boy style. Pre-Writing We typically begin by sketching our character and then surrounding the picture with adjectives that describe him or her.  Tyler keeps an entire sketchbook of unlikely superheroes, and he used one of them for his story – Fish Boy. Drafting After Tyler’s character sketch was complete Tyler wrote his rough draft in his writer’s notebook.  He even looked back at a few other stories he had written in the past.  His villain, Mr. Shark, was actually taken from another draft he once wrote about a shark who wanted to become king of the … click to read more

Silly Similes

Teaching similes can be BORING when you’re just using the same, old boring similes we all know.  Bruce Lansky wrote a poem about them called “Predictable”: Poor as a church mouse, Strong as an ox, Cute as a button, Smart as a fox.  Thin as a toothpick, White as a ghost, Fit as a fiddle, Dumb as a post. Bald as an eagle, Neat as a pin, Proud as a peacock, Ugly as sin. When people are talking you know what they’ll say as soon as they start to use a cliche. Teach kids that when they write, their writing will be BORING if they use old, familiar similes.  Instead, they can come up with original ones that will add a little flair to their stories and poems.  Reproduce the poem for them leaving the last word of each line blank.  Have them write a new poem called “Clever”: As … click to read more

Writing Great Sentences

Whether you’re working with a first grader or a high school student kids can always use a bit of help writing really effective sentences.  It’s not easy to be both clear and interesting at the same time.  In fact, many of the kids I went to college with couldn’t write a complete sentence, didn’t know what a subject or predicate were, and could trip over a semi-colon without knowing it. To teach about sentences, start by writing some simple fragments up on the board or on a sheet of paper that you and all the students can see.  Short, boring things work best: “Amy saw” “went to the gym” “ate spaghetti.” Ask the students if these are complete sentences.  What is wrong with them?  How can we fix them?  Point out how some are missing the subject, or who the sentence is about while others are missing the predicate or what the subject … click to read more

The Five W’s

We’re all terrified of diagramming sentences, but it doesn’t have to be so frightening.  There’s more than one way to do it too.  You may be diagramming for parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc.), or for finding the subject and predicate (subject = topic, predicate = what the subject does), or you could diagram in this fun, easy way – hunt for the five W’s. Write a sentence up on the board and then find as many of the five W’s as you can together.  You may even want to have a different symbol for each one, like draw a stick figure by “who” or a ? by “why.” A Find The 5 W’s Example Here’s a sentence to try: “Mom cooks dinner at home today because we’re too tired to go out.” Can you find the 5 W’s? Who: Mom What: cooks dinner Where: in the kitchen When: … click to read more

Creative Writing: 2 Points of View

One neat creative writing technique is writing from a different point of view.  I often hear of the standard assignment to write as though you are an inanimate object (like a pencil or a plant) to teach kids to write from a new point of view.  That’s still a good one if you’ve never done it, but if you’re looking for a fresh idea, read on… Instead, try this assignment: Write the same story twice,  The first time, write from the point of view of a fisherman on a fishing trip.  The second time, write from the point of view of the fish who is being caught. This same concept can be done with other pairings: diver/shark astronaut/martian princess/prince (who meet in the story) safari goer/animal teacher/student The possibilities are endless!  Just think of two things/people/animals that somehow interact, and then write about the same incident from several points of view. … click to read more

Four Square Writing Method

The four square writing method is a simple format for helping kids to expand upon their writing, add details, and stay organized. So many young writers struggle to develop well-written stories, essays, and descriptions. This method utilizes a simple graphical organizer to take kids step by step through the process. It can be used for any type of writing project from a simple paragraph to a story or even a persuasive essay. The four squares can be used a variety of ways. Sequential Method A simple one to begin with is the sequential method.  The center square contains the topic or main idea, then each subsequent box lists the bits of the story in the order they happen. For example, the main topic may be “How to build a snowman.” The boxes may say: 1– Roll three snowballs to form the body, one large, one medium, and one small. 2– … click to read more