06. March 2014 · Comments Off on Review, Revise and Rewrite · Categories: Homeschooling, Lesson Plans, Revision, Writing, Writing Help · Tags: , ,

IMG_20140306_120556_092Probably one of the best writing tools that encourages good writing and compels students to get better is revision. That’s why I suggest always allowing your kids to rewrite their papers. In school this is not so common. In school most teachers give a grade on a project and that is the final word. So why don’t we just teach writing just the way we learned it?

To answer that, let me tell you a story.

A few years after I graduated college, married and moved a couple states and countries, I was in a position to go back to school. I wanted to earn my Masters Degree in Literature. I enrolled in the local university, and since I had been out of school for a couple years, decided to take a summer course to get my feet wet.

Over the course of the summer, we had to write short three- and four-page papers on what we were reading. This would not be so hard, except the college I graduated from had taught us to interpret literature from our personal perspective, using only our own thoughts and the primary text. My new university expected me to bring in outside, secondary texts to prove my point of view.

Out of 12 possible points, my first essay garnered an eight and was filled with comments, corrections and suggestions. Not my best showing. Luckily for me the professor allowed rewrites on the first three papers. As I wrote my second paper, I tried to incorporate his advice. Meanwhile, I busily rewrote that first paper and turned it in for a new grade.

When my papers came back, I had earned a 10 on my second paper and the full 12 on my rewritten paper. I was pretty happy. Again I rewrote the second and used suggestions to write my third paper. Those both returned to me with perfect 12s! My fourth and fifth papers earned top marks, too, and a compliment from the professor on my hard work. Needless to say, that experience set the stage for my Master’s work and convinced me of how much students could improve if given the chance and given a small bit of guidance.

Over the next few weeks, watch the blog for tips on how to encourage revisions from your kids and how that work will make them better students and better writers.

Let me know in the comments if you have specific questions you’d like to see addressed, either on revisions or any writing-related topic.



So the holiday season is finished, the children have been enjoying all their new presents and you’re left wondering how to get them to write and send out those thank you notes. One great way to easily and painlessly get those notes done is to incorporate them into school.

For years I have done this with my own boys, making time during the school hours to write simple notes of thanks to relatives and friends who were kind enough to share their bounty with us. Because we started early and used time and effort they would have normally used for schoolwork, my guys have always been willing to write their thank you cards. They’ve even come to enjoy the creativity they can incorporate and have come up with some real doozies!

Here are a few reasons thank you letters count as real writing:

    • It motivates kids to write because they know that the notes aren’t an “extra” writing project.
    • It counts as a lesson in how to write a friendly letter.
    • It allows for true expression, which is what writing really is.
    • It encourages thankfulness and communication.
    • It allows for creativity, especially when you encourage them to go beyond the simple template of, “Thank you for the BLANK. I like it a lot.”
    • It’s writing!

Don’t forget to allow your kids a little leeway when they write. Make it fun to do those cards by allowing them to express their own thoughts, include drawings or write them on the computer. My own kids have made puzzle thank yous, computer programs, simple typed letters and handwritten cards. All count as writing and all will be readily welcomed by recipients.

Here are a few great resources to get you started:

27. November 2013 · Comments Off on Express Yourself: Giving Kids a Voice · Categories: Homeschooling, Lesson Plans, Newsletter, Writing, Writing Help · Tags:

So what do you do for kids who simply have nothing to say on paper? I hear from parents and have even had students when I tutored and ran classes for homeschoolers that simply had no idea what to put on paper.

At least that’s what they would tell me.

I beg to differ. Everyone has something to say. Everyone has thoughts, beliefs and ideas. And everyone should be afforded a voice to express themselves.

The problem comes when a student feels paralyzed, either with fear or with a lack of skill. It’s our job as parents and teachers to show our kids how to express themselves comfortably in writing.

The first key is to create a safe environment for kids to express themselves. Sometimes that means allowing them to free write without the thought of judgment or grading. Other times that means they can write and only share what they want to with you. Journaling or free writing for fifteen minutes at the start of the day or after a thought-provoking lesson accomplishes this nicely. You can also create writing prompts or pre-created pick topics from a hat.

You should note that writing with your students not only models good writing practices but also makes for a safer writing environment. You can also model what to share by reading parts of your writing. You might be surprised how effective this is in encouraging your children to write.

The other part of the equation is making sure your child has the skills necessary to write well and to express herself. This is where lessons, practice and reading great examples comes in. Make sure you are not only providing but pointing out good writing. Maybe study the OpEd section of the newspaper, read selected essays from the greats or pick up a magazine and read personal essays on a variety of topics.

Just as it’s important to read good writing, it’s equally important to discuss what makes it effective. Does the writer clearly state his purpose? Does he back up his opinions with relevant examples, interesting stories or statistics? Show your child how to transfer this to his own writing.

Of course practice makes perfect, so get those kids writing and implementing these tips. Slowly but surely your child will improve and become more confident in his or her own voice. The ability to express one’s self in writing is powerful. That’s why I put in the effort every day to help my own kids and yours to learn how to wield that power. The pen really is mightier than the sword.

Let me know what you think, and don’t forget to sign up for my free newsletter as the next issue will contain lesson plans to put this topic in action!

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard lots of news on Common Core. I’m sure there are supporters out there, but there are also many people opposed to the new educational standards. No matter where you stand, there is one book I recently came across that provides clear writing instruction along with the Common Core standards each lesson fulfills. In other words, you could use the book purely for writing, or use it to fulfill standards depending on your needs.

Prewriting for the Common Core was written by well-known author and homeschooling mom Darcy Pattison. The book is very well organized and includes exercises as well as clear instruction for teachers and parents to help their students work through writing before putting pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard. Darcy says that when students think through and plan their writing, their first drafts are stronger.

Check out Darcy’s views on Common Core, prewriting and more. And don’t be shy – feel free to ask Darcy a question in the comments!


HSWH: There are two main ideas in the title of your book. Let’s talk prewriting first. What is it and why should parents or teachers focus on it?

DP: Prewriting is anything that you do before you actually put pen to paper to write. It’s the first step of the writing process. This is a crucial step and can determine the ultimate success of writing. When a person or student starts to write without thinking about their topic and organization, the writing easily goes off on tangents.

As a teacher, I know that the hardest thing is to convince a student s/he should revise. Too often revision devolves into correcting punctuation and grammar. But true revision is re-envisioning or rethinking the ideas and facts that are being communicated. I realized that teachers can do this during the prewriting phase much easier than in the revision phase. By providing a rich prewriting experience—sometimes, I do four or five prewriting activities—the student has a richer set of ideas to write about. The result is a stronger first draft. Then, if you only get one or two revisions, it is still a better piece of writing than it would have been.


HSWH: You advocate for revising a story out loud or gathering and organizing facts before writing. Why do these types of activities make writing the first draft easier?

DP: I like to provide a wide range of prewriting activities from oral storytelling to appropriate worksheets. Students are usually willing to “tell a story” three times, each time with a different slant. For example, the way you tell the story of a car wreck will vary depending on whether you tell the story to a policeman, your best friend or your mom. Considering audience is a great variation. Or ask students to retell a story but slow down and add details. Forcing them to orally revisit a story and find new ways of telling it, also reinforces the idea of revision overall.

For expository/informational writing, it’s crucial to gather the right facts and to organize them. For narratives, it’s crucial to revisit the setting and the moment of the action to find great sensory details. For arguments, it’s crucial to be straight on the pros and cons of a discussion. These are all prewriting tasks. And the more prewriting allowed, the richer the student’s thinking and the richer the first draft.


HSWH: The second idea in your title is Common Core. Common Core is a hot topic now. How does your book help parents and teachers understand and use Common Core principles?

DP: When I realized that the Common Core State Standards was going to be widely adopted, I bought the domain www.commoncorestandards.com and started studying them. I do not agree with the standards or the way they were adopted (See my book, WHAT IS COMMON CORE?). However, I am pragmatic about it and realize that the CCSS is a daily reality for many teachers. And regardless of standards, teachers still need to teach writing. PREWRITING FOR THE COMMON CORE uses the best practices I know to teach writing; it adds in the individual standards that each lesson addresses so the classroom teachers can easily slot the activities into their Common Core planning.


HSWH: Many homeschoolers do not need or want to follow Common Core. Is your book still useful to them?

DP: Absolutely. The Common Core requires strong writing; you want your student to be a strong writer. That’s the focus of this book. It includes the best practices I know for teaching the writing process, regardless of what standards you want to follow. As a homeschool parent myself—I homeschooled my four children for twelve years before they went to school—I know that it’s hard to focus on writing tasks, and it’s too easy to step in and “help.” The activities in PREWRITING FOR THE COMMON CORE teach writing, regardless of the topic the student writes about. It’s just best practices.


HSWH: So you were a homeschooling mom yourself. Did teaching your own children or other homeschooling experiences play into writing this book?

DP: Yes. My kids wrote many stories and we hand-bound many of them. Their original stories are still one of my treasures. I also taught Freshman Composition at a local university for seven years. Because I was in charge, I could demand multiple revisions. Often students would come to me after they turned in their first essay and say, “This is the best essay I’ve ever written.”

I responded, “Duh. It’s the only time you revised eight times. That’s what produces great writing.”

In fact, many of the exercises presented here as prewriting activities are also useful as revision strategies. For example, after a first draft, I might go through the activities on writing with strong verbs. Then, I ask students to circle all the verbs in their paper. For homework, they must change at least half the verbs into strong, active verbs, rather than “to be” verbs. I call that a Targeted Revision. The student isn’t just told to “revise your essay.” Rather, they go through the writing with a specific goal: revise for strong verbs; write three openings and choose the best; write three endings and choose the best; and so on. Targeted revisions produce great essays. And many of these prewriting tasks can be used at any point of the writing process. I suggest moving them to the prewriting phase mostly for convenience of the school environment.


HSWH: What other books have you written?

DP: I write children’s fiction and nonfiction picture books, middle grade novels, how-to-write books for adults and teacher resource books.  You can see my full bibliography on my Website.

I am especially excited by my recent nature picture books for K-4 readers, WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS, the story of the oldest known wild bird in the world and how she survived the Japanese tsunami; and the forthcoming (March, 2014) book, ABAYOMI, THE BRAZILIAN PUMA, about an orphaned cub.

AbayomiCoverM250x250 (2)






HSWH: Thanks so much, Darcy, for sharing your work and your writing tips with us!

Author, bloDarcy Pattinsongger, writing teacher, and indie publisher, Darcy Pattison has books in eight languages. Recent nature books for children include: WISDOM, THE MIDWAY ALBATROSS (Mims House), first place winner in the Children’s Picture Book category of the 2013 Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, and a Starred Review in Publisher’s Weekly; DESERT BATHS (Sylvan Dell), an NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book 2013. She travels the U. S. teaching a novel revision retreat using her workbook, NOVEL METAMORPHOSIS: Uncommon Ways to Revise. Other e-books for writers include How to Write a Children’s Picture Book, and The Book Trailer Manual. Forthcoming in March 2014 is ABAYOMI, THE BRAZILIAN PUMA, the story of an orphaned cub. Darcy Pattison is the 2007 recipient of Arkansas Governor’s Arts Awards for her work in Children’s Literature.

Find Darcy online: www.darcypattison.com and www.commoncorestandards.com

13. October 2013 · Comments Off on Stay the Course: Word by Word · Categories: Curriculum, Homeschooling, Writing, Writing Help · Tags: , , , ,

It’s a month and a half into the school year, making it the perfect time to assess where you are with your writing curriculum. Maybe all is well, and your children are writing up storms of great papers and handling grammar questions like professional editors. Or maybe every day is still a struggle as you urge your children to write down something – anything – on paper.

No matter where you are, take comfort in the fact that writing can always get better. I encourage you  – especially those with writing-resistant kids – to take heart and stay the course. As with anything, writing gets easier and better with practice. And the great thing about writing is that every little bit helps.

This means that if your child is struggling with writing a research paper, a book report or even a paragraph, you can help by encouraging him or her to break the task down into smaller chunks. Try organizing a schedule for the week with pre-writing, organizing notes, outlining and finally writing listed as steps. For younger students this might mean thinking out what they want to talk about in their paragraphs, making a mind map (see below) or making lists of ideas before writing. For older students it might mean researching supporting examples or themes and writing one section per day rather than attempting to do the whole paper in one go.


Mind maps help organize thoughts and ideas.

Mind maps help organize thoughts and ideas.

Another step is to make a habit of incorporating writing into each day. Maybe this means writing thoughts in a journal, writing a paragraph of what was learned in science or history, creating short stories out of vocabulary words or working on larger writing projects each quarter. Whatever you choose, writing something each day will help flex and grow your child’s writing muscles. Trust me, it will get easier and your child will improve. Plus, seeing that progress each day will put a smile on your face!

So tell me, where are you and your children on your writing journey? How can I help? What topics would you like to see more of here?



12. September 2013 · Comments Off on Free Newsletters! · Categories: Curriculum, Homeschooling, Lesson Plans, Newsletter, Writing

If you are subscribed to my newsletters, you just received the first newsletter of the year! My plan is to come out with a newsletter at the beginning of each month during the school year. Each will have a main theme accompanied by practical suggestions, games, exercises or lesson plans on how to implement the theme by grade level.

Don’t despair if you didn’t get this one. Simply subscribe, and I will send you the back issue by e-mail! And don’t worry, I will never sell or distribute your name or e-mail.

Happy Writing!



19. August 2013 · Comments Off on Grammar in Plain Language · Categories: Curriculum, Grammar, Homeschooling, Writing

I had the opportunity to review a grammar book written by another homeschooling mother recently, and I wanted to share it with you here. (Full disclosure – I received a free digital review copy of the book. All opinions are my own.)

Grammar Despair: Quick, Simple Solutions to Common Problems Like, “Do I Say Him and Me or He and I?” (The Everyday Grammar Series) (Volume 1) by Carolyn Henderson is an easily accessible book on grammar and usage. You can either read through it in a couple of settings and use it as a reference, or you can use it as a daily or weekly grammar lesson book.

What I love about the book is that it is written in a conversational tone, explaining sticky grammar issues with clarity and a sense of humor. I also like that you can have it in hard copy or as a slightly cheaper e-book. Grammar Despair — Quick, Simple Solutions to Problems Like “Do I Say Him and Me or He and I?”

You’ll find lessons on similar sounding words, advice on good writing mechanics (like formal vs. informal writing and ending sentences with prepositions), how to handle 21st century grammar issues and even a section about online writing.

The one drawback is that I wished there were a few short exercises at the end of each lesson. Surely you could go online and find practice questions for lessons your child is struggling with, but it would have been more convenient to have them included.

Overall, I think this book is a good reference or lesson book for junior high, high school or even adults who want to brush up.

So what say you? Any favorite writing curriculum you want to share? Topics you’d like to see covered here? Comment on this post or send me an e-mail. And don’t forget to sign up for my free Newsletter – the first issue will be out in the next couple weeks!

25. July 2013 · Comments Off on Lesson Plans · Categories: Homeschooling, Lesson Plans, Writing, Writing Help

Don’t let writing stress you out!

Back when I was doing my undergraduate degree in teaching, I had to write plenty of lesson plans. Those lesson plans were critiqued by my professors to make sure I knew what I was doing and would have a fighting chance once I got to teach a real, live class of teenagers!

As homeschoolers some of us wing it each day and teach or talk about whatever the day brings us, others set up their curriculum and follow the plan of each book and some of us plan each lesson out in detail days or weeks ahead. There’s no one way that fits every family, and I would think that many families use a mixture of styles throughout the year. In our own homeschool, I tend to set up the curriculum at the beginning of the year and pace out how many chapters, pages or lessons we need to complete each week to stay on track. This way we have a general structure to follow, but I always try to leave room for the spontaneous discussion, field trip or learning opportunity.

For writing, I do use my tried and true lesson plans, even with my own children. It’s important to me to lay the foundations of good writing, and over the years I have come up with ways that make sense to teach certain aspects of writing. For example, I have taught many students how to write a sound, five-paragraph essay. I’ve also taught them how to use that format to jump off into more complex writing like critical essays, reports, speeches and even SAT and college entrance essays.

Over the next few months, I will be sharing some of these lesson plans with you. If you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll receive some of these lesson plans for free. Others I plan on offering for sale. Don’t worry! I understand homeschooling on a budget, and I won’t charge you an arm and a leg for them. Most will cost $.99 to $1.99, and I promise they will be well worth the cost.

I’d love to hear your ideas on your problem areas. What is hardest for you to teach when it comes to writing? Let me know in the comments, and who knows? Maybe I’ll have a lesson plan to help!

Also, don’t forget to subscribe to future blog posts and subscribe to my free newsletter.