Archive for the ‘Grammar’ Category

Grammar ain’t everything

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 don’t show that grammar instruction is bad or wrong—only that the systems of grammar instruction used in traditional education have had a deleterious effect on the freedom of self-expression children feel when asked to write (from scratch- original writing).

A grasp of grammar can be fascinating and useful to anyone interested in the systems of language. Knowing how your language functions is fabulous! It’s like knowing the mechanics of a sport—talent gets you a good distance, but mastering the mechanics takes you further, still.

But if you started teaching sports through mechanical perfection, and never let your kids play the game until they showed mastery of the mechanics for any given position, you’d not see much interest in athletics.

Mechanics in sports enhance talent and contribute to skill, but they do not replace hunger to play, commitment, the willingness to risk, and the energy to win!

Likewise, in writing, creative story-telling, inspired vision, quality vocabulary, and masterful recreation of facts does not come from understanding the structure of a sentence. Native speakers are already quite skilled in sentence construction. Enhancing that skill through an understanding of grammar is fine (good, necessary at some point) , but it is no substitute for the writing voice.

The worst side of grammar instruction, though, is the way it creates snobbery in/condescension toward writing. When people prioritize grammar and pride themselves on a flawless understanding of the system, however, their corrections can produce feelings of insecurity, fear, and even anger which work against the free flow of ideas needed to write well. When we put presentation of the writing ahead of the content, we are paying attention to manners ahead of the person. This attitude is the one from which kids shrink. This is the attitude that curbs risk-taking in writing.

It’s great that any of us can identify typos and mistakes in published writing, but that skill doesn’t make anyone inherently superior as a human being. Some of the best writing in history is by individuals who cater to their spoken dialects, giving voice to grammatically “incorrect” usage deliberately, and powerfully.

Accuracy is not more critical than power in writing. It matters to see/read/hear the content ahead of the mistakes in spelling or sentence structure. No one reads a book and says, “What a satisfying read—every comma in its right location, perfectly placed modifiers, lovely use of capitalization, not a single sentence ending in a preposition. I hope there’s a sequel!”

Accurate grammar and punctuation serves a purpose—the proper use of mechanics is invisible, supporting the communication intentions of the writer. But mechanics can’t tell a story by themselves. The original thought lives of writers must be free to explore and express their creative impulses, first. From there, we can help enhance the communication power through a gentle, compassionate, supportive use of grammar instruction.

Power in writing comes from the ability to use, command, and manipulate language. Knowing grammar well enough to surprise, compel, and impact readers ought to be the goal of good grammar instruction, not just accuracy. Accuracy matters, but it’s a subset of power in writing.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Guest Post: Six Proofreading Tips for Homeschoolers

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Image by Julia Manzerova

The following post is by Nikolas Baron

(Note: this guest post is in line with Brave Writer principles, but we don’t necessarily endorse all of the author’s views or associations.)

‘I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shakespeare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn’d) hee never blotted out line. My answer hath beene, would he had blotted a thousand.’

Those are the words of 17th century playwright, Ben Jonson, about his friend, William Shakespeare. Shakespeare, famously, did not proofread his work, and Jonson was saying that if he had he would have been a much better writer!

All writers make mistakes, but they can’t all get away with them like Shakespeare did. So, though clear and colorful content come first, it’s important for students to know that correcting mistakes is part of the process and that successful writers have trained themselves to edit and proofread their work.

Young writers don’t need to polish every piece of writing they produce, but when they do want to take a story or an essay to completion, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Use a dictionary. Maybe that sounds a bit old-fashioned today, what with all the online help available, but a good dictionary is invaluable and can greatly improve spelling and vocabulary. The same can be said for a thesaurus. The English language is rich in synonyms and using a thesaurus can improve children’s writing immeasurably, as well as increase their awareness of the different ways of saying the same thing.

2. Cheat a little. If children write on the computer, encourage them to use a spellchecker or other online programs that highlight grammatical errors. There’s nothing wrong with a little outside help, and kids can learn from the suggested corrections (emphasis on “suggested,” because it’s okay to break the rules, sometimes).

3. Print it out. Instead of reading a computer screen, print the text. Mistakes can be seen much better that way.

4. Read out loud. Students should read through their work, and the best method is not a silent read through. Our brains tend to see what we think is written rather than what is actually on the page, so the most effective method is to have budding writers read their work aloud. This helps them concentrate on their words in a way that a silent read-through never can. If a sentence runs on and on, children will literally run out of breath when it’s verbalized! They will also hear where those all-important full stops and commas go. Misspelled words will stand out, too. Plus if students have missed a word, or the word order is wrong then they will be able to hear that. English is a highly rhythmic language, so as well as spotting errors more easily, reading out loud helps students decide if their writing “sounds right.”

5. Pick one thing. Proofread for certain features: one read through for spelling, one for full stops, one for commas, and so on.

6. Leave it alone. After finishing a piece of writing have children put it away for a day or two then have them go back and read it through once more. They’ll spot mistakes they missed the first time round, and they’ll also be able to decide if the structure of the piece needs altering.

Using some or all of these techniques will help students polish their writing, and pretty soon they’ll be using them automatically every time they put fingers to keyboard or pick up a pen.

Happy proofreading!

Nikolas Baron is a freelance writer. He works for –an online program that not only checks spelling but also gives useful advice about commas, full stops, and other tricky punctuation features.

Capitals, periods, and commas, oh my!

Thursday, April 11th, 2013















Hello Julie.
Any way to get my 11 y.o. to remember capitals and periods? He can remember when we do dictation (because that and neatness are my main emphasis with dictation) but when he is doing his own writing he can’t seem to remember, and when I ask him to go back over his writing he gets stressed. Oddly enough he sometimes throws commas in, often in the right place; and will sometimes use commas where there should be a period. Any ideas?

I love all the writing tips and I have learned from you not to nit-pick when he does his own free writing–right now he is into writing music reviews!



Hi Holly.

Maybe take the pressure off and tell him you know he knows how to use them because he does them well in dictation. Tell him that you won’t notice whether he remembers them in original writing for the next 4 months. He can think about for himself how to remember but you won’t ask him or correct him. You’ll just leave things be for a semester or so and then you can meet back up and look at all his work from that time and see if there was any improvement or not and if he found any way to help remind himself in that time.

If he wants some ideas for how to remind himself, you can tell him a couple of these to consider:

  1. Keep a notecard of “stuff to remember” for him to look at ahead of writing so it will be uppermost in his mind when he starts.
  2. He can get someone else to correct his work (not him, since that stresses him out) for him until he remembers on his own.
  3. He can wait a week or more to make the corrections so he isn’t faced with them too quickly.
  4. He can use his own original writing as copywork/dictation later in the week/month to practice with.

But only offer these suggestions if he wants them. Don’t help him decide.

I promise, his understanding is there and that knowledge will transfer. Try not to worry about it. He’s only 11.  :)


Email: What other curricula did I use?

Monday, March 11th, 2013

Hi Julie,

Thanks to The Writer’s Jungle, I can now relax and teach writing in a more natural and fun way. Your blog has helped inspire our homeschooling and remind us of what really matters. I like your homeschool style and wonder if I could get your recommendations on any particular materials that you used over the years that you found to be valuable.


I get the idea that you are probably not the type to use a curriculum – but thought I would ask anyway. I’m sort of a curriculum junkie. I have two daughters, 12 and 10.

For the moment we are using the follow…..

  • Math-U-See
  • Singapore Math
  • Apologia Science
  • History Odyssey
  • Writer’s Jungle and The Arrow
  • Worldly Wise

I’ve wasted a lot of money on plenty of other resources.

Thanks so much,



Hi Susie!

I certainly did use a variety of curricula over the years. Some of it I regret (and cringe to think about now). Some of it I loved and would use again. And then for a period of some years, we unschooled (though the definition of that word varies group to group, but from my perspective, that is who we were).

Some of my favorite resources follow, as well as how I “solved” some of the needs we had where I didn’t purchase curricula. I have omitted choices I regretted.


  • Miquon Math (For elementary school; combined with Cuisinaire rods—I literally didn’t understand multiplication until these books)
  • Family Math (I loved this book – we did everything in it)
  • Math-It (A game to learn multiplication tables quickly)
  • Keys to… (Fractions, Decimals, Percents)
  • Murderous Maths (Hands-down the most fun we’ve ever had with math; lots of volumes)
  • The I Hate Mathematics Book and Math for Smarty Pants by the Brown Paper School company
  • Saxon Math for Algebra and Geometry
  • Tutoring for math in exchange for writing help between homeschool families
  • Paid tutoring for high school math
  • Parttime enrollment at the local high school


  • Sonlight (back when the Instructor’s Guides weren’t so enormous)
  • Well Trained Mind for a reading list, and Story of the World books
  • Personal rabbit trails and my own interests
  • (My regrets are in this category more than any other so the list appears to be short.)


  • Charter member of HENSE (Home Educators Neglecting Science Education)
  • Kitchen chemistry experiments from books
  • Ring of Fire Rock Study Kits (These are fabulous!!)
  • DK books
  • A telescope
  • Nature journaling 
  • Bird study through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, including their BIG book and course.
  • Biology through our co-op
  • Chemistry through the local high school

Language arts:



  • Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting (Oh My Goddess!! I just googled and all of her “videos” are now online for free. Just the music alone sent me wheeling with memories and happiness. Don’t miss these.)
  • Linnea and Monet’s Garden (Then look at the recommended books and you will see all the others we read and enjoyed!)
  • Any museum in driving distance, regularly visited. Bought the books in the museum shop to review at home.

We also had fun with Ancient Greek, Rosetta Stone Chinese (didn’t get far in it, but it was fun to wet our feet), and Power Glide for French. Still, in the end, it was much easier for my kids to learn foreign languages in school (they attended the local high school for language learning, all except Noah who studied Klingon on his own <g>).

Hope that helps! Would love to hear about other favorite resources in the comments below.

Be gentle with grammar

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

From today’s FB post:

Today’s word advice: Don’t be a grammar Nazi. It’s so much more important to preserve/honor relationships, to receive the intended communication than to enforce proper usage in texting, Facebook, freewrites, message boards, or any quick writing that does not rise to the level of some kind of permanence. Yes, every day people write “your” and mean “you’re” or they write “here” when they meant “hear” or “loose” when they meant “lose.” I “would of come” is hard to read. I admit. But if I say it outloud, I know what it means.

The purpose of all writing and speaking is to convey information, ideas, feelings, thoughts. When someone risks self-expression and fails to get the grammar right, you can be the one who focuses on the content rather than the grammar conventions. If the issue recurs and it’s someone you love, you can point it out in a gentle way days later: “By the way, did you know that it’s ‘would have’ not ‘would of’? Funny how the way we speak has made it hard to hear the original grammatical structure.”

There’s nothing inherently superior about being “right” about grammar. It just means you have that area of information mastered and someone else doesn’t. So be kind. Please. No one likes to be corrected for the errant apostrophe in “it’s” or the mistaken “there.” But all of us like to be heard.

Also, don’t forget that today is Tuesday—teatime! Take it outside and sit under the pretty green leafy trees. Enjoy a break from the rush-rush of early summer.


What it means to be “brave”

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Hello everyone!

Summer is long over. However, fall is just beginning in the Bogart household. My middle child only moved to college on Thursday! Made it very hard to settle into a fall routine.

Now that we’re here, let’s explore a few thoughts about Brave Writer and writing that may support your coming school year. One of our Brave Writer moms said it well a few years back:

I saw the name “Brave Writer” and honestly didn’t even consider why the website was called that.  After reading what a friend had to say about The Writers Jungle on the Sonlight forums, I decided to check it out.  At first I thought…no, way…the price is too much!  Boy was I wrong! It has been one of the most valuable investments I have made on this homeschool journey.

Last week I finally realized the significance of the name “Brave Writer.”  It speaks not only to the bravery of putting your thoughts down on paper, but also to me as a homeschool mom.  I have been using several recommended curriculum including a spelling workbook. It has gone fine—my ds 8 has been getting great grades on the tests as well as learning some alphabatizing and proofreading skills. However, when he writes, he misspells some of those same words.  There is a disconnect with my ds between completing a workbook and memorizing a list of spelling words and actually being able to spell well. Another downside…the spelling workbook pages were taking way too long some days with a dawdling boy (but who could blame the kid! It’s not the most fascinating work!). And that’s when I did my first brave thing…I threw out the spelling workbook (gasp, and the $10 I had paid for it).

O.K…that may not seem that brave, but it was my security blanket! And now I am having these crazy thoughts concerning the Grammar book as well. You see, I want him to spend more time on copywork, dictation, narrations, reading great books and poetry and there are just so many hours in the day (especially productive hours where an 8 year boy is involoved).

I’m having trouble letting go of those nagging thoughts “Well, so-and-so is having her ds do the whole grammar book and talks about how much he is learning…what if we don’t?  Will he still get into a good college someday? What if he can’t diagram a sentence?” (As I write this, I realize just how silly that sounds, but deep down I still wonder).

So I’m starting with my first brave act…I’m throwing out the spelling workbook and trying a more natural approach using copywork and dictation.  Maybe soon I’ll be able to take the next brave step with a little encouragement!


By the way, my ds doesn’t hate to write now that we do freewriting. I never realized how much pressure he was feeling because he thought everything had to be perfect!  Thanks, Julie!

What a great story! It’s true that being brave is not just about writing. It’s about taking calculated risks to trust that writing can be as natural a process as learning to speak was. Kay’s journey can be yours! Every day I hear from families who have completed the homeschooling journey. Here are a couple of their comments:

Hi Julie

We’ve been with Brave Writer for many years: have won a competition, participated in an on-line class, and my daughter is still loving her writing. She’s 17 now…

We’ve loved your stuff and continue to recommend your services to people everywhere we go.

God bless,

I thoroughly appreciated your blog, bravewriter manual and especially the “tuesday teatime” idea. We have enjoyed poetry with chocolate cake and have good memories for that. You helped me approach an area I did not have confidence in so THANK YOU.


Dear Julie,

As a homeschool family, we have been so blessed by you. I just want to thank you so much for what you have done for our family, over the past few years of our subscription.

As you know, children grow up. Our two are at the end of their homeschool journey, and we are using less and less homeschool curriculum, and more and more of community based learning prorams.

We have all ( me too) enjoyed the bravewriter lifestyle, and will always cherish special memories of reading aloud, and poems with our afternoon tea and candles. You are such a huge blessing.

Thank you for everything.


It’s great to be a part of these journeys. Hope Brave Writer can help you too!

The Arrow and the Boomerang start August 1

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

You can sign up any time and unsubscribe any time too. However, if you’re wanting the full year of issues, now’s the time to get that going! The Arrow and the Boomerang are our language arts products designed to make copywork and dictation spring to life. We give you four passages per month from a living book with detailed notes about grammar, spelling and punctuation, as well as noting literary style. Read more by clicking on the Arrow and the Boomerang.

We have several options for subscription or year long payment possibilities. You can purchase either of these as part of the Platinum package with The Writer’s Jungle as well.

Language Arts for everyone

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Brave Writer has launched its new year of the Arrow and the Boomerang, our tailor-made tools to help you execute your best intentions with regard to grammar, spelling, punctuation and writing mechanics. These tools feature a terrific, classic work of fiction while highlighting passages that assist you in teaching these language arts elements to your kids in the context of real writing.

Sometimes I’m asked if these tools are sufficient for teaching grammar, in particular. What I’ve noticed over the years of home educating five kids myself as well as the thousands of students we’ve now taught through Brave Writer is that the best education for the mechanics of writing is reading real writing. Some parents complain, however, that their kids read a ton and aren’t making the connection between what they read and what they write. It worries them! And of course it does! These are your kids.

What the Arrow and Boomerang do (and likewise, the high school already-published issues of the Slingshot) is to give you the ability to feature language arts elements in the context of great writing! Your kids naturally come to adopt the mechanics of writing in English through the soothing, repetitive practices of reading, pondering, copying and writing the passages in their own hand.

The power of this methodology came clear to me again just this week. My 14 year old son, Liam, who has struggled a lot with writing (has dysgraphia and was delayed in writing), has suddenly blossomed. His last year of copying passages from Redwall (his previous obsession) has borne fruit! As he started writing his own reviews of novels he’s reading, the flair to his natural writing voice, his “knack” for punctuation and his spelling are startlingly accurate. Sure he’s got some run-on sentences and occasional fragments. We can address those. But the heart of his writing is pure flair and personality, mixed with terrific spelling and a reasonable grasp of basic punctuation.

I did no formal teaching of grammar with this child. I’ve just continued to trust the process of reading aloud, read to self, talking a lot about the novels and stories and then copying the passages. We haven’t even graduated to dictation yet! Still the results are impressive.

To take a look at the Arrow or Boomerang, go to their website pages. Download the free samples and try them this month. Then if you like them, feel free to sign up for the monthly subscriptions or order back issues tailored to the books you’re reading. You’ll be glad you did.

Bet you can read this

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by itslef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Are you reassured at all that a few spelling errors aren’t necessarily a barrier to written communication? I am. :)

Grammar Moves

Sunday, June 18th, 2006

Lie or lay?

Prisca and me, or Prisca and I?

Bless our heart, or bless our hearts?

Do these kinds of questions drive you crazy? You’re not alone. Lots of picky people care about proper grammar, so much so they correct you when you speak and smile smugly at their proper erudition.

But I’m not one of them.

The rote study of grammar is one of those subject areas I’ve avoided most of my life. I’ve studied five languages, spoke French well enough to study at a French university and learned Arabic well enough to live in Morocco. I worked as a senior editor for a magazine, ghostwrote a number of short books and was a contributing editor to another magazine.

With all of these opportunities to make grammatical mistakes, you’d think that I’d be an expert, ready to throw down technical vocabulary like participles and subordinate clauses with the best of ‘em. You’d think I’d love grammar and would be as enthusiastic to promote it as the next English teacher.


The technical side of grammar isn’t what draws me to writing or learning languages. As a native speaker, my grasp of grammar is largely intuitive. I speak according to my ear, not according to a prescribed set of rules. When in doubt, I consult grammar reference books. I’ve learned a lot about habits in grammar from grammar check in Word, for example (which is not always accurate so I’m provoked to reevaluate the grammatical choice and see if I agree).

What has happened for me over time, though, is that because of learning to speak foreign languages, I’ve been introduced to the structure of language and find that I can address my questions to grammar reference books without getting completely lost. I’ve absorbed how verb tenses work, what a clause is, how adverbs and adjectives modify nouns and verbs, what an article does and more.

I learned how to avoid ending sentences with prepositions in English by learning how to do it in French, for instance.

My kids, who have been raised with my lackadaisical approach to grammar, have shown an interesting development as they encounter foreign languages. The older two (19 and 16) were raised with dictation and copywork. We did three years of grammar total. They tell me today that they don’t think they really grasped the nuances of grammar until they studied Klingon (older one) and French (younger one). My next child (14) is studying Spanish. He and I did some grammar together in English, but it wasn’t until he started working on Spanish that he retained any of it. Suddenly he is saying, “Oh, I see how the verb thing works.”

I studied biblical Greek with Noah last fall. Some of the students in our college class lamented the fact that they had not paid attention in English grammar class because they needed a grasp of grammar for Greek. But Noah and I chuckled. We knew that the way we had learned grammar was through foreign language itself. These students would learn what they needed to know in Greek. That’s when they’d get it for English.

So if you find that the study of grammar is a tedious chore in your household, that no one seems to retain it, I do have a recommendation for you. Learn a foreign language. Find someone to teach you and your kids.

You’ll get an appreciation for English grammar thrown into the bargain.

(Just as an aside – my oldest son, Noah, who did not like Winston grammar or dictation is about to enter the linguistics program at University of Cincinnati. He can’t get enough of grammar now. :))