Archive for the ‘Writing Exercises’ Category

A word play tip

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Does it smell good?Image by Savannah Lewis (cc)

Ask your kids to find the nuance differences between synonyms.

Example— all the words for “smell”


How are they used? Can you use ‘odor’ for flowers? Can you use ‘scent’ for a skunk’s spray?

Can ‘aroma’ be paired with anything besides food? Why or why not?

What’s the difference between a ‘bouquet’ and ‘perfume’? Which is lovelier, easier to breathe in?

How much worse is a ‘stench’ than an ‘odor’? Can you think of two different items and why one would be paired with ‘stench’ and another with ‘odor’?

This is how you build vocabulary far better than using a workbook that makes kids identify definitions or put the words correctly into sentences.

Focus on complexity—nuances, subtlety, relationships, contexts, situations, habits, contradictions in language. These practices help the words “stick” and enrich a child’s writing as you find that some of them will “pop through” to their own work.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Keen Observation

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

TomatoImage by Steve Hankins

Here’s a fabulous description of the Keen Observation process! This is precisely what is supposed to happen when you use the exercise.

Brave writer mom, Kellie, writes:

Hi Julie,

I’m new to BWL, just printed Writers Jungle Sunday and read through to chapter 6, prowled your website and blog and am now dabbling in some of your recommended pre-free-writing exercises. I’m blown away with the keen observation exercise experience that we had today and felt like I needed to express my gratitude for your insightful, common sense approach to breaking the writing process down into manageable, fun activities.

My daughter 8, and I explored a garden tomato today. She has never been a lover of this fruit mind you. Ketchup and spaghetti sauce, forget about it. But, for some reason she was looking forward to slicing it open and sampling it’s flavor. Maybe it has something to do with the theory she’s subscribing to about how every 7 years you grow new taste buds so your taste in food may change. Whatever her reasons, I’m glad she was a go.

She was so quick to start describing the ruby red tomato with super tiny yellow dots on top that makes it golden red with “green crown  that I didn’t get to ask her the first few questions you supply us with.  Okay, so she was excited to play this “game” but the kicker was after she took a considerable sized  bite out of it and tasted the seeds separate from the flesh. The bite was described as “Yuck it tastes sour and tart”  the seeds as “at first it’s the yuck of the tomato but then it’s a little burst of sweet” There was a goodly amount of juice left on the plate “juice went flying out of it” when sliced, so I asked her to slurp some up.  Moments later she was sprawled on the ground with a puckered up face declaring “I thought it would be bland but it was so powerful it blew my head right off.  My tongue was bursting with strong tart and sour”  She was such a good sport that even after the assault on her mouth she was game for tackling the skin which was “smooth and tough with a bland flavor”.

We thoroughly enjoyed this exercise. We laughed, we joked, we bonded, we praised. Thank you for your courage in sharing.


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Adverbially speaking, use them sparingly

Friday, December 6th, 2013


Brave Writer mom, Tara, shared how her kids put a Daily Writing Tip into practice. The tip was:

Adverbs (those “ly” words – and others – that dress up your verb and take it to dinner) ought to be used about as often as an evening gown: special occasions, or special sentences. But on the whole, go for a more direct description.

It’s too easy to slap on a descriptor and give up the hard work of making the image, event, idea, or person spring to life through action or concrete language.

For instance, if you write:

She cuddled the dog gently.

The reader is left to imagine what you mean by a gentle cuddle. If you instead SHOW me the cuddle, I create a firmer image in my mind:

She cuddled the dog, stroking his soft ears with her fingertips and resting her tummy on his back.

Each time you write an adverb, ask yourself if you are “showing” or “telling.” Then choose to “show.” You’ll be glad you did.

Tara emailed:

Julie –

Loved yesterday’s Daily Writing Tip. Here are the sentences we started with…and our modified sentences:

I loudly said to my brother, “Get off the computer!”
I said to my brother in my loudest inside voice, “Get off the computer!”
I said to my brother in a voice loud enough for him to hear with his headphones on, “Get off the computer!”

She walked quietly into the room.
She tiptoed into the room, trying not to make any sound at all.
She came into the room, her feel making no noise as she walked.

I carefully walked on the balance beam.
I top toed across the balance beam, trying my best not to fall.
I walked across the beam, using my balance so as not to fall off.
I walked across the balance beam, each heel landing directly in front of the other toes.

I threw the ball quickly.
I there the ball with such a ferocious speed the bater saw only a blur whizzing by his face.

My two youngest were totally engaged. Fun stuff.

Thanks for the great ideas. We are using and loving them.


That’s exactly how it’s done! Bravo!

Also, if you haven’t already, check out our new product, 100 Writing Tips: Volume 1!

Image above created using

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Tips for the College Application Essay

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

College Essay Notes

From How to Write a Winning College Essay Application
By, Michael James Mason

(Highly recommend buying a copy of this book)

Five elements of a good college essay:

1. Something to grab the reader’s attention
2. Simplicity
3. Realism
4. Sincerity
5. Surprise

As you craft your personal essay, think about the questions and statements below to prompt you. Fit the content to the question your chosen university asks you.

1. Who are the five people who have most influenced you?

2. What do you read?

3. List three virtues that you admire and respect.

4. Discuss three significant lessons you have learned.

5. Tell us about three memorable experiences you have had.

6. Discuss a failure that taught you something.

7. Respond to three quotes that mean something to you.

8. Remember your greatest success.

9. Name five things that you know.

10. Discuss your definition of happiness.

11. What do your parents remember about you?

12. What are your earliest memories?

13. What is an education supposed to provide?

14. List and describe five special things about you.

15. What is your “one sentence philosophy of life”?

16. What is the funniest thing that ever happened to you?

17. What makes the world go round?

18. Picture five places you’ve been that impressed you the most.

19. What is your favorite social activity?

20. What is your favorite intellectual or artistic activity?

21. Describe yourself to a stranger.

22. Tell the story of a fear you conquered.

23. Discuss three goals that you have in life.

24. List ten things you like and ten things you don’t like at all.

25. What do your friends say that they like most about you?

26. What question have you always wanted answered and why?

Take back our power in language

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Play with words

It’s about time we take back our power in language. We are not controlled by Mrs. Cox, the ghost of public school past sitting on our left shoulders. We are free. We are at home. Let’s figure out how to make writing a freeing, liberating, sparkly experience, shall we?

You know how we let our kids take apart an old phone or toaster to see how it’s made, to learn how to use a screw driver, and to have the satisfaction of working on a “real” household item? That’s a great thing, isn’t it? Little screws lying on the ground, bits of wire, the metal tray, the coils that heat… It’s amazing to see it in pieces and to marvel at the fact that someone knew how to put these bits of metal and wire together to make a tool that burns our toast! Taking the toaster apart is more effective to teach us about the toaster than studying it in a book or even making toast, right?

Some of us have rooms dedicated to art exploration—a similar freedom to discover. We might keep an easel, paints and brushes available any time, a tray of pastels or colored pencils, and stacks of scratch paper.

Still others of us will collect musical instruments—percussion and piano, recorders and flutes, and two kinds of guitars! Or maybe we’re the kind of family who has a whole slew of balls, frisbees, hockey sticks, hoops, and goals available to practice a favorite sport or to learn a new one.

We know that play and exploration produce learning.

By contrast, we’re reluctant to play with, take apart, explore, and mess with language. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s the grammar hangover from school where teachers are more about accuracy than inspiration.

Flip the script.

What if your house had an accuracy-free play-zone for words? What would be in it? How about a variety of writing utensils (gel pens, fountain pens, markers, sidewalk chalk, calligraphy quills, crayons, lipstick)? How about some unique writing surfaces (butcher paper taped in a big sheet to a wall, dry erase board, chalkboard, clipboard, various sizes of lined paper, cards, notecards, postcards, an iPad, a mirror, colored paper)?

How about making a stack of notecards with all the words you like—a whole big mixture of words you collect for a week, one per card?

How about putting individual punctuation marks on notecards (a comma card, a period card, an exclamation point card, a quotation marks card, a question marks card – or several of each!)? Then use your word notecards to make a sentence and lay the punctuation marks where you want them to go. Walk around the room and lay them out on the floor. If you want, you can use big poster boards rather than tiny notecards.

Begin by punctuating it all wrong, first. See what happens when you start a sentence with a period or an exclamation point? What if you put one in the middle of the sentence?

What new uses of these marks can you think of?

Are you getting the idea? Language is not meant to be treated like an antiseptic vaccine. It’s a toy! Play with it! See what happens. Discover how the pieces of language and writing work together to create meaning and joy, communication and inspiration.

Top Image by Virginia State Parks (cc cropped, tinted, text added)

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