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?

Do a little violence to words

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Homeschool tip of the day:
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.

10 tips for the lazy writer

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Writing tip of the day:

There are tips, practices, tools, and helps that make writing easier. Don’t believe for a minute that your kids are lazy.

Here are ten ways to provoke writing today:

    1. Gel pens and black paper

    2. Instant Message with your child

    3. Text with your child

    4. Write a sentence on a white board that is provocative yet unfinished, like “If I could design today, I would….”

    5. Write together (at the table, everyone at the same time)

    6. Write at the mall, jotting down fashion fails and snippets of ridiculous conversation

    7. Give shoulder massages before writing to everyone (do it in a circle and then switch directions)

    8. Write on a clipboard, under a table, lying on a trampoline, up in a tree, with sidewalk chalk on the driveway

    9. Comment on 5 status updates on Facebook

    10. Rewrite the ending to a favorite movie or book (make it melodramatic, sad, angry, happy, or include aliens)

Writing is about freedom to express without the pressure that comes from straight jacket formats. Formats are only helpful once kids feel FREE to write. Let me say it again: You can’t produce good writing that fits a format until you’ve spent hundreds of hours writing without caring one whit about format. Once you feel as easy writing as you do talking, formats are a snap of the fingers to teach and follow.

So play with words today.

Still not getting it? Maybe this will help.

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Despite the nearly 100 pages of content on this website, sometimes moms have a hard time wrapping their brains around Brave Writer. They ask questions like:

  • What grade levels is it for?
  • Why is The Writer’s Jungle so expensive?
  • Do I need any other writing program if I use Brave Writer materials?
  • What do I do once I’ve worked through The Writer’s Jungle? Do I go on to some other program or can I keep going with Brave Writer?
  • What’s the difference between the Arrow and The Writer’s Jungle?

I’ve answered these questions throughout the website, including a Frequently Asked Questions section (that is, unfortunately, not clearly visible on the home page – that’s changing). Still, sometimes it helps to have another run down.

With all the new visitors and emails flying into my in-box, I thought I’d take a moment to give you another way to think about Brave Writer.

Brave Writer requires a paradigm shift in how you think about writing.

Like any paradigm shift, it feels “wrong” at first, even though you also feel drawn to it. Brave Writer is not about programmatic writing. It’s not organized by grade level. It’s organized by developmental stages of growth. These stages are clearly described in detail in Chapter 14 of The Writer’s Jungle.

The reason you may feel flustered by Brave Writer is that it requires you to consider each individual child’s needs and then match the right products to him or her. That’s a bigger challenge initially than clicking on “1st grade” and buying the 1st Grade Package. But the up side is this: we offer TONS of support (email, phone calls, blog comments, Facebook page, texting, and more) to ensure that you buy the right products for your particular family. That’s why we charge what we do. Once you enter the world of Brave Writer, we take care of you and your kids. You have access to me (Julie Bogart) and my staff.

The Writer’s Jungle is not a “curriculum” in the sense of schedule, assignments, and grade level. It’s both a resource for you, the mother or father who needs to understand how to be a homeschooling parent and writing coach simultaneously without damaging your relationship with your child, as well as a tool with processes and exercises to help you and your children establish a writing process that is tailored to your unique child. See how different that is? It helps you to execute ANY writing you do with your child, in any other curriculum you are already using. It’s the manual that tells you HOW to teach writing, not WHAT to teach.

Can you feel the difference?

It’s not: “Write a descriptive paragraph, using a topic sentence, an “ly” word for the second sentence, and a clincher for the last sentence.”

It is: “Delightful child of mine: you have so much to say. Let’s see how we can get that captured on paper in any way we can so that you and I can play with your ideas and thoughts, so we can expand them, enjoy them, and share them with others. Let’s discover all the cool, interesting thoughts inside you. I’m on your team and I have some tricks up my sleeve for how we can make writing comfortable, interesting, less taxing, more satisfying, and even enjoyable. You deserve that. Have a brownie.”

Brave Writer products facilitate writing growth through a specific set of ideas about writing.

These are:

When growing a writer, you want to match the level of support you offer to the developmental skills of your child. Help helps!

It’s essential to separate the mechanics of writing from the original writing voice in the early stage of development.

We use someone else’s writing to teach mechanics.

We capture the child’s original writing voice on paper, on screen for that child until the mechanics take hold.

The writing process is more important than writing formats, particularly in the early years.

Writing growth happens through a series of papers, not in every single paper.

Workbooks that give detailed instructions about paragraphs, letters, how to write a “how to” piece, etc. teach children that writing is “puzzle solving.”

Writing with freedom, support, and modeling creates space for kids to access/delve into their own language that reveals their natural insight, vocabulary, and passion.

Parents make the best coaches and allies to their children.

Any native speaker who reads and writes can be their child’s writing coach.

Creating emotional safety for writing risks is the single most important skill a parent must master to grow a writer.

A language rich environment is more important/effective than spelling, grammar, vocabulary, literature, and writing workbooks.

Poetry teatimes are the gateway drug to all things Brave Writer.

Brave Writer exists to make parents better coaches and allies to their kids in the writing task. A wonderful side-effect is that it will make you a better homeschooling parent, period. The paradigm shift away from “school,” to “home” is profound. You’ll find that you are suddenly much more able to be there for your kids, valuing their quirky individuality, no matter how skilled or unskilled they are in academics. You’ll discover that you love hanging out with these little people and you’ll be startled by how their mind life delights and fascinates you (rather than worrying that they are behind).

In other words, Brave Writer’s paradigm shift speaks to the whole of how you home educate but uses writing as the primary lens through which you re-envision what it means to celebrate, nurture, love, and lead your fabulous little people. Got it now?

If not, please ask follow ups in the comments below. I also schedule phone consults if you email me and need help for your kids. I homeschooled for 17 years. I know how important it is to make good curriculum decisions for your family. I want to help you do that.


Surprise! No one teaches it.

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Ut-Oh....Image by Nadia Hatoum

In all the writing literature I have crammed between DVDs on my book cases, the one literary element that gets short shrift is: Surprise. I can’t find it—no chapters devoted to expounding its importance. Exercises for plot, dialog, essay format, poetic structure, yes. Surprise? Well, occasionally it gets a passing mention. But almost always it’s tied to some other element (like, powerful verbs should be surprising, or a thesis statement is best constructed in a “surprise reversal” format). But that’s not what I mean. I mean, writing is absolutely dependent on subverting reader expectations over and over and over again, to be considered powerful.

Surprise means bursting through the door unannounced with cookies and milk, just for the reader, right when energy flags and minds wander. I’m not talking about big plot twists or even hiding information only to reveal it later. I also mean surprising the reader with a fresh metaphor; casting a commonly known term into a new grammatical role; picking unusual proper nouns for characters, street signs, shops; starting the story in the middle of the action; saving your best argument for last in an essay; hooking the reader’s attention at the top of the paper and saving the resolution for the conclusion (hook and return); littering the writing with alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme and consonance… and so on.

The best writing is as dependent on generously ladled portions of surprise throughout its lasagna layers of meaning, imagery, cool logic and vivid language as middle-aged readers are on good lighting and corrective lenses!

What’s more, it can be taught! Part of what makes your young writers’ quirky, poorly spelled and punctuated early attempts at written communication so enjoyable is the way their view of the world surprises your jaded, middle-aged one. You “crack up” when they surprise you.

It’s not hard to be surprising, once you know where to hide before you pop out!

Let’s take a look at this mysterious little element and introduce our kids to it. (Psst! They love surprises, so this may be your own subversive way to get them from the couch to the kitchen table, too!)

The “personal experience metaphor” trick

The hardest thing to do is to create fresh comparisons (metaphors, similes, analogies). Readers are sick of the “tried and true,” “old as the hills,” “dry as toast,” cliches that have served since the Spanish-American war! To wake up your readers, take an old cliche and buy it a new outfit. Draw from contemporary experiences that are alive to your kids.

Example: Her body twisted and flipped like Play-Doh in the hands of my baby brother.

Example: He focused his attention like a gamer trying to find the secret passage on level 6 of Mario.

Example: My Mom is older than an Atari play station.

Example: The early bird may catch the worm, but in my house, the early homeschooler catches up on math left unfinished from the day before.

The “grammatical transformation” trick

When I say, “What part of speech is ‘couch’?”; you think ‘noun’.” Right? How about this: “Don’t couch your words in flattery when you talk to me, mister!” Suddenly this ho-hum noun takes charge of the whole sentence (and the offending party!). If you flip the grammatical use of a few words, on a regular basis, you keep your reader vertical and awake! Not only that, habitual meanings can be subverted by using verbs and nouns in unusual pairings. “Dinosaurs marinate in the earth.” Do they? Well, yeah, kinda! It makes you pause and reconsider your internal vision.

Example: Drew lego-ed the sticks together into a kind of backyard fort.

Example: The birds pinwheeled through the autumn sky.

Example: The solution became a schmear of peanut-buttering one side of the argument while jellying the other, until the two competing options were slammed together into a single sticky whole.

The “collecting crazy names” trick

Get a moleskin notebook—the kind that fits in a pocket, or a purse. When you’re driving around, pay attention to signs. Jot down interesting names. Look at billboards, freeway exits, stores and hotels. Record terms that will serve as good choices for your writing. Names of people can be gathered from Greek myths, the Norse Gods, fiction you are reading, TV shows, cartoons, comic books, Shakespeare plays, a directory of your homeschooling community. It really doesn’t matter how you gather them, but pay attention and collect when you are not writing. Then when you need one, pull it out!

An expert in the field of surprising name choices is none other than J.K. Rowling. Whatever you think about her books, her use of creative names is unmatched. She tells her readers she’s been keeping a little notebook for more than a decade where she jots interesting names to be used at a later date. When she’d create a new character, she’d flip through her book looking for the right name.

Example: There’s a reason Rowling has “Hermoine” paired with Harry and Ron. Much more interesting than “Mary” might have been.

Example: Shakespeare has great names like “Hero,” “Benedick,” “Ophelia,” and “Iago.”

Example: The Greek myths include epic names: “Persephone,” “Demeter,” “Agamemnon,” “Xanthe” and “Kallisto.”

This hunt for a good name applies not only to people, but to stores, cities, street signs, organizations, tournaments—all fiction depends on a slew of proper nouns carefully selected.

Example: Diagon Alley (play on words: diagonally)

Example: Island of the Blue Dolphins (using a Native American name)

Example: Camp Kooskooskoos (Trumpet of the Swan: funny to say)

So join the game! Make “naming” a joy, not a chore.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

How about writing a limerick with your kids today to celebrate?

Here’s the format (each space is a syllable, not a word):

______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______
______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______
______ ______ ______ ______ ______
______ ______ ______ ______ ______
______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______ ______

For a fun Irish twist, look up some cities on a map of the Green Isle and use them in your Limericks:

  • Dublin
  • Galway
  • Kilkenny
  • Cork
  • Derry
  • Armagh
  • Belfast
  • Lislurn

You might add Irish items like pots of gold, rainbows, leprechauns, and shamrocks. St. Patrick is also a perfectly suitable character to include in your St. Patrick’s Day limerick, too. Of course.

Here’s a Limerick by the intrepid Edward Lear (his are most famous and can be found in a quick google search):

There was an Old Man of Kilkenny,
Who never had more than a penny;
He spent all that money,
In onions and honey,
That wayward Old Man of Kilkenny.

Please post your delightful results when you finish!

Writing through the tears

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Who can do anything well while crying?

Can you type while crying? Make dinner? Have sex? Probably not.

Tears are an indication that something is dreadfully wrong. They signal pain:  emotional or physical. In writing, emotional pain may be writer’s block or fear of making a mistake. Physical pain may be that the hand hurts from squeezing the pencil too tightly, or eye strain, or physical exhaustion from a poor night’s sleep. Crying is not a sign of laziness or lack of character. Crying is the last release, the final “giving up” and admission of failure. Crying signals: I need comfort.

When the tears come, the writing’s done.

Take a break. Acknowledge your child’s feelings: I see that you’re unhappy. Let’s talk about this later. Offer a hug.

Later, come back to your child and find out what’s going on. Ask:

Are you afraid of making a mistake?

Is it too hard to grip the pencil for ten minutes straight?

Are you having a hard time spelling?

Do you wish you could play outside in the sunshine rather than sit at a table?

Does it feel like you have nothing to say?

Are you sleepy? Hungry?

Be an investigator and a comforter. A cup of tea and eye contact will go a long way toward soothing the hurting writer. Remember, writer’s block is the usual reason for writing paralysis (not strong wills or sinful natures). Writer’s block means the child doesn’t have access to the words inside. The words are hidden behind anxiety, fear of failure, or a vague sense of the topic (not enough depth in the topic to be able to talk about it meaningfully in writing).

Writer’s block is experienced by everyone (pros, professors and prodigies) and at its most acute, produces tears. So give oodles of empathy, hugs, and comfort foods. Then talk about how to make writing less painful. Take some time to remind yourself of the goal – a free, brave writer who is at ease when writing, not gripped with anxiety and fear.


P.S. If you find it hard to know how to get beyond the tears and writer’s block, peruse my website and the archives of this blog for ideas. I also devote a good chunk of The Writer’s Jungle to this subject as well.

Freewriting is one of our favorite tactics for unblocking stuck writers. Another idea is to stop writing all together for awhile and work on building a relationship where talking freely and well is cultivated. That means, of course, that you will seek opportunities to drive your kid to his destinations so that you can chat the whole way, drawing him out, listening to what he knows lots about and encouraging him to share as much as he can as well as he can… so he’ll grow in verbal self-expression.