Archive for the ‘Writing Exercises’ Category

10 tips for the “lazy” writer

10 Tips for the "Lazy" Writer

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.

Image by Brave Writer mom, Danielle

Thinking Differently about Writing

The Paradigm Shift

Sometimes moms have a hard time wrapping their brains around Brave Writer. They ask questions like:

  • What grade levels is it for?
  • 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?

So 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, and they’re also covered in this free podcast series.

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 upside is this: we offer TONS of support (email, phone calls, Facebook group, and more) to ensure that you buy the right products for your particular family. 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

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

Those ideas 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.
  • 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 his or her 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.

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.

The Brave Writer Philosophy

Surprise! No one teaches it.

Surprise in Writing

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.


Party School!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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!

One Writing Project Per Month

One writing project per month

Brave Writer philosophy suggests that you only tackle one writing project per month, per kid. That’s right. One a month. I figure you’ll get sidetracked by Thanksgiving or surgery or a ski trip during a couple of those months meaning, you may not complete the project slated for that month. Therefore, if you have ten projects slated and get 6-7 of them through the revision process in a school year, be happy! You’ve done good work!

But wait, how does this work? you ask. I understand. It sounds like so little output. So let me give you some guidelines for why writing less equals more value.

Let’s look at the four week process for writing any piece (paragraph, letter, essay, poem, article, story).

Week One: Saturation

During the first week, you aren’t writing. You’re reading, talking, watching videos, looking stuff up on the Internet. You might also be doing the thing you will write about. If the topic is Native American basket weaving, perhaps you will even try to weave a basket! No writing comes forth without saturation in the topic/subject matter. This is why we always recommend that your kids write about what they know well. They’ll have richer vocabulary and a deeper grasp of the topic. If the topic is new-ish to your student, you need more time to absorb the material before becoming saturated. Might take two weeks or three. Don’t rush it. Writing is the result of an overflow of knowledge about a topic. You can’t read a paragraph about Columbus and then require your child write a paragraph about Columbus. The sane response from a child is: But didn’t we just read about Columbus?

Week Two: Freewriting

The second week is when you put pen to page. This is the time to get words from the guts upchucked onto paper. We do this in any way we can. We use freewriting to help catalyze that process. You can do several freewrites over a period of days. There’s no law in the writing world that says the first draft is the only draft. You can select parts of the topic to write about and do those over two or three days with breaks in between. During the freewriting (or drafting) week, the goal is to get as much raw writing to work with as possible. Think of a specific aspect of the topic (gathering materials for basket weaving) and write about it. Then on another day focus on another aspect (patterns in basket weaving). Break it up! Makes life so much happier.

Week Three: Revision

Revision is not the same thing as editing (when I use the term). Revision is injecting new vision into the raw writing. It’s re-imagining the piece so that it springs to life. During revision, you want to focus on content, not mechanics. That means you’ll read the freewrites and look at places you can narrow the focus and expand the writing. Perhaps your child wrote, “Basket weaving is hard work.” You can look at that sentence and ask for more! What does he mean by “hard work”? Can he describe the process? And so on. You might want to rewrite the opening line (I always recommend that). Make it pop, surprise, sizzle. Draw the reader right in. Revision can take many days or short bursts of energy tackling a little bit at a time. Don’t do it all in one day. Don’t fatigue your young writer. Revise two or three important content related items and leave the rest alone. (Psst. I promise anything you don’t correct in this piece will magically reappear in another for you to address at a later date.)

Week Four: Mechanics Mop-up

Now you edit. Editing is simply cleaning up all the stuff that makes the paper hard to read: misspellings, missing punctuation, grammar errors, typos, indentations. Have your child look over his or her work first. Let the student find as many errors as possible. You only make the additional changes once the child has taken a whack at it. Never complain about something he or she missed. Make a mental note that you need to address the semi-colon in copywork or dictation. Let what they miss be information to guide you in teaching; don’t use it as a way to shame your child. Print and share with readers.

Once you work through this process, you’ll have had a rich experience of how writing is supposed to work. Believe me, doing this 5-6 times in a year is a huge amount of teaching! Far superior to cranking out contrived paragraphs based on tedious writing prompts in a workbook. Give your kids the chance to experience what writers actually do. They saturate and incubate. They mess around with words, getting their ideas onto the page or computer screen however they might. They revise those words once they get a little distance to make them more compelling and interesting. Then they mop up the mistakes and share it with readers! Your kids get to do that too. For more information on how to do this process, see The Writer’s Jungle.

Freewriting Prompts