How to Host a Summer Writer’s Workshop

How to Host a Summer Writer's Workshop

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Summer is officially underway at our house. We’ve finished up our year end testing, the school reports have all been submitted, and our Letters of Intent to Homeschool the next academic year have been sent. It’s break time! While we are not year round schoolers, I do use the summer to focus on a skill area which could use some practice. Usually it’s math, but this summer we are writing. It’s a family affair! I’ve come up with a bunch of ways to have fun with this and maybe you’ll want to join us in How to Host a Summer Writer’s Workshop.

Using a Writer’s Workshop Format

Writer’s workshops can be organized in a few different ways, but generally they involve a short teaching time which focuses on a skill or strategy followed by time to write. We’ve been using the time to try out different sorts of writing with a big emphasis on sharing. This has been a successful format for us, but it appeals to a particular type of writer. This summer the plan is to:

  • Meet weekly for a family workshop– Each week we’ll meet to play some word games, try out some writing explorations, and share our writing. Since there are 5 of us meeting, that’s a good little group and it will help some siblings to practice giving positive feedback to one another.
  • Establish a new group of writers– We had a writer’s workshop meeting for about a year and a half, but a winter full of illness suggested that we slow things down. We’d like to form a new group and begin meeting again. We have some ideas which will bring us writers of varying styles. If getting together seems too difficult, I’m considering some remote meeting possibilities.

Elementary Summer Writing Skills

Joshua is our incoming 5th grader and he’s working on more consistency in his writing. He is talented when he feels like taking the time and distracted when he’s not. He does respond well to varying the activities which focus on writing skills. Here are a few ideas brewing for his summer workshop:

  • Writing Fan Fiction– He’s a big fan of Redwall and has written fan fiction for Life of Fred books, but this time he’s working on a story about an inventor in the Redwall books. He’s the inventor, of course, and he’s got plans. This is one he’s typing out right into the computer and adds to the story regularly.
  • Using Copywork– We used copywork often when our kids were younger, but it has value as students get older. Copying good writing has its own value and practicing handwriting without the extra task of creating the writing makes for better focus on the mechanics of writing.
  • Practicing Dictation– I like to use dictation to hone skills which need work pulling from stories that he likes a lot.
  • Playing Word Games– Scrabble, Boggle, You’ve Been Sentenced, and Scattergories are all great games to bring the fun to words. Do you need more word game ideas? Try 100 Family Games for Kids of All Ages and scroll to the word game category for the ultimate list.
  • Book Check In (aka Narration)– He loves to chat about the book he’s reading and this gives me a chance to hear what he thinks about his books. I highly recommend this method. It beats other forms of reading comprehension. A lot of times narration is good fodder for writing prompts or you can just listen to the oral explanation.

How to Host a Summer Writer's Workshop

Middle School Summer Writing

Our new 8th grader will be working on getting more versatile in his writing. Some ideas for him include:

  • Find a Little Inspiration by Reading– I have in mind the book, Guy Write What Every Guy Writer Needs to Know by Ralph Fletcher. This is a book about boy writing. Perfect for this quintessential adventuring boy of ours.
  • Word Games– Keeping the vocabulary nimble and working with words without requiring writing them down.
  • Dictation– Specifically to hone in on the things I know he needs work on.
  • Writing Exploration– Simple writing exercises which are fun to think about. They can be lists, descriptions, captions, etc.

High School Summer Writing

Our high schoolers will be a senior and a sophomore this year. In case you’ve forgotten the class structure lingo that’s a 12th and 10th grader. Where has the time gone?! Ethan, our senior, is an engaged writer and plans to major in professional writing with the goal of being a technical writer (with a minor in computer science or math!). His writing focus this summer is mostly aimed at helping him achieve some personal goals in writing. Rebecca, our upcoming sophomore, will be working on a variety of skills. Here is a sampling:

  • Expository Essays– All high schoolers need to be able to write a solid expository essay. Rebecca is working on one now entitled, “Hemlines in History”. It takes a look at the trend in skirt length from 1900 to present. This goes along with fashion in history theme.
  • SAT Essay Practice– The class of 2016 is the last class to have the essay portion on the SAT. Ethan will spend time getting organized thoughts on paper in a timely manner in preparation for the exam in October.
  • Novel Writing– Ethan has been working on a time travel science fiction novel since working through his Other Worlds curriculum. He has a personal goal for completion.
  • Word Games– Any time you can play with words is well spent. For all of us. Including high schoolers.
  • Persuasive Essays– Another popular essay form for high schoolers and a hallmark of the SAT, is the persuasive essay. Just today Rebecca was making an argument for why Pluto should not be re-designated as a planet. Sounds like a perfect topic to me!
  • Collaboration– Ethan and Rebecca are planning a project where he writes and she illustrates. I don’t know what direction they are going in yet, but I’m eager to see the results.

How to Host a Summer Writer's Workshop

Round up of Writing Ideas

There are a few places in the world of the internet which I enjoy visiting for ideas. I’d like to share them with you:

  • WriteShop Blog– WriteShop is fantastic at breaking down the writing process. We have used WriteShop materials and I love the writing prompts they share on the blog.
  • Brave Writer– I’ve been hearing about Brave Writer for a long time and I recently picked up The Writer’s Jungle and High School Help. It’s so refreshing to read from a curriculum writer who gets how I teach writing! Julie has a lot of great prompts and ideas. Plus, you can sign up for daily writing tips.
  • Small World at Home– If you need ideas on Creative Writing check out Sarah’s sidebar for The Ultimate Guide to Creative Writing Resources and Wordsmithery.

Other Blog, She Wrote Posts on Writing

I’ve written a lot on our brand of writing instruction. Below are some links for more reading!

Resources for Coaching Writers

The idea isn’t to overwhelm my students and have the work nose to the grindstone all summer. Rather, we’ll do a few things a week just to keep the skills sharp, to develop a few without distraction, and to work toward goals they have set for themselves.

We’re looking forward to reading, discussing, and sharing the writing we’re engaged in this summer. Do you have plans for summer writing? Leave a comment and tell us what they are.

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Tips for a Well Written Expository Essay

Blog, She Wrote: Tips for a Well Written Expository Essay

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Back in high school I took a class that all the college bound students took- Expository Writing or “Expos” (pronounced X-Paas) for short. Thanks to Mrs. Etzler, I have a profound knowledge of certain grammar musts and how to keep sentences and ideas balanced- even if you don’t always see them practiced here. Being able to write a simple essay of explanation is imperative for homeschooled college hopefuls. It’s also a non-negotiable life skill in our home. Our goal as parents and teachers of our children is to help them to become effective written communicators. Today’s post- Tips for a Well Written Expository Essay.

What Is an Expository Essay?

These types of essays are explaining essays. They can explain any thing and a student’s position on a concept. The result of the essay will help others understand the topic at hand. There are always some general guidelines on what evaluators look for in an expository essay:

  • Develop a point of view given a prompt.
  • Support your position with experience, reading, studies, or observations- I have it on good authority that the SAT evaluators love it if you connect your position to a book. Also, take a side! Be bold!
  • Present a logical organization of the facts.
  • Follow grammar conventions of English

Resources for Practicing the Expository Essay

There are many websites with practice prompts and ideas for you to use with your high school student. Here are a few that caught my eye:

  • ACT sample essays– from The ACT folks. Prompts which ask you to look over an issue, choose a position and write an essay.
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab– There are some great pointers and reminders on this page as well as other information non-fiction writers might find useful including a link to MLA standards.
  • SAT Writing Practice– from the College Board website. This site has a wealth of information on what to expect on the SAT and how to prepare.

Make sure you require the expository style writing in your homeschool. It’s easy to ask our students to write creatively, but knowing how to develop an argument and state it concisely is a significant goal for high schoolers and for our students beyond high school no matter what they choose to pursue.

We require expository writing in all disciplines within our high school curriculum and we practice it weekly.

Outsourcing the Foundation for the Expository Essay

What if you aren’t feeling confident about teaching your college-bound student how to write an expository essay? Now that you have ideas for resources for practicing the essay, how about taking a class which offers your student another mentor?

Fortuigence offers modules of a course called, Essay Rockstar. Master the Expository Essay is an opportunity for your student to have one on one instruction in how to accomplish non-fiction writing in five steps. The objectives met in this class will help your student to write college exam and application essays in addition to improving their high school course writing.

Taking advantage of one four week course can be a smart addition to your high school English course.

Writing a well organized, concise essay with a clear position and specific support is essential to a student’s success in an expository essay. It’s a life skill for all adults and one necessary for admission to colleges.

How do you teach non-fiction writing in your homeschool? If you have other resources you enjoy, please leave a comment.

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Creating Other Worlds- Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction

Blog, She Wrote: Creating Other Worlds- Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction

Ethan, our 11th grader, is a writer. He loves to create worlds and activity within them. When he was younger, his stories told a tale, but they often didn’t end concisely. Or they simply ended. A bit too concisely. Now that he is half way through high school, we’ve been honing in on his interests and his course work reflects this. Enter novel writing courses. For the past two years, he has immersed himself in the many worlds of his novel settings. Do you have a student who loves to write science fiction and fantasy?

Creating Other Worlds- Science Fiction & Fantasy Writing

If you are unfamiliar with the genres, suffice it to say the world in which the story takes place helps to set these stories apart from just any adventure tale. In some way, the author of a fantasy and science fiction novel will build a world. Sometimes the author creates a whole new fantastical world and sometimes it is a world within our world.

The basic story structure is carried over into “other worlds”. In both fantasy & sci fi literature one main thing is the game changer.

  • Science Fiction– You’ll find one main scientific breakthrough or advance which changes how the story will play out or it can be a single change in history that gives the story its twist.
  • Fantasy– There will be something else magical about the world. For example, in Narnia the animals talk.

Resources for World Building

Does your student like to write and immerse himself in new worlds? Here are a few links from the website Go Teen Writers to help students think about their world building.

Worldbuilding is a lot of work! That’s why learning to write an adventure first is a good idea because it takes place in our world and you can concentrate on the story itself rather than building a world at the same time. If you have a student working on writing herself a world, these posts will be very insightful.

Blog, She Wrote: Creating Other Worlds- Writing Fantasy & Science FictionUsing Other Worlds Curriculum to Teach Fantasy & Science Fiction Writing

Other Worlds is the science fiction and fantasy expansion module from One Year Adventure Novel by Daniel Schwabauer. Ethan, our 11th grader, has been working with the curriculum for a year. I asked him for his take on the program and here’s what he said:

  • One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN)– has to be completed first. The Other Worlds curriculum is based on the original OYAN and referencing the original lessons is helpful as you go along.
  • The Tools Are There to Be a Finisher– You still need to bang out twelve chapters, but the OYAN model is helpful in finishing your storytelling.
  • There’s a Basic Story Structure– Which is carried over from OYAN. Three acts with four defining scenes. The outlining of the events in your novel is important for the story.
  • History of the Genres– You’ll learn how science fiction and fantasy got their start and who the major players were.
  • What Makes Science Fiction & Fantasy?– There are 10 to 12 lessons devoted to what defines these genres.
  • Collision Course Anthology– Is a collection of stories and excerpts from fantasy and science fiction which help to illustrate Daniel’s lessons.
  • Community Forum– For students of OYAN & Other Worlds. This is a community of writers where you can get advice on developing characters, general writing tips, get help with story ideas, engage in novel critiques, contribute to a collective novel, etc.
  • Summer Workshops– Every summer OYAN students gather from all over to listen to seminars and work in critique groups to improve their writing and learn writer’s craft.

As the teacher and a mom I’ll add a few more tidibits I like about the curriculum:

  • Video Lessons– They are thorough and so well done. I enjoyed watching them with my student and I’m looking forward to seeing them again with Rebecca this year.
  • Great Talking Points– As you progress through the curriculum, there will be a lot of opportunity for discussion. This has been invaluable in our homeschool. We’ve talked about books- classics and modern and read even more. It’s been fun to talk about books and about life with our teens based on the lessons.
  • Engagement– Whether it’s the online community of teens or the regularly scheduled evening webinars and summer workshops, the author and his wife interact with and encourage your student as do the other students.

Science Fiction Writing Sample

Blog, She Wrote: Creating Other Worlds- Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction

Having completed the outline over the last school year as an elective, Ethan has been working on the novel. I’m not sure it has a name yet, but the first chapter is complete. He said I could share it with you all as long as I let you know it’s a work in progress! This is the first three paragraphs of the first chapter. Currently, he’s working on a prologue.

I woke with a start at the crack of lightning overhead, drowning the room in a flash of light. The whole house shook when the thunder came a moment later. The rain pelted down, making little ‘ting’ sounds as it hit the roof and gutters. A dull roar built up in my head; each raindrop seemed to increase the pressure inside. With a sigh I pulled the blankets up a little farther up and rolled over. A moment later I pushed them back down and rolled the other way. Another crack lit up the sky.

I looked at the clock. 11:43. It was still early. And the storms were as bad as they ever had been. There were no good explanations. No explanations at all, in fact. Except one.… Whispers, rumors moving through the populace. Tales of a people who- No, I thought. But there was no doubt that the storms were getting worse. And there was nothing the government could do this time.

I slipped my feet from underneath the covers and onto the hard wood floor. The old boards creaked as I put my weight on them. I tip-toed down the hall to the old study. My exhaustion vanished in there, I was able to sleep. Why can I sleep in here? But I didn’t really care why, I just came to rest. I closed the heavy door behind me and sat in my father’s armchair to wait out the night.

His writing has really matured over the last few years since he initially started OYAN in 8th grade. It’s been enjoyable to watch the process. These days he writes (even in the summer) about an hour a day on average, but he said it should be more. I’m excited to see how his writing schedule takes shape this fall as he enters into a variety of writing courses.

Other Resources for Teaching Science Fiction & Fantasy Genres

Given that Ethan has such a profound interest in writing and literature, we’ve been taking advantage of opportunities as they come along.

  • Speculative Fiction Writing Workshop– At our local library. A local author is teaching “other world” writing through twice weekly gatherings for teens. At the end, their writing will be included in an anthology which is published.
  • Dystopian Literature Class– As part of our two hour, ten week co-op, Ethan is taking a dystopian literature class in which they will read and compare Fahrenheit 451 with The Hunger Games- a classic sci fi novel with a modern tale.
  • World of Imagination: Fantasy & Science Fiction Literature– Taught through The Potter’s School, these are two one semester courses. They will make the bulk of his English course for the year.

Do you have a student who loves to write stories? Do you have a big fantasy and science fiction fan in your home? Enjoy the journey with your student and engage in their world with them!

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