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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Using Writing Conferences to Coach Writing

Using Writing Conferences to Coach Writing

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One of the 10 Things That Makes a Great Homeschool Day is the conference we have with our writers. I’m often asked what a writer’s conference looks like, so today I’ll explain Using Writing Conferences to Coach Writers of all ages. It feels out of context to only tell about the conference portion of the process, so I’m including where we start and how we finish out the assignment as well.

My philosophy on teaching writing and language skills from a young age is one of a coaching role. My job is to meet my writers where they are, give them the tools they need and how to use them, and to help them to meet their goals. What is the goal? To be an effective written communicator. That’s what it’s all about.

Step 1- Give the Writing Assignment

Using Writing Conferences to Coach Writing

The first step is to assign a task for writing. Perhaps it will be something from your curriculum or it could be something outside a set curriculum such as a thank you letter or a blog post. The assignment depends on the level of the student and what skills need the most work. Our younger students focus on writing which comes from their studies while older students may work on writing in the content areas in addition to their English course.

Elementary Assignments

Writing choice for elementary grades might include:

  • Narration from a book they are reading– They will tell me what is happening or what their favorite part so far in the story is.
  • Simple Writing Prompts– Inspire young writers for a few paragraphs of story.
  • Short Research Ideas– To follow a bunny trail from our studies. In the picture above, our 4th grader was reading about The Black Spot from Treasure Island. He was able to write about what he learned and report to us at dinner.

Middle School Assignments

Typically a middle school student will be learning to better organize their writing and you can give longer assignments. This is a great time to stretch their skill set. A few ideas:

  • More Detailed Writing Prompts– From sources like WriteShop and Story Starters work well at this age.
  • Writing Journal Ideas– from books like Ripe the Page & Spilling Ink.
  • Reports– Tell about anything they are learning in classes or about people they want to know more about.
  • Persuasive Essays– It’s a great skill to be compelling with writing. Our kids practice this skill any time they want something that will take extra convincing. A well written persuasive piece goes a long way.

High School Assignments

By high school, writing gets more complex and we are preparing our students for college entrance, college courses, and life beyond high school. For example:

  • Essays on Books– Books for classes, books they are reading. Being able to summarize and give an opinion or a thesis based on a work of literature is critical for the college bound student.
  • Research Papers– For any number of courses based on interest or a curiosity. Our 11th grader is finishing up a paper for biology on The Plague vs Ebola. I suggested the assignment based on questions he had about the virus when the breakout occurred over the summer. It sparked questions about the number of deaths from Ebola and how that compared with the Black Death from the Middle Ages. It’s an interesting read and requires biological knowledge in addition to history and current events.
  • Blog Posts– Both of our teens keep a blog, though they don’t regularly contribute. Blogs help young writers to find a voice.
  • Writing Related to Subjects– Rather than following the exact assignment from history, our high schoolers are choosing something to research and write and essay about based on something they thought was interested in their history reading. Below is an essay on convenience and junk foods from the early part of the last century. I let my students choose what strikes them as a good topic for their essays rather than always delivering assignments.

Using Writing Conferences to Coach Writing

Step 2- PreWriting

Before your student begins to write, it’s important to organize information. How do we do it and what tools do we use?

  • Outlines– For some of my kids, a simple outline type list of what they want to include and where is sufficient for prewriting.
  • Graphic Organizers– Visual representations of what to include in their writing.
  • Discussions– We talk a lot about what to include and how they want to proceed. Sometimes even a focused conversation goes a long way to organizing writing for older kids.

Step 3- First Draft

There comes a time in every writing task, when it’s time to write. I try to encourage our students to write without worrying about every little thing. The idea is to complete a draft, so we can make it even better. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time.

  • Work from Their PreWriting– Use the outline or graphic organizer or list to write from so that they include everything.
  • PreWriting Does A Lot of Work Ahead of Time– If they don’t ignore it, they have a road map for their first draft.

Step 4 Self- Edit the First Draft

For the most part, I prefer not to look at my kids’ writing until they have been over the assignment themselves to see if they can pick out glaring errors. There are a lot of ways to do this, but I usually remind them of mistakes they often make. Things like:

  • Capital letters at the start of sentences
  • Proper nouns capitalized
  • Sentences end with punctuation
  • Commas in a series or to set off a clause
  • Repetitive words- look for words you use too often.
  • Too many “to be” verbs- this is a newer one added to the list
  • Misspelled words- circle the ones you aren’t sure about’=
  • Indented paragraphs
  • Complete sentence- do your sentences have a subject and a predicate?
  • Does it make sense? Read it over and catch missing words or left out information

There are more you could add to the list depending on the skill level of your students. If I can get my students to notice this short list of things and fix even some of them on their own, that is a win.

Step 5- Turn in the Edited First Draft

Now it’s time to turn in the draft to me. The first time I see it, is after they’ve taken a look at it and hopefully caught some simple mistakes. How do they turn in their work?

  • Hand written– Our younger students still like to turn in hand written work. Our youngest loves computers so I look for opportunities where he can work away from them!
  • Computer print outs– Students will compose their work on the computer, print it, self-edit or self-edit then print, and hand over the printed paper to me.
  • Computer email submission– This is a new favorite of mine. Especially during the mentoring process. They email me a Word document that I can edit electronically too. The nice thing about electronic editing is the opportunity to interface right on the computer within the document. Microsoft Office 2013 allows you to mark up papers and you can see below (and above) how the edits are seen on the computer. I can make marks on the paper and leave notes in the margin marked by a quote bubble the student can click into and read.

The electronic communication is nice for going back and forth during the writing process– especially for high schoolers. If your older students ever take online courses, this will get them accustomed to the format as well.

To store the documents, I keep an email folder for each of my kids as well as a folder on my computer to store their document and final draft. I’m fairly comfortable with this knowing we back up our computers and server so that we don’t lose data.

Using the Writing Conference to Coach Writing

Step 6- Conference with Mom Your Writing Mentor

The coaching and mentoring occurs throughout the process in various ways. I try not to micromanage, but to give them the tools they need to do what they can. Then we talk about their work and they make adjustments.

  • Discuss the Assignment– Before they begin writing, we make sure the expectations are clear and even before an exact assignment is given, I discuss what direction they want to head in (especially for older kids).
  • Check in on the PreWriting– Method and progress, help if needed, review what needs to be in the essay. See if they are having trouble focusing on what needs to be there and help them to get back on track or to make adjustments.
  • Reminders on Self Editing– What to look for and how to mark it or edit it
  • Read Through– I will do a read through after the first draft has been edited by the student. I jot down initial reactions and then read it again.
  • Make Suggestions for Revision– Based on the goals of the assignment and the skills we are working on. For younger students, it might be a few basic items. For older students, we’ll look at the piece as a whole. Expectations for my 11th grader and 4th grader are different.
  • Read Through Subsequent Drafts– The older the student, the more drafts required because by the end of the process, the goal is a polished piece of writing.

Turn in The Final Draft

For younger kids, the final draft will be a more polished version but it will probably not be perfect. The older your students get, the more polished the final draft will become. I accept final copies in the following ways:

  • Hand Written– A new copy written with revisions
  • Computer Print Out– A revised version printed and turned in
  • Electronic Copy– Fully revised and submitted electronically. I can choose to simply read it and store it or I can print it for physical portfolio type purposes. Again, we do a lot of back ups so I’m not worried about losing everything. You’d have to decide whether this works for you.

The process repeats itself with each new piece of writing we encounter throughout the year and as time goes on, we see improvements in our kids’ writing and they get closer to reaching their writing goals.

Other Resources for Coaching Writers

High School Skills Analyzing Text

Writing is a big part of life here at Blog, She Wrote. It’s such an important life skill whatever the future holds for our students. Enjoy a peek at some other posts on writing and a few Pinterest Boards.

Slow and steady wins the race. We try to keep moving forward and see our kids make progress in their writing skills. We add in what’s necessary as they gain skills so they can be stretched to the next level. Our kids are immersed in reading and writing in many forms from a young age and we love to watch them gain confidence as they get older.

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Writing the Personal Essay

Blog, She Wrote: Writing the Personal Essay

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If you have a high school senior, chances are you helping them to navigate the college application process right now. Or maybe your aspiring middle or high schooler wants to enjoy a special program requiring a personal statement. It’s time to sharpen our skills with Writing the Personal Essay.

Reasons to Write a Well Composed Personal Essay

Why take the time to master the personal essay? There are many reasons. Here are some:

  • Applications for Special Programs– Summer camps, gifted programs, and other opportunities often require an essay from the student stating why he or she is qualified and why they want to attend.
  • Job Applications– Depending on the job, your student may be asked to tell why he or she wants to work there.
  • Job Interviews– Being able to talk about oneself in a confident manner is an important life skill we all need to have.
  • College Applications & Interviews– If your student is college bound, then without a doubt she will be asked to write a personal essay for the college application. He may have to write many depending on how many schools he is applying to. Some schools follow up the application with an interview.

Qualities of a Well Written Personal Essay

The organization or college receiving the application will deterine who your student is and how well they write by reading this essay. Often it is the only part of the application process which allows your student to share his personal voice. Ready for some advice?

  • Be self-reflective. Your student wants to be thoughtful and honest. The institution wants to see she has gained a clear perspective on her experiences.
  • Personalize the essay to its purpose– for the individual college, program, or job.
  • Take the time to plan, write, edit, and revise until the essay is perfect in topic and composition & grammar. This is not meant to be a quick process, so make sure you leave time for the task.
  • Give a unique perspective of yourself (written by the student)
  • Be authentic.
  • Give a vivid & compelling picture of yourself.
  • Strive for depth, not breathe– you don’t want just a list of accomplishments, but an essay that well supports the them with your experience (think quality vs. quantity).
  • Hits & conforms to the target guideline– did you answer the question the application is asking?
  • Contains compelling introduction– which makes the reader want to keep reading.
  • Transforms challenges into positives– it’s ok to have flaws. Remember to be authentic.
  • Avoid repeating information from the essay in other parts of the application- I read this from several different sources. Must be important!
  • Avoid sarcasm & snark– even if that is authentic!
  • Demonstrates confidence– to overcome obstacles and achieve goals.

That’s quite a list! However, it’s pretty specific. Based on this list, I can see how the personal essays we’ve written can be improved dramatically. Focusing on the quality of the essay and its uniqueness is desired over the laundry list of accomplishments. Remember, those will be enumerated in other parts of the application process.

Other Benefits of a Well Written Personal Essay

Taking the time to write about oneself has many benefits. What other activities help to do the following:

  • Helps students to reflect on what they like to do
  • Gives students pause to formulate who they are & what they are about in a succinct manner.
  • Gives voice to their talents
  • Refines the skill of finding a niche when they retool the basic essay for various venues

Using a Mentor to Write the Personal Essay

It’s good practice to start practicing good personal essays before you need them! It’s a great high school writing task no matter what grade your students are in. How about resources for getting the job done? The list above is a tall order. Perhaps you need some help.

  • Tips from Websites– a simple search yielded a lot of results including this one. While we focused on the qualities of a good essay, it might be good to check on the non-examples too. Make sure to avoid the pitfalls!
  • Books on Preparing for College– There are so many on the market from the College Board to Homeschooling books aimed at helping your kids get into college.
  • Personalized Mentoring– Fortuigence offers an Essay Rockstar course in Mastering the Personal Statement Essay. Even more than knowing what makes a good personal essay is practicing it and refining it until it’s neared perfection. If you are not confident in your expertise in this area, outsourcing can be a solution. The one on on mentoring through Fortuigence offers your student additional feedback and as a parent you are not left out of the loop. Working with Essay Rockstar courses can help you, as a parent, to be a better mentor for your kids as writers.

If you subscribe to Fortuigence’s website today, you can receive 20% off all courses, including Mastering the Personal Statement Essay through October 14, 2014.

Is it time to approach mastery of the personal essay in your homeschool? Make use of these tips and get one step closer to achieving your future goals!

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