This website is so amazing. At Son of Citation Machine, you can get citations right every time according to the rules of the MLA, AP, or Chicago stylebooks. All you do is plug in the proper information for books, magazines, websites, etc. Not only does it automatically generate for you the correct bibliography format but it also generates the correct format for footnotes or in-text parenthetical citations. Now there is absolutely no reason why students can't properly format a Sources Cited page! Or at least, the reasons are now drastically reduced. Check back in 2 weeks to see how my research paper class students really do with their citations...
Saturday, March 31, 2007
Friday, March 30, 2007
Duncan cracks me up. My mother says "He's a thinker." I'm not sure what goes on in his head, but he is funny. Sometimes I think, "It's a good thing he's not in public school! The guidance counselors would be calling us in for sure!"
On the way to Jesse's orthodontist appointment: "What would happen if I lost all my teeth except my front two teeth? Then I'd look like an evil bunny with red eyes."
Upon seeing a ballet today, which included a prince in white tights: "You know, Mommy, that prince would be a lot more handsomer if he was wearing pants." Yup, buddy. Young men should just not be wearing tights and little short jackets.
I keep these quotes and many others from all the kids in a family book of quotes. I treasure that book possibly more than all the others. I love to read Jesse's table grace at age 3: "Dear God, Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum" or Laurel's "Someone's naked, Lord, Kum-Ba-Yah!" My mom suggested I write down the kids' funny sayings when Jesse was very little, and am I ever glad I did. I'd never want to forget Duncan's view of men in tights.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
So 14 years ago today I was still 3.5 hours away from delivering our firstborn. Jesse Lee was born at 5:15 p.m., weighing in at 8 lbs. 11 oz. He was the sweetest, most perfect baby imaginable. He has enriched our lives beyond description. Even I am at a loss for words that would capture in the slightest what it means to be sharing the life of this gracious, funny, and really smart person. Fourteen years ago my life changed forever, and I would never, never, never go back.
Monday, March 26, 2007
But I said in my calmest voice, "Come on over!" You see, my house was spotless. We'd had a shindig here this weekend, and two days later, the house was still spotless. While I gave Millard directions, the kids and I ran through the house picking up stray items, clearing off the table, and putting away our book bags. Laurel made sure the toilet was flushed and that there weren't any toys in the sinks. I was just putting away a few dishes when Millard pulled in the driveway. THREE minutes to a clean house.
Millard might live in a million-dollar house, but he's a down-to-earth kind of guy. Well, down-to-earth but speaking a different language. He's in town doing consulting with a uranium manufacturing firm in Oak Ridge, so he gave me a brief run-down of the secrets of Oak Ridge and of uranium. I'm sorry, but I truly can't repeat a thing he said except for "radiation leakage" (including a disturbing tale of "hot" deer in Oak Ridge) 235 and 238. He was kind enough to speak to me as if I had a clue what he was talking about.
Later Randy came home and we fixed a fabulous supper while my parents and Millard chatted (my mother is Millard's aunt). Supper conversation included such varied topics as physics, algebra, the history of science, politics, economics, football, and basketball. Now if you know me and you read that list of topics, you know that I had a glazed look in my eyes. But it is a pleasure listening to four brilliant adults (my husband, my parents, and my cousin) converse with enthusiasm on everything from "Why Tennessee bands play Rocky-Top all the time" to "Why the history of science should be taught." If I were a casual observer, I would have thought that Randy was the blood relative and I was the in-law. Good grief! Couldn't they talk about literature for just a few minutes?
And to top it all off, Millard used the word "nonplussed" in conversation in a perfectly natural way, and he used one word which I, yes I, the Queen of Grammar and All Such Related Things, have never, ever heard of. I can't even remember it to repeat it.
What a fun night, and what a joy to spend an afternoon and evening with a cousin I barely know. I found him truly delightful and funny. I am left with that wistfulness of wishing I knew my cousins better, of the years slipping away without embracing family to the fullest.
We keep our anniversaries simple. After church we had lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Los Amigos, and supper was a picnic in the park. Because all I ever wanted was a simple kind of life.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Does anyone else find this alarming? I just put away a basket of Duncan's clean clothes, which included: 6 pairs of jeans, 8 t-shirts, 3 pairs of pajamas, 3 pairs of socks.....and 1 (yes, one) pair of Spiderman underwear.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Because I teach creative writing classes for our local support group, I am often asked by a parent for my thoughts on a particular writing curriculum. I've perused about a dozen of the myriad creative writing options out there. I can say that most of these are very similar in approach, so you could probably go with any of them and provide an adequate creative writing foundation.
However, I'm all for moving beyond adequate, so I'll give some suggestions as to how to make creative writing a more exciting experience. Warning: some teacher preparation will be required for this!
First of all, this is a good time to reiterate that nothing will prepare your children to be good writers better than to fill their hands and heads with good books. Read to them every day. We have literally been reading to our children from the day we brought them home from the hospital. I’m sure Jesse didn’t understand much of Western Civilization or The Journal of Systematic Botany when he was 48-hours old, but he did hear words and language and the cadence of our voices. I can’t imagine a day going by when we don’t read at the very least a chapter of a current book to the kids. [Note: We don’t read aloud to our teenager anymore in the evening, but I do Sonlight read-alouds every day. The younger two get a full dose of Sonlight read-alouds during the day and their own chapter books at bedtime.]
So, first of all, don’t expect your kids to understand how to write creatively if you aren’t reading aloud to them--or if they aren't reading books themselves. Next: a problem that I have found across the board with creative writing guides is that they try to put writing into a box: here's how we write a story, here's how we write a form poem, here's how we write about ourselves. Now while these are the three basic genres of creative writing (fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction), a whole lot of other good stuff is waiting anxiously just between the lines.
The best book I've found so far is a little gem called If You’re Trying to Teach Kids to Write, You’ve Gotta Have This Book! by Marjorie Frank. This book is absolutely packed with fun writing exercises. It will take you some time to go through the book yourself and pick exercises, but it is well worth it. Two other books I like are WordPlay Café by Michael Kline and Kids Write by Rebecca Olien. (And since I'm often asked, if I were going to pick any one creative writing program, other than creating my own, it would be the Bravewriter program. I like what I see there.)
Drawing from ideas in the books above, you can then create your own creative writing curriculum. You can take a page or idea each week and easily have a year’s worth of really stimulating creative writing exercises. I'm not talking about sentence structure, paragraphs and essays. I'm talking about letting your kids explore creatively with words and language. I know that may sound daunting, so let me give you some specifics.
* One day a week, have an actual lesson in creative writing. Start at the beginning—with words. Explain that all writing is made up of words. Make a list of words that sound really interesting: sassafras, oozing, buttery. Be word collectors. Try putting words together in odd ways, such as “The oozing sassafras sleeked and slithered onto the buttery Birkenstock.” Read "Jabberwocky." Encourage your kids to collect words that they like throughout the week. (You might post this in a central location, like the refrigerator.) Your kids will start thinking about words. That is step one. They need to learn to appreciate and really get to know words intimately.
* The next week, talk about synonyms and adjectives. Give them a list of “bad words” that they absolutely cannot use: big, good, nice, pretty, small, very, cool, went, said. Have them make posters OUTLAWING those words (like a “no smoking” sign with the word crossed out). Encourage them to think of more descriptive words, and fill those in around the poster. For example, instead of “said,” they can write, “chattered,” “shrieked,” “whispered,” etc. This is a good time to introduce them to the thesaurus.
*The next week, talk about strong verbs. Have them come up with exciting words for everyday words, such as eat (e.g., gobble), walk (e.g., lumber), and talk (e.g., chatter). Try to get them to outdo each other (and you) by coming up with outrageous words for simple actions. Look for poems with strong verbs, or find examples is stories where the author chose to use a word like “tiptoe” instead of “walk.”
* The next week, teach them how to turn boring sentences into exciting ones using adjectives and strong verbs. This has been a favorite exercise for all my writing classes: take a sentence like "She ate dinner" and turn it into "The headstrong acrobat insisted upon slurping her spaghetti upside down." Make up lots of sentences and expand them together. (Did I mention yet that Mom or Dad should be doing this with the kids?) In class recently we turned “The man went to the city” into “The aging rock star rode his psychedelic tour bus into Chicago for his final performance.” Come back to this exercise again and again. They love this.
So there are just a few sample lessons, but add this to the above:
1. In addition to your one-day-a-week short lesson, let your child pick out a writing journal. Then get your kids to write in it at least 3 days a week by giving short writing prompts. Start small. Let's say that you are beginning with adjectives (and this is a very good place to begin). Give an assignment Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, such as: On Tuesday, write three words to describe your brother, three words to describe the smell of your dirty laundry, and three words to describe the taste of the color orange. Follow a pattern like this for those three days. (If your kids are older than 3rd grade, increase the number of required adjectives if necessary.)
The options for writing prompts are limitless. Your writing prompts could be lists: List 10 ways to catch an armadillo; list the top ten things you'd like to do on a rainy day; list 10 ingredients in elephant pie.
Here are just a few sites for writing prompts. I’d recommend wading through and finding the most exciting prompts—and some I would avoid completely (such as, “what do you dislike about yourself?”):
The Teachers' Corner
Can Teach Prompts
Daily Writing Ideas
2. Share your work. This is a VERY important part of the process. Mom (or Dad) needs to do this, too. Sit down with your kids and do the assignment, too. Then share your work! There is something immensely gratifying to a child to get to share his writing in this way. I can't explain it, but I have seen it work again and again. Even if you decide to stick with a traditional writing program, YOU should do the work, too, and share your writing with your child.
3. Consider a traveling mascot. In my creative writing classes, we have a special friend who goes home with a different child each week. This session it is Philip the Frog, a plastic tree frog. The lucky student takes home Philip and the notebook, and their job is to record Philip’s adventures at their house. I’ve had students take photos of Philip’s week, and I even had a girl send Philip to Chicago with her father on a business trip! You can easily translate this into your own family. Find a special critter. Encourage your child to take the Critter with him to various activities and to write from that Critter’s perspective. Parents should do this, too. So, one week can be the child’s week (rotate through the kids if you have more than one), the next week mom, then dad, etc. You could even send the critter to grandparents and ask them to write about the critter’s week with them.
4. Don’t worry about grammar and spelling. Please, please don’t stifle their creativity for a misspelled word! There are plenty of other opportunities for correction.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with books that teach creative writing. It’s just that most of them are dull and much too often kids begin to dread writing because of boring assignments. Kids are often terribly upset with their moms for signing them up for my creative writing class. Their mothers tell me that they hate writing. Usually by the second week of classes, these kids are practically jumping out of their seats to get to read their journal writings and assignments aloud in class. My main point in all of this is that you can make creative writing more exciting by venturing outside the traditional books. Creative writers must first learn to love language, and that first step is too frequently neglected in guidebooks. As the poet William Cowper once penned, “Variety's the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavor.” If your kids are struggling with creative writing, check out the books I listed above. Search the internet for “how to teach creative writing.” Don’t rely on some “approved” curriculum provider’s crummy guide. If you take the time to give them just one fun lesson a week, you’ll change their view on writing creatively—and you’ll get your own creative juices flowing, as well.
I appreciate you taking the time to put all those helpful hints down for those of us who are writing-challenged! And not just hints, but wonderful advice from a respected writer and a grown-up who is amazingly gifted at verbal and written expression! Thanks for giving!
This is just where we are right now!!! I NEEDED HELP!!!! I gave my boys an assignment - saw what they did - and thought, "What am I doing wrong??" So - I'm saving this and reading and re-reading and going to go looking at the books you suggested!! Thank you!!!
When Billy was tiny I read to him all the time, from the newspaper and magazines. I figured at such a young age, content didn't matter as much as the sound of my voice.
Thanks for the creative writing ideas, it's definitely an area we struggle in.
Amen! I totally agree with everything you stated here. I have used this approach with my kids and it is proving to have paid off. We are also avid readers, which I agree makes all the difference.
Davis is now in eighth grade and is quite a good writer. I wanted to make sure I wasn't just biased, so I enrolled him in a (Co-op) Compostion class. This teacher claims to be tough, but so far Davis has loved being in her class, and has gotten A's and a few B's on his writing assignments. We have used some of the books you mentioned, and I agree that a love of writing will flow out of a positive experience... and from lots of reading.
We have been quite light on formal grammar until now. I admit that I am learning right along with Davis. My education is definately lacking in that area!
My 5th grader still has a lot to learn about mechanics, but she likes to write..to tell stories, so I just let her go. When I feel it is necessary, I will help her to "bone up" on her grammar issues as well.
Thanks for the links. I will check them out. It's always fun to find something new.
Thanks for your enthusiasm, too, It's encouraging to have someone else "sing my song" once in a while, and to remind me that I do have a plan.... and I am not just a Loony Toon!
Oh, this is fabulous, a keeper. And it should be in the next Carnival of Homeschooling.
You make creative writing sound quite do-able! My oldest dd(10) loves to write, but I think your ideas would knock her socks off!
I think Sarah that your suggestions were excellent. First, I would agree is to have your children read, read, read, and read to them. Also, I think the quality of writings has to be closely evaluated and of the highest caliper. I think that both morally and creatively it should all be there.
Challenge their vocabulary levels. Read Chesterton to them and some Shakespeare, at the right points. IOW, lots of variety.
Then, I would also agree, have them daily journal or nowadays start a blog.
Love of the language can develop IF they have challenging books such as Sayers and others that stretch the English vocabulary.
I would also encourage possible online collaborative writings with other people using Google Writely.
Also, like in Finding Forester, sometimes they should be encouraged not to think but just to start typing (if they are at that age). Sometimes, the mechanical act of typing/writing is what spawns creativity itself.
i need to bookmark this post it has so much good information in it. i should actually print it out!
You must have been channeling my frustration because creative writing is anything but creative in my house! We do well for short bursts of time and then lapse back into boredom.
Great ideas...I recommend the sharing your writing advice. It does work!
I loved this post! I want you to be MY creative writing teacher. I want you to make me a list of writing prompts, and a week by week creative writing lesson plan. Better yet, I want you to come to my house and do this FOR me...lol. And yet...every time I read about creative writing and the concept of regular journal writing comes up, my heart flops over and slithers dejectedly over my liver and past my spleen and lands with a half-hearted plop somewhere in the vicinity of my left little toe, moaning, "It'll NEEEVER work!" My son won't write. He WON'T write. Especially not in a journal (I even tried calling it something more fun, but he was onto me qucker'n a hungry flea on a dawg--and it wasn't purty). He will sometimes fill in blanks in workbooks, but only with the very least words he can possibly get away with. He will literally spend half an hour trying to figure out how to say it in three words instead of four. He was in a 'real' school for four years. Four "professional" teachers, two one-on-one technicians, an occupational therapist, a speech pathologist, a school psychiatrist, a special education teacher, and the district autism team could not make my son write regularly to prompts in a journal--despite his high IQ and obviously precocious vocabulary. So, shoot, woman! Fabulous ideas, if only they'd work!
HOWEVER, I love the idea of starting with just great words. And I'm going to give that a shot. THANKYOU so much for the idea. At least it's a direction to go in.
I'm copying and pasting it into an e-mail and e-mailing it to myself. :-) I've been wondering how I can get Mini-Me past her simple sentences and then I stumbled across this today. Thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom!!
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I am loving spring break. This is the first year in many that we have taken official week-long breaks, and it is a gooooooooood thing. Today I worked for a couple of hours on a project I'm doing for my Mom's 80th birthday, which is coming up in a few weeks. I also got some much-needed cleaning done and visited with my brother and his wife for awhile. And then we took advantage of another gorgeous day to visit the Sam Houston Schoolhouse, which is about 5 miles from my home--and I've never been there until today.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Some days border on utter perfection. Today was one of those that should be captured and put into a smooth cedar box, to be taken out and held and remembered when the children are grown.
There is effort involved in seizing these perfect days. There is food to buy and pack, stuff to gather, a dog to rein in, and time in the car on mountain roads. It is too easy to let these days slip through our fingers by sheer lack of will or by putting them off for another day—by choosing housecleaning over mountains, or algebra over daffodils. With flexibility comes great freedom and many, many rewards.
Monday, March 12, 2007
I am spoiled forever by the South, I really am. My father was mentioning "snow" and "Stephen" today, and I realized that he was talking about all the snow my brother Stephen has in N.Y. The kids and I spent a couple of hours this afternoon at a park. When we came home, they put on shorts and played outside until 7:30 p.m. The daffodils and hyacinths are up, and the redbuds are just about to burst. In New York, winter drags on. The photo above is my mother on her cross-country skis and me tagging along behind, perhaps in March when I was about 6. March was still a winter month then; we didn't even hope for spring until mid-April. Even then, sometimes a spring snow would surprise us, bending the blooming lilacs down to the ground. I miss lilacs. I don't miss the mushy March snows.
Monday, March 5, 2007
I love Brussels Sprouts, but I understand that many people find them repulsive. This is probably because they have eaten mushy, overcooked sprouts. So, while mine are roasting, I wanted to share this recipe that will potentially make a Brussels Sprouts lover out of the most resistant:
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and yellow leaves removed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).
- Place trimmed Brussels sprouts, olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Seal tightly, and shake to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet, and place on center oven rack.
- Roast in the preheated oven for 30 to 45 minutes, shaking pan every 5 to 7 minutes for even browning. Reduce heat when necessary to prevent burning. Brussels sprouts should be darkest brown, almost black, when done. Adjust seasoning with kosher salt, if necessary. Serve immediately.
Laurel's speech was about the early automobile. My Uncle Max found photos from Aunt Flossie's journey and sent them to Laurel, and she included this story in her report. Of course I only knew Aunt Flossie as a lady in her senior years, but she was spunky even then. I think I would have loved traveling to the coast with her in 1921.
Friday, March 2, 2007
My brother Stephen was in town from Tuesday through Thursday. Often I am irritated when he visits because he does so unexpectedly and with no definite plans. I want to know when he will arrive and when he will depart. But he doesn't operate like that. If he had children whom he homeschooled, he would be unschooling's greatest advocate. But this visit I literally stopped and reminded myself that flexibility applies to more than just choosing to do more history and less handwriting. Flexibility should include taking advantage of moments as they come to us.
And so, this week brought a winter picnic with nearly my whole nuclear family--only our brother James was missing. I think it must thrill my mother to have us all together if just for an afternoon.
And this week brought a day filled with friends. Thursday we attended a play with our support group and ate lunch together afterwards. Reluctant to let go of her friends, Laurel begged for Clea and Tae'lor to come over after lunch. Why not? For me, it meant three hours of joyful conversation with their mom, my wonderful friend Sheila.