Archive for the ‘ Writing ’ Category

WWII Portfolio Project

Friday, March 21st, 2014

I received several emails and a message from people interested in the WWII Portfolio Project I made for LD. So, here it is!

My son is doing some research work on WWII. Except for reading some novels last year (like Number the Stars), we have not covered this topic at all… He has been doing quite a bit of reading and has watched a video before jumping into the project ideas below.  This is *not* a full, complete study of WWII, but rather an introduction to some WWII topics (if you know what I mean).  I just felt I had to explain that since I’ve taught courses on the modern European history, the Holocaust, etc. This project just serves as his first introduction into WWII. My son is 10.

So what has he done so far? He’s read through some general WWII books from the library. I picked up the “I Survived…” books that had to do with WWII. He read I Survived the Nazi Invasion. He thought it was “pretty good,” though not as good as the Percy Jackson series. :) They are short novels, so he was able to read through that one in just a day.  I also got him the I Survived Pearl Harbor which he said he’ll start tomorrow.  He also has been watching the made-for-TV miniseries  called Holocaust (with James Woods and Meryl Streep). I went back and forth whether to let him watch it… It’s not gruesome or graphic (for the most part), but it is emotional and powerful (and long — 7 or 8 hours). It touches on so many key events… Krystalnacht, the early attempts at gassing people, the SS firing squads, the development and use of Zyklon B in the “showers,”  the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto.  With those tough topics, you’ll have to decide for your own family if the series is “too rough.”

As for the portfolio project, I also wanted to make it clear that he does not have to do every project listed below… he’ll pick and choose the projects that interest him.

If you’re interested, you can download if free by clicking on the link:

WWII Portfolio Project

By the way, here is a nice blank map of the WWII countries in Europe. I printed one out for LD:

This is a really neat video showing how borders in Europe changed during WWII.

My daughter is doing her research portfolio projects on animals. You can download by visiting this post: Animal Portfolio Project.

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Animal Portfolio Project

Monday, March 17th, 2014

The kids are starting on another independent research project.  Last semester the kids did a biography research project, but this semester they are doing a portfolio project. That’s just a fancy way of saying… a bit of this and a bit of that.  They’ll do both non-fiction and fiction writing selections, art projects, geography and habitat projects. And they’ll also watch a number of videos and/or movies.  You’ll get a better idea if you look at DD’s portfolio project choices below!

I am having yet another surgery on my ear on Wednesday (March 19th) and I’ll be writing a bit more about that tomorrow.  But because of this and the long recovery/rehab afterwards, I wanted the kids to have a project that they could work on independently. Their grandparents have been with us since my 3rd surgery a couple of weeks ago (March 4th). They will be working with the kids a bit so they’ll help in a general way (trips to the library, helping find supplies, rounding the kids up to actually work on their portfolio projects).
My hope is that the kids have a lot of fun exploring topics that are of interest to them.

DD decided she wanted to learn about animals.  I came up with a whole bunch of project ideas for her to choose from. She’ll select a number of projects from each category–writing, geography & habitats, and art.  She chose 3 animals to focus on: the mountain lion, grey wolf and coyote. I also ordered some DVDs that she and ED can watch like Discovery Channel’s Living with Wolvesand White Fang.

Here are a couple examples of activities she can choose from the writing portion:

  • ________ Write a speech or a letter to the president on why your animal needs protection in the wild.
  • ________ Menu: Create a humorous menu at a restaurant where your animals would like to eat.

If you are interested, you can download this packet.  There’s also a sheet for her to list the books and videos she watches (not pictured below).

Animal Portfolio Project

By the way, here is an example of a “clay map” mentioned above. This was a clay map we made of ancient Greece and the Mediterranean Sea.

Maps can also be made of graham crackers like the map we made of England, Scotland and Whales. You’ll find the recipe for homemade graham crackers here.

Usually, I don’t share our downloads/material until we’ve tested them out. This time I’ll have to come back to tell you how successful this was!  DD and LD have loaded up on books and started doing some reading, but have only just begun delving into their projects… gathering resources at the library and just beginning to do some reading.

Oh–and LD’s topic is World War II. Since we’ve never covered the World Wars, he’ll only cover some of the surface topics. I’m happy to share that if anyone is interested, but it just barely touches the surface with topics such as how WWII began, Allies vs. Axis powers, weapons, famous battles, the concentration camps and so forth. Click here to see the post and to download the WWII Portfolio Project.

~Liesl

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How Do I Help the Kids to Start Writing?! Day 5 (Exploring Memories)

Monday, March 10th, 2014

This was one of the best mini lessons we’ve had on writing.  The kids still talk about how much they enjoyed sharing their memories and writing about them. They’ve asked me when we can do this again.  I call that a successful day!

If you’ve missed the previous posts in this series, I would suggest you go back and start with them, though honestly, you can do any of these lessons in any order. They are just topic suggestions.

You’ve set up a good writing space, have your supplies – pencils, journals, resource materials. Now what?!! This is the second in a series of 5 posts with lesson ideas to help young writers get started on their writing journey. Be sure to read the introduction to this series in How Do I Help the Kids to Start Writing?! Day 1.

Here are some of our first mini-lesson topics. I used mentor texts and picked them apart to help the kids see some of the elements that make for good writing.

In this series I’ll go into more detail on each one:

  1. What makes a good book or story?
  2. Make your story come alive with details and description.
  3. Creating Interesting Characters
  4. Story Openings: Set the mood or feeling of your story
  5. Gathering story ideas from your own life

You can use these lessons in any order.

Writing Workshop, Day Five: Exploring Memories; Gathering story ideas from your own life.

Read Aloud with the Kids:

We started this day reading Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. It was about a young boy who befriends an old lady. She has begun to lose her memory.  The little boy brings her all kinds of treasures he has gathered to help her find her memory. As she goes through the basket and pulls out the items one-by-one she is reminded of incidents from her own childhood.

Product Details

 

Activity:

I told the kids to go gather 3-5 things that were special to them and had good memories. The kids ran off really excited!  DD said, “Oooh this is just like show-and-tell!”  I too went off find a few things to share with the kids.

Just like the story, we all had a lot of memories to share!  I think the best moment for me was when the kids wanted me to put them in the sling that I had carried them around in when they were babies and toddlers.  Even LD (age 9 at the time) wanted a turn!  I was surprised to find just how easy it was to hold my 65 pound boy on my hip!

After talking and sharing (for quite a long time I might add!), we all went off to write.  I loved LD’s description of his two blue puppies, Thunder and Lightning. “What I like about them is not that I had them in Australia, but all the memories I have because they came with me on so many trips… Nashville, Williamsburg, fossil hunting, California.”

As I said above, the kids were very inspired by this book and mini-lesson! DD has begged me to do this again.

You can download and printout a copy of this mini lesson by printing on the link below.

Writing Mini Lesson (Day 5) Exploring Memories:  Gathering story ideas from your own life

 

 

This is the last post in the series for now (unless I hear from anyone that they’re interested in more).

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How Do I Help the Kids Start Writing?! (Day 4–Story Openings)

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Day 4: Story Openings–Set the mood or feeling of your story

You’ve set up a good writing space, have your supplies – pencils, journals, resource materials. Now what?!! This is the second in a series of 5 posts with lesson ideas to help young writers get started on their writing journey. Be sure to read the introduction to this series in last Monday’s post, Day 1.

Here are some of our first mini-lesson topics. I used mentor texts and picked them apart to help the kids see some of the elements that make for good writing.

In this series I’ll go into more detail on each one:

  1. What makes a good book or story?
  2. Make your story come alive with details and description.
  3. Creating Interesting Characters
  4. Story Openings: Set the mood or feeling of your story
  5. Gathering story ideas from your own life

You can use these lessons in any order.

Day 4: Story Openings: Set the mood or feeling of your story

Writing is often best learned by imitation. We all need good models. The more we read and are exposed to good writing, the more often we’ll come across a style we want to emulate. In this 4th post, we talked about story openings… selecting a number of different books and looking closely at how the author started their story.

We started this day with a mountain of books in front of us.  I started by explaining this:

“Once you have a book in your hand, the author has a challenging job. She needs to set the scene, the mood and the characters. Most importantly, she has to draw you in right away so you’ll want to read more.  Let’s look at the openings of a few stories… your job is to tell me whether you want to hear more or not.”

“Leonardo was a terrible monster…” [Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems]

“Greetings, nephew!” cried Louis’s Uncle McAllister, “I’ve brought a wee bit of Scotland for your birthday.” [The Mysterious Tadpole by Steven Kellogg]

“In a small, cosy cottage lived Mrs. McTats. She lived all alone, except for one cat.” [Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats by Alyssa Satin Capucilli]

“Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman.” [Millions of Cats  by Wanda Gag]

“The kids in Room 207 were misbehaving again.” [Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard]

“Kaleb and his two daughters hurried along Lancaster County Road in their buggy.” [Just Plain Fancy by Patricia Polacco]

“Before Julius was born, Lilly was the best big sister in the whole world.” [Julius, Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes]

Today The kids begged me to read more from a couple of the books.  I asked them what made them desperate to hear more? The author did his job, I told them He made you WANT to read that book and grabbed your attention, right? (The kids laughed.)

Now let’s see what else happens in these opening sentences…

They introduce the characters, right? The kids chimed in…

  • Julius, the baby and Lilly his sister
  • Mrs. McTats and her one cat
  • Leonardo
  • Kaleb and his two daughters

These sentences set the mood or feeling of the book. I re-read the first sentence of the Mysterious Tadpole. I asked, is it a sad story? scary? spooky? No, no the kids replied. It starts off happy. But Leonardo was a terrible monster starts off sad, DD chimed in.

Finally, we described the setting. Did you find out right from the beginning where the story takes place?

  • Just Plain- starts in the country
  • Mrs. McTats starts in a cottage
  • Swimmy starts in the corner of the sea
  • Mrs. Nelson starts in room 207 at school

The author sure has a lot to do in the beginning of a story or book, doesn’t she? Now let’s grab our writing journals and see what we come up with.

We set the timer for 10 minutes and went off to write. When we finished talking about all these, LD rushed off to find a quiet spot to write. DD grabbed Leonard and read that before sprawling on the floor to write. ED took her notebook and wrote at her desk.  Having the writing workshop such an established, predictable part of our day really has helped the kids settle in to the writing habit.  Slowly, even my reluctant writer was beginning to look forward to writing time. What a turn-around!

If you’d like to print this out, just click on the link below.

Writing Mini Lessons: Day 4 Story Openings

The last post in this series will be next Monday, March 10th.

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How Do I Help the Kids Start Writing?! (Day 3: Creating Interesting Characters)

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Day 3: Creating Interesting Characters

You’ve set up a good writing space, have your supplies – pencils, journals, resource materials. Now what?!! This is the second in a series of 5 posts with lesson ideas to help young writers get started on their writing journey. Be sure to read the introduction to this series in last Monday’s post, Day 1.

Here are some of our first mini-lesson topics. I used mentor texts and picked them apart to help the kids see some of the elements that make for good writing.

In this series I’ll go into more detail on each one:

  1. What makes a good book or story?
  2. Make your story come alive with details and description.
  3. Creating Interesting Characters
  4. Story Openings: Set the mood or feeling of your story
  5. Gathering story ideas from your own life

You can use these lessons in any order.

Day 3: Creating Interesting Characters

I have found that reading a children’s book has been a great way to start our writing workshop because it centers us, has all the elements of good writing and gives us something tangible to talk about. The kids (and I) have learned writing skills from some of the best authors around! We read a lot of long novels at other times, but reading a book that takes less than five minutes from start-to-finish allows us to look at some of the elements of good writing — the way suspense builds towards the climax or the development of characters. If we have read a longer book together, we often bring those into the discussion as well (The Chronicles of Narnia, Because of Winn Dixie, Island of the Blue Dolphin). But, if I want to focus the discussion and pick apart a text closely children’s book have been invaluable.

After I read a book (or book selection) aloud, we talk briefly about one writing element.  My hope is that the mentor text will motivate the kids to write… they might be inspired by the ideas in the text, structures or skills we’ve talked about.

I loved this description of the mini-lesson: “Each day you are planting seeds–seeds that will grow into a lifelong understanding of quality writing. Instead of mentioning a skill once, or for one week, you will return to these same concepts” at other times in the year.

Together the kids and I are on a journey to discover what makes good writing?

In the lesson below we looked a bit more closely at how authors create memorable characters.

Discussion with the Kids:

What is a character? a hero? a villain? protagonist? supporting characters?

I made sure the kids knew what those terms meant. I said that authors spend a lot of time trying to make the characters seem real and interesting.

The protagonist is the character with the starring role in the book or story. In most novels, the protagonist is on a journey to get what he or she wants more than anything else in the world — whether it’s fame, revenge, adventure, freedom…

Reading Together:

I grabbed a very short book we happened to have called David and Goliath.  The kids were easily able to identify the hero (David), the villain (Goliath), and the supporting characters. [You could use whatever book you have around... or talk about characters such as the White Witch and Aslan in the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

What memorable villains do you love to hate? [the Big Bad Wolf, Voldemort and Severus Snape, Captain Hook, Rumpelstiltskin, the Wicked Witch of the West, Darth Vader, Cruella de Vil]

What does the protagonist hope to achieve in this story?

In this book, the hero and villain were very clear cut, but in more sophisticated books the characters are more complicated.  Maybe, there’s a villain who sees a puppy drowning in a lake and saves it.  That makes the character more 3-dimensional and interesting.

When an author creates a character it is important he/she creates a picture in our mind. She describes what they look like, what clothes they are wearing and become very real to us.  We often start to have feelings about this character.

What is a character from a book you’ve read that you really love?  Can you describe them? How do you feel about them? Do you know what they wear? What they like to eat?  If you were to invite that character to lunch, would it be easy to talk to them?

If an author has done a good job of creating a character, the character will seem almost real. Often the reader will feel like they “know” them well.

Independent Writing:

When you go off to write today, you might think about the characters you want to develop. Will your characters have flaws? strengths? good traits? Try to create good, clear descriptions of the characters in your stories

The kids know that they can write whatever they want. As I reach for the timer, I sometimes ask them… What are you going to write about?… Are you still working on your story about the phoenix?

We set the timer for 10 minutes and went off to write. When we came back together, I asked if any of them wanted to share their stories.

Final Product: That day we were sitting outside. The kids sat back quietly to think. The sound of the cicadas was extremely loud and not surprisingly the kids wrote stories about a cicada! That’s perfectly okay too… The goal of these mini-lessons is not to act as writing prompts, but to help build a foundation and provide them with tools to improve their writing.

Follow Up:

I try to keep our mini-lessons to 10 minutes or less, but another day I might do another lesson showing how the description of the character often goes hand in hand with a description of the setting.

If I were to think of my Mom, I would think of her sitting with a pile of papers to grade in the brown swivel chair in our living room.

Think of someone you know.  Where would you picture them?

Now think about a character from a book you’ve read.  Can you visualize a place where they would be?

Writing Workshop Mini-Lessons Day 3: Creating Interesting Characters

This series will be posted on Mondays/Thursdays. 

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