Practical Tip Word Banks

Here’s this week’s practical tip for emerging writers ~


In my past post Word Banks I shared how, by jotting down a list of thematic words from the topic we had just read, my young middle schooler confidently wrote her narrations. These word banks assisted her memory, helped with spelling and enabled her to write detailed, accurate sentences.

How and when do you make a word bank?

  1. Sometimes it helps to read and discuss important new words before reading a chapter/ topic/ theme.  Look up or talk about the meanings of these words.  Find a synonym (words with similar meanings) for each word and then use the new word in a sentence.  After this activity and before you read aloud, ask your child to listen carefully for the word bank words when your read.  Some kids become really excited when they hear “their” words!  In this way you are preparing the child to learn new information.
  2. My youngest child wrote out her own list of important thematic words or concepts she wanted to remember during the read aloud.  She felt more secure when she had main facts on her little white board.  Although Charlotte Mason encourages simple focussed listening, I found my child was less stressed about her narrations if she had her own word bank ready.
  3. With emerging writers, oral narrations precede written narrations.  While my child orally narrated her summary to me, I wrote out the main points/ phrases/ important words on her white board and created a word bank during her oral narration.  She then used these words to write out her narration.  This helped her remember the sequence of ideas and helped her with her spelling.

How does a child use the word bank words?

  • Start simply saying each word.   Read each word aloud and pronounce them correctly.
  • Add to their meanings. All new information needs to be attached to previous knowledge.  Try find root meanings in a word.
  • Use each new word in a sentence.  Vocabulary should always be learnt in context.
  • A Charlotte Mason narration aims to be as precise and as close to the original text as possible.  By copying an author’s style and language use, your child will develop their own creative writing skills!
  • Place word bank words in sequence.  Ordering thoughts is a very important skill.
  • Keep sentences short and simple.
  • Once an emerging writer manages to write the word bank words in simple sentences, encourage them to add descriptive words and details. This is how each child’s work is unique and original, even if they all use the same word bank words.
  • Finally, indicate new thoughts with paragraphs (skipping a line and starting on a new line).

Hope these tips help you assist your young emerging writer!

Blessings, Nadene




Use Comics to Teach Reported Speech

Previously, I described our effective lesson we enjoyed using our own Solar System comic strips to learn to write direct speech.

In this lesson, I wanted to teach reported speech.  My daughter chose her most dramatic comic strip story and she pretended that she was a news reporter, changing her speech dialogue into reported speech.

Solar System Mercury

Once again, we looked for examples of reported speech in our read aloud literature books.  Charlotte Mason’s principle to teach grammar and language arts through living books and good literature is amazingly effective!

We then used the Usborne Book of English Grammar for a clear lesson demonstrating the basic rules of writing reported speech.  These are the rules we summarized ~

  • Report what someone said using your own words.
  • No need for inverted commas.
  • Change the verb to the past tense.

Next, we worked through one or two comic blocks, converting the speech bubbles into reported speech.  Check those verb tenses!

My daughter then worked on her own and wrote her comic strip as a wonderful news report.  Here’s an extract ~

Mercury Expedition Reported Speech

She typed her report on MS Word as a simple report.  I used her enthusiasm in the lesson to teach her how to change her report and create a newspaper article, complete with huge headline, large byline, her name and the report.  She learnt how to create columns and add a clip art illustration.  Saved, and printed, she had a fabulous report which she proudly read and showed to dad!

I love finding simple and effective lessons, and this was a winner!

Note – this is a good LA lesson for advanced middle schoolers or junior high children.



Use Comics To Teach Direct Speech

We had such fun creating dynamic comic strip stories for our Solar System studies.

Solar System Jupiter 002Because comics convey loads of information and visual detail, they are a wonderful resource for language arts and creative writing activities.

Most the comics include dialogue written in speech bubbles.

This led to a fabulous LA lesson on writing direct speech ~

We used our literature read aloud books to find examples of direct speech and together formulated our simple direct speech rules.

  • Write down the spoken words or dialogue that appear in speech bubbles exactly  as they appear, but inside inverted commas.
  • Use inverted commas or quotation marks “…”  immediately before and after the spoken words.
  • Insert punctuation marks that suit the dialogue after the dialogue inside the inverted commas.
  • Use capital letters to start any dialogue, or any new dialogue that follows a full stop.
  • Question marks  & exclamation marks act as a full stop.
  • Use an appropriate attribution for each speaker and try be creative and vary using the word “said”.
  • Separate dialogue from the attribution with a comma.
  • ALWAYS skip a line and start a new line for a new speaker.

Then we took a block from the comic with speech bubbles and discussed and wrote out the direct speech on our white board.  My daughter loves to be dramatic, and so she instantly used a variety of words other than “said”, but you may want to discuss other more creative words.  We looked through this list ~

RIP said is dead

Comic blocks with a lot of visual information needs to be described in words. Adding this to the direct speech, and conveying a flow of action, thought and interest to the written dialogue is a more advanced skill. The more advanced student will automatically interpret and describe the comic strip blocks to make a wonderful, interesting story.

Here is an extract of Lara’s direct speech based on the comic strip above ~

Direct Speech example

My daughter was so enthusiastic and was really proud of her first effort!

When typing the direct speech on the computer, she reinforced her typing skills as well as the technical aspects of the written direct speech.  When she had completed her first draft, I noticed that she hadn’t left a line open between different speakers.  When typing, she needed to press ‘enter’ + ‘enter’ again to leave a line open and begin on a new line.

Normally we use our literature books and copywork or dictations for all our language arts, but this approach was fresh, personal and exciting!  Using a previous lesson that was very successful and fun,  really motivated the content of this lesson and it worked brilliantly!


Teach Creative Writing without Lessons

What Works! 

After reaching the goal of  homeschooling until high school graduation, I wanted to share some of the things that really worked in our homeschool journey:

Narrations ~ the natural method to teach creative writing

I have never used a formal writing program or curriculum in all my homeschooling journey, and yet my children can write amazingly detailed, creative essays, narrations and stories.


Read living books and follow the passage or story with a narration!

Great literature is the food for all creative writing.  It feeds the mind with a rich vocabulary,  and inspires the child with new thoughts and ideas.   A child draws from the quality writing of an accomplished author and learns to use a similar style and tone.  And the act of telling a narration makes this the child’s own.

My earliest epiphany of this remarkable natural development was when my second child, just a cute-as-a-button pre-schooler narrated an Aesop’s Fable “The Lion and the Mouse“. She sat on my lap and told me the story in her “own words” and she described how the mouse “skittered” past the lion.

Skittered” … a completely new and ‘borrowed’ word from the story!

I then KNEW that narrations are an incredibly powerful method to develop successful writing.

If a child has paid close attention, they can narrate amazing details and content of the reading.  From the pre-schooler and junior student narrations develop from oral and illustrated narrations to dictated narrations, and, as they mature, adapt written narrations in different writing formats.

For example I would ask my children to ~

  • write a letter to a friend or family describing the situation as if they were in the story
  • write a formal letter to thank, congratulate, complain or request something
  • write a catchy title and opening sentence
  • write an attention-grabbing introductory paragraph
  • write their own ending for the story
  • write the story as a play with dialogue = an opportunity to use direct speech.
  • list/ explain/ describe all the facts
  • sequence the events in the story
  • find  the main ideas and give a suitable title
  • more complex writing activity would be to write from a point of view; say as a police report or a newspaper report.

Here’s my 6-year-old’s narration where she writes from different points of view:

“If I was a Khoi and I was watching the Dutch sailors, and it was my land and they were taking my food and water I would get very angry! They are stealing my land!  Why don’t they barter with us?

If I was the Dutch I would think that the land isn’t the Khoi’s because they keep moving. I would build my fort right there.  We could barter with the Khoi for cows and sheep.”

Here’s a narration with direct speech that my eldest daughter wrote when she was 12-years old:

“You little brat!”

I heard voices from behind the wall.

“You’re not supposed to talk to the Commander!  Stupid boy, don’t you know that it might put me in danger?  I am in charge of you!”

I couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation because my uncle, Jan van Riebeeck, was calling me.  I stood beside him for the rest of the service wondering who could have said such horrible things, and I kept my eyes on the wall, waiting for the strangers to come out from behind it.”

(We looked at the technical aspects and the grammar rules for direct speech in the story. She then applied this to her writing.)

Simple, effective, and natural.

Even my most reluctant writer recently wrote an essay that blew me away!  Under exam conditions, which are often not conducive to creative writing, my 14-year-old wrote:

“I awoke late in the night from a strange sound.  I slowly lowered my bare feet to the wooden floor, and removed my sleepy body from the security of my bed sheets.

Timidly I turned the cold brass door handle, when the noise came again, a slow, eerie, haunting scream coming from the kitchen.

Doesn’t this just draw you into her story?  I sat stunned!

And here is an extract from a mid-year exam essay my eldest daughter, now nearly 19 years old, wrote:

“It was upon a late Friday afternoon.  I had been vacuuming my somewhat dishevelled tea-stained carpet, when above the piercing hum of the cleaning machine, I heard a jingle as something shifted below my bed.

Filled with incredulous wonder, and rather hoping for a distraction to the mundane task at hand, I ceased the vacuum’s roar and hunkered down to take a peak.  Knees creaking in complaint and hands gripping tentatively at the bed, I tweaked my head around trying to adjust to the gloom of my bed’s darkened cave …”

Again, I thank the Lord for simplicity.

Here are some of my other narration posts:

Charlotte Mason’s approach works … all the way to graduation!

Join me next week for another “What Works!” post.

Please feel free to comment or ask questions in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

Highlight Main Ideas

My middle-schooler is learning to write her own notes.

From simple oral narrations, where she “retells” the details of something I read to her,

she now must read her own notes

highlight the main ideas

use those key words or phrases

in her own sentences.

Tough stuff for a 10-year-old!

So we start with baby steps:

I break it down into skills she can manage and build it from there. 🙂

Using the Table of Contents to find the relevant information

  1. Read the notes together.  I sometimes just whisper the words near her ear as I do in partnered reading.
    (Some children need to “see the big picture” first, so a good read through helps them understand the basic flow of ideas.  But if your child is chomping at the bit, and raring to get to work, start straight away with the next point.)
  2. Highlight the main ideas in each sentence.  It may be just 1 word, or a phrase, or a word here and there.
    Again, help your child with this vital skill.  Do it together.  Sometimes I try “trick” my child with a silly concept and say, “Do your think this … is important?”  She’ll giggle, look carefully and chose a more important word.
  3. Use these key words in their own sentences.  Start this skill orally.  Encourage your child to read the highlighted words from 1 sentence aloud and then put them together into a new, simple sentence, similar to the original sentence.  Perhaps change the word order around.  Start with a highlighted word and let your child finish the sentence.  This way, they learn how convey the original concepts, but use their own words.  A vital skill!  Instruct them at the very beginning that they should not copy the original text.

    Write simple sentences using the highlighted words

  4. Write down the ideas.  Again, I encourage you to “help” your emerging writer.  Perhaps you could write the first sentence down as your child dictates to you.  Make them feel important and say, “Tell me what you want to say.”  You could write it directly on their page and then work is done.  Then, the next time, write their dictated sentence out on a white board and ask you child to neatly copy it in their notebook or lapbook page.  Finally, ask  them to write the sentences on their own after an oral practice.

Writing sentences in a minibook

It takes a few stages, but soon your child will master several important skills!

It will happen.

Your child will learn to write their own notes.

How have you helped your child find key words, identify important facts or re-write these facts on their own? Please share with us in the comments.

For your information: In these photos, my child is completing a Footprints in our Land “The Dutch at the Cape” lapbook – of part a wonderful South African literature-based history curriculum.


Word Banks

Emerging writers need a little help.  My 10-year-old gives wonderful, descriptive oral narrations, but usually blanches when faced with a written assignment.  She often grabs a paper and pencil to scribble important keywords down while I read to her.  This is not exactly a Charlotte Mason technique.  Ms. Mason recommended the child learn to listen attentively during the reading to gain a thorough knowledge of the story, but those keywords give my child some reassurance.

She wants to remember all those facts!  And she battles with spelling.  So we use word banks.  Our nifty white tile, whiteboard marker and sponge makes for quick and easy writing.

We worked together.  This time she told me what to write.  Next time, she will write her own words.  With a quick check of the spelling, she is armed with her facts — and the words are correct!  Now she writes sentences using her key words.  This is still tedious work for her, but I am sure that, before long, she will write with greater ease and confidence.

This assignment was simple ~

  1. Step-by-step instructions.
  2. One sentence per instruction.
  3. Space to illustrate the instruction.

And, with the help of the word bank, she wrote this all by herself.  Note: I did not focus on her handwriting, grammar, tenses or word choices.  She would be overwhelmed at this stage.  I just wanted her to capture her thoughts and ideas and put them logically on paper.  She was happy and I was delighted.

Writing develops — Start simply with words.  Add to their meanings.  Use them in sentences. Place thoughts in sequence. Add descriptive words and details.  Keep sentences short and simple.  Indicate new thoughts with paragraphs.

Written work follows oral work.  Talk about the concepts.  Enjoy yourselves together, laugh, have fun.  Keep the writing to a manageable length.  If your child loses her joy, if tears threaten, ease the pressure and limit the amount expected.  Gently encourage your child to finish a bit more the next session.

Encourage them with specific recognition of positives – “Look at all these wonderfully descriptive words!” or “Wow, that is an excellent way to start your story!”  or “You have explained these ideas so clearly!”

Other similar easy written assignments could be ~

  • Start with just words and add adjectives/ synonyms/ antonyms
  • Give clues to find/ do something
  • Tell me what happened and what will happen next
  • Compare 2 things – use columns
  • Write the main ideas of story in 4 story blocks
  • Make lists of items
  • Write a letter – thank you/ tell someone about an outing
  • Write a journal entry
  • Create a recipe
  • Make up a story – write just the beginning opening paragraph
  • Give someone directions
  • Describe an object and its uses
  • Write someone’s opinion/ thoughts about something
  • Fill in comic strip blocks and add the dialogue
  • Write a short play with 2 characters

What tips and advice so you have that helps your emerging writer?  Please share in the comments.

Blessings, Nadene

Narrations 102 Type & Print

In my previous post I shared some practical ways to be your child’s narration scribe.

In this post I would like to give some tips on typing and printing out your child’s narrations.

Just Type it ~

  • Sit at the computer, open a new Word page and start to type as they narrate.
  • As. Is.
  • Your aim to capture your child’s flow of thought.
  • Don’t worry about any technicalities … yet.
  • Resist the temptation to correct/ prompt/ re-word anything.
  • Don’t worry about mistakes. (I almost never talk about grammar or language use while doing narrations.)
  • If the child stalls or is taking too long to start, you could ask a simple question, “What is the most exciting part?” or “How did …?” or “If you look at the illustration tell me about the story …”
  • Paragraph where necessary.
  • When they have finished, add their story title, and under that, their name and the date.
  • Read it back.  If you read it as they dictated.  If there is some issue such as each. and. every sentence starting, “And then …” “And then …” they will pick up the repetition and you can encourage them to leave out the “And then …” and start the sentence directly.
  • Ask them if they would like to add, or change, or remove anything.
  • If they are happy, save it.
  • Done.

Now for some computer stuff ~

  • Once the narration is ‘captured’ save it.  Create a folder for each child with their name.  Add sub-folders for specific subjects in their folder, (e.g.: Nadene — History)
  • Select the page layout ~ Portrait (standing up tall and narrow) or landscape (lying wide and flat)
  • Enlarge the title and underline or bold it.
  • Let them choose an interesting or suitable font and font color.
  • Enlarge the font to about 26 (large) so that they can “read” their own narration once it is printed.  Most young children merely ‘retell’ their original story, but this becomes an excellent early reading exercise!
  • Insert photos, clipart or images into the narration where necessary.
  • If the story is long enough, add page numbers.
  • Print out the page.  Punch holes and put it in a binder or cut it out and paste it in their jotter, or on the notebook page, or above or below their illustration.

Print the story out as a A5 booklet~

  • Save the story.
  • Now you will need to make a few layout changes to create a booklet:
    • Select suitable sections (usually after each paragraph) and click ‘insert’ – select ‘page breaks‘ to separate the writing on to a new page. Now there will be a large blank space under the sentence/ paragraph for the child’s illustrations. I try to have an even number of pages, but this is not necessary.
    • ‘Insert -page number’ – select ‘page number‘ and choose if you want the number at the top or bottom of the page, left, right or in the middle of each page.
    • Select all and change to a large font size (about 22 – 26) because you will print 2 pages on a page and it will ‘shrink’ the writing
    • Save the new layout.

Now to print ~

  • Select ‘print’ and on the print page menu look for ‘print 1 page per sheet’ and change it to ‘print 2 pages per sheet‘.
  • See how it looks on the ‘print preview’.
  • Make sure that the font is large enough.  If it is too small, cancel the print job and go back and select all and increase the font size.
  • If you are satisfied – print it out.
  • Fold the pages in half or cut them out to make a booklet. Staple.
  • Let the child illustrate on the blank pages/ spaces.
  • Ask the child to make and/or decorate a cover.

My children loved their own story books and proudly showed and ‘read’ their stories to family and friends!

How have you printed and saved your children’s narrations? Share with us in the comments.


Narrations 101 Jot & Draw

Narrations are an important principle in a Charlotte Mason education.

I have found that a young child naturally “retells” a good story.

Even a 4-year-old narrates with detail and passion!

All you need to do is find ways of capturing their thoughts.

Here are some practical ways you can collect your child’s narrations ~

Use a blank jotter or notebook ~


  • Buy the cheapest newsprint jotter books and cover it with the child’s own art.
  • Paste everything they draw, scribble and copy into this jotter.
  • You may fill several in a year!
  • Write out the story in pencil as they narrate and let them copy over your writing.
  • Draw the title really big and bold and let the child draw a picture under it.

Create a narration notebook for the story/ subject ~

  • Use blank or colored pages.
  • Tea-stain paper and crumple the paper to make it look “old”.
  • Tear or burn the edges for an aged effect.
  • Join a few pages length-wise and roll it up to become a scroll.
  • Re-purpose old telephone books or pages and paint over the printing
  • Staple the pages together at the top/ side with a cardboard cover.
  • Be creative and make a booklet with stick and rubber band – see how to at Susan’s Making
  • Punch holes and put into a binder/ file.

Draw a picture of the story ~

  • Ask your child to draw while you read aloud.
  • Let them copy the book’s illustrations.  This is a good way of teaching the child to draw.  Some children’s books are so beautifully illustrated that they inspire a child!
  • Add the story title & a date.
  • Write their narration around/under/ next to the picture as they dictate.  Simple narration!
  • Make a collage. Add details found in magazines to a picture.
  • Find clip art or Google pictures or images on the computer and let your child add this to their narration page
  • Make a comic strip – divide the page into 4-6 blocks.  Number the blocks.  This is good practice to sequence the story.

comic strip page

  • Add educational value to the drawing – (if they will allow)
    • punch holes around the edges and let them practise threading/ sewing around the page with wool
    • draw vertical and horizontal squiggly lines through the picture and let them cut on the lines
    • now let the child make their “puzzle” picture up again and paste it in the jotter
    • cut out the main characters and let the child glue them on a colored or painted background.

Read my original post on this topic ~ Mom ~ The Narration Scribe.

Join me in Narration 102 where I share how to type and print your child’s narrations as a booklet.

How do you encourage your young children to record their narrations? Feel free to share in the comments.


Playing with Poetry

Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Image via Wikipedia

Fridays are Fine Arts Days

when we do our Famous Musician composer study and our Famous Impressionist Artist of the month.  It is also the day we do poetry!

It is a inspiring and fun  activity we all look forward to!

I usually schedule one poem each week.

Sometimes it is one good, long story poem which  the kids soak in …

like …

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, which my kids really loved.  We recited some parts with dramatic expression (tried to do it like Ann of Ann of Green Gables).

Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Image via Wikipedia

They also loved The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning (all XV parts!)

The Listeners by Walter de la Mare was dramatic!  My youngest loved to illustrate this poem!

And every child has to listen to Hiawatha’s Childhood by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

And remember how we created Lego diorama for The Lady of Shalot by Lord Alfred Tennyson?

But we often end up covering several short, fun and nonsense poems in one sitting like …

Mr Nobody Anon

Colonel Fazackerley  by Charles Causely

The Owl and The Pussy-Cat by Edward Lear

The famous nonsense poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carol

We love the play of words and their meanings, the sounds and rhythms of words, the rhymes and the ideas.  These fun and nonsense poems declare,

“You can do this too!”

And that’s how we have done poetry the last while.

We make our own versions of the poems!

We illustrated or painted our poems.

We dramatized the poem and even made finger puppets.

We created a tunnel book pictures of The Door by Miroslav Holub.

We each created our own versions of Cardinal Ideograms by May Swenson.

Not only did my 11-year-old-I-can’t-write-poems child write extremely clever concepts for each number shape, but she wrote them all about her beloved cat!  A Cat Cardinal Ideograms!

My youngest 9-year-old became quiet and thoughtful and came up with these original ideograms:

And, while they were creative, I joined in and created these Ideograms:I’m excited that we are playing with poetry.  I love that we love to play and work with words! I love that we  have moved from reluctant writers to creative poets!  Poetry inspires, and I hope that each child discovers their unique gift with words.

I use a compilation called The Works 7 – Classic Poems for the Literacy Hour by Brian Moses which I bought cheaply at Bargain Books Store.

The other anthology is our Sonlight poetry book, The Oxford Illustrated Book of American Children’s Poems edited by Donald Hall.

Use whatever you have on hand or find at the library and enjoy poetry with your children!


April is Poetry Month!

William Blake's "The Tyger," publish...

Image via Wikipedia

Celebrate with Poetry in Our Pockets on 14th April

I thought I would share how we do our poetry …

I wish I could say that we …

  • read our scheduled poems every week
  • learn classic poems word for word
  • recite poems
  • write poems
  • love poetry lessons

… But we don’t.

There.  I’ve admitted it.

I only tend to focus on poetry once or twice a month.  We sometimes make tea, or go outside and sit under the tree and read the 3 or 4 poems from our schedule.  It is usually a special, but relaxed time.

I usually announce the title and read through the poem once to give an overview.  I may tell them a bit about the poet or the theme.   Sometimes they can tell me what the poem is about and can describe the general story or imagery. Sometimes my kids “don’t get it.”

Then I read the poem again slowly and stop here and there to explain words, lines and verses as I go.

We chat about the poem and talk about word play, rhyming scheme, images, metaphors, themes, and so on.

Then we read it through once more.

If the poem “clicks” and it inspires us, we may try memorize it, but usually they may each read it aloud.

Often we write our own similar poems.  We usually copy the patterns, structure and rhyming of the original poem.  We use our own thoughts and words and the poems often come out surprisingly well.

Miss.L (8) wrote her own words for verses 3,4,5

A fun poem written to the challenge to find rhyming words for "Orange"

My children may not love poetry … yet … but we really appreciate poetry.

Some random notes to myself:

  • Use a good anthology with lots of different types of poetry and themes
  • Keep poetry reading fun, light, enjoyable
  • Do not over-emphasize technicalities
  • Savour great poems and linger on it till we’ve enjoyed it fully
  • Keep it simple. One good poem is enough.  Full Stop.
  • Let them make the poem theirs – identify their feelings and responses to it.
  • Give them time to mature and enjoy poetry
  • Select poems suitable for their age and maturity
  • Have some fun and nonsense poems in the mix
  • Read poems that are stories and take them on a journey
  • Dramatize, illustrate, dance, make music to poems
  • Play with words in everyday speaking
  • Develop creative thinking and word associations
  • Add riddles and song lyrics to listening times
  • Children differ and not all love abstract words
  • Out there among the millions of poems is “The One” that will spark interest and love for words
  • Writing good poetry is an art.
  • There is no need to write good poetry to appreciate good poetry

My goals for homeschooling my children is to ~

expose them to great ideas,

great minds,

great literature,

and develop their love for fine arts,

love nature,

teach them to hear God’s voice

and respond.

Poetry does all this!

Hope you take time this month to enjoy poetry.

For extra inspiration:

What was the first poem to spark your love for poetry?