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.



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

Inspired Imagination

I have been convinced of the benefits and blessings living books, great literature, great fiction in our homeschooling.   We use literature-based curriculums.  They have transported us into ancient times, allowed us to step into the lives and ways of famous people and have filled our imaginations with beautiful details of places we could only visit in our minds.

Some Christian homeschoolers object to all fantasy.  Some oppose fiction altogether.  They believe that Christians should only be interested in truth, and they only read biographies, histories and non-fiction.

Other Christians homeschoolers embrace all fantasy; stories containing ancient myths, paganism and the popular Harry Potter books.

I was conflicted about this some years ago.  I mixed with homeschooling parents who strongly stood for both of these views and I found it to be a contentious issue.

I could not abandon imagination, fiction and fantasy.

I needed to find a place of discernment.  In the process we watched some Christian DVD’s on this, and we “cleaned house“; we burnt books, toys, jewelery, music, DVD’s, videos, clothing ….  It was a tremendously liberating, yet difficult process.

But in the 3 or so years that followed, we re-examined some choices.  My kids regretted the destruction of some items and I was still caught in a “grey area” on the issue of our schooling choices of our fiction and fantasy books.

Personally, in those 3 years, my quiet times and journalling became dutiful, colourless.  I sought the Lord and asked for His truth and freedom.

During a fellowship gathering in October last year, I experienced the Lord in a profoundly new way.

I had a vision.

Not only did the vision unfold as I sat quietly, but it continued with ministry, until it was a full story.

I was wonderfully set free.

In the days following this vision, I needed God’s confirmation.

Was it all just in my imagination?

In His word, I read in Jeremiah 1: 9-12 where the Lord asks Jeremiah,

” What do you see?” (asks him about a vision)

Jeremiah tells the Lord what he sees (a vision of an almond branch) and the Lord says,

“You have seen well (God agrees with Jeremiah’s vision), for I am alert and active, watching over My word to perform it.”

I was fully liberated.

God Himself speaks through visions and dreams.

My quiet times are now fresh and creative.

I have a new spiritual journal – a spiral notebook with blank pages and my entries are filled with pictures, poems, prayers, colours, patterns.

Sanctified imagination is not evil.

It is God’s gift to us.

I recently started reading a book The Soul of the Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe by Gene Veith, written in two parts.  The first part is an exposition of the story, its symbolism and themes, and the second part he delves into larger issues regarding Christian (and also non-Christian and even anti-Christian) fantasy.

He mentions that The Chronicles of Narnia persuade young readers towards Christianity, just as Harry Potter books were written to persuade readers towards atheism.

C.S. Lewis wrote the marvellous truths of Christianity in Narnia, his fairy tale and Lewis said,

“Supposing that by casting all these things (Christianity) into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stain-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for their time appear in their potency?  Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons?”

Gene Veith says that imagination needs training just as the intellect does.  He says,

“When we read, we exercise our imagination, picturing what is happening as we process the author’s words.  With television and movies, someone else has imagined the story for us.”

He describes the spiritual realm as great abstract concepts, and that the Bible contains historical narratives and poetic literature and spiritual descriptions and images of God’s invisible kingdom and the return of Christ.

It is important for a child to know that when a human author creates a world, it exists only in the writer’s imagination and in his readers’ minds, but when God creates a world, it actually exists.

Veith says,

“The challenge is to discern the difference between good fantasy and bad fantasy, recognizing not only the content, but also its effects on the reader.”


“Children who have a strong sense of functionality and who know that there is a difference between the story and the actual world are inoculated against most of the bad effects of fantasy.”

As our homeschooling unfolds, I am inspired.

Imagination is a wonderful God-breathed tool to be used for Good.

How has the Lord led you in these areas?


This post was submitted and inspired by the upcoming CM Carnival’s theme ~ “Imagination”.  Join us!

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?


Celebrate Handwriting ~ National Handwriting Day!

Why is National Handwriting Day held on this day?

On January 23, 1737 John Hancock was born in Braintree, Mass.  He was the first person to sign the United States of America’s Declaration of Independence with a large flourishing display!

This is his famous signature.

These days, we use cellphones and computers to text, phone, email, Twitter, update … we communicate. But handwriting is fast becoming a lost art.

Handwriting is personal, unique, stylish, expressive, individual and artistic!

“Though computers and e-mail play an important role in our lives, nothing will ever replace the sincerity and individualism expressed through the handwritten word,” said David H. Baker, WIMA’s Executive Director.

How can you take part on this day?

Heart of the Matter Online suggests American children write handwritten letters thanking troops overseas for their sacrifice and to let them know how appreciated they are.  Read more about the contest here: Pentel National Handwriting day.

(Perhaps National Handwriting day began to sell more pens and pencils? 🙂  )
At they give these suggestions:
  • Write a letter to a friend, family, the President, a soldier, or someone you admire.
  • Decorate a cake and have everyone sign their name with frosting.
  • Write a poem
  • Learn about handwriting analysis
  • Check out the books on handwriting at the local library
  • Create an autograph book and have people sign it.
  • Start a journal or diary
  • Give the gift of a pen as appreciation

Some other fun handwriting activities:

  • Make quill pen and write letters/ lists/ journal entries on tea-stained paper.
  • Practice your own signature!
  • Use a calligraphy pen for handwriting today
  • Decorate a pen with ribbons or wrapping paper covered with layers of modge podge.
  • Start an evening journal with your children and write a special personal note to each other.
  • For young children, write in shaving cream on a window

And certainly, practice makes perfect – practice handwriting!

Teach handwriting with ease!  Use my laminated charts – it’s quick, easy and it works!

Print chart with starting dots


PS: We don’t have an official National Handwriting Day here in South Africa, but I found this on my CurrClick monthly Teachable Moments newsletter and thought it would be a great day to celebrate throughout the world!

Creative Writing ~ Dancing Pencils!

My 2 older daughters and I took a creative writing workshop (also known as Free Writing Using the Right Brain ) this weekend and it was the most mind-blowing, exhilarating and thrilling experience!

Created by Felicity Keats and presented at workshops around South Africa and the world,  her Free Writing Using the Right Brain Course has enabled writing students (from pre-primary to adults) to write with the most wonderful creativity!

Felicity Keats, in her 70’s and just bubbling with enthusiasm, has written many books. The Dancing Pencils Program includes  2 CD’s covering the course material. She has trained mentors to  workshop her methods.  Felicity loves to encourage new writers and she has published many of her students’  books  ~ what a triumph for these new authors!

Free writing using right brain R-grade 4

Writing from the right brain is creative and spontaneous, the results delight the writer and the reader alike!

Felicity Keats says,

“The right brain is the intuitive hemisphere.  It is dominant for the following tasks:

Non-Verbal : images, not words, are the source of right brain knowledge.

Holistic (non linear). It processes lots of information at the same time, makes leaps of insight and can evaluate whole problems at once.

Spatial  – it works out jigsaw puzzles and finds the way home without getting lost

Musical – it responds to music and musical talent

Metaphoric – it understands metaphors and images

Artistic – drawing, painting and sculpture

Spiritual – prayer, workshop and mysticism.

Dream maker –realising fantasies

The right brain is a happy positive side of yourself that doesn’t understand the word “failure”. It doesn’t try, it just does, easily bringing out the required writing from the universe itself.”

(Extract from : Creative Writing using the Right BrainStimulating Ideas to Develop Creativity in Learners   Grades 10 – 12 by Felicity Keats ISBN 978-1-43090056-6)