I really have nothing to do with Finding Faith, other than to have taught its author, Rachel Rittenhouse, in an English class last year. I'm proud of the way Rachel wholeheartedly pursues her dreams at age 16, and I wish her the best as she launches this, her first book in a series of three. Visit her website to discover more.
If you're literally looking for a list of really amazing words to cut from your students' very wordy papers, check out this thing. It's got quite good suggestions. Maybe it's just the stuff you need to help them follow the classic advice from Strunk and White: "omit needless words" (The Elements of Style 23).

No, really. See the ten words you can chop from a student's writing that no one will miss.


Thanks, Cynthia, for sending me the link.
A mother of a six-year-old girl wrote to Julie at Bravewriter.com to detail her experience with homeschooling. The part that struck me--and that I direct you to here--describes the process of working on a fairytale project with her daughter. She does well at showing the writing process, the goals fixed on nurturing her child's voice and building her confidence rather than insisting on correctness. You can find the description here in the fourth paragraph which begins, "I told her we were going to do...."

I have an idea, and I need a small group of students
in grades 7 to 9 to help me make it a reality.

With my Weebly site, I have the capacity to add classrooms in which students build their own password-protected sites. Ideas abound in my head for how to use this tool with homeschoolers, but I need to flesh them out with real students. Do you have any around your house who are willing?

For this test group, I would like to gather students who
  1. want to build a simple Weebly site.
  2. are willing to participate in a writing community by posting their pieces for review, and commenting on pieces posted by other students.
  3. are flexible and patient, willing to experiment as we seek to figure out what will work best in this forum.

Clearly I will benefit, but students will benefit as well.
  1. They will diffuse the winter blues with a unique project.
  2. They will have a place to display their creativity as they build a site and share their writing.
  3. They will be a part of a small community of students wanting to grow as writers.
  4. They will have a real audience for their writing, giving them purpose for the process.
  5. They will have a qualified teacher giving them guidance and feedback.

The commitment is short: four weeks, from January 6-31, 2014.

It is inexpensive: $35 for the month.

The workload is reasonable. Students will set up a simple site with a Home page and an About Me page. They will go through the writing process for a minimum of two pieces, submitting their drafts by specified deadlines so that their peers and I can give them suggestions for revision. They will also offer revision comments to their peers. Other assignments may be added to make the experience as beneficial as possible, although they will be completed as the student desires.

Space is limited to ten students.

Registration deadline is December 18. Register here.
Short writing exercises and stand-alone assignments have their place, but when I am looking to foster increased motivation, I daydream about projects. What projects can I suggest that will hook and keep a kid's attention?

Ones that have worked well for me so far are...

Magazines: I love this one because students are free to follow their creativity. You can find an explanation here.

Portfolders (aka lapbooks) - Portfolders kept our family busy for years. You can read why I like them so much and take a peek into some of ours here.

Notebooks - When we were ready to venture beyond portfolders, we headed to notebooks. I show some of them here.

Pen Pal Project - I tried this idea with a group of eighth graders. You can read more about it here.

Coil or spiral bound book - What's better: to have a bunch of writing pieces spread here and there or to have the best ones bound together in a book?  I think the latter. See a post here.

Blog - When my girls were young writers, the four of us started a blog.  It gave them a reason to write and an audience outside of our home. It's old, but it's here. For an AP History class, my oldest daughter made blogs for Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Adams. So many possibilities!

If you're noticing your students plodding through their work, the vision for learning lost, introduce a project centered on a subject they love.

See if the sparkle returns.
A note about voice from a fictional student:
"She [Francie] started fresh on a new page.

'Intolerance,' she wrote, pressing down hard on the pencil, 'is a thing that causes war, pogroms, crucifixions, lynchings, and makes people cruel to little children and to each other. It is responsible for most of the viciousness, violence, terror and heart and soul breaking of the world.'

She read the words over aloud. They sounded like words that came in a can; the freshness was cooked out of them. She closed the book and put it away."

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, page 229
Teacher Carolyn Foley sent a letter to the parents of her students. It's worth reading in full. Here is a quote she includes which piggybacks nicely with what I said here and here.
Don’t worry too much about technicalities and misspelling.  (Some-times we over-stress spelling because it gives us something easy and clear cut to land on.  We mustn’t overlook what is being said.)  The school has primary responsibility here.  Grammar can always be repaired if sincerity and interest are present.  On the other hand no amount of “correctness” can cover up the empty world of a child who hasn’t been helped to get interested and excited about something, preferably many things.
I don't know if my English teachers' instruction about voice floated right over my head or if they didn't include it in their lesson plans. All I know is that I didn't learn it from them. What did sink deep was the importance of sounding smart and using correct grammar. But, as this article explains, an impeccably correct essay can be a painfully voiceless one. And who wants to read it? No one.

_The author says, "I would define voice in writing as the quality of writing that gives readers the impression that they are hearing a real person, not a machine."

Let's be teachers who help our students develop their voices, providing practice, encouragement, and models. If their personalities and passions are welcomed at the writing party when they are young, they will likely continue attending when they are older.

It's long, but this article about voice in writing is excellent.
Here's a quick children's lit. quiz. I'm going to name some main characters; you're going to name their author.


Murdley Gurdson
Princess Penelope
Wodney Wat

Okay. What's your answer?

Did you say Helen Lester?  Ding. Ding. Ding. You are correct!

Lester also has a book about herself. In Author: A True Story, she tells the good and the bad of becoming an author. Your young writers will see an experienced writer facing rejection, persevering, practicing, using the writing process, being frustrated, being inspired.

They will see that they are much like Helen (well, except that they don't receive royalties for their work). Knowing that they are not alone may make a very difficult process just a tad easier to bear.

If you're not familiar with Murdley and the rest of the characters I mentioned, go to E/Lester on your next visit to the library and fill your bag with Lester's books. They are the kind you won't mind reading for the 20th time.