Tag Archives: bravewriter

Writing Projects: Thumbprint Biographies

Most readers of this blog will know that I’m a Brave Writer fanatic. While we do use some other resources, it’s been the heart of our writing approach for a little while now. We especially loved doing the projects in Partnership Writing from Brave Writer. This has been one of our favorite Brave Writer products and I highly recommend it as a way in for families who want to try some of the elements of Brave Writer. It’s a short curriculum that explains the Brave Writer philosophy and the partnership stage of writing then gives a year worth of monthlong writing projects to do. Doing one writing project a month is part of the Brave Writer philosophy so this outlines ten projects.

Writing stages are also a big part of the Brave Writer concept. Instead of expecting kids to be at a certain place at a certain age, the idea is that kids progress through these stages at their own pace, though typically kids Mushroom and BalletBoy’s age – 10 years old – are at the partnership stage. During the partnership stage, kids are able to write some but still need a lot of handholding to get things done. For us, this often looks like kids writing a rough draft by themselves but then I type it up and take oral narration for revisions. Or sometimes we begin with lots of structure from me to get them going and they do their own revisions and changes.

All this is great and I’ve blogged about some of our Partnership Writing projects previously, such as secret codes or personal timelines. But, alas and alack! We ran out of projects! But no big deal. I just made my own. Sometimes something comes up organically in schooling such as a contest or a way to tie writing in with another subject, but we really enjoyed having preplanned projects for writing that were their own thing so I wanted to continue that with more writing projects, which meant picking out interesting things to do. They have mostly gone really well so I thought I’d share what we did. I have two more of these posts coming up. So if anyone else is wanting more fun writing projects, these worked well for us. First up was an art and writing project that was on the short side.

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The Thumbprint Biography

This idea is exactly what it sounds like. You create a biography or a short personal narrative that you then write into the shape of the lines on your thumbprint, creating a piece of art and writing that is as unique as you. The finished products can be embellished with more art or just left bare.

I found this project by poking around online so if you do an image search, you can find more project examples to use for inspiration. I thought this was so fun that I got in on it and did one as well, which helped me understand how it would work. It’s sometimes tricky to force ourselves to write alongside our kids (and I readily admit I need to be better about doing this). However, it’s so rewarding for us and for them to see us writing and working alongside them.

We started by writing a rough draft about ourselves. I asked the kids what makes you you? What makes you unique? What are your favorite things and the things that are most important to you? That was one day’s writing assignment. On a separate day, we spent our writing time revising and editing the writings. Since it was such a personal writing, we did less revision than we often do. I asked the kids to add a few things or whether they wanted to move things around. BalletBoy is getting better at editing so we edited his together. For Mushroom, I picked two things for him to focus on with editing and had him find and correct them then I fixed the rest. Then I typed up a final draft for them.

For the thumbprint, we played around with a few things, but what worked the best was using our iPads to take a photo and then write on top of it. Any tablet with a good art program or pdf editor should work. However, if you’re tabletless and want to try this, you could do the thumbprint in a light ink and use a photocopier to enlarge it and then mark on top of it in marker where the lines are. Or you could try manipulating a photo of the thumbprint on the computer and printing it out then marking on top of it. I think marking heavy lines on top of the print is probably essential so that you can see through the top paper to write your biography.

Writing up the biographies and decorating them took a third and final day’s writing time. We were pretty pleased with the products and the kids were proud of them.

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Here are all the steps spelled out:

  1. Write your biography of what makes you unique. It doesn’t need to be long. Maybe just a page. Polish it by revising and editing it. If it will be easier to copy from a typed copy, then type it up and print it off.
  2. Make thumbprints with an ink pad onto paper. If you don’t have an ink pad, a washable marker colored onto a thumb and quickly pressed can work as well.
  3. Choose the thumbprint that looks the best and take a good digital photo of it.
  4. Crop the photo as needed then paste it into a drawing or pdf markup program so that it takes up a full page. We used Notability.
  5. Use a stylus or your finger to trace the contours of your thumbprint on top of the photo. Use a thick black line. Don’t worry about getting every single line – that would be impossible. You just want to get the gist of it.
  6. Remove the photo from the page so you’re only left with the traced lines.
  7. Print the thumbprint out.
  8. Place the printed thumbprint lines underneath a clean sheet of paper. You may want to use tape or a clip to hold the papers together in place.
  9. Copy the biography onto the clean paper, following the lines you can see underneath. You can choose to use different pen colors or write in different styles or just to use your own handwriting. Sometimes it’s hard to follow the lines exactly, but don’t worry. It will still look like a thumbprint in the end.
  10. Voila! You may have to add extra text or abbreviate your text slightly. You can add decoration. Mushroom’s thumbprint, shown with the thumbprint lines he created and followed, has a rainbow of colors behind it.

First Grade Flashback

The other day, Mushroom pulled out his first grade portfolio in search of something or other and we both got to flipping through it.

Things said by Mushroom included, “I was so young!” and, “My handwriting was terrible!” and, “Did I really write that?” and then, “I was so young!” over again.  Then, later when BalletBoy was home, they pulled them all out, pre-K to present and pored over them.  The table was a mess of old co-op yearbooks and Math Mammoth pages and art projects.  I’m telling you, nostalgia starts young.

I was especially struck by these two writing samples sitting side by side.  This was before we had discovered Brave Writer (though you’ll see we were basically doing it without realizing!), but sitting in the portfolio was this copywork from Charlotte’s Web, which was the book we were reading at the time, I’m sure.  My kids still occasionally do copywork (we do a lot more dictation now) but they almost never get anything wrong.  Seeing this one riddled with errors is like looking at another kid.  I can hardly remember teaching this stuff.

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And next to it was this “freewrite” type activity that comes from Games for Writing by Peggy Kaye.  I would write a boasting line and the kid would follow with a boasting line of his own.  He could copy my spelling and syntax and make it his own by changing the end, which he did.  I like the final line, which is, “I’m so strong I could crush the universe.”  Other Games for Writing exercises were in other sections of the portfolio, including the one where each person rolls the dice to see how many words to add to the story.

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I know at the time, I was worried.  I was worried that this wasn’t “enough” for writing (later that year I know we tried a couple of different workbook type writing programs, neither of which really worked for us).  I was worried about keeping this stuff up.  Yet somehow we managed and here we are.  I wish I could go back and pat myself on the back and say, “Hey, you did it.  They’re on their way.  It was enough!”

We just compiled the last bits of fourth grade’s portfolios this week.  Into those went a set of writings imagining they were characters in Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964, filled with rich words like “hollered” and “gaping” and all typed up with polished syntax and revised to add detail.  Just like the copywork that I can’t remember being so difficult, it’s miles and miles away from the joint boasting writing exercise from first grade.

 

Language Arts Lately

Fourth grade has turned out to be such a funny time for language arts.  Such an in between time.  Some days, I’ll toss out an assignment and get something lovely back, such as a piece from BalletBoy last week written from the perspective of a girl in a photo from the Dust Bowl that he closed, “I cried as we walk away from our land.  My mother said we would find a new place, but I didn’t want that.”  Or this opening from a little story he did for an All About Spelling Writing Station assignment, “I dashed into the woods to get away from the wretched thing chasing me.”

Other times, we try things like the Brave Writer Keen Observations exercise and all we get is that the pineapple is yellow, sour and in a bowl.  And anything else is pulling teeth.  Or this set of sentences from Mushroom’s Writing Station, “There are edges.  There are bridges.  I am walking.”

We continue to work through grammar and spelling.  While it’s slow going for Mushroom, I’ve seen a huge improvement in his terrible spelling with All About Spelling.  Getting him to change words he has been misspelling for years, like “thay” and “reddy” has been a continuing problem, but most of the things he writes for himself are now readable and

mistakes now mostly make sense.  We also have tried out MCT Island this year, having gotten it used for a song.  We enjoyed Grammar Island, which was mostly review for us of parts of speech, which we’ve covered many other times.  But Sentence Island has turned into a slog midway through.  The writing assignments, which we’re not even doing all of, are not fun for the kids at all and produce mostly stilted, awkward writing.  We may give up on it.

Mushroom corrects my dictation.
Mushroom corrects my dictation.

Brave Writer continues to be the heart of what we do for language arts.  While we don’t get to it as often as I might like, poetry teas and movie nights continue at the Rowhouse.  We freewrite in various ways most weeks.  We use narrations for history and science.  We also do dictation from whatever read aloud we’re working through.  Every few weeks, though, I’ve been giving them a “break” from our read aloud dictation and letting them instead pick a passage from their chosen required reading book.  They copy the passage then teach it to me as if I’m the student and they’re the teacher, making sure to ask good questions about the meaning of the passage and pointing out all the spelling, grammar and punctuation I, the student, will need to remember.  They then dictate it to me and correct my dictation (I always get a few things wrong for them to find).

The kids' lapbooks about The Odyssey and Hercules.
The kids’ lapbooks about The Odyssey and Hercules.

Brave Writer’s Partnership Writing has continued to be fun.  To go along with our preparation fro the National Mythology Exam, we did the Greek myth lapbook project.  I’m still not swayed that lapbooks are particularly great (loyal blog readers will probably remember that lapbooks were on my list of homeschool things I really don’t get) but the kids did a decent job with them.  Mushroom made a maze for Odysseus to go home through in his and BalletBoy made a fake “Twelve Labors” board game on his for Hercules.  We’re going to tackle the imaginary continent or island chain in February and March.

As always, it’s difficult not to be constantly second guessing about something like writing, but I see how they are getting more and more fluent.  As I glanced back through the last several dictations we did, I saw full comp pages of writing with “Great Dictation!” and “Nearly perfect!” scrawled by me across the top.  It feels very much like we’re moving forward and I can see how a couple of years from now, we will be ready to start tackling essays and and more purposefully organized writing.

Homophones with Brave Writer

I know I said I’d stop posting every project we did with Brave Writer’s Partnership Writing, but they all just turn out so darn pretty.  It’s hard not to.

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Gene Barretta; Illustrated by the author Dear DeerWe just finished this month’s project, which was creating a book about homophones.  They wrote sentences and drew pictures to show different homophones.  This dovetailed well with All About Spelling, since Mushroom is still stuck at the end of Level 3, learning about homophones and BalletBoy’s Level 4 also highlights homophones in many of the steps.  I let the kids mostly draw from their All About Spelling lists for these.  We also read some very cute books with homophones, such as the classics Amelia Bedelia and The King Who Rained.  I know these are usually read by younger children, but the jokes were much funnier now to my kids than they ever were when they were younger.  The best homophones book we looked at was Dear Deer by Joe Baretta, which featured an amusing set of animal themed homophones on every page.  Again, it was clearly meant for young kids, but both boys thought it was funny, especially since they were planning their own silly homophone illustrations.

Book Binding and StitchingWe made our own books for this project as well.  I have some experience with making books, so we made up our own way, however, this set of instructions from Artists Helping Children is pretty similar to what we did and they have some other great book projects.  I have learned from years of book making with kids that cardboard often makes for a far too thick book (not to mention it’s harder to work with), so we used lightweight cardboard (specifically an old department store shirt box) instead for the cover.  It comes out more like a paperback that way.  If you’re interested in making books with kids and the above isn’t enough, Making Books that Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop-Up, Twist, and Turn by Gwen Diehn is by far my favorite.  Also, this website is also really sweet and fun.

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The results were really polished looking.  Overall, this was a pretty painless project and relatively quick.  With just a few pointers and direction, they actually did the finding homophones and then the writing for this one mostly on their own, plus the design for the pages totally on their own.  I did go over the sentences they wrote and corrected spelling, but otherwise, I left them alone.  They chose to write simple sentences, but that was fine.  There was a lot less partnership in this project.  I’m not sure if that’s them maturing as writing or the ease of the project (mostly the latter, I suspect), but it was really neat to see what they made.  I especially loved seeing Mushroom’s art for it, which was really well done and showed a great sense of space and perspective.

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Timelines

timelines

I know I keep posting about Brave Writer’s Partnership Writing, but it has been so much fun and such a good purchase.  If anyone out there is new to Brave Writer or got The Writer’s Jungle and has no idea what to do next, it’s a really practical set of projects for kids who can write a little, but aren’t yet able to just sit down and churn out something without help.

We tackled the second project, making a personal timeline, and it ended up taking a month and then some.  That’s because from the first moment that I introduced the project, the kids had their own ideas about what sort of things they would ask the grandparents and put on their timeline.

First, the kids brainstormed and wrote down interview questions, which I typed up for them.  I suggested that they interview the Husband and me and perhaps a grandparent or two, but they insisted on doing all five grandparents as well as one of the great-grandparents.  Not only that, but the questions they had were unexpected, like, “What was the worst job you ever had?” and “What was your scariest moment?”  Not exactly timeline of life events material.  However, the kids pushed through even though it took quite awhile and a lot of slow note taking.  It was very special to see them interview all those people.  When they interviewed their great-grandmother, they discovered that her “best” job was almost the same job that was their grandfather’s “worst.”  It was a job they both had as teens in a local peanut factory.  Even if much of the information wasn’t timeline type stuff, it was really cool to see them ask good questions and hear family stories.

Next, we chose pictures and picked which events would actually end up on the timeline.  I made post-it notes with the events and let the kids arrange them, then write them in.  We had to do some math to figure out the scale for the timeline.  It ended up in three sections with three different colors of paper for each one: before I was born (the past), my life (the present), and what I might do in the rest of my life (the future).

It was fascinating to see what sort of things the kids think their future holds.  Both of them put appearing on Jeopardy! as a future life event.  Mushroom planned to be a movie star, but later in life, perhaps like his father, who only started acting recently.  BalletBoy had his future very mapped out, but couldn’t come up with anything after age 30 except that he plans to die at age 89.

BalletBoy cracked me up many times during this project.  At one point, he told a stuck Mushroom, “You can put anything for the future, even something like invent a time machine.  Ooh!  I’m putting that on mine!”  At age 30, BalletBoy plans to invent his time machine.  Later, as he pasted on photos he asked me if he could include photos of himself making the timeline, just to keep it really up to date.

So yet another Partnership Writing project didn’t go quite as scripted, but was a blast to do and I’m thrilled with the results.  There was a huge amount of writing for the kids with this project.  They wrote questions, their own life events, their future life events, notes for all eight of the interviews they did, and then finally wrote on the final timeline and titled it.  It was an impressive amount of work.

When we come back from break and start fourth grade at the end of September, I’ll be glad to have what looks like a much lower key project with the Homonyms mini-book next.

More Secret Codes

Okay, I promise, my last gushing review of Brave Writer’s new Partnership Writing, but we really did have such fun doing the first project about secret codes.

I checked out several secret code books from the library.  For the most part, they were all the same, just from different eras and with slight variations.  We found Top Secret: A Handbook of Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing by Paul B. Janeczko to be the most useful.  I liked that there were anecdotes from history about secret codes, several of which we read aloud.  We also found some good extensions for the project in here for once we finished all the suggested avenues in Partnership Writing.

We did two that I thought were worth sharing.  First, I left the kids a message in cipher for them to find in the morning, along with several clues on how to solve it.  It told them where to find special strawberry muffins.  Since this was basically a cryptoquote, I left the book open to a page with this information about the most common letters, short words, double letters and so forth in English.  It took them a long time, but they did decipher it.  I was really proud of their persistence.  And while it was a tough activity and not for every kid at this stage of writing, I thought it involved a lot of good language thinking.  Enough that we might try it again with another baked good and a new hiding place at some point.

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Next, after doing a book cipher that was suggested in Partnership Writing, we took it to another level by writing the plain text ourselves.  Mushroom and BalletBoy each came up with a message to hide in a letter.  They wrote the letters and scattered the words for the secret message inside them.  I helped them edit for spelling, then we typed them up.  Then, they carefully cut out a special key for reading the letter.  When you lay the key on top of the letter, it reveals the secret message with carefully cut out holes.

secretcodes

To create the key, I printed two copies of the letter in a nice, large type.  The first one was set aside.  The second one was taped to a sheet of blank paper that would become the key.  We used an x-acto knife to cut out the words of the message from the letter.  When we separated the letter copy from the blank paper, the blank paper became the key and the cut up letter went to the recycle bin.

secretcodes2

We never do anything quite the way it’s proscribed, so we didn’t follow the routine in Partnership Writing to the letter.  However, we had a blast.  We’ll take a week or so off and just continue our routine of dictations, poetry teas, narrations, and reading then dive into the next project.

My Homeschool Obsessions

If you happen to hang out with me online, you may know that there are certain things for which I am a complete homeschool evangelist.  Products that I think everyone should try and love.  Of course, no resource is right for everyone and so on and so forth.  And there are many things that we use that I find very helpful and solid.  But here are the things that I just love, the things I like to gush over.

The Boston Children’s Museum Activity Books
I know I sound hyperbolic, but I firmly believe that these are the best science activity books for children ever written.  They focus mostly on physics and are good for upper elementary and middle school.  Where many science experiment books lay out a proscribed set of steps and a predicted outcome, these books show you how to build equipment to let you actually play with concepts and test out and explore the science on your own.  We dabbled with them back in first grade, doing a few activities out of several of them.  Part of me can’t wait for fifth grade when we get back to physics so we can use them again.

Brave Writer
Yes, you all know, I’m a Brave Writer devotee.  When I first heard Julie Bogart speak, it was like a revelation.  She reminded me of all the things I had learned about teaching writing when I was a school teacher, but she had somehow made it add up with the things I was learning about teaching younger children, particularly about the value of copywork and other old-fashioned writing teaching methods.  To me, Brave Writer is the most positive and flexible approach to writing I’ve seen.

Tin Man Press
These workbooks are so much fun and so whimsical that I fell in love with them the moment I saw them.  They do for logic and writing what the Anti-Coloring Book series does for coloring books.  They’re like anti-worksheets.  We’re especially big fans of Wakeruppers, but I have a few things from them and look forward to getting more.  Nothing I’ve gotten has been a dud.

Miquon Math
We started slow with Miquon, just trying out some of the Orange Book, but not really finding it fit us.  However, when Mushroom became math anxious at the end of first grade, we had to throw out all the math curriculum we had been using.  Eventually, we went back to Miquon, finishing the Red Book, then the Blue, Green, and Yellow volumes as well.  I learned to really use the Annotations and to refer to Rosie’s videos at Education Unboxed when I needed some inspiration.  To me, Miquon is the most flexible, in depth, deep thinking math program there is out there.  I thoroughly love it.  I have delayed us finishing Purple by bringing it down to just a very little bit every day, but it will be at an end before the school year is through.  If only there was a Miquon Mauve and a Miquon Black and a Miquon Navy!

Those are my homeschool obsessions.  What are yours?