Tag Archives: writing paragraphs

Free ways to teach writing and spelling

Ok, so this year we finally took the plunge and purchased curriculum from Institute for Excellence in Writing. I did it because having a curriculum is easy, and I truly believe that their ideas will help Ian learn more about writing in the long run.

However, up until this year (5th grade), I had not invested any money at all into a writing curriculum. Here is what we had been doing:


When I spell today, I am not thinking back to some memorized list from the third grade. I can spell because I read a lot. If I misspell a word, I usually know right away because something looks off about it. Reading well-written compositions also help when it comes to writing. Students learn what good writing looks like.

Copy and Dictation

I would generally have Ian “write” a paragraph from scratch about his day, or about his video game, or whatever he had just been doing. Basically anything simple that he wouldn’t have to think too much to come up with. He would dictate it to me, four or five sentences, and I would write it down. Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. Afterward, I would have him copy what I wrote onto a separate sheet of paper. Then, the next day usually, I would dictate that same paragraph to him, and he would write it down on another fresh sheet. I would always help him with spelling, and cover any spelling rules on the spot if anything came up. I would also show him other words that use the same rules for reinforcement. This exercise is also great for suggesting alternate ways of writing a sentence or correcting grammar mistakes. As your child becomes a better writer, suggest more and more changes, but don’t overdo it because you won’t want to discourage him. Basically, using this method, you could probably get through your entire K-12 without ever purchasing writing (or spelling) curriculum, as long as the teacher is a competent and confident writer. That being said, you would still want to eventually move on to things like essays, business letters, and resumes. I haven’t looked into myself, but you can probably find examples of all of these things online, along with tips for writing them. For help with streamlining a research paper, look here.

Writing stories together (see Creative Writing and Flying)

A new twist on writing stories together is fan fiction. I recently downloaded a MineCraft novel on my Kindle and began reading it to Ian. Now he is hoping to write one of his own and publish it as an eBook. He has never wanted to write anything before, so this is cropped-img_4390-copy.jpgvery encouraging to me. You can find lots of fan fiction online, but most of it is poorly written. Also, you have to watch out for inappropriate content, so be careful before just turning your children loose on these sites.

Spelling City (for students using word lists)

For help with hand writing (print or cursive), see my blog post here.

Creative Writing Using Classics

My husband and I always get into some interesting conversations, and that’s when I have some of my best ideas. Yesterday we were talking about my son. My son is taking a writing course in which he rewrites paragraphs based on an outline he makes of the original. He is using Institute for Excellence in Writing, a curriculum which I highly recommend. The instructor was once a little boy who hated writing. One of the biggest issues little boys have is coming up with new material while actively engaged in the process of writing. Thinking up new content and physically writing use two different parts of the brain, so it’s hard, unless you are practiced at it. So in this class, he does one thing at a time. He writes a content outline one day, and writes a paragraph the next. We have only been doing this for a couple weeks, but so far it’s working out well! Anyway, here’s an idea I had yesterday on my drive to the city:

Why not pull a paragraph from a classic novel that your child is unfamiliar with, read that paragraph to them, and have them come up with what happens next? In Ian’s case, I would probably have him spend a half-hour or so pulling all of the important ideas from the given paragraph, writing them down in outline form (by sentence), and rewriting the paragraph in his own words the following day, using the outline as a guide. Next day, we would brainstorm what happens next, and I would probably go so far as to make my own outline based on his ideas. (Sticking with the idea of not having to write and think at the same time.) On the fourth day, I would have him write the second paragraph based off the outline I wrote.

Here’s an example of a few lines from Around the World in Eighty Days:

“A suttee,” returned the general, “is a human sacrifice, but a voluntary one. The woman you have just seen will be burned tomorrow at the dawn of day.”

While Sir Francis was speaking, the guide shook his head several times, and now said: “The sacrifice which will take place tomorrow at dawn is not a voluntary one.”

The guide now led the elephant out of the thicket, and leaped upon his neck. Just at the moment that he was about to urge Kiouni forward with a peculiar whistle, Mr. Fogg stopped him, and, turning to Sir Francis Cromarty, said, “Suppose we save this woman.”

Here is an excerpt from The Jungle Book:

“Yonder is the road to the Jungle” – Mowgli pointed through the window. “Your hands and feet are free. Go now.”

“We do not know the Jungle VillageJungle, my son, as – as thou knowest,” Messua began. “I do not think that I could walk far.”

“And the men and women would be upon our backs and drag us here again,” said the husband.

“H’m!” said Mowgli, and he tickled the palm of his hand with the tip of his skinning knife; “I have no wish to do harm to any one of this village – yet. But I do not think they will stay thee. In a little while they will have much else to think upon. Ah!” he lifted his head and listened to shouting and trampling outside. “So they have let Buldeo come home at last?”

“He was sent out this morning to kill thee,” Messua cried. “Didst thou meet him?”


One more idea. You can use modern books or books that your children really like. Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians, for instance:

My moment of weakness passed quickly, and I slammed the door closed and locked the old man outside. Then I went to the kitchen to get some breakfast.

That, however, is when someone drew a gun on me.

Or even The Amazing Tale of Steve: Minecraft Novel:

Simon! Captured? Just like in my dream! It wasn’t just a dream then! He was trying to communicate with me…What else did he say?