December 7, 2010

Playing Dress Up with Writing

Note:  If you do not want to wait on this entire series, (as I only write once per month), you can order a program that teaches almost everything I will cover.  It is, hand’s down, the best writing program I have ever reviewed.


Sometimes it is not what you say, but how you say it.  The same is true with writing.  Look at history. How much evil has prevailed because of great orators, while the men with wisdom went unheeded because of their lack of skill in the same area? We can raise our children to be great thinkers, who have marvelous ideas to benefit mankind, but unless they communicate their ideas in an engaging fashion no one but their proud mamas will know. Because of that, from the beginning of independent writing, I teach my children ways to “dress up” what they write. We’ll cover three of them today. For younger children you would teach one a week. For older children, teach them all three in one sitting.


-LY words

Most –ly words are adverbs. Those are the ones we will be helping our children to recognize. On your dry erase board, or piece of paper write two sentences. You can make up your own, or choose mine.

Three girls spoke in a circle. Three girls cheerfully spoke in a circle.

Which one give a better mental picture?  The second one, of course! What if we changed it?  Three girls spoke angrily in a circle. What is our picture now? Those simple adverbs make a huge difference in the picture presented in their writing.  Any child can do this, even a first grader. Don’t wait until they are older to begin teaching them to dress up their writing.  If you start young, it will naturally become part of their writing style.

Next you’ll want to write three verbs on your dry erase board and brainstorm with your children different –ly words that could dress up the verb.  Here are some of mine:

Spoke                             Ran                              Wrote

quietly                           quickly                       resentfully

loudly                            furiously                    mischievously

foolishly                       silently                       intensely

The ages of your children will determine their level of vocabulary, but you can help them with –ly cheat sheets. Type out a sheet with three columns of –ly adverbs that they can reference any time they have a writing assignment.  Help younger children understand that –ly words explain how something is done.  Tell them if someone is doing something in their sentence, they have to tell how they did it.


Strong Verbs

Again, you’ll put two sentences before them.

The boys said, “No.”  The boys grumbled, “No.” , or maybe The boys whispered, “No.”  Even if you just put: The boys intoned, “No.”, it would be better than ‘said’.

Excellence in Writing suggests keeping a list of banned verbs.  We used to put them on index cards taped together in vertical rows and hang them on the walls.  The top card had the banned verb with a diagonal line through it.  The other cards were synonyms we came up with as replacements.  Throughout the months, a child would inevitably (notice the –ly word) shout out a new verb to replace a banned one on the wall. If you don’t like the index card idea, you can do the same thing on loose leaf paper. They can start their own writing helps notebook and put it with their –ly list.

Once they have this concept down, you can show them how to put both together. One example might be: The girls shouted angrily in a circle.   Or  The officer pursued the burglar silently.


Quality Adjectives

One more time (at least for this month), put two sentences on the board.

The girls spoke in a circle.   The angry girls spoke in a circle.  Or The cheerful girls spoke in a circle.

another example:

The lion roared.  The ferocious lion roared.  Or The wounded lion roared.  The adjectives make a huge difference in the sentence.  A note for your older children: Point out to them it is quality adjectives.  They cannot just put The big lion roared.  The older the child, the higher the expectation for intelligent word choice.

Depending on the amount of grammar mastered, your younger children may need some help understanding what an adjective is.  The easiest way to help them understand is to keep asking the question “What kind of….?” If they write a question about an animal, you can ask, “What kind of animal?” If they are still stuck, give suggestions.  Is it a fat bunny? Is it a be speckled bunny?  Is it a cheerful bunny? Before long they’ll get the idea on their own. 

For the younger set, I have them circle the nouns in a sentence, then have them pick out adjectives to describe those words.  When first learning this skill younger ones will need some help, but it won’t take long until they’re independent.


Putting it all together

Periodically, help them make sentences with all three dress ups. 

Here are some more examples:

The friendly girls babbled cheerfully in a circle.  The wounded lion roared pitifully.  The frustrated boy grumbled quietly as he walked away.

My children have really enjoyed dressing up their writing.  Even the youngest like how “grown up” their writing sounds when they faithfully put in the required additions. Hopefully, as they mature and go out on their own, their ideas will be given the merit they deserve by their readers.


Annmarie is a single homeschooling mom of four children.  You can learn more about Annmarie on her blog

1 comments - Add a comment below -:

Dana ♥ said...

I love this post Annmarie! What a great way to describe this part of the process! I'm going to have to check out Excellence in Writing! Thanks!