Home School Life Journal

Home School Life Journal

Beginning Writing : Writing Paragraphs

After your students can write a good sentence, it is time to introduce paragraph writing. This is something that can be taught in the elementary years, but should also be reviewed as they get older and the paragraphs get more complex.  Whether simple or complex, paragraph construction has a certain structure that can be taught.

Paragraph Structure. Every paragraph begins with a topic sentence, which relays the main idea of the sentence. The next sentences, which form the body of the paragraph, are the supporting sentences. For the beginning writer,  the sentences can all just be supporting details. As the student's paragraph writing gets more sophisticated, the supporting sentences can provide textural evidence or a detail and then examples or explanations of the detail. The paragraph then ends with a concluding sentence that wraps up the paragraph and refers back to the topic sentence.

Mentoring paragraphs.  Just as we worked with mentoring sentences to learn sentence writing, we work with mentoring paragraphs to learn how to write paragraphs.  Find good, solid paragraphs in literature, science or history texts to use. Have them get small post-it notes to label the parts of the paragraph. Alternatively, you can provide the student with a copy of a paragraph so that he can write directly on the page. He can identify the parts of the paragraph using differently colored highlighters. This is the beginning foundation of annotation, which we will discuss in detail in another post.

Paragraph Puzzles. Another way to have students work with paragraph construction is for them have the separate sentences of a paragraph before them and they have to order them into a cohesive paragraph. You can do this by typing out the sentences of a good paragraph and then cutting them out for him to reassemble.

Supported Paragraph Writing. For the first paragraph I have my students write, I choose a topic that relates to a current or recent area of study, usually in their science or history studies (although I add literature as well.) I will write the topic sentence on a whiteboard that addresses the topic. I have my student then brainstorm on a piece of paper a list of information that would support the topic sentence. For the first time or even the first few times, I will conclude the lesson there. Once he feels confident in making these lists, he can then move on to writing supporting details for each of bits of information he has listed for a topic. Once he becomes proficient in this step, he can begin to write a paragraph on a topic, using the lists he can generate as a skeletal outline. (I will post more about making outlines later.) At this point, your student may need help by your illuminating irrelevant supporting details, but be gentle and helpful with this. Do not seem as if you are correcting the piece, but more like you are guiding. In other words, if he insists on keeping details that you feel are irrelevant, let it go. He will get better over time.

Writing the Topic Sentence. Give your student short answer questions taken from his history and science studies. Make sure he always starts by generating a list. Then, teach him how to restate part of the question and then how to add to it to form the topic sentence of the answer paragraph. He then can provide evidence for the answer, by the details he adds to the paragraph from his information lists. You can also begin teaching transition words or phrases such as first, next and finally.

Writing a Concluding Sentence.  I save the teaching of this until after the student has written some from brainstorming outlines because I have found that concluding sentences are the trickiest part of paragraphs for students to master. They have to learn how to refer to the topic sentence but at the same time making it a different and, hopefully, strong sentence. Be sure to look at pairs of topic and concluding sentences thoroughly before having him attempt to write one himself. You can look back at the paragraphs he has annotated for this.

Practicing. With this background, now your student just needs lots of practice. You can begin giving him daily opportunities to write across the various subjects he studies. As he does this, you can gently teach the areas in which he is weak, such as elaborating, improving word choice by using active verbs or synonyms or strengthening transitions. Once he has done this for some time, he will be ready for a multi-paragraph report.

Snapshot Summary : September 16-22, 2016

September 16-22
I am beginning to feel as if my weekly posts are identical, as our very busy weeks are not varying a whole lot. As long as week keep the activities that we now do, there isn't much wiggle room to do new or different things.
It is beginning to look and sometimes feel like fall. Many of the days, though, are still warm. Sometimes they are even hot.
Quentin, sitting on a bench at the college, once we completed school work.
Our college week was a little different this week as Katie came down with a bacterial infection which made the glands between her chin and throat to swell. She feel really awful for several days and was unable to attend classes or even keep up with her homework. 
Both Quentin and James did well with our days together doing their school work at the college. 
Quentin is loving his fencing classes still and even won all three of his bouts last Thursday night.
The boys are enjoying watching a pair of bats which sleep during the day outside under the protection of their window frame. At night they fly off, but return each morning.

I had a yearly check-up this week and the results came back stating that I was very low in Vitamins B-6, B-12 and D. I got a B-12 shot and prescriptions for over the counter doses of all three. Maybe that will keep me from feeling so sluggish?

How was your week?

Beginning Writing: Sentence Writing

While you are still getting your student to write lists, but when you feel that they are soon ready to move on, begin working on sentence writing. Again, this is for students of all ages, from elementary to high school level. The example sentences and your expectations for your student may be different according to their grade or age level, but the process is essentially the same. This process has to be done over and over again, revising it from time to time, incrementally more complex. The idea is to mentor your students, not either feeding them answers nor testing them to see if they understand with a sea of writing assignments that end up being filled with red marks. That is why this process is often called, "mentor sentences" but the process is not new as Charlotte Mason wrote about these concepts in the late 19th century. However you want to look at it, the essential steps are as follows:

1. You will need to find a sentence in a good book that you want to use as your example sentence. These sentences can be the beginnings of a commonplace book. Alternatively,  you can write your own sentences.

2. You and your student look at the sentence,  noting things that make it an exceptional sentence. You may have something you have been working on that you may bring to his attention, but you might also want to introduce other concepts that you are planning on working on later. In schools this step is sometimes left to the students to figure out because of the idea that a student will remember a concept better if he discovers it himself.  It is also used in group settings in order to assess the knowledge level of each of the students. I have never found that method to be good as either a learning or assessment tool in homeschooling,  so I  guide him through this step. Don't be afraid of giving him too much because you are giving him the tools right now, not testing him.

3. Di-sect the sentence, looking at the grammar and/or punctuation. Review the concepts he already knows. Introduce a concept that the sentence uses. Think about this step when you pick your sentence to use.

4. Once you have thoroughly gone through the sentence, word by word, you can give the sentence for dictation. For younger students, you can print out the sentence, cut the words out separately, and have your student rebuild the sentence instead.

5. Now that he is very familiar with the model sentence,  he can play with the words in the sentence. What are some synonyms for some of the words used? Getting out a thesaurus can be fun. How about rearranging the words in the sentence? How about starting the sentence off with a dependent clause? How do the manipulations change the sentence? Do they make the sentence more exciting or more clear or does it change the meaning of the sentence? Take as much time with this step as you can for much can be learned by sentence manipulating.

6. Can your student now write a different but similar sentence? Change the subject of the sentence, or perhaps the predicate, or both. This is the step where you can really begin to see the rewards for all the efforts you both have put into this.

7. Armed with what your student has learned,  can he now go back and rewrite some of the lackluster sentences he has written in the past? Help him by picking out a sentence or two from his previous work that you feel lends itself to this editing. Encourage him to approach this step not as fixing something that is broken, but as an exciting application of what he has learned - a "now we can do this" attitude.  Do not use any red pens or anything that strikes one as correction. This should be fun.

8. Now it is time to start the process with another concept and another sentence.


Snapshot Summary: September 9-15, 2016

September 9-15, 2016
Katie had a little problem with her back due to the weight of all her books in her backpack. She has always had problems with her muscles in her shoulders due to hyperflexibility (or hypermobility), which causes her arm to pop out of the shoulder socket from time to time. The added weight of the texts in her backpack has not helped the problem. I looked on Amazon and found this rolling crate and she used it this week and loves it.

Alex and James have suffered the most from our super busy, out-of-the-house schedule as of late. He likes to watch The Magic School Bus, look at books, plays on his iPad. I hope to fit in some art and science projects for him next week.

Sam is thriving as a college student, despite struggles with organization due to Executive Functioning issues. He is making friends and studying a lot. He is particularly enjoying his Political Science and Macroeconomics courses.

James, working on some physical science experiments.
James is struggling with his transition to high school work, particularly with writing and reading comprehension. We work on both of these in all of his subjects, so he is progressing. It is just a very slow progress. We will be adding in a course (with lab) in electronics soon, which is his current passion, which will make things better for him. He is also pursuing joining a Magic the Gathering club.

Quentin is in the very center of this picture, towards the back. He is mostly blocked, but you can see him in his gray t-shirt.
Quentin is our most active and social child, and he is in a very happy place right now. He is taking Fencing two to three times a week, Voice lessons once a week and will be auditioning for a role in a play at the end of this month. He is meeting new people at Fencing and enjoying the social opportunities it affords. His school work is going well, and is working on longer, more thoughtful entries in his notebooks.

How was your week? 

Beginning Writing: Start by Making Lists

Whether your child is struggling with writing because he is young and new at it or its because he is older and had bad experiences that have made him reluctant to write, you can begin at a simple starting point and work slowly, step-by-step until he is writing reports, papers and essays.

It all begins by making a list.

It can be a list of any sort. Have him make lots of them. About anything that interests him. Perhaps you can give him a topic once in awhile. Make lists from the other subjects he is taking such as science or history. Then it can count for two subjects and make your student very happy. Slowly begin to ask him to add in some organization to his list making. He could list his ten favorite cars in order from the best down to his tenth favorite. He could list the colors in a rainbow in order and then list a flower that is of each of the colors. He could list how he plays a particular game in likes to play in the order it is played (what do you do first, and so on). Have the ordering be in as many different ways as you can think of. Help him through any that are difficult for him, by asking questions to guide him.

Once you think he is ready, have him pick one of the lists to use for the next type of writing project, the paragraph, but first let's look at sentence writing.

How to Host an End of Summer Brazilian Churrasco Party

Even though the calendar says "September" and schools are in session, the weather still says "Summer!" to me. With all the recent attention to Brazil due to the Summer Olympics, what better way to wrap up the end of summer than with a Brazilian Churrasco Party?

Churrasco is a Spanish and Portuguese word that is similar to our barbecue, in which a variety of meats are served that have been cooked on a barbecue grill, often with skewers. Although we used the churrasco sauce and dry spices from our Try the World Brazil box, you can also find wonderful churrasco sauce recipes on the web.
After marinating our chicken and beef, we put it on skewers and grilled them directly on the table with a portable electric grill. This added to the enjoyment of the dinner and the smell of the spices while cooking was incredible. 

We also grilled red onions, zucchini and okra, which had been marinated with the same spices, on skewers. We served Pao de Queijo, or cheese bread...
and Romeu and Julieta, which is a combination of slices of goiabada, or guava paste and soft cow's milk cheese. The combination of the salty cheese and the sweet, fruity taste of the guava paste was delicious.
Everyone helped out in some way to make the meal, so the party atmosphere began even before the meal began. Everyone was laughing and talking as they did their tasks.
We also made a virgin Jabuticaba Caipirinha. We used a regular virgin Caipirnha recipe and added some Jabuticaba jam to it. It was sweet and tangy, like a limeade with grape-like notes. So refreshing!
 photo BrazilianChocolateTruffles02_zpsd2c856fe.jpg
For desert we had Brazil nut cookies, Brigadeiro and, of course, Brazilian coffee! Here is a simple recipe for this sweet treat.

Recipe for Brigadeiro

In a heavy saucepan, over medium-high heat, combine one 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk, 3 Tab. cocoa powder and 1 Tab. butter. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens. This should take 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool about 30 minutes. Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop out the mixture (about 1 Tab. each) and shape into balls. Roll in chocolate sprinkles or pacoquita (traditional Brazilian peanut candy).

I hope that you are inspired to learn more about the culture of Brazil and celebrate the end of summer with a Churrasco Party. 

Snapshot Summary: September 2-8, 2016

 September 2-8

This was our first official week back to school for our little homeschool. Since Labor Day was also in this week, we started back on Tuesday. 
Traditions are big around here, so I made them up school cones again even though they are in 7th and 9th grades. Steven picked out the items for them, and added in packs of Magic the Gathering cards, but they seemed to like the school supplies as much as the cards!
This is a few pages of James' Midsummer Night's Dream comic book, which helped him through a confusing part of the play, where there are lots of different characters on stage.

I am going to talk about the school work we do in more detail in separate posts and sum it all up in a monthly post. I will talk mostly about our other activities in these weekly posts.

Can you pick out which one is Quentin? Hint...look for the shortest one in class.
Quentin is really enjoying his Intermediate Fencing class, and is going between 2 to 3 times a week. After fencing for two hours, he is quite tired and drenched with sweat, but he is learning lots.
Quentin is also working on writing his own survival role-playing game.
We all enjoy walks down to the beach from time to time. James has become interested in the butterflies that are attracted to the water in our driveway.
Midas is sad that everyone is out of the house more lately, He tries to prevent us from going by putting his head on the backpacks as we ready to go.
My college kids have been doing really well so far. Sam has had to learn quickly to follow an intense schedule, and organization has always been a weak point for him. 
Katie is loving her biology class. She took this shot of one of the labs.
Katie was thrilled to get a 100% on her English essay since English has always been a weak point for her (as she was diagnosed with Global Language Disorder and Aphasia in second grade.) I was really reaffirmed by the fact that their college work seems to neatly seam with where I left off teaching them. We had actually done many of the experiments in Katie's college biology book already!
We had a Brazilian End of Summer Churrasco Party using the items from my Try the World Brazil box.
Almost everyone participated in the cooking. I grilled the Churrascos (beef, chicken and vegetable kabobs marinated in a Brazilian barbecue sauce) directly on the table and everything was delicious! The coffee was the best I had ever had. It was our favorite box so far. I think we will dip into the Sweden box next week.

How was your week?

August 26 - September 1, 2016 Finding a New Rhythm

August 26 - September 1, 2016

I realized when I made the above collage how appropriate a collage is to capture our family's life right now. It seems as if our days are so busy and full that I only remember it in flashes of images caught during the whirlwind of our days. 
We saw this tortoise on one of our trips back and forth from college, and we stopped so that Sam could take this picture.
On Mondays I drive Sam and Katie to their college (one hour away). They are there for almost 12 hours, taking classes and eating meals there.

On Tuesdays I drive Sam in for one class, so I wait there and then drive him home. Tuesday nights Quentin has his fencing lesson. Next week that will increase to two nights a week as he has now entered the Intermediate class. His first tournament will be in January in Baltimore. 
Quentin's Voice instructor warns him that he needs to go higher on the next note he is to sing.
On Wednesdays, I drive Katie and Sam to college, but this time I bring Quentin along so that I can take him to his Voice lesson, which is about 20 minutes farther from the college. He is working on a Christmas carol that he plans to use at his audition on September 27 in Dover, Delaware for a part in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
This is a very typical sight these days.
Thursdays and Fridays are catch-up days for us all. We usually entertain guests on those evenings. 
I saw this beautiful little cake in the bakery case of a little cafe in my Oncologist's building. I thought it was so cute, I had to snap a picture of it.
On this particular Thursday I had my 3 1/2 year check-up with my Oncologist. You can read more about that here.
A beetle Sam saw on one of his walks at the beach.

Next week we shall start our homeschool and add that to our schedule. Although I am quite excited to start a new year, I am also a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of adding it to an already full schedule.
Sketches Katie does to relax between studies.

How has your week?

August 19-25, 2016 The End of Staycation and the Beginning of School

August 19-25, 2016
The End of Staycation and the Beginning of School

Crab Feast

and Escape the Room
Escape the Room type experiences are all the rage right now, and so we decided to see what it is all about. Escape the Room challenges began as timed challenges within video games, but have now branched out to include entire places dedicated to this a series of puzzles to be solved in a set time. We bought a boxed set, which included a background story and a series of  puzzles in envelopes that you were allowed to open one at a time once the previous puzzle is solved. The whole series was to be completed in an hour and a half. We met the challenge and between us all we solved the mystery.  It is a good team building activity, although we did not find the puzzles extremely challenging. It had suggestions for how to make it a costume party, bu t I think it would make a fabulous stem punk party!
Game Day and Dinner at Nagoya
Our favorite Japanese restaurant.  The boys tried Japanese sodas and they had a most unique and fun way of opening.
Can you believe that this rather unassuming paperback college textbook cost $250, and that is only one course's worth of text. Sam is taking five classes and Katie is taking four.
School Begins
Monday was a big day. Sam and Katie went to their fist big day of classes. I stayed with them for a bit to help them buy their books and various settling in things. Then I  left them and came back home to clean the kitchen,  make a menu and shopping list for the week and make dinner with Quentin's help. I am trying to transition the younger boys into learning how to do the older kids chores. Then, at 5:00 Steven got off work and we went grocery shopping before picking up Sam and Katie. This meant that we were leaving James and Quentin home alone with Alex for the first time. Sam was done with his classes by the time we got there and we sat and talked a bit while we waited for Katie. He had a good first day. He liked his math instructor. His English teacher  seems a bit ditsy, but otherwise fine. His Macroeconomics and Freshman Seminar classes are online. 
Katie was finished with her art class early as the students just got their supplies list and so didn't have their art supplies to work with yet. The list is long and it doesn't seem as if she can get them through the bookstore. Katie was absolutely ecstatic about her classes. She loved her biology class and was dying to start her art homework. She liked her English professor (the same one Sam has) and completed the homework in that class before going to bed. I think she will do well.
Quentin made his First Intention.
Sam went to his American Federal Government class. We also purchased Katie's supplies for her art class....$250 worth.
Voice Lessons Begin