Writer’s Tools: Wordcraft | Focus On

SLJ1110w_FT_FO1(Original Import)

“Indeed, learning to write may be a part of learning to read. For all I know,writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.” —Eudora Welty

It’s unlikely that Ms. Welty was talking about a first grader putting words on paper, but the connection between reading and writing is a foundation in education. “Writing helps a student think,” says Assistant Superintendent Heather Sheridan-Thomas of TST (Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga) BOCES district in Central New York. “They slow down enough to locate thoughts they already have, process new information they are learning, and critically evaluate information and ideas.”

Once upon a time writing meant studying penmanship charts and using ink pots. Higher-level thinking included diagramming sentences. Today’s nimble-fingered keyboard experts are often proficient at texting and typing before they finish the primary grades. Now the emphasis is on self-expression and analysis, but communicating effectively also includes grammar, punctuation, and parts of speech. Keren Taylor, Executive Director of WriteGirl, a California nonprofit promoting creativity and self-expression to empower girls, says, “Writing is a core competency for virtually any academic subject.”

Crafting written work is a two-part invention. Questions such as who, when, what, where, why, and how are melded with heart plus mind for results potentially life-altering and -affirming. While we accentuate practical books here, there’s also a section intended to inspire. Add these titles to your pencil and paper toolbox so students can build writing proficiency.

Name Me a Noun, Visit Me with a Verb

BYERS, Patricia. One Sheep, Two Sheep: A Book of Collective Nouns. illus. by Tamsin Ainslie. Little Hare. 2011. Tr $10.99. ISBN 978-1-921541-45-2. K-Gr 2–Children wearing matching dress-up outfits introduce a gaggle of geese, a knot of frogs, a kaleidoscope of butterflies, and six more animal groups that explore the concept and vocabulary when nouns multiply. Pastel illustrations offer a playful way to start students’ search for expanded word choices.

CLEARY, Brian P. Thumbtacks, Earwax, Lipstick, Dipstick: What Is a Compound Word? illus. by Brian Gable. (Words Are CATegorical® Series.) Lerner. 2011. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-7613-4917-4. Gr 2-4–In this latest addition to the eye-catching, feline-filled cartoon series, comical pictures and brief text demonstrate that compound words come in many forms and lengths. Cleary concludes with a reminder that though these words are often longer, decoding them is easily done by taking them apart.

COFFELT, Nancy. Big, Bigger, Biggest! illus. by author. Holt. 2009. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8050-8089-6. K-Gr 2–Broad sweeps of bold color make 21 animals the perfect menagerie to show comparatives and superlatives for size, speed, hunger, and tiredness. Descriptive adjectives, such as “humongous,” “gooey,” and “wee,” modify noun synonyms to enrich a simple, yet effective way to encourage writing vocabulary.

FOGARTY, Mignon. Grammar Girl’s 101 Misused Words You’ll Never Confuse Again. ISBN 978-0-312-57337-9. ––––. Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know. ISBN 978-0-312-57345-4. ea. vol: St. Martin’s/Griffin. 2011. pap $5.99. Gr 8 Up–Both compact titles have simple, one-page explanations and sentences that cover a range of nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech to clarify use and meaning. In Misused, common confusions over terms such as “e.g.” versus “i.e.” and “historic” versus “historical” are covered. Graduate includes fun and functional choices such as “bohemian,” “kibosh,” “rhetoric,” and “ubiquitous.”

GOODEN, Philip. Faux Pas: A No-Nonsense Guide to Words and Phrases from Other Languages. Walker. 2006. Tr $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8027-1473-2; ebook $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8027-1826-6. Gr 6-12–Phrases such as “Hasta la vista” from Terminator movies and words like “putz”/span> from Yiddish slang characterize this A-to-Z compilation that includes pronunciations, origins, definitions, brief discussions on use, and examples. Ideal as a classroom resource or fun as an exercise in new vocabulary. Let students “carpe diem.”

RAYEVSKY, Kim. Antonyms, Synonyms, and Homonyms. illus. by Robert Rayevsky. Holiday House. 2006. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-1889-3. Gr 1-4–A spaceship swoops in on the opening endpapers, and readers follow a cartoonish, ball-capped alien experiencing the three title word types on mixed-media spreads. “Up” a mountain, then “down” into the ocean he goes. At the end of each bustling word adventure, additional jam-packed pages offer more examples.

TRAYNOR, Tracy. Cheese Please, Chimpanzees: Fun with Spelling. illus. by Lily Bronfeyn. Milet. 2008. pap. $6.95. ISBN 978-1-84059-511-6. PreS-Gr 2–More than a clever rhyming book, this slim volume strings together multiple ways to spell one sound, for example, “I” “spy” “bow-tie” and “high” in a single sentence. Vivid spreads illustrate sometimes amusing images. The book concludes with 11 new same-sound lists ready for a class project.

Golly, Good Grammar

AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARIES, eds. The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary. Houghton Harcourt. 2011. pap. $13.95. ISBN 978-0-547-47265-2. Gr 9 Up–From “absolute construction” to “zero article,” common and lesser-known grammar terms are defined. Using examples, exceptions, and occasional black-and-white drawings, this valuable reference also yields information suitable for single-concept lessons. Present a sentence with a “bare infinitive,” then ask students to devise their own.

CASAGRANDE, June. Mortal Syntax: 101 Language Choices That Will Get You Clobbered by the Grammar Snobs–Even If You’re Right. Penguin. 2008. Tr $14.ISBN 978-0-14-311332-4. Adult/High School–Specific grammar concerns are addressed in one-to-three page discussions using engaging, sometimes anthropomorphic explanations about what’s okay and what’s ill-advised. Take “funner”—actually don’t—because “Funner has no friends. Unlike its pretty, popular sibling ‘fun.’” Facts drawn from cited resources corroborate the author’s lighthearted, thoroughly effective approach.

DUBOSARSKY, Ursula. The Word Snoop. illus. by Tohby Riddle. Dial. 2009. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3406-7. Gr 5-9–Even alphabet origins are explored as a pretend sleuth investigates grammar, punctuation, and word fun, including malapropisms, Pig Latin, and text shorthand—LOL. Each chapter closes with a quiz, and students can check their responses against the answers provided. Minimal black-and-white illustrations add more smiles than information in this upbeat title.

FOGARTY, Mignon. Grammar Girl Presents the Ultimate Writing Guide for Students. illus. by Erwin Haya. Holt. 2011. Tr $19.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8943-1; pap. $12.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8944-8. Gr 7 Up–Straightforward guidance presented in an informal, engaging style covers parts of speech, sentence structure, and punctuation and comes from a podcast prodigy who says, “Embrace your inner grammar guru.” Chapter four offers 50 pages of “Quick and Dirty Tips,” chock-full of practical hints for avoiding common word-choice errors.

O’CONNER, Patricia T. Woe Is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. illus. by Tom Stiglich. Putnam. 2007. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24331-8. Gr 4-8–Shrek fans won’t shriek, since this fresh approach uses the favorite green ogre and other popular characters to demonstrate subject/verb agreement, verb tenses, and additional often-dreaded grammar rules in clever chapters such as “Plurals Before Swine” and “‘I’ Witness.” Silly black-and-white cartoon drawings add to the fun in this kid-accessible title.

TERBAN, Marvin. Scholastic Guide to Grammar. Scholastic 2011. pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-0-545-35669-5. Gr 8 Up–Calling itself “A Compendium of Every Rule You Could Ever Possibly Need” is not hyperbole. Chapters define and instruct with examples of parts of speech, sentences, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Beyond the rules, there’s also a section on how to use words effectively and a thesaurus to find new ones. A solid classroom reference.

The Power of Positive Punctuation

BRUNO, Elsa Knight. Punctuation Celebration. illus. by Jenny Whitehead. Holt. 2009. RTE $17.95. ISBN 978-08050-7973-9. Gr 1-4–Some of the rhymes in the dozen poems are a stretch, but the zany detailed art makes everything fresh. With concepts kept simple and choices wisely limited, this is a good resource for introducing the subject. The Field Day theme is likely to draw interest, and the spreads give written examples backed by pictures.

BUDZIK, Mary. Punctuation: The Write Stuff! illus. by Simon Basher. Kingfisher. 2010. pap. $7.99. ISBN 978-0-7534-6420-5. Gr 3-8–After opening with information on sentences and capital letters, cartoon characters represent commas, colons, apostrophes, and other punctuation marks. Perky, first-person characterizations (“Straight up and down, I’m the party-hearty punctuation mark”) combine with clear examples (“You’re the best!”) to form an effective and friendly guide. An enclosed poster adds visual cues for student follow-up.

PULVER, Robin. Punctuation Takes a Vacation. illus. by Lynn Rowe Reed. Holiday House. 2003. RTE $17.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-1687-5; pap. $7.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-1820-6. K-Gr 3–After days of punctuation instruction, featured in bright paintings, a class takes a rest and so do all the punctuation marks. While clever postcards arrive from quotations and other characters out at Take-a-Break Lake, Mr. Wright’s kids are lost without their grammatical guides. More introductory than instructional, this is a fun way to open discussion. Audio version available from Live Oak Media.

TRUSS, Lynne. The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes! illus. by Bonnie Timmons. Putnam. 2007. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24706-4. Gr 2-5–Do the family pets like your father, or does your canine act like him? It’s all in the apostrophe, as in “The dogs like my dad” or “The dog’s like my dad.” Comical watercolor cartoons are set on opposite pages to show punctuation-sensitive sentence pairs, all dependent on the apostrophe for meaning.

Seems Like a Simile, Might Be a Metaphor

On the Web

For Teachers

Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. grammar.quickanddirtytips.com. Macmillan Holdings. (Accessed 8/13/11) Pick a podcast or find explanations of common grammar goofs, all done with a light touch and hosted by “grammar guru” Mignon Fogarty. While the content is suitable for high school students, frequent ads make the site more teacher-friendly.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). owl.english.purdue.edu. Purdue University. West Lafayette, IN. (Accessed 8/13/11) Click on “Grades 7-12 Instructors and Students” for brief, direct discussions that include prewriting, writer’s block, and searching the web. Links lead to an MLA style guide, downloadable PowerPoint instructional files, and grammar exercises.

Writing with Writers. teacher.scholastic.com/writewit. Scholastic. (Accessed 8/13/11) Familiar authors present nine step-by-step genre workshops, including biography, myth, news, and poetry, accompanied by lesson plans. Elementary and middle grade students can work independently, or teachers can utilize assessment and rubric information for classroom projects.

For Students

Grammar Handbook. www.cws.illinois.edu/workshop/writers. The Center for Writing Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (Accessed 8/13/11) Gr 6 Up–Definitions and examples of “basic grammatical rules” move from parts of speech to clauses and sentences and include usage problems such as dangling modifiers, run-on sentences, and homophones.

The Story Kitchen. brucevanpatter.com/storykitchen.html. Bruce Van Patter (Accessed 8/13/11) Gr 2-5–Devised by a cartoonist/author, this site encourages users to choose from a brief list of heroes, places, and villains to jumpstart their writing. For budding writers who need more support, printable “story starters” with open endings are provided.

Word Central. wordcentral.com. Merriam-Webster, Inc. (Accessed 8/13/11) Gr 3 Up–Students can search the dictionary, thesaurus, and rhyming resources or enjoy interactive features that include word jumbles and interactive games that build vocabulary. Includes unobtrusive ads for Merriam-Webster products.

BRENNAN-NELSON, Denise. My Daddy Likes to Say. illus. by Jane Monroe Donovan. Sleeping Bear. 2009. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-158536-432-9. K-Gr 3–Common fatherly conversational gambits, such as “You’re driving me up the wall” and “You’re coming out of your shell,” are among the many idioms woven into 13 poems, complete with brief explanations and the backgrounds of familiar phrases. The spreads feature soft, sometimes silly, visual interpretations of the poetry.

LEEDY, Loreen & Pat Street. There’s a Frog in My Throat!: 440 Animal Sayings a Little Bird Told Me. illus. by Loreen Leedy. Holiday House. 2003. RTE $18.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-1774-2; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-1819-0. Gr 2-5–More fun than a barrel of monkeys, this lively collection of similes, metaphors, idioms, and proverbs goes from the backyard and farmyard to jungles and seas with traditional and new creature sayings. Brief explanations and appealing illustrations expand each phrase. Silly and serious, it’s all teachable fun.

O’REILLY, Gillian. Slangalicious: Where We Got That Crazy Lingo. illus. by Krista Johnson. Annick, dist. by Firefly. 2004. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-1-55037-765-1; pap. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-55037-764-4. Gr 4-7–A story-style approach to facts about slang includes history; categories such as food, sports, and entertainments; and examples in text, all sprinkled with cartoon illustrations. New choices for snappy dialogue and clever description abound—milk is “moo juice” while a clarinet becomes a “gob stick.” Divide the class into groups to add new slang to each section.

PAUL, Ann Whitford. Word Builder. illus. by Kurt Cyrus. S & S. 2009. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-3981-8. K-Gr 4–Using a construction site complete with heavy equipment set on bold spreads, this large-scale picture book is a visual and verbal metaphor as letters combine to make words and words are arranged into sentences. Paragraphs grow from there until they turn into chapters. A great way to attract reluctant boys to writing, but so visually stirring it has broad appeal.

Inspiration Meets Perspiration

AGEE, Jon. Mr. Putney’s Quacking Dog. illus. by author. Scholastic. 2010. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-545-16203-6. K-Gr 4–Readers follow a seriously silly, mustachioed man through his everyday, yet ridiculous, encounters as he wakes with an “alarmadillo,” is sheltered poorly by a “giroof,” lunches with a “slobster,” and hangs around 17 more play-on-words creatures. This soft-toned picture book has turn-the-page surprises so students can guess or try to make their own amazing animals.

BOUCHER, Françoize. I Love Words. illus. by author. Kane/Miller. 2010. pap. $14.99. ISBN 978-1-935279-48-8. Gr 2-5–Designed as an individual activity book, this oversize paperback doubles as a source for classroom wordplay with riddles and secret codes. Simple two-color line drawings and hand-written text have the feel of a child’s personal effort, but the charts are easily adapted for board work. Helpful for quick fill-in lessons.

CURRY, Don L. Willie’s Word World. illus. by Rick Stromoski. (Rookie Reader Skill Set Series). Children’s Press. 2005. pap. $4.95. ISBN 978-0-516-25288-9. K-Gr 2–Use this easy reader as a lesson model as it presents a classroom exercise in simple, alliterative sentences such as, “‘Little Lucy licks lizard lollipops,’ Lincoln said.” Each double-page illustration includes a cartoonish balloon picturing the alliteration. Older classes could devise whole books in this style using more sophisticated vocabulary.

KELLNER, Hank. Write What You See: 99 Photos to Inspire Writing. Cottonwood. 2009. pap. $24.95. ISBN 978-1-877673-83-2. Gr 9 Up–Each page shows a black-and-white photo with a brief related quote, writing prompts, research suggestions, and, occasionally, facts connected to the images. Photos and text are available on the accompanying CD-ROM. Should evoke strong writing and may inspire students to develop their own photo essays.

KOSTECKI-SHAW, Jenny Sue. Same, Same but Different. illus. by author. Holt. 2011. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8946-2. K-Gr 2–Cheerful pictures and written notes pass between two boys, Elliot in the U.S. and Kailash in India, as they describe their lives. Though many of the details are unique to their own situation, the boys find connections that span their continents and experiences. A great introduction to the concept of pen pals.

MAZER, Anne & Ellen Potter. Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook. illus. by Matt Phelan. Roaring Brook. 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-514-8; pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-1-59643-628-2. Gr 6 Up–Young writers are warmly welcomed and carefully instructed to encourage getting the creative process off to an open-ended start. The alternating authors discuss topics such as characters, dialogue, plot, and titles, citing their own experiences. Often that leads to “I DARE YOU” questions, followed by problem-solving suggestions. Black-and-white sketches add to the text’s appeal.

PULVER, Robin. Thank You, Miss Doover. illus. by Stephanie Roth Sisson. Holiday House. 2010. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-2046-9. Gr 1-3–When Miss Doover begins the lesson on thank-you notes, Jack is confident he can write one to his Great Aunt Gertie very quickly. But his teacher shepherds him through several changes until he sees how to communicate appreciation clearly. Lively spreads are populated with helpful word balloons and thank-you note revisions.

SESKIN, Steve. Sing My Song: A Kid’s Guide to Songwriting. w/CD. illus. by Eve Aldridge, et al. Tricycle. 2008. Tr $18.99. ISBN 978-1-5824-6266-0. Gr 3-7–A dozen class-written songs with brightly diverse, facing illustrations demonstrate the words for the musical projects undertaken when Seskin worked with elementary-school students. The results can be heard on the accompanying CD, which also provides melodies and ideas for teachers.

SHASKAN, Trisha Speed. Art Panels, BAM! Speech Bubbles, POW!: Writing Your Own Graphic Novel. illus. by Stephen Shaskan. (Writer’s Toolbox Series). Picture Window. 2010. Tr $26.65. ISBN 978-1-4048-6016-2; pap. $8.95. ISBN 978-1-4048-6393-4. Gr 4-7–Easy, direct, step-by-step instructions demystify graphic novels and related cartoon-based texts. Bright, uncomplicated spreads illustrate the process and include useful information about elements such as narrative boxes, thumbnail sketches, and speech bubbles. Adaptable for primary-grade use while interested upper-grade students will solo to success.

Barbara Wysocki recently retired from the position of co-director of Children’s Services at the Cora J. Belden Library in Rocky Hill, CT.

Media Picks

Grammar Tips for Students (Series). 8 DVDs. 23 min. ea. with tchr’s. guide. Prod. by Schlessinger Media. Dist. by Library Video Co. (libraryvideo.com). 2008. $239.60 ser., $29.95 ea. Includes: Common Usage Errors (ISBN 978-1-0928-9); Sentence Structure (ISBN 978-1-4171-0929-6); Using Adjectives, Adverbs & Other Modifiers (ISBN 978-1-4171-0930-2); Using Capitalization & Punctuation (ISBN 978-1-4171-0931-9); Using Clauses & Phrases (ISBN 978-1-4171-0932-6); Using End Marks & Commas (ISBN 978-1-4171-0933-3); Using Nouns & Pronouns (ISBN 978-1-4171-0934-0); Using Verbs (ISBN 978-1-4171-0935-7). Gr 5 Up–This guide to key grammar rules is delightfully presented by a pair of hosts whose brief and clear explanations will make grammar devotees out of the most reluctant students. In each program, the narrators offer a brief explanation of the grammar rule and a few examples.

Punctuation Explained (Series). 3 DVDs. range: 18-20 min. VEA (veavideo.com). 2010. $99.95 ea. Includes: Apostrophes and Quotation Marks; Capitals, Commas, Full Stops, Question and Exclamation Marks; Colons, Semicolons, Brackets, Dots and Dashes. Gr 5-8–In this entertaining yet instructional program, an engaging, comedic host takes viewers on a walk through town looking for examples of poor punctuation. Street signs, storefront ads, and text messages are all fair game for fixing and, after some special effects and simple explanations, he allows viewers to pause and make the corrections. Viewers can add punctuation marks to short sample paragraphs, and the narrator reinforces the lessons by acting out how the mistakes change the meaning of the words.

Rock ‘n Learn: Writing Strategies. DVD. approx. 70 min. Rock ‘n Learn (rocknlearn.com). 2007. $19.99. Gr 4-6–Marko the Pencil and his airplane barnstorm a girl trying to write a story in this animated production. He selects tools to help her sharpen her writing skills, such as brainstorming, identifying the audience, finding a hook, and organizing ideas. In each instance, he explains the tool, gives an example of how it works, and then asks the girl to try to incorporate it into her story about her family’s camping trip. Marko often talks in rap with music in the background.

Writing for Children (Series). 5 DVDs. 23 min. ea. with tchr’s. guide. Prod. by Schlessinger Media. Dist. by Library Video Co. (libraryvideo.com). 2004. $74.88 ser., $14.95 ea. Includes: Expository Writing (ISBN 1-57225-919-1); Story Writing (ISBN 1-57225-20-5); Types of Writing (ISBN 1-57225-921-3); The Writing Process (ISBN 1-57225-922-1); Writing Resources (ISBN 1-57225-923-X). K-Gr 4Four children who make up the staff of the magazine Wordswork and their publisher, Professor Plot, explore the writing process as they publish each issue. Each program, narrated by the children, examines a different aspect of writing. There are fun segments, such as a show called “The Organizers” featuring a detective, and an over-the-top talk-show spoof.

Writing for Students (Series). 7 DVDs. 23 min ea. with tchr’s. guide. Prod. by Schlessinger Media. Dist by Library Video Co. (libraryvideo.com). 2005. $139.83 ser., $19.98 ea. Includes: Creative & Narrative Writing (ISBN 1-4171-0305-1); Editing & Proofreading (ISBN 1-4171-0306-X); Using the Writing Process (ISBN 1-4171-0307-8); Writing Effective Paragraphs (ISBN 1-4171-0308-6); Writing Expository Essays (ISBN 1-4171-0309-4); Writing for Formal & Informal Purposes (ISBN 1-4171-0310-8); Writing Persuasive Essays (ISBN 1-4171-0311-6). Gr 5-9–Filmed by teens, this lively series takes a “road trip” around the country interviewing students working on writing assignments such as a brochure, a memoir, a work of fiction, and more. Important tips and techniques help students understand the elements of writing.

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