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Elements of Writing to Celebrate

Alliteration: Always Avoid Angry Alligators; "Soooo," said the serpent, "Seeking someone specific?" 

Simile: As scared as a fish on a line; Crows perched along the telephone wire like commas on an endless line of text.

Metaphor: The sun stepped across the sky, her shining gown brilliant with gems.

Onomatopoeia: Whooosh! Blam! Clink! Oink, Woof, Owwweeee!

Strong Verbs: Smashed, overlooked, balanced, wriggled, outsmarted, vanished...

Dialogue: "What did you say?" whispered Paolo urgently, clutching the phone, "Please, I can't hear you!"



This idea comes from Julie Bogart, Founder of Brave Writer, author of The Writer’s Jungle

The Topic Funnel takes a list of ideas ~ as broad or narrow as it starts, from “things I love to do” to “kinds of WWII bombers” and gets to a narrow slice of the topic before the writer begins.

Big FUNNEL. Start with your general topic and make a list of what comes to mind. PICK ONE THING from your list. Toss that into the FUNNEL again.

Next smaller FUNNEL. Make a list about the ONE THING from your first list. PICK ONE THING from this list. Toss that into the FUNNEL again.

Next smaller FUNNEL. Make your list about the ONE THING from the previous FUNNEL. PICK ONE THING...

and so on until you have a list of details that tell your specific, SMALL MOMENT story.

Write a STATEMENT about the story. Example: I once nearly blew my brother up.

FLIP the statement to a QUESTION. First person, past tense is often the strongest way to word it. What happened when I…? OR What’s the story of...? OR How did I…?

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Rescuing Reluctant Writers

Starts at 3:36

When Your Child Hates to Write


Grammar and other tales of learning to write


Academic Writing

By the time your teen is somewhere between thirteen and seventeen, she’ll face a blank page without fear. He’ll move a pen across that page without losing track of what he wants to write. And she’ll listen to your editorial input without melting into a puddle. When you see these signs of readiness, it’s time to teach the academic writing forms. Being comfortable with writing is the chief prerequisite for format writing.

Julie Bogart

Help For High School

Give up the idea that you are after a few tricks to get through the assignment. Do you realize that if you come to discover the power and enjoyment of writing, you will automatically do it more effectively? Every one of us has a writing voice. Each of us has thoughts and ideas that deserve to be heard and communicated. You have a right to write!

Deb's Writing Resources

Small Moment Writing Planner

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Writing Small Moment Stories

For the third year in a row I will be getting a stress-free writing sample from our students as part of the opening two weeks of class.

I'll use the same small moment storytelling tool (above) that I used last year. I'm excited to see what we might learn by comparing last year's samples with this year's samples.

All students can write the story through planning, telling, diagramming, drawing, and writing words or word approximations. It's a safe and fun process and we get to know one another as we work. 


We will focus on personal narratives known as SMALL MOMENT stories (a Lucy Calkins concept).


Start by finding your BIG THING THAT HAPPENED. That’s the big box. Now, decide if you have two moments before or two moments after that moment to tell. Limit the story to the action just before and just after the BIG THING Plan your big moment, work through the nearby moments. Tell your story to your partner. Think of details and dialogue. Picture it, hear it, re-live it. Now, WRITE!

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Listening to these podcasts will ground you in a deeper understanding of how writing develops over time, and will begin to help you imagine where your kids are as writers. The age ranges are just a possibility; the order of the stages matters more than when they happen! 


It's easy to find the right fit with Brave Writer. Below you will find a brief description of the Brave Writer "Natural Stage of Growth in Writing" that goes with the selected age range.

If the description seems either too advanced or too easy for your child, consider moving up or down one age bracket to find a good fit. Do not be governed by the age range. Focus instead on the description and match it to your child. A sixteen year old might be in the first stage as a writer. That's perfectly fine. If you work through the stages with your writer, it's possible to grow from the Jot it Down stage and be college ready by eighteen. Julie has seen this happen over and over!

Read more about how Brave Writer can help you and your child…

Jot it Down! ages 5-8

The Jot It Down! stage: The beginning. Your child speaks, and you act as secretary, transcribing your child's words. Your child sings songs, enjoys rhymes and being read to, is eager to tell you little narratives or factual trivia. Your Jot It Down! children may write using their own "language" or may attempt to create their own phonetic version of words.


  • Learning to read, handwrite, and spell

  • Freely shares little stories and experiences

  • Is blocked when trying to handwrite original thoughts

  • Original writing doesn't reflect sophistication of speech

For a more detailed look at this stage of growth in writing, listen to Julie talk about it on her podcast:

Jot It Down!

Partnership Writing ages 9-10

The Partnership Writing stage: The most overlooked stage of development in the continuum. Your child shows growing proficiency in handwriting, reading, and spelling, but still finds the hard work of transcription tiring if asked to write for more than a few minutes. Original writing does not reflect the child's verbal fluency. This is the stage where parent and child write together, with the parent providing the much-needed support to get those precious, quirky insights to the page.


  • Child can write a sentence or a few words at a time, but tires easily.

  • Child needs help with spelling, punctuation, and getting rich vocabulary to the page.

  • Child shows interest in using a pencil or keyboard, but not ready to "go it alone."

  • Needs modeling for how to take thoughts and help them travel down an arm to the page.

For a more detailed look at this stage of growth in writing, listen to Julie talk about it on her podcast:

Partnership Writing

Faltering Ownership ages 11-12

The Faltering Ownership stage: The stop and start stage of writing. One day the student gets a detailed story to paper. The next week, she complains that she hates writing. Students show bursts of growth, pencil management, keyboarding skills, some spelling triumphs mixed with obvious errors, variable punctuation, moments of brilliance, and paragraphs of insipidity. Pride in successful writing experiences alternate with struggle.

The Faltering Ownerhip stage of development toggles between The Arrow and The Boomerang for language arts. Choose the tool based on book titles, taking into account your child's reading and comprehension level as well as interest. You only need one of the two year long programs, or you might like selecting a mixture of titles from the Already Published Issues of The Arrow and The Boomerang.


  • Student tires quickly, but can get some writing to the page without help from the parent.

  • Student takes pride in his work and wants to improve it or share it.

  • Student doesn't retain correct spellings even after "learning" them.

  • Student needs support, shows some independence, but also resists input from parent-editor.

For a more detailed look at this stage of growth in writing, listen to Julie talk about it on her podcast:

Faltering Ownership

Transition to Ownership ages 13-14

The Transition to Ownership stage: The emergence of an independent writer. The student-writer is clicking along. The parent isn't needed for the drafting stage. The parent's role has shifted to editor and dialog partner. These kids show competence in keyboarding, handwriting, spelling, and punctuation (with flaws, of course, but increasing control in these areas). This stage coincides with puberty and the development of rhetorical imagination (putting themselves in someone else's shoes, able to consider an issue from a variety of viewpoints).


  • Drafts papers and can do preliminary revisions independently

  • Follows through on assignments

  • Capable of basic spelling, punctuation, and grammar

  • Demonstrates the beginning of rhetorical thinking

For a more detailed look at this stage of growth in writing, listen to Julie talk about it on her podcasts:

Transition to Ownership Part One

Transition to Ownership Part Two

Eavesdropping on the Great Conversation ages 15-18

The Eavesdropping on the Great Conversation stage: The emergence of an academic writer. The Great Conversation is the dialog between experts in a particular field across the centuries: Plato to Rousseau to Derrida; Shakespeare to Austen to Wilde; Galileo to Newton to Einstein; Da Vinci to Picasso to O'Keefe. Students learn the vocabulary of the particular field of study, and they read the thinkers that create the enduring ideas. They begin to evaluate those ideas themselves. These high school students produce writing that adheres to the academic formats, and can evaluate sources for credibility and support. This is the college-preparatory phase of writing.


  • Reads widely from within a particular field

  • Knows how to craft a thesis statement, is learning to identify credible sources

  • Expands command over the academic formats

  • College bound

For a more detailed look at this stage of growth in writing, listen to Julie talk about it on her podcast:

Eavesdropping on the Great Conversation

Being a Writing Coach

1. You are building a writer, not a piece of writing.

2. Writing is a process; when we support kids to understand, learn, and practice the process we support them to respect the complexity of developing as a writer.

3. Developing fluency, accuracy, and craft takes time; most kids need to separate the tasks of finding words for their thoughts and getting words to the page.

4. Helping your child is a good thing; it is not cheating.

5. Becoming independently fluent, accurate, and able to craft writing for a reader is the goal, learned much like independent fluency, accuracy, and craft as a pianist or a driver. Mentoring is helpful, the process takes time, and practice is essential.

Compliment Your Child's Writing

Thinking on the Page: "I'd never have known you thought that if I hadn't read it." 

Sense of Humor: "I laughed out loud here!" 

Internal and External Story: "I love how you got me right inside her head"

Sensory Detail: "I could feel the numbness you were feeling in my own hands as I read this!"

Simile and Metaphor: "A cat the size of a house? I can really see that!" 

Emerging Sense of Genre: "This felt like a newspaper article!"  "This could be a poem!"

Making Literary Connections: "J.K. Rowling uses lots of little details to make us feel like we are right there where Harry is. I see that in your writing too." "This reminds me of Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge! What wonderful villains you've created!"

Strong Verbs: "Lurking, dodging, bursting, exploding. Look at how many strong verbs you've found!"

Developing Precision and Attention to Conventions

Copywork, Dictation, Reverse Dictation: 

BASED ON The Writer's Jungle by Julie Bogart of Brave Writer:

One of the tools that we've explored is COPYWORKDICTATION, and REVERSE DICTATION. When we take a sentence (we've taken ours from books) and look at it closely, examining and noticing and delving into the details, spelling, grammar, and punctuation, noticing specific rule-breakers and tricky bits, we offer kids a chance to analyze the mechanics of language when it is ALREADY in place. The writing is correct at the outset.

Once we've looked at the sentence together, really marinated in the details, it's time for COPYWORK.

The kids copy the sentence exactly, noticing and comparing their version to the original. Capitalization matters, letters in the appropriate relative size, with correct drops below the line (for g,y,p etc.) or rise to the top line (l, d, t, h, etc.). Punctuation matters. As the writing coach, you can simply notice things: "I notice that you have three capitalization errors. See if you can find them and correct them" OR "Notice where the comma goes at the end of the quotation."

If the sentence is too long, the writer will fatigue and get resistant, so start with shorter sentences (or phrases) and work your way up. You might even begin with a single word. Over time, handwriting should become more neat and clean. Expectations can move slowly or more quickly, depending on the physical difficulty for this particular writer.

Once the sentence is correct, and if the writer isn't too fatigued (if he is, do the next part another time), it's time for DICTATION. 

Often, I refer to dictation as being the personal scribe or secretary for your young writer. That is an incredibly powerful way to help the writer develop authorship beyond the nascent skill of his or her hands. The work that I am describing here, however, is about developing faster, more accurate hands WITHOUT simultaneously being the author. 

In this case, DICTATION is simply where you, the writing coach, read the sentence you've just reviewed for COPYWORK aloud, as slowly as necessary, to the writer as they try to "copy it from their MIND." I usually have them fold the perfectly copied sentence over to hide it from themselves as they attempt the DICTATION sentence.

Once they complete the DICTATION (COPYWORK from their mind), they get to look at the original (what you wrote or printed for them, or their own COPYWORK, if it's clean and clear). Now they compare and notice what they missed. 

If they are not melting down yet, you get to have them fold the paper over again and you dictate the sentence to them a second time. This can continue until they get it perfect. Or, it might be time to stop.

The third step, REVERSE DICTATION is often their favorite.

Here is when you write the same sentence, making mistakes, often the ones the writer was struggling with or common errors that you've discussed. Now, in the role of proofreader, the young writer gets to find all of your errors. I offer a "point" per error they find, and I offer hints to find more. They then can get a point for each error that they correct.

After that, they can LOOK at the original, correct version for a final sweep to find anything they missed.

This practice can be done in a very short, simple form several times a week, or once a week for a more sustained practice. It is the single most effective way to help young writers develop the mechanical skills that they need completely apart from the generative writing and wordcraft that they need to develop as authors.

I highly recommend it!