Advice to Padawan Bloggers from Jedi Bloggers

Bonjour!

Since many of you are new to the blogosphere, I thought I would give you an introduction to blogging.

Earlier today, I found Konrad Sanders’ great list of advice for novice bloggers by master bloggers. The list was quite extensive, and much of the advice was meant for adults who wish to make money off of their blog or to promote their business with their blog. So, I took the liberty of sorting through all sixty nuggets of wisdom to Continue reading

Quills and Thrills: Writing Prompt Week Three

Ahoy, Quillers and Thrillers!

Welcome back to another week of Quills and Thrills: Creative Writing for the Google Generation! Many of you have turned in your Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship pledges and signed permission forms already, but if you haven’t done that yet please remember to turn them in this week.

If you are new to Quills and Thrills this week, check out the prompts Continue reading

Quills and Thrills: Figurative Language Throw Down Week Two

Happy Friday, Quillers!

Do you think you have what it takes to compete? Bring it on! To participate in this week’s Figurative Language Throw Down, simply tweet your response using #QuillsandThrillsFLTD! Not sure what Figurative Language Throw Down is? Read the rules of the challenge here.

This Week’s Challenge

Check out what shenanigans Quills and Thrills is up to this week. Read Quills and Thrills: Week Two now!

Want daily challenges to keep you busy until next week’s Figurative Language Throw Down? Follow @SSMindSchool on Twitter for more great writing prompts!

Check out this week’s responses to the prompts today! Vote for your favorite by liking or retweeting!

Quills and Thrills: Figurative Language Throw Down Week One

Greetings, Quillers and Thrillers!

This week’s Figurative Langauge Throw Down was inspired by Story is a State of Mind School. To participate in this week’s Figurative Langauge Throw Down, simply tweet your response using #QuillsandThrillsFLTD! Be sure to give a shout out to @SSMindSchool as well! Before participating, read the rules of the challenge here.

This Week’s Challenge

Check out what Quills and Thrills is up to this week. Read Quills and Thrills: Week One now!

Check out my response to this prompt below.

Want daily challenges to keep you busy until next week’s Figurative Language Throw Down? Follow @SSMindSchool on Twitter for more great writing prompts!

Quills and Thrills: Writing Prompt Week Two

Greetings, Quillers and Thrillers!

Welcome back to Quills and Thrills: Creative Writing for the Google Generation! If you were here last week, I hope you got your Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship pledge and permission form signed by your parents because this week’s prompt is all about building your online presence!

If you are new to Quills and Thrills this week, welcome! You can check out last week’s prompt here, or just jump right into this week’s. Before you start building your online presence, however, you need to review the Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship pledge and permission form with your parents and turn it in as soon as possible.

Dont have your Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship permission form signed yet? No worries, you can still create the tools needed to build your online presence and set them aside until you get that permission form signed.

Figurative Language Throw Down Challenge

Prime your mind for creative thinking every week with the Figurative Language Throw Down Challenge! Check out the rules for the weekly challenge before playing.

Submit your weekly entry to Twitter using #QuillsandThrillsFLTD!

New Experience: Chewing Cotton Balls!

A small percentage of writing happens with a pen in your hand or a keyboard under your fingers. In fact, the bulk of writing happens through new experiences both profound and mundane. After all, how can you write about exciting new adventures without having a few adventures yourself?  Continue reading

My Soul in the Mirror

Howdy, dear reader!

Here is my response to the first Quills and Thrills writing prompt: Use imagery and figurative language to define the importance of writing in your life.

For me,
writing is like
looking at my soul in the mirror.
And I don’t mean writing for
school
or for Continue reading

Have you heard about Quills and Thrills yet?

Want to know more? Read all about it at What is Quills and Thrills?

Ready to start the first writing prompt? Check it out at Quills and Thrills: Writing Prompt Week One!

Download a printable version of the Ten Commandments of Digital Citizenship Pledge and Permission Form today!

Adventures in World Building

Lately, I’ve been feeling stuck. I’ve been stuck with my writing, stuck with my novel, and stuck with my teaching.

Momentary aside:

Is it odd that I just noticed how strange the word “stuck” is?

Seriously.

Say it ten times, over and over again, and you’ll notice it too.

Stuck. Stuck. Stuck. Stuck. Stuck. Stuck…okay, I’m done.

This morning, while surfing my newsfeed on Facebook before crawling out of bed, I clicked on a TedEd link titled “Comma Story” by Terisa Folaron. I clicked on it, hoping it would help me to become unstuck with lesson planning. It almost did help, and I almost picked up my lesson plan book to jot down some ideas for an upcoming writing unit, but then I got distracted and clicked on another link at the bottom of the page titled “More from The Writer’s Workshop.”

My train of thought is below.

Oh boy!

Videos on the three different types of irony! Videos that are actually helpful and student friendly! Those are going on my class blog.

And wait…what’s this? How to Build a Fictional World? I’m building a fictional world!

Screw lesson planning. I’m watching this.

(I watched the video) 

Well, crap. Now I’m inspired. I don’t want to do anything but write today.

(I write. And write. And write)

I need to take a shower.

(I continue writing)

I have to leave in an hour. I really have to take a shower.

(I continue writing)

Wow! I need to share this link on my blog. Then I can take a shower.

(Blogging)

Okay, but seriously, I need to take a shower.

Happy writing, friends! 🙂

Oh, and here’s the video: How to Build a Fictional World

(Somewhat) Random Thoughts about Writing

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Once, in eighth grade, my teacher had us write a short story. I don’t remember the details of the assignment, but I remember the story I wrote. It was about a bear and a trout, and as soon as I put my pencil to paper the floodgates opened and I had to get the entire story out of my head and onto the paper RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Unfortunately, I had language arts for second period (or maybe it was fourth period. I can’t remember), so I had to secretly scribble my story onto paper when my other teachers weren’t looking. It was very frustrating. I was finally able to finish my story on the hour-long bus ride home that afternoon. Between the bumps and my haste, it was nearly impossible to read the climax and the resolution.

I’ve always been a confident writer. I read a lot as a kid (like, a LOT), so writing has always come naturally to me. I could never tell you why a sentence was well written or how to fix one that wasn’t, but I consistently composed strong sentences and focused paragraphs.

Here are some secrets for you…

…I didn’t know the difference between a compound sentence and complex sentence until I had to teach it to my seventh graders three years ago.

…I didn’t know what an Oxford comma was until one of my friends posted an Oxford Comma meme to Facebook when I was in college.

…I didn’t know what an adverb was until I looked at a grammar worksheet two years ago and thought, “Oh! Well why didn’t anyone explain it like that before?”

…I didn’t know what a subjunctive conjunction was until I picked up It was the bestof sentences, it was the worst of sentences by June Casagrande and quickly read a chapter while walking to my car in the parking lot three weeks ago (don’t judge me. I survived).

Why was I able to write well without “knowing” the rules?

Because I read…a LOT…as a kid!

And by reading, I learned the rules. I just didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate those rules.

I believe that reading and writing is like learning a language. Think about it: language is completely arbitrary. You call something a chair because every English speaker agrees that the thing with four legs and a flat surface for your bum is called a chair. It’s completely arbitrary. The word sound “chair” won’t mean anything until it is learned.

Momentary aside: Perhaps the only words that are not arbitrary are onomatopoeias, but that’s only because we are imitating the sound they make and calling it a word.

When learning how to speak a language, whether it is your first language or your second, you learn best by constant exposure to that new language. Babies are constantly exposed to language from the moment their little ears develop in their mother’s womb. Second language learners greatly benefit by being immersed in the new language, and it is frequently said that the best way to learn a new language is to live in a foreign country for a year.

Writing works in the same way. Once you have the foundation, the basic skill of decoding the arbitrary symbols on the page, you can immerse yourself in written language by reading.

Why was I such a confident writer in middle school, high school, and college when I didn’t even know the difference between a compound and a complex sentence? Because I had already been exposed to strong writing through reading, much like the person who learns a new language by living in a foreign country for a year. Does that mean that I didn’t really need to learn the difference between compound and complex sentences in order to be a good writer? Well, yes and no. While I was a good writer before, I believe that learning those specific rules helped me to become an even better writer today.

Yet another thing to consider, however, is that most kids today don’t enjoy reading!

Typing that hurt my soul a little bit.

What does that mean? Well, most students haven’t been exposed to as much strong writing as their literate peers, which means that they require much more explicit instruction in both writing and reading. Sentence structure doesn’t come naturally to them because they haven’t learned what strong sentences are supposed to look like. Their diction is weak because they don’t have the vocabulary to articulate their complex thoughts and ideas. Their papers are poorly organized because they haven’t had as much experience with how organization impacts the reader’s comprehension.

So, what should you take away from this crazy English teacher ramble?

Read. Read a lot. Read what you enjoy reading.

Read books, read magazines, read newspapers, read the articles on Facebook, read short stories, read instruction manuals, read letters, read signs, read poetry, read drama, read textbooks, read EVERYTHING. Read to your little brothers and sisters.

The best way to improve your writing is to read a lot of strong writing.

And when you have children of your own in ten years or so, read to them every night.

And I know I always tell you not to start a sentence with and, but I’m the teacher and I can do what I want. ;)

Not sure where to start? Just ask a crazy English teacher!

Try this. Or this. Or this.

Oh, and my teacher submitted that story about the bear and the trout to the literature magazine.

It wasn’t chosen. Darn.

On Writing

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My earliest memory of writing takes place in 1995 in my mother’s kitchen. I was in elementary school (maybe third grade?), and I had to write sentences using assigned vocabulary words every week. I hated it.

When it came to writing sentences, my mother and I had a routine: I would read the vocabulary word aloud, and then complain loudly that I couldn’t think of a sentence using the word. My mother would then make up a long, complicated sentence while kneading dough or stirring something on the stove, and I would use my fingers to count all of the words in her sentence. After almost every sentence she recited, I would impatiently inform her that the minimum requirement for each sentence was only five words, not ten words, and I couldn’t possibly write a sentence with more than five words. That would be too much work.

My mother would shrug and say, “That’s all I’ve got,” and I would sigh loudly and immediately make up my own sentence using only five words. I’m sure my mother smiled every time I bent my head to carefully write all five words on the paper. Then, I would read the next word aloud, and we would repeat the process.

Later, in eighth grade, I was painfully shy. I read constantly. So much so that it negatively affected my grades. I was the kid in the back of the class hiding her open book under the desk, completely oblivious to the teacher or the lesson. That was the year I turned in a personal narrative about my family’s Christmas tradition, and my teacher, Ms. Fabiani, was so impressed she read it aloud to the class. I was startled to hear my words come out of her mouth and thrilled by the polite applause when she was done.

At the end of the year, Ms. Fabiani had us write an eleven-sentence paragraph as our final exam. I remember swelling with pride and joy at the sight of the big red 100% written on the top of my paper. I ran up to my teacher after class, beaming and screaming, “Ms. Fabiani! Ms. Fabiani! I got an A on my final! I passed!” She just looked down at me and said, “Yes, but you still failed, honey.” Her words were like a brick to my chest. I hung my head and walked away, and at the end of that summer I started my second eighth grade year at a different school in a different state, my heart still heavy with shame, finally understanding the weight of a zero. Or twenty zeros.

I started my freshman year in college with a malnourished English education. I was able to substitute English 11 and English 12 with Creative Writing 1 and 2, and I remember my first college essay came back covered in bright blue corrections. The most glaring mistake was the word “defiantly” circled more times than I cared to count. That’s when I learned that there is no A in definitely. In spite of this, I earned high marks on the other essays, and continued to excel in my other English classes as well.

writing_pull3

That’s when I decided to become a teacher so I could help kids like me. Kids who need the extra push. Kids who need a person to notice that they need to be noticed more than once or twice a year.

Teaching became my passion. During my first year teaching, I enrolled in Reading and Writing Digital Texts with Penny Pence. She made us blog. A lot. I loved it.

I kept up with the blog for a while even after the class had ended, but eventually stopped posting new blogs because summer and a social life got in the way. When I stopped blogging regularly, I would occasionally feel the itch to write. I started a couple of new blogs here and there, but eventually deleted them because I would lose interest in the topic or become too lazy to write something worth posting.

I suppose my problem with writing is that it comes in waves. I’ll have periods where I write constantly, and longer periods where I’ll hardly write at all. I have a lovely collection of beautiful journals, all mostly empty. The first few pages are always full, though. There’s something about a brand new journal that always motivates me to write for a few days, but then the desire pitters out. Then next time I feel the urge to write, I’ll go buy another brand new journal and do it all over again.

iStock_book_typewriter_writingCurrently, I’m “writing” a young adult dystopian novel. I put writing in quotation marks because I haven’t actively written anything in about three months, but I’ve realized that writing doesn’t always involve scratching words onto paper or pounding them onto a screen. Sometimes, writing involves taking the dog for a walk or meeting up with friends. Other times writing involves staring at a blinking cursor for twenty minutes without typing a thing before jumping onto Facebook and posting a witty status update.

There are also times when I want to write, but I just don’t have the time. Right now, for instance, I’m staying up way past my bedtime because I’m finally feeling inspired. I feel inspired to finally start chapter four of my novel, but those pesky lesson plans keep tugging at my anxiety. I feel inspired to start blogging again, especially now that I’m at a new school teaching a new curriculum to a new age group, but that pile of grading is already large, and it’s only the third week of school.

I feel inspired to write, but guilty for setting aside the time to write when I know I should be doing other things. Like making dinner. Or sleeping.

I guess I should stop writing and go to sleep now. Ugh.