Category Archives: Writing Tips

Better Your Writing: Step 4 – The First Draft

“Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.” – Ronnie Coleman

First Draft

With road map in hand, look through the notes you have in your journal about this topic and enter those thoughts in the box of your writing road map that makes sense. Now its time to let go. As you think more deeply on your chosen topic, let the words flow on to the paper or screen. In some ways this is the most liberating part of the writing process.

Really take a moment to explore the main point of each supporting paragraph. Write down every thought you have that relates to each main point. Feel free to look up information from credible sources and include that information into your rough draft.

You don’t need to worry about form, voice, sentence structure or any grammar in general. You only need to get your thoughts out of your head. Whether they are fully developed thoughts, half complete thoughts, just the beginning of an idea or just the end of an idea -this is the time to dignify your thought process by introducing it to the world.

The only real rule you want to adhere to is to put your thoughts in the correct boxes you created for your outline. Following this rule will save you time in the next revision phase. While this is the time to be free, be free in an organized way!

For example, if you are providing background information, or explore generally why you feel the way you do about something, most likely this information belongs in the introduction box. If you are providing evidence to support one of the claims you are basing a paragraph about, put that information in the correct paragraph block; If you are giving your final thoughts on the matter, be sure to write that information in the conclusion.

What to do if you can’t think of anything to write?

There are several techniques that people can use to get move past writers block.

First things first, be sure your environment is conducive to writing.. Make sure auditory distractions are kept to a minimum, though I do suggest soft study music if it doesn’t distract you. Be sure you are sitting comfortably at your desk or table, with the intention set in your mind that it is time to work. Have snacks and drinks available within arms reach to avoid having to leave the room to obtain nourishment. Try to make it impossible to distract yourself from the task at hand.

Before you read, take the time to read over the notes you have already taken about the topic at hand. See if any other thoughts, connections or strong feelings are evoked by reading over the material. If so, take note of it. These sentiments could lead to main topic sentences for your body paragraphs.

Another technique to employ to get through writers block , if reading your current notes isn’t helping, is to read. It seems counter intuitive, but many an author employs this technique. By filling your mind with new information, it gives you new concepts to wonder about, and connections to make, which ultimately translates into having more things to say.

If you don’t know what to say, perhaps you have questions about the topic? Write down all those questions – in the appropriate paragraph box in your outline- until you are done asking questions. Then look up the answers to those questions and write the answer – you guessed it- in the appropriate paragraph. It never hurts to let curiosity be your guide, when writing a paper at least.

Finally, you may want to keep yourself in the pre-writing session until you have something to work with. If you find you don’t have enough material, you will need to go back to your references, or find new ones, to make your point. It may be a vicious cycle. Due to this, it may make sense to schedule more than one pre-writing session until you have all the information that you want to include in your paper.

Still looking for ways to better your initial writing? Review my past posts on Journal Writing and Prewriting.

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2021 Summer Reading Club Descriptions

Read the descriptions of the clubs below and click on the links to register for the clubs.

Family Reading Club

Sundays at 1PM – July, August, September

Elementary- level books, articles and other reading material are read and afterwards either individual families, or families come together to speak to each other about the story and make connections. Literary activities are provided as an option for families who want to continue to explore the topic after the meeting has ended. Perfect for family members of all ages. Launching Week of July 1st, 2021

$20 per month,

$50 if you buy three months at a time.

Use Coupon Code: Place all three months in your cart and use: FamilyReadingClub2021

The entire household can participate for one price.


Elementary Summer Reading Club

2PM grades K-2; 3PM grades 3-5

Tuesdays and Thursdays

July – 6, 8, 12, 15, 13, 15, 20, 22, 27, 29

August – 3, 5, 10, 12, 17, 19, 24, 26, 31

Elementary level books are read out loud and then we work as a group on literary activities that help reinforce the story elements as well as reading comprehension strategies. If you miss the live read, a video will be posted of Leigh reading the book so that you can hear the story that way. By the end of the class, your student will have built a portfolio of summer reading work.

Launching the week of July 1st, 2021.

$50 for the entire summer, for each time slot.


Novel Study – Phantom Tollbooth

Wednesdays 2:00PM – 3:30PM

July 7, 14, 21, 28

August 4, 11

Grades 6-8

6 week course

Explore the world created by Norton Juster. In this story we follow the adventures of Milo, an apathetic boy who happens upon a toll booth that takes him to a different world. In this land language is figurative, so you better be sure to say what you need efficiently and correctly. Besides reading the story, we will learn about figurative language, note-taking, themes, and how to prepare your notes to write a paper.

$75 for the course


Transformation Book Club

Grades 9-12

Friday 2:00PM – 3:30PM

July 9, 16, 23, 30

August 6, 13

6 week course

This book explores the work of two NJ-based authors. The first, “Turning a Mess into a Message” by Edison Jaquez describes how the author found himself at rock bottom and how he worked to get back on top of his game. Each chapter focuses on a different area of life and provides tip on how to successfully navigate the situations we live through.

The second book is called, “I AM, I WILL” by Dr. Daniel Jean. This book is essentially a life plan to creating the life that you desire. Both books, and the activities within, can serve as a solid life plan.

$75 – includes the cost of books


COMING SOON

Active Reading Strategies

Grades 4 – 7

3 Hour Class, 2 – 1.5 hour sessions

This class introduces readers to five reading strategies including visualization, predicting, connecting, questioning and monitoring understanding. We will also go over the KWL Chart.


Grammar Boot Camp

Grades 4 -7, 3 Hour Class, 2 – 1.5 hour sessions

This class will review parts of speech, punctuation, sentence structure and the paragraph. This is the perfect class to get students ready to identify and utilize grammar in the classroom or for any written assignment.


Writing Boot Camp

Grades 4 -7

3 Hour Class, 2 – 1.5 hour sessions

This class teaches the writing process, how to write the perfectly planned paragraph and essay. This class will help students to respond properly to open ended questions in class and on essay assignments.

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Filed under Reading, Summer Writing, Writing Tips

Summer Writing Activities List

Summer 2021 is upon us and every literacy advocate and organization has released their official summer reading lists. While everyone is excited to begin the beloved annual summer activity, the question begs to be asked, what about writing?

Writing is an incredibly important tool we humans have to help us think, learn and communicate. An article from Psychology Today, “How Writing Makes You Happier, Smarter, and More Persuasive” discusses various studies that prove or imply that writing helps people to unwind, communicate better and retain thinking skills.  With so many benefits, why aren’t Summer Writing Lists assigned?!

Not only is it beneficial, but writing is necessary in our modern world. The skill is needed to pass elementary and secondary education levels as well college. Developed writing skills are necessary for full engagement in the workplace. We even use the written word in our personal lives– Facebook rant anyone? Don’t those come off much more relatable and understandable when they are well written? It is in everyone’s best interest to develop writing skills Facebook ranters – and their audience alike.

The best part about this journey is writing doesn’t have to be boring even though it can feel that way when the activity is mandated. This is why summer is a great time to explore writing projects that speak to one’s own soul. Be sure to mix it up, however. Satisfy your inner curiosity with an easy writing assignment, but remember, it is also important to be challenged by choosing writing projects that work on building different skills and may be out of your comfort zone. Diversify your writing journey by choosing projects with an analytical, comparative, descriptive or persuasive angle.

If you are not sure where to start with choosing your writing project, below you will find lists of summer writing project ideas and strategies. Try to complete one of the suggested tasks or let the ideas be a spring board for creating your own writing tasks.

Writing Projects

Summer Reading Support:

  1. Find a question guide to your selected summer reading book and answer the questions on a blog or in a note book.
  2. Write a character analysis. This requires writing while reading and then writing after thinking. The finished product could be a presented as a blog post, letter to a friend, letter to the character, etc.
  3. Setting analysis.
  4. Prepare an interview for one of the main characters in the story and answer the questions in the way you think the character would answer.
  5. Write a journal entry from the point of view of the main character. Try to talk through the thoughts of the individual during a tough time in the story.
  6. Take Notes while reading – focus notes on your chosen analysis topic.

Explore Personal Interest Topic:

  1. Journal on Topic of Choice- Follow any updates on a particular topic all summer long. Record your thoughts in your journal on each article read. Aim for 10 articles through out the summer. Conclude the journal with a final entry that reveals your conclusion from your summer study. *Bonus points if you interview people or find additional information and include a written response to each piece of information in your journal.* Some Areas of Study could include:
    • Science-
      • Biology
      • Chemistry
      • Physics
      • Math
      • National Politics
      • State Politics
      • Local Politics
      • Current Leaders in various industries
      • Health topics:
        • Prevention
        • Specific Diseases
        • Nutrition
        • Self-Care
      • Fitness:
        • Weight-Loss
        • Rehabilitation
        • Body Building
    • History
      • American
      • Any other country
      • of movements
      • leaders of movements
      • of states
      • of cultures and people
      • biographies of famous people and leaders or local heros
      • of national holidays
    • Literature
      • Current reading lists
      • Classic literature
      • Genre Based
      • Geography Based
    • Music
  2. Write a news article or a series of news articles about any topic of interest. (see list above.)
  3. Identify a specific company, event, industry, advancement to study. Identify all the top players and write short biographies on each and what their respective contribution to the industry.
  4. Find the slant – For a chosen, topic search out articles for it based on given philosophies and in an essay compare and contrast each article, pointing out the common facts used in each article and what isn’t common.
  5. Journal about a learning experience. Choose a fun, but educational place to go and make a date to visit. Prior to going decide what you want to learn about and pull online sources the destination offers about your given topic. By writing a pre-event, during event notes and post event reaction a learner will use writing to form a well rounded opinion and assessment of their learning experience.
  6. Assemble a YouTube Playlist of videos discussing your chosen topic. Produce a written response that includes a reflection on the theme your video collection, another writing that describes and defends each video selection on the playlist and another writing that provides a response to each video.

Writing for Change:

  1. Is there something happening in your neighborhood that has you concerned or upset? Or conversely, are you excited about a change or upcoming event? Take the time to write to your local government to let them know! You can write directly to the mayor of your town, or perhaps to a councilperson. Be sure to be respectful and present your thoughts in a concise and professional manner, even if you are upset.
  2. Is there something happening in your state that you want to express your opinion about? Write to your governor or your local senator. You can find out who your representatives are by going to Ballotpedia. Type in your address and find out who represents you and write to them this summer!
  3. What social issue leaves you shaken to the core? Learn about it and write about it! Either create an ebook or blog that focuses on bringing awareness to the worthy cause. Update the blog with posts relay interviews with the main actors of the movement as well as new people you were able to recruit for the cause.
  4. Volunteer to be a Soldier’s Angel. This service is a group of people that work to ensure that military members are engaging in communication with citizens back home. This service is a 3 month commitment, in which you are required to write one letter a month. Besides the time commitment, it appears to be a free service.
  5. Everyone has heard of pen-pals but have you heard of having a penpal in…prison? Its a real service. Writeaprisoner.com is a platform where people can find a prisoner with whom they can exchange correspondence. You can search prisoners to choose from based on their goals and interests as well as review the crime they are convicted of before committing to a pen-pal.

Culminating Projects:

  1. Develop the entirety of your project into a blog, website or e-book.
  2. Develop a portfolio -digital or hard copy.
  3. Submit final written thoughts/article to local publications in an attempt to get published.
  4. Develop a slide show and post on a blog or website.
  5. Use a blogging app to create a digital magazine showcasing everything you read and learned over the summer.

Comment below – are you excited and motivated to produce a piece of writing this summer? What project will you choose? Do you have an idea that isn’t listed here?

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Better Your Writing: Step 3 Map out the Topic – Outline

So, for the past couple weeks you have been writing to your heart’s content and at the same time exponentially increasing your terminology for everything in your environment.  Awesome!  I am sure you have strung together sentences with words you never imagined you can join. And I hope you continue to let that writing fire burn.

However, now it is time to switch gears from using the creative right side of your brain to the more logical left side of your brain– but don’t worry, your creative self will still need to make an appearance every now and again.

The first action you want to take is to look through your journal and decide which entry inspires you the most, or fills you with passion, rage, bewilderment, etc.  The more emotion you feel, the more likely you will have something to say.  Now try to peer at your page with more “logical” eyes and answer the following question.  What is this entry about?  What do I want to say about this topic?  Did I already give examples for my point in my journal?  Are there more examples I want to add? Who will care about this? What is the purpose of this writing? (Do you want to give your opinion, educate or persuade the audience?)

After answering these questions, you should have enough information to quickly plan the basic information that will be included in your introduction paragraph, and body paragraphs (one body paragraph for each example provided).  To quickly plan your your basic information, create a graphic organizer:

On the top of one page draw a large rectangle and label it, “Introduction”.   Inside the rectangle, write what your topic is and why it is important or what your call to action, argument or opinion is.

In the middle of your paper, draw a second large rectangle and label it, “Body Paragraphs”.   Number each piece of evidence you have as you list it in the body paragraphs box.  Each piece of evidence will be the focus of that body paragraph.

The purpose of this is to simply serve as a road map while you are writing your paper. You may still need to do more research to find the answers you need to make your argument compelling.  Once all of this information is collected you can begin fully drafting.  In the meantime, you can use your graphic organizer as a guide for what research needs to be done.

Good Luck!!

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Better Your Writing: Step 2 Build Your Vocabulary

What makes for effective writing is the combination of a well thought out point with an attention-grabbing delivery.  Sentence variety plays a major role in that and one of the many ways to create a variety of sentences is to include a broad sampling of vocabulary.  The best way to obtain the knowledge of a broad sampling of vocabulary is to make a conscience effort to learn and incorporate new words into your daily speech.  There are several strategies to go about accomplishing this:

  1. Start with what you know.   Find synonyms to replace words you already use on a daily basis.  To do this for free, simply go to thesaurus.com and search for words you use regularly. For example, I looked up the word “argue” and found this list: http://thesaurus.com/browse/argue   Now instead of saying, “Kids, don’t argue with each other.” I am going to say , “Kids don’t contend with each other.”   I feel smarter already.  For those with a little to “invest” in vocabulary expansion, there is software available and rated on toptenreviews.com: http://vocabulary-software-review.toptenreviews.com/ultimate-vocabulary-review.html
  2. Be proactive when you don’t understand. When you are reading or listening to something new and you see or hear a word you don’t understand, be sure to make a note of it in your journal or reading log.  Before looking up the word, try to figure out what the word is referring to in the way it is used in the sentence.  Once you have meditated on the possible meaning, look it up and compare how close or far off you were from figuring it out.
  3. Compare word meanings. Sometimes the same word can be used to mean different things.  Familiarize yourself with all of the definitions of a particular word and be sure to use them in speech or writing.

All of this may seem very time consuming, but the truth of the matter is activities like this shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes a day and should be incorporated into any time you set aside for yourself to read and write.

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Better Your Writing: Step 1 Journal Writing

In my last post, I left off with challenging my readers to purposefully work on building their writing skills.  But then it dawned on me that perhaps I should clue you in on the steps you can take to become a better writer.  The first tip I would like to share, in all honesty, has been repeated by English teachers and writing coaches a like for many years.  And even though I would classify this as a cliche, if it were possible to classify actions as cliches the way one would an over-used phrase, I still think this activity is the number one way to get your writing juices flowing and therefore build on your writing skills. This number one activity is: keeping a journal.

This is not the “Dear Diary” of your younger years where you reveal your crush or some other deep secret that would be horrifying to make known to anyone else but your diary -though it could be used for that purpose if you wish.  You want to use this journal to explore all things that inspire you to think.  Did you just read something in the local newspaper that irritates you? Write about it.  Did you just watch your child play with other children and it reminded you of a time when you were younger?  Explore the memory in your journal.  Did you just read something in a novel that reminded you of something that happens in your life?  Investigate the connection in your journal.  Don’t have any thoughts fighting their way out of your mind? Simply take some time to free write and let your stream of consciousness take over.  What does that mean?  It means to simply write down what is coming to your mind, whether it makes sense or not.  For example:

The road we took to get here was so bumpy.  It kind of reminded me of the way you bump through El Torro at Great Adventure.  I wonder what kind of safety measures they take to make it safe.  They have a lot of rides, that is a lot of safety measures!  How many people would they need to inspect all the rides?  Is there some sort of national council on ride safety measures?  Do all ride safety measure workers have to be certified?  Do they pay for the certification or does their company pay for it?   How would you even break into a field like this. Some fields aren’t easy to break into.  My uncle waited for 3 years to get called into the electrical union, IBEW.  Electrician is a high demand.  I wonder what other jobs are in high demand?

As you can see, my main concern when I was writing the preceding paragraph was that I was getting out the ideas in my head.  I have punctuation, pronoun and subject-verb agreement errors through out the paragraph.  But, in stream of consciousness and journal writing, the adherence to grammar rules in not the main concern.  Just focus on letting your thoughts out.

Rules of Journal Writing:

  1. Spend at least 10 minutes a day 2-3 times a week.  Obviously the more practice you have the better you will get, but you don’t want writing to become a chore for you at the same time.  Do what is comfortable for you, but this basic amount of writing will get you on the right track.
  2. Just like when you are writing with your stream of consciousness, don’t worry about grammar.
  3. The purpose of journal writing is to explore your thoughts, but if you are having trouble coming up with something to write, start off using writing prompts. (Some examples are listed below.)  Eventually, if you keep at it, you won’t need prompts.
  4. Don’t give up.  Once you start, stick with your writing schedule!
  5. Analyze.  After some time you will want to review everything you have written and take notice of your improvement.  Are your sentences getting longer? Are you entries getting longer?  Are you  producing more thoughts? Are your thoughts going deeper than scratching surface topics? Do you find yourself writing for a longer period of time than you schedule?  Have you come up with solutions to problems?  Take the time to notice where you have improved.
  6. Congratulate yourself on a job well done.  Through your own sheer drive and determination, you took the steps necessary to better your writing skills, by yourself.

Writing Prompts:

  • “The three best things that happened to me today?”
  • “The three things I encountered today that I didn’t like and my solutions to change them”
  • “Today I am happy because…”
  • “Today I am angry because….”
  • “Where is a ____ when you need it?”
  • “I really wanted to _____ but I changed my mind.”

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What is the Purpose of Writing?

As I was writing, “Pre-Writing: It’s for your own good”, I started to wonder about the reasoning I was using in defense of pre-writing, and that being the reader may one day be moved to write about something that he or she experienced.  But then I thought about it.  Who really does that anymore?  I know my grandmother can be relied on to a write a good letter to someone of authority if she feels mistreated.  Bloggers.  Obviously use writing as an escape or as a way to sort out their thoughts or express their views.  Even celebrities write books.  Mostly motivated by profit, but still they take the time to sort through their thoughts and offer an opinion to the world.  But does the average person?  Perhaps only when faced with adversity or an assignment from a teacher.

So I ask myself, what is the point of offering services to assist people with writing, if no one really has an appreciation for the activity?  But the thought pushes through my brain, down through my arms and out of my fingers onto the screen:  BECAUSE PEOPLE NEED TO!  In this communication-intense world, knowing how to read, think and express yourself through written language is almost as necessary as air.  Maybe not air, but is definitely equivalent to the need of a house.  In an opposite fashion perhaps, as a house protects from bad weather and predators, writing helps you to push thoughts from inside your natural casing (head) out onto the world.  In some way, your house is your shield and your words your sword. Who wouldn’t want these weapons to be as strong and sharp as possible?

In today’s day, even if you want to be “in-the-know” as a younger person, Facebook and twitter are the new hangouts.  How is information passed at these hangouts? Not through speaking to each other, but writing to and reading each other’s comments. I’ll admit, the grammatical errors, misspellings and usually thought-less banter that make up the content of these posts is less desirable than any educator would like, but the fact that technology has given new life to written language, being a necessity to participate in what is “happening”, is a start.

So where I am going with this? A challenge. I challenge anyone one reading this,  for the sake of your own ability to manipulate words into just the meaning you seek, to  work everyday on your writing skills.  It could be as simple as spending ten minutes a day on the activity, but doing so can help to expand your vocabulary, pursue your thoughts to a deeper understanding, and finally, express yourself to say what you mean through written language.  Who knows, maybe one day the way you learn to fashion words will protect you, just as a sword can.

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Pre- Writing: It’s for your own good!

Does the title of this post, for some reason unknown to you, remind you of spiderwebs or perhaps a memory of you staring at a blank piece of paper, with anxiety knotting up your chest and stomach, as your English teacher gives you a warning glare that says, “WRITE or else!”?

Well, try not to fret.  This post certainly doesn’t pose any threat of detention or extra homework.  It does, however, ask that you rethink what you think you know about pre-writing.

Pre-Writing Consists of Three Main Events

1) An outside occurrence, may it be a something that happens physically to you, or a book or article read, or movie watched, or conversation had, or comment, quote or opinion heard, that forces you to want to think more thoroughly about the occurrence. You may even be moved to produce a piece of writing to express your thoughts to other people, whether it be a letter to an individual, publication or organization, or a research report or an article, etc.

2) Use of a pre-writing tool to help sort out your ideas and help you to recognize what you know and don’t know about the topic of interest.

3) Analysis and Decision.  Do you have enough information to form an opinion or begin to draft about the topic?  Do you still have unanswered questions to which you must find answers?  What are those questions?

The answers to these questions in step three will help to either guide research for a more informed opinion/letter, etc. or it will lead to drafting.  Or maybe it won’t.

Either way, it is important to realize that the PURPOSE of pre-writing ISN’T TO PRODUCE any writing.  The purpose of PRE-WRITING is to ASSIST in THOUGHT-GATHERING and ORGANIZATION.

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What is Editing and Revising anyway?

It is important to note that revising and editing are two different activities and are done at separate times.

Revising is what you do to your first draft after you write it.  From a very basic point of view, you want to review the paper to ensure you:

1) answered the question (if you are writing an essay for a homework assignment, for example) or that your point of view is clear to the reader.

2) You want to make sure the reasons and evidence you are providing to support your point of view (or answer to your question) are also clearly stated . This is also a good time to make sure that sources are cited and credit is properly given to the source’s author.

3) Finally you want to make sure your paper is organized in a way that leaves the strongest impression on the reader.

Editing on the other hand, is done only after revising the content and organization of the paper. Again, from a very basic point of view, it is during editing that you check for consistent verb tense though out the paper, proper use of pronouns, commas and subject verb agreement, etc.  The entire purpose of ensuring correct grammar is to make it as easy for the reader as possible to understand your point.

So the next time you have a paper to edit, be sure to break revising and editing into two steps.  When revising, don’t worry about the grammar, just make sure the paper clearly says what you want it to say.  When editing, keep your focus on grammar.

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