Category Archives: Language

Our New Writing Program

This year, we have moved away from using IEW and have switched to “The Lost Tools of Writing” (LTW).  Not because we didn’t like IEW (we love IEW), but because we had a different writing goal this year.  IEW has been instrumental in teaching my boys how to structure and improve their writing and now we need to focus on content and thought and that’s what I think LTW does well.

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There are three components to LTW curriculum: there’s a teacher’s guide, a student book and streamed videos.  For almost all of the 9 essays, there are three videos, streamed through Vimeo, intended for the teacher, not the student.  The way I use the program is to watch the three videos for the essay I’m teaching and then read through the detailed lesson information in the teacher’s guide.  I do all of this on the weekend prior to teaching the new essay.  I love the amount of support that the LTW curriculum gives the instructor.

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I also love the amount of freedom that the program allows.  While the teaching is structured, the teacher and the student are given the freedom to chose what they will write about.  I appreciate this as it allows our writing to be related to what we are learning in other subject areas.

The persuasive essay is the genre that LTW teaches.  Prior to starting the curriculum, I thought I knew most of what there was to know about the persuasive genre.  I mean, I’m a qualified teacher and I’ve taught this genre a number of times, even for the infamous Naplan tests.  But LTW has taught me so much that I now know how little I actually knew about the persuasive essay.  I was on the right track, but I was only just scrapping at the surface.  LTW has opened a door I didn’t even know to look for.  I’d never heard of things like exordiums and amplifications.  I’m so glad I chose a writing program to help me teach my boys.

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The main reason I chose LTW for this stage of writing instruction is its focus on invention, or creation of ideas.  IEW taught my boys to structure their writing well but they needed more work on creation of ideas.  They preferred report writing, retelling what they knew after some research.  But, when asked for their thoughts on a topic, they were uncomfortable with identifying and expressing their own ideas.  LTW teaches students how to draw forth those thoughts and how to organise them.  In the ‘invention’ stage of writing, an often overlooked stage of writing, the students are taught five common topics: comparison, definition, circumstance, relation and testimony.   These five common topics lead to powerful questions that help students gather their ideas and thoughts.  Invention (or thinking) is a critical part of the LTW writing process and given equal importance with the outlining, drafting and editing processes.

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The ideas and thoughts that the students form and discover are collected on an ANI chart.  (This ANI chart is a brilliant device.  I can think of so many uses for it).  In LTW, after devising a thesis, the students’ thoughts are organised into: ideas that affirm the thesis, ideas that negate the thesis and ideas that are merely interesting to the topic but perhaps not yet relevant.  I particularly appreciate that the student is required to consider both sides of an argument, not merely their own.   This is an important skill if we are to teach our children to critically think through issues.

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Next, the students are moved into the arrangement stage of writing.  Here the students are taught to sort and group their ideas within their ANI chart in order to transfer them to an essay outline.  LTW does not overwhelm the students in this stage of writing, consequently, the initial essays are very rudimentary.  Do not be disturbed by the simplicity of the first couple of essays.  It’s part of the process and I assure you that the students will be writing good quality essays before long.

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In their student books, the students are supported with leading questions and prompts while transferring information from their organised ANI charts to an outline.  Then the students transcribe their outline onto their own page, using the template provided in their student books.  At first, this process seemed cumbersome to my boys but LTW has quickly taught them to appreciate the process that creates a high quality outline.  Writing from such an outline makes writing so much easier.

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Next, the students are given lessons in ‘elocution’, quality language expression.   I liken this stage to IEW’s dress-ups.  With each new LTW essay, the students are given skills to improve their written expression.  Some of the skills in LTW’s level 1 include parallelism, similes, alliteration and assonance.  I tend to teach these lessons after my students have drafted their essay so that they can edit their own writing to include the new element.

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With a little preparation each week, the program is very easy to use and incredibly supportive of both teacher and student.  Because of this support and the freedom to select our own writing topics, the writing skills we are learning should be easy to continue to use once we have finished the program.  My boys have just finished essay five in LTW and I’m already declaring the merits of this program high and low, and far and wide.  As evidence of why I’m falling in love with LTW, I’d like to leave you with the introduction paragraph of one of my sons’ essays.  For him, writing this paragraph was as easy as following the advice of the Lost Tools of Writing.

“One Small Step”

On the moon, Neil Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind” but was he actually on the moon when he said this?  The truth is important to both sides of the argument.  One side believes that man walked on the moon and the other believes that the moon walk and landing were all just a hoax.  Evidence, however, indicates that man did walk on the moon in 1969.  There are five prominent reasons to believe that man went to the moon.  The Apollo astronauts themselves were eyewitnesses, who documented their experiences on the moon through photos and videos.  They also returned to Earth with a large number of moon rocks and soil samples to study.  The Apollo missions were not just tracked by NASA and other American organisations; they were also tracked by third-parties around the world.  Science has also explained the anomalies that the conspiracy theorists use as evidence against a moon landing.  In recent years, unmanned missions have been sent to the moon and have photographed the landing sites of the Apollo missions and the equipment they left behind.  With this clear evidence, it can safely be said that Neil Armstrong did walk on the moon.



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Posted by on June 18, 2017 in Language, Resources and Organising


Shakespeare’s Globe Dvds

Do you know about the “Shakespeare’s Globe” dvds?

I recently stumbled upon them

and have to share.

We purchased a box set

to start our collection

(that seemed the most economical way)

and hoped we were onto a good thing.

Then, last week, we sat down to watch “Twelfth Night”,

the first in our collection

(and a play we would also see performed on stage).

Well, let me tell you,

it was the very best Shakespeare performance

we had EVER seen!

(And we’ve seen a few now – on dvd and performed live).

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The dvd is a professional video of a live performance

from the Globe in London.

So, of course, the performers were the very best.

While you are watching, you also get to see the Globe

in all its glory.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to attend a live performance.

I think I’d pay for a seated ticket though.

The “Twelfth Night” was three hours long!

I couldn’t imagine standing in one place for that long.

Thankfully, we were watching on dvd,

and could choose to spread the play over three nights.

This particular play uses male actors for the female roles.

At first, it was a bit awkward,

but, once we got used to it, we loved it!

The male ‘females’  added to the hilarity of the play.

Gosh, we laughed hard throughout this play.

A simple gesture or a look from the actors had us in stitches.

And don’t worry about being confused by the Shakespearean language.

The dvds have captions, which is a brilliant idea,

and the actors are so talented that you just fall into the story

and become engrossed.

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After watching the “Twelfth Night”,

I order another box set that included the play “As You Like It”

(the next play we’ll see performed live

– even with a brilliant dvd,

there is still something special and not-to-be-missed about a live performance).

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But, then, after talking to Hubby about the brilliance of these “Shakespeare’s Globe” dvds,

we found an even bigger collection of “Shakespeare’s Globe” dvds.

This collection includes 19 plays

for a fraction of the price of ordering 19 plays.

So we jumped and bought it.

(Shop around.  Prices really vary.  We found ours on Fishpond.)

We’re excitedly waiting for their delivery.

The plan is to watch our way through the plays we’ve already attended on stage.

Then we’ll wait until live performance opportunities arise, before watching the others.

Watching these dvds is an excellent way to prepare for a live performance.

And if you can’t attend a live performance,

these are an excellent substitute.

I’m just amazed that it took us so long to hear about these dvds.

(And, no, this isn’t a compensated review.

We just love these dvds and didn’t want you to miss them.)


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Posted by on September 3, 2016 in Language


Snugglepot and Cuddlepie

Have you ever read “Snugglepot and Cuddlepie”?

Okay, well my overseas readers probably haven’t

but what about my aussie readers?

I hadn’t read it

…until this week.

It just didn’t seem like the kind of book I’d like

and as a kid it just never crossed my path.

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But since we are off to see a performance of it,

we had to pick up the book and read it.

Well, let me tell you…

I loved this story

(and the boys enjoy it too).

It is such a lovely, sweet story.

It’s a not-to-be-missed story.

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Snugglepot and Cuddlepie actually have three adventures

in three separate stories

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but our book has all of them in the same gorgeous volume.

We’ve only read the first story so far

but are eager to dive into the other two.

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If you are planning to read these stories

you need to get hold of a copy that has illustrations.

The story without the illustrations

would lose a huge chunk of its appeal.

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Just look at these darling pictures.

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Even the villains are appealing!

(This is a Banksia Man.)

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At the end of our book version,

there is a section all about May Gibbs,

her life and work.

We’ve already had a flick through

because we couldn’t help ourselves.

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After this book,

I might need to acquire a copy of some of the other Australian classics

that I never read as a child and consequently my boys haven’t read either

– books like “Blinky Bill” and “Dot and the Kangaroo”.

Any recommendations on which to read first?

Are there any others?

Goodness, so many big glaring literature gaps to fill

but what a glorious way to fill the coming years

– reading Australian classics.



Posted by on June 11, 2016 in Language, My Library


Reading Activities

When we read aloud, we read a lot.

This was one morning’s pile of reading.

We read a chapter of each.

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During the first half of our read aloud session,

(Yes, I read it to the boys so we all have common ground for discussions),

the boys sit quietly and listen to our more difficult books.

Then, about half way through,

once we have reached the books that require a little less attention,

I allow the boys to occupy their hands with quiet activities.

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Over the years I’ve varied my approach to this read aloud activity.

At first I did what most do and allowed any activity provided it was quiet.

The children could answer my questions and give narrations so I thought all was well.

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However, not long back, I discovered that the quality of the children’s narrations

improved dramatically when certain activities were avoided

(and even better when there is no activity).

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For us, those things were activities that included any element of imaginative play,

or too much cognition

i.e. Lego, matchbox cars, action figures, some drawing etc.

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So what works for us then?

Well for some books I don’t allow any activity –

any book that is challenging, new, or overflowing with important details.

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For books that are a little easier to comprehend or books that we’ve already fallen in love with,

I can allow things like playdough, kinetic sand, colouring or pattern making,

without affecting the children’s narrations too much.

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What do others allow?

How do you feel about narrations?

Do you use the strategy?

What are your thoughts on reading aloud?

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Reading aloud is our absolute favourite thing!


Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Language