On with the show!

business building

Over the past couple years, Pen and Paper Mama Services — tutoring, editing, and writing — has been growing and developing quickly.  Much of my time has been taken up with the hands-on activities of building the business, but it is time to turn my attention again to providing my online audience with more information about tutoring, editing, and writing, and providing “freebies” to help families out with their educational efforts.  I am looking forward to sharing and interacting with you, and am eager to read your comments, answer your questions, and discuss your ideas.

For those of you who are interested in writing and related topics such as self-publishing and editing, I am the editor of the quarterly e-newsletter, “The Penticton Scribe,” published by the Penticton Writers and Publishers (PWAP) group.  You can check out some back-copies of the newsletter here, and you can email me to request more recent editions (Oct 2013, Jan 2014, April 2014) and to sign up for the new editions as they come out four times a year.  These newsletters are about 20 pages in length, and are jam-packed with useful information on writing-related topics.

I look forward to hearing from you soon!


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Freebie Friday: French Home Study Sheet


Welcome back to Freebie Fridays.  My apologies for missing the past week or two.  With another school year starting up, I’ve been deeply involved in preparing units and lessons for my tutoring students, and have neglected this site.  Anyway, I’m back!

Today’s Friday Freebie is an “Elementary Core French Home Study sheet” which I would send home with my students to share with their parents and siblings, and hopefully get the entire family practicing some basic French language together. I could always tell when families worked together, even just for a few minutes a day, as that has a tremendous positive learning effect!

Bonne chance!

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Self-editing tips and tricks

checklistAlthough you’ll almost certainly want to hire an editor to really polish your writing, you can do many things to save on those editing costs. Some of those things have already been discussed in some detail in the “How Much Does Editing Cost” and “Finding the Editor You Need” posts.  These items include:

  • Ask friends (who have good reading/writing skills) to do a “beta-read” of the manuscript and give you suggestions.
  • Take a good writing course, and learn to write better to start with. (Make sure it is a “good” course – get references!)
  • Ask an English teacher or other non-professional editor to go over the manuscript for a reasonable price before professional editing.
  • Use good spell-checker and good grammar-checker software.

Here are some other tips:

  • Start at the end of the manuscript. Scroll backwards slowly through the manuscript. You’ll be surprised at what “pops up.”
  • Start at the end of the manuscript, and read paragraph by paragraph. Or read the last chapter first and move back to the opening chapter.
  • If you are getting friends to beta-read, put together a list of questions for them to answer, such as: How does the book read? Did you find the story interesting/ exciting/ boring/ (etc.)? Why? What did you like? Dislike? Did you find errors that I made repeatedly? What were they?
  • Purchase a style guide suited to the type of writing you do. Go through it, and learn the rules. Study the guide. Paying between about $20 to $40 for a guide can improve your writing and style greatly, and save you hundreds of dollars in editing costs. Some of the most widely used guides are Strunk & White’s ” (the “bible” of basic writing style for all writers), the Associated Press Style Manual (for journalism and feature writing), the Chicago Manual of Style (for technical and educational work, and also for literary works), the APA Guide (for social sciences), and the Turabian Style Guide (for research papers, theses, etc.). You’ll also want a good dictionary and thesaurus, and probably one of the standard writing handbooks.
  • Keep your audience in mind.  What country will most readers be from?  Consistently use spelling and expressions that suit your audience. There are style guides to help you with that, for example, Dundurn Press publishes The Canadian Style.
  • Understand that even the best editors ask others to edit their work. We “see” what we expect to see, what we “thought” we wrote. It is extremely unlikely that you can pick up on all your errors and your writing flaws.
  • Read your piece several times. Break your editing into levels and choose just a few things to watch for with each reading. Start with simple elements first, like spelling and grammar. If you notice other kinds of mistakes, make a note of them, and edit for those later.
  • As you read, use a ruler or piece of colourful paper under each line to improve your concentration on the copy.
  • Use an editing checklist to help you remember things to watch out for.
  • Read your work aloud. And ask someone else to read your work aloud as you listen. You will quickly be able to pick out sections that don’t come across to the reader as you intended. Listen for errors in sense, sound and judgment.
  • Let your copy sit at least overnight, and preferably for a week or so, and you will be much more likely to find errors than if you self-edit immediately.
  • Learn to use basic proofreader’s marks on hard copy, or use the editing tools that come with your word-processing software. Then when you have an editor check your work, you’ll immediately recognize and understand their markings.
  • Punctuation rules vary according to the style chosen. The important thing is that you choose an appropriate style, and follow it consistently.
  • Law of simplicity: Don’t use a paragraph when a sentence will do; don’t use a sentence when a phrase will do; don’t use a phrase when a word will do; and don’t use a ten-dollar word when a nickle one will do. Remember, your goal is to communicate with your reader.
  • Remember that people read better, faster, and with greater comprehension when the writing is simple, clear and concise.
  • Make every word add to the meaning. Use words that help people sense what you are saying. Use words that appeal to the senses (add color, shape, texture, size, weight, emotion, etc.). Simple but evocative!
  • Watch out for use of jargon, cliches, platitudes, buzzwords, coined words, and bureaucratic language, as well as use of phrases and words that could have different meanings to different readers. If using acronyms, be certain your audience will recognize them; it is best to write out the full phrase the first time you use it.
  • While it is true that you might decide to “break a writing rule” to create a special effect, you should still check to make sure it really has turned out as you intended.
  • For an excellent list of writing aspects to consider before sending your work to an editor, see Florence Osmund’s article, “Your Final Manuscript Review(s).”
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Why do I need to have tutoring – conversation part 2

learning tools

(This is part 2 of an actual conversation with a tutoring student.  See part 1 here.)

“Have you thought about our conversation last lesson, about why tutoring is important?” I asked my young tutoring student, as we worked on writing a story.

“Yes, I get that if I want to go to high school someday, I need to fill in my learning gaps,” he answered reluctantly. “But I would still rather play. I don’t want to go to college, anyway, or be a teacher or something like that. I want to do something fun for the rest of my life. I bet there are lots of things I can do that don’t need writing!”

“You like to tell me stories about all kinds of fun things you do, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied enthusiastically. “That’s what I like. Doing fun things. I like talking about fun things, too. But when I have to write them down, it is hard and boring.”

“Today, when you told me about the fun things you did on your holidays with your grandpa, I wrote them down. Then I read your story back to you. Did you like listening to it?”

“Yes,” he admitted. “But I didn’t like it when you asked me to write it down myself, when you dictated it to me.”

“Well, now that you have written it down, can you think of anything you can do with it?”

“I guess I could send a copy to my grandpa. He would like to read it, because we had a lot of fun together.”

“So does that mean that it might be useful to learn to write things for other people to enjoy?”

“I guess so,” he responded. “And it did help me write a better story when you helped me that way. Usually I don’t even know how to start writing a story.”

“So it sounds like tutoring did help you a bit today, then. And next time you have to write a story at school, it will be easier, because now you know you can write it just like you would tell it out loud to a friend.”

“I didn’t know that before,” he said. “Yes, I can do that!”

“Good! Now, remember what you were saying about when you grow up? What kind of job would you like to have, that doesn’t require reading and writing?”

“I would like to be a coach!” he responded enthusiastically. “They get to play sports all the time, and they don’t need to read or write or do arithmetic, either!”

“Are you so sure about that? Does your coach ever look things up in the rule book? Does he diagram strategies for your team to use? Does he sometimes drive your team in the bus to tournaments? Does he keep track of all the scores of your team and the other teams? Does he send the team members e-mails to let them know if there is change in the game schedule, or when and where to meet for an extra practice?”

“Yes,” my student answered questioningly.

“Well, when he does those things, he is reading and writing and doing math, right?”

“Oh,” he said, and paused. Then he suggested, “Well, I could be a cook, then! I love good food! I could become a famous chef!”

“So you could,” I answered. “Of course chefs have to be able to read complicated recipes, and write up menus, and list ingredient orders, and use math to change recipes to feed larger or smaller numbers of people…”

“Not all of them! I’ve watched the cooks at fast food restaurants. They just stand there and flip the hamburgers and wrap them up and give them to the customers!” he announced triumphantly.

“Really? And how do they know what the customers have ordered?”

“Oh… I guess they do read the orders…”

“Yes, they do. And anyway, do you really want to spend thirty or more years of your life flipping hamburgers at a fast food restaurant? And earn minimum wage?”

His face clouded over a bit, as he thought about that. “No, I guess not. Isn’t there anything I can do without reading and writing and math?”

“Oh, I’m sure there is. But when you can read and write and do math well, you can do those things a lot better, and easier, too. Learning isn’t something we only do at school for a few years. Real learning is something we do every day, in every part of our lives.

“When you play sports, or do artwork, or make cookies, or even play out in your yard with your friends, you are learning new things. And when you have good learning tools, you can do all those fun things better and better. Can you imagine trying to build a tree fort without a hammer to nail it together? Or make good cookies without measuring cups? Or paint a picture without a brush? Or dig a garden without a shovel? You can do those things without tools, but it is a lot harder, and it doesn’t usually turn out as well.

“Reading and writing and math are really important learning tools. You can learn other things without them, but it is a lot harder, and you probably won’t make things as well without them.”

Just then there was a knock on the door, and mom came in to pick up her son.

“Hey, mom! Guess what? Maybe tutoring isn’t so bad! I’m learning tools that mean I can do all kinds of fun things some day. Maybe I’ll even get to be a real coach! Or a famous chef! … And school will be easier, too!”

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Why do I need to have tutoring? A conversation

learning is fun(The following is a conversation I had with a grade four boy I was tutoring.  It might give you some ideas for the next time your child, or a student you are working with, argues that learning reading, writing, and arithmetic is a waste of time).

“Why do I need to be tutored? I spend enough time in school! I just want to play outside after school,” one of my young tutoring students moaned.

“Do you like jigsaw puzzles?” I asked.

“Yes,” he admitted cautiously, obviously wondering what that had to do with wasting his outdoor time.

“Do you like doing jigsaw puzzles that end up having a lot of pieces missing? Or even having one or two really important pieces missing?”

“No!” he answered emphatically, looking curious about where this conversation was going.

“Okay,” I continued, “Learning is like a big jigsaw puzzle. Each level of a topic, or each grade in school, adds more pieces to the puzzle. But sometimes pieces go missing. Maybe you just forgot a fact or idea, or maybe you didn’t quite understand it. Or you could have been sick the day your teacher taught it. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. But later on, as you learned more information, and gained more parts of the puzzle, those missing pieces become a big problem.

“Imagine that you are putting together a great jigsaw puzzle of your favourite superhero. It has a really cool background; it has a great picture of the “bad guys” — in fact, it has everything there except for one part. The superhero pieces have gone missing! How would you feel about that?”

“It would be really disappointing,” my young friend answered.

“Well, that’s what it is like when you have some gaps in your learning. You can have all kinds of information, but if a few really important facts or ideas are missing, it can ruin the whole thing. When that happens, tutoring can help you find those missing pieces, and then you can see the whole picture.

“Here’s another way to think of it,” I added. “Imagine a ladder that has some rungs missing. Would it be easy to get to the higher levels if three or four rungs were gone?”

“No, I guess I’d be stuck at that level,” he replied.

“Well, learning is like that. When you miss some rungs in your learning, like not knowing basic math facts, or understanding vowel sounds, or knowing how to use punctuation and spelling in your writing, it becomes harder and harder to climb the ladder of learning. Every new level of learning depends on the lower levels, and if you’re missing some of those things, you won’t be able to learn the new, more complicated information.”

“Is that why I’m having so much trouble in math?” my student asked. “Multiplication facts seemed so boring when we were learning them last year. I just wanted to go out and play. But now we’re learning division, and it’s really hard.”

“That’s right,” I answered. “If you know your multiplication facts, you’ll find division is much, much easier. And you’ll also find things like fractions and algebra a lot easier, too, when you learn them later.”

I pulled a grade seven math textbook from the bookshelf, and opened it. “Can you explain to me how to do these equations?” I asked.

He looked at them, and shook his head. “I don’t know how. They look really complicated!”

“That’s because you are only in grade four right now. Already you are finding math hard because you missed some important math information in earlier grades. If we don’t help you catch up, you won’t even be able to do all the grade four work. But if we fill in those puzzle pieces, or ladder rungs, you’ll be able to do this year’s work just fine, and later grade seven, and even high school math, will not be that hard. Tutoring now can help you down the road.

“And speaking of roads, here’s another way of thinking about why tutoring is important. Let’s go outside.”

My young charge grinned. This was sounding a lot better than sitting inside doing math. We stepped out into the yard, and walked to the edge of the street. I pointed to the stop sign at the end of the block. “What do you think? Should I go and get the stop sign, and bring it back here?”

He started laughing. “No way! Cars would stop right in the middle of the block. And cars that came to the intersection would just keep going. There would be a lot of accidents!”

“That’s right,” I agreed. “Traffic signs are put there to help us drive safely. If we remove them and put them just anywhere, or if we mix them up, we’d be in big trouble, right?”

“Right!” he agreed.

“Learning is like that. Things like multiplication facts are like traffic signs. When they are missing, or are mixed up, our learning is much more difficult. We can end up going in the wrong direction, or end up stuck in a ditch going nowhere.”

“But I already work hard at school,” the young scholar protested. “I’m tired of learning. I just want to play!”

“It’s wonderful to be a good worker,” I replied. “But if you have a lot of missing puzzle pieces, or missing ladder rungs, all that hard work won’t help.”

Just then we saw his mom drive up and park. “Yes! Tutoring time is done!” he shouted happily. “Now I can go and play!”

… Do you think my student will decide that tutoring might be worthwhile after all? Check out part 2 of our conversation, right here.

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Freebie Fridays: Short Vowel Word Charts

short eDid it again! Missed posting the Friday Freebie on Friday.  Well, I had a good excuse – grandchildren from Alberta were visiting us, and that’s more important, right?

Anyway, better late than never … This Friday Freebie is a collection of “Short Vowel Word Charts”  These charts each provide a selection of mostly three-letter words you can use to help your child with learning their short vowel sounds.

The charts can be used as they are, or, since each word is in a separate “box,” they can be printed out, cut apart, and used as flash cards.

A handy addition to your phonics program! Enjoy!

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Friday Freebie – French Food Vocab

foodToday’s “Friday Freebie” is a listing of French food phrases and vocabulary.

Learning hint: Post a copy of this list on the fridge, and another copy on the wall by the dining table.  Label food items with their French names – or use a marker to highlight the French vocabulary on food packaging.  At mealtimes, and when cooking or baking, have the whole family use French language as much as possible.

Bon appétit!

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