New Learning Themes and other Pen and Paper Mama Products

Songs-and-PoemsPen and Paper Mama — Norma J Hill — has been busy recently creating educational and entertaining new Learning Themes.  The learning theme documents are packed full of all kinds of ideas you, as a teacher, tutor, or home school parent and family, can use as you explore book series, literature such as nursery rhymes and song lyrics, and more, with your children.

Today’s new theme is called Songs and Poems Literacy Learning Theme. Songs and poems are a wonderful way to help children develop their reading, writing, and math literacy skills–and they are fun to do together as a class or family activity. With rhyme, rhythm, wonderful illustrations, actions, and music, and as a foundation for extended unit studies, as well as being easy to read and even memorize, they are the basis of excellent learning themes.

The collection of suggestions in this theme is the perfect introduction to designing your own personalized learning theme that meets your children’s particular needs and interests. Songs and poems, whether from books, magazines, movies, theatre, nursery rhymes, folk and traditional songs, or other sources, are enjoyed by people of all ages, and so ideas from this theme are also a great support for older children or adults developing their literacy skills.

The Songs and Poems Literacy Learning Theme is available for just $2.00 from my store at

Lots More Learning Themes!

While you’re at my store, be sure to check out the other Learning Themes I’ve already created, and please “follow me” to get updates as new products are added. The themes range in price from free to just $1.00 or $2.00.  Here are the Learning Themes already available:

Winnie the Pooh Learning Theme
Nursery Rhymes Learning Theme (free–so you can see what the “themes” are like)
Curious George Learning Theme
Fairy Tale Princesses and Princes Learning Theme
Three Little Pigs Learning Theme
Dr. Seuss Learning Theme
Amelia Bedelia Learning Theme
Frog and Toad Learning Theme
Songs and Poems Literacy Learning Theme

“Easy to Learn Series” booklets

While you’re at the store, you’ll also want to check out my “Easy to Learn Series” booklets, just $2.00 each, which are packed full of all kinds of learning ideas, many of them alternatives to  traditional learning methods often featured in

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Sale on my learning products Feb 25 to 26

sale_160_200On February 25 to 26, you can access my learning products at and save 20% on every product.  My products are very helpful for home school families, for parents who are looking for ways to support their children’s school learning, and as support materials for teachers and classrooms. As I am also a tutor of special needs students, I have included ideas that will be especially helpful for children who have learning differences.  Be sure to check out my product site and, on February 25 and 26, use the Promo word “Heroes” to save 20% on all my products.

I have just added a new set of unit plans based on popular book series and stories. These include:

  • Nursery Rhymes Learning Theme
  • Curious George Learning Theme
  • Fairy Tale Princesses and Princes Learning Theme
  • Three Little Pigs Learning Theme
  • Winnie The Pooh Learning Theme
  • Dr. Seuss Learning Theme

Of course, you can also purchase my “Easy to Learn” booklets on topics such as Memory and Learning Strategies, Reading and Writing Activities, Homonyms, Tongue Twisters, Arithmetic Facts, Arithmetic Tips and Tricks, and Handwriting–and don’t forget my Haida Gwaii and my Penticton booklets which include beautiful photos, poetry, and stories and articles; as well as my very popular “No-Fail, Speedy, Everyday Ingredients, Yummy Recipes and Handy Kitchen Reference Guide Cookbook.”

See you on February 25 and 26 at the sale! And don’t forget to use the promo “Heroes” to get your 20% discount off my already great prices :-)

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Nursery Rhymes Learning Theme

nursery rhymesNursery rhymes are a great way to expand a child’s reading skills. The rhyme, rhythm, repetition, and short length all make them great resources. And then of course many of them have tunes to sing along with, wonderful pictures—and your children may well have already heard them over and over during bedtime reading when they were little! You will also want to share your own learning of nursery rhymes when you were young—and be sure to recite several! Children enjoy hearing their parents recite. It will also encourage your child to begin memorizing, starting with nursery rhymes, and carrying on into more complex poetry, song lyrics, and other material such as quotations, scripture, and selections from famous speeches. A great way to start memorization is as a family, when you go for long car drives or walks together.

Even if the nursery rhymes have words that you think are far above your child’s current reading ability, you will be surprised how quickly your child will come to recognize those words by “sight”—and then you can also “sound them out” and write them as well.

I recommend using a variety of “Nursery Rhyme” books; and you may even want to use 2 or 3 different books for the same poem, as each book has its own illustrations, and often has different versions and verses. Your child will be intrigued by the variations, and by old-fashioned illustrations as well as more modern ones. As a number of the activities I suggest include having your child develop his own versions of the rhymes, he will probably be more open to doing so, when he sees how many different versions already exist.

Nursery Rhymes are also available widely on YouTube and on various websites, which often include illustrations/animations, and sing-along tunes. In the teaching suggestions here you will find some of the nursery rhymes I’ve used with my own children and with my tutoring students, and some activities we’ve done with them.

This theme consists of links and sources for low-cost or free resources, and sample lessons consisting of specific rhymes and activities that you can use with them.

I am providing this NURSERY RHYMES LEARNING THEME for free, right here, so you’ll get an idea of the kinds of things my learning themes include. You can download it (and print it out if you wish) here — or you can get it at my store, where you’ll also be able to check out my “Easy To Learn” booklets series, my cookbook, and booklets of my poetry and stories–as well as a number of other Learning Themes which will be posted over the next while.


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Spelling tips


Today’s tips have to do with spelling. I’m in the midst of putting together a comprehensive spelling guide, especially useful for home spelling study, but here are some tips to get you started. And if you would like to print out a copy of these tips, click here: Spelling Tips

Some children have difficulty with picking out the correct spelling when several words they know are spelled in quite a similar way. For example, “then, thy, there, the, than, that” or the question words “when, why, how, where, who, what” are often confused, as are words like “was, saw” or “where, were.” If you notice this is happening, you can list the “confusing words” on a piece of paper, and make a game of it. Say one of the words, spell it aloud, say it again, then say it in a sentence, and say it yet again. Then have the child find it, circle it, and copy it, spelling it out loud as she prints it, then saying the word aloud. If she is having trouble finding the correct word, say the word very slowly, stretching it out, so she can hear the different sounds. If it is a word like “there” or “they” which are not spelled quite the way they sound, sound it out the way it is spelled, and then again the way it is actually said. You probably should start with no more than 3 choices, but can add extra choices as the child’s spelling recognition improves.

Practice the “wh” question words (who, what, when, where, why) by pointing at objects or people or creatures around the house (or wherever you are) and saying, for example, “Is that a who or a what?” or “Is that a when or a where?” Spell the question word out loud, followed by the answer word. Then write the question word and answer word. You can make lists of things/people/creatures under different question words, and the child can also sketch the answers.

For children who are graphically-oriented, drawing a little sketch can help. This works very well with homonyms. For example, for “there” you could do a quick sketch of a house with an arrow pointing to it, and for “their” a quick sketch of 2 or 3 stick people with a circle around it. Print the correct spelling under each picture. Then have the child do the same (sketch and print). You could follow up by printing a sentence like “There is their house,” and do a sketch of 2 or 3 people standing by a house. Draw an arrow from “there” to the house, and from “their” to the people. To get the “possessive” sense, you could also draw an arrow from the people to their house.

Here’s a tip to tell the 3 their/there/they’re words apart. First, an apostrophe means that two words have been joined together and letter(s) dropped to make one word. So the apostrophe in “they’re” reminds us it is two words, “they are,” made into one word. Second, the word “their” refers to things that belong to people. When we talk about things that belong to us, we use the word “I” as in “I have a cat.” So when we are using the possessive “their” word, we use the spelling that has “i” in it that reminds us of belonging. And third – the left-over word “there,” is the “there” word that means place–and of course, a place can be here or there–and “here” is found inside of the word “there”.

How can you help your child spell a word he or she asks for help with? Of course you can simply spell it aloud. Or you can “sound it out” by stretching out the sounds. But the fact is, you won’t always “be there” to help in these ways. So teach your child some alternative ways of getting help. There are many dictionaries available, including simple beginning dictionaries with good illustrations–but the fact is, dictionaries require some fairly strong basic skills. Start using dictionaries as soon as possible–both traditional book dictionaries and online ones. Also get a notebook and help your child make a personal dictionary, with 2 to 4 pages per letter (some letters will need only a page or two; others will need more). As the child encounters new words, have him write them in the dictionary, and if possible, create a little sketch to help him remember it better. A child with a bit more advanced skills may also write a sentence that uses the word.

Another good way is to encourage the child to look around for something that might have that word on it. “How do you spell ‘shampoo,’ mom?” “Check the bottle by the shower!” “How do you spell ‘Tuesday,’ Dad?” “Check the calendar!” “How do you spell ‘graduation’?” “Why don’t you look at your sister’s graduation cards?” “How do you spell ‘Antarctica’?” “Check the atlas!” “How do you spell ‘supernatural’?” “Wasn’t that in the book you were reading to me this afternoon?” (and so on…). And of course, if all else fails, “Phone your grandma!”

Teach your child to use online dictionaries. They only need to type in the first couple letters of the word, and a choice of possibilities will pop up, from which the child can choose the one they think is right–and then check the dictionary meaning to make sure they’ve made the right choice. Also, if you are having your child use computer software writing programs, most such programs will mark incorrectly spelled words (for example, Word uses a squiggly red line under the incorrect spelling), and it is a simple manner to learn how to use the “Spell Check” to see the alternative possible spellings. Of course, it is important to emphasize to your child that they still need to check that they’ve made the right choice–and spell checkers are notorious for missing a lot of mis-spelled words simply because if the chosen spelling is in their dictionary, they accept it–which can cause a lot of havoc, especially with homonyms! (If your child has difficulty with homonyms, you’ll want to check out my 2 homonyms booklets in my “Easy to Learn” booklets series, available in my store at Teachers Pay Teachers . )

Most children learn the “short vowel” words quite easily, but the “long vowel” words can be much more difficult, because there are so many ways to create a long vowel sound. One of the most common “long vowel” rules says: “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking and says its name, while the second vowel stays silent.” For children struggling with this concept, write two vowels that follow this rule (for example, “ea” or “ai”). Make the letters themselves (in very bold print) the “body” of a “stick character” with legs below, arms stretched out and holding hands in the middle, and a head on top. In the head, put dot eyes, and in the first one a wide open mouth, and in the second one a mouth closed tight. Ask, “What do these vowel friends say?” Help the child to figure out that they say the name of the first letter. Then add other letters before and after the pair to make words. (“bean,” “hail,” etc.).

Children often love to play spelling games such as “junior” versions of Scrabble and Boggle, or to just “write” words with magnetic letters, chalk on the sidewalk, letter tiles, and so on. While it is of course good to encourage your child to spell words she has been learning, it is also fine for her to to combine random letters and try sounding them out. Have her sound the “word” she has created. Ask, “Does that sound like a word you know?” If she says, “Yes,” ask her to say the word, and together try to figure out what sounds are missing or need to be changed to spell the word correctly. If she says, “No,” ask her to imagine what her “invented” word might mean — and even to illustrate it. Creating “nonsense words” is fun for young learners, and also they often lead young learners to figure out “spelling rules” for themselves (like the need to include vowels!). Another thing that can be done with “nonsense words” the child has created, is to have the child make up a story; after they have dictated the story to you, they can substitute some of their nonsense words for real words in the story–then read it aloud. Not only will they find it amusing, but they will also quickly realize the importance of correct spelling.

Is your child discouraged because he finds spelling difficult? Encourage him by quickly adding a lot of words to his “I can spell” list! How? First, start a notebook of “I Can Spell” words. Every time he learns to spell another word, he can add it to the notebook. To avoid repetition of words, divide the notebook into a couple pages per letter (just one page for uncommon letters like q, x, y, z … A 40 page notebook will then be long enough for this purpose). Start by having him write in the words he knows, then adding other words as he learns them or thinks of them. But then add a LOT of words by teaching “word family” words. Choose a word he knows (for example, “cat”), and then quickly and easily teach him lots of other words in the family, starting with 2 or 3 letter words–at, bat, fat, hat, mat, pat, rat, sat, tat, vat … then building the list with longer short vowel words and some long vowel words — flat, slat, / batter, clatter, matter, platter, / chat, that, what, / date, fate, gate, late, mate, rate, / plate, state, spate, skate, slate. (Note that in this list of words, I’ve continued with the “at” group … but also added more complex groups: blends and digraphs (fl, sl; ch, th, wh); double the final consonant and add “er” (batter, etc.); using silent e to create a long vowel (date, etc.) and then adding blends to the beginning of those (plate, etc.). Start simple, and build on the original word in various ways … and suddenly the “I can spell” list has grown very large. And at the same time the child has learned several new spelling rules!

As you listen to your child read, mark down words that your child has difficulty reading. Also mark down words that your child spells incorrectly in her daily writing. Use these words to practice both reading and spelling.

Some children have difficulty with spelling due to hearing difficulties and/or personal speech difficulties. This means you will likely need to provide extra help. For example, if your child is taking a spelling test, or is writing a story or writing answers to questions, allow him to tell you when he needs help spelling a word. But instead of simply spelling it, s-t-r-e-t-c-h it out so he can figure out the letters and sounds himself. Of course there are words with very odd spellings, which you may simply have to dictate. And then there are odd letter combinations (like the “long a” sound spelled “eigh” in weigh, eight, etc.). A good method is to write a list of the words that have that sound/spelling combination, and practice them together–your child is more likely to remember that particular spelling that way than just practicing a single word. Also, for combinations like “ch” and “th” don’t say t-h-a-t or c-h-i-p; rather stretch out the sounds: th-a-t; ch-i-p — and help your child remember what says “th” or “ch” or whatever.

Children who have difficulty with word pronunciation often reflect in their spelling the way they say the word.In that case, you can combine pronunciation practice and spelling practice at the same time. Keep an ear open for words your child mispronounces, and compare them to how she spells them. Then gather more words that use a particular “problem” sound, and make it into a combination spelling and pronunciation lesson. For example, a child may pronounce (and spell) some “th” words as “f.” Or your child may drop endings in her speech (-s, -ed, -ing) and thus also in spelling.

Don’t just do spelling by writing dictated word lists. Do oral spelling (spelling “bees” with other children or family members are always fun); write the words in sentences; “write” the words with letter magnets, tiles, chalk, etc.; play games like Scrabble; and so on. Be creative! Some children are helped by having you draw the “shape” of the whole word before they try to spell it (as in “shape”: short letter, tall letter, short letter, short letter with tail, short letter). Divide the words into groups that follow a particular spelling pattern or rule. Always provide a sentence when you dictate the word so the child knows exactly which word you are saying. Make crosswords or wordsearches. Find the words in a piece of prose or a poem. Write the words on slips of paper, along with a few “frequently used/sight words” and have the child organize them into sentences, and then write the sentences (and illustrate them if he wishes).

One way to remember difficult-to-spell words is to create memorable sentences that begin with the letters of the word. A well-known example is “because”: Bunnies eat carrots and usually see everything. While there are a number of well-known examples you can use with your child, they’re even more likely to remember sentences they’ve created themselves.

Here’s a fun “trick” to remember the word “great”–which looks like it should have a “long e” sound but actually has a “long a” sound: gr = hungry lion “grrrr” – before eating: “grrr…eat” / And after eating: “gr…eat!”

A good way to practice spelling, is to have a child copy a short story or poem, being careful to spell (and punctuate) carefully. Then dictate the piece to the child. When the child has written the dictation, have her self-edit, comparing it to the original, and finding any misspelling and other errors, and then practice them individually (for example, by copying each word several times, writing the words in sentences, making up spelling memory tricks, etc.)

Another activity is to make up stories using spelling words. The crazier/funnier the story, the more the child is likely to remember the correct spellings of the words later.

Yet another method is for you to write stories, leaving blanks for the spelling words. Read the story with the child, have him choose, say, and orally spell the words for each blank (from the spelling list). Finally have him, individually, go back through the story, write the words from memory, and then check his own spelling, and make corrections if possible. (Make sure the story is simple for the child to read).

A really easy way to teach lots of spelling words is of course to use rhyming words in which just the first one or two or three letters are different. This teaches recognition of “word families” and differentiation of initial letter sounds, or blend sounds. It also provides a list of words that can easily be used to create fun and easy rhyming poems. Children love to help create these rhyming ditties, which will also help them remember the spelling even more. If you add “actions” or put a “tune” to the poem, the learning becomes even more efficient and memorable.

Children are often given spelling lists for the first year or two that only include lower-case words. Then they find it really difficult to start adding capitalized words (proper nouns) later on. It is a good idea to include proper nouns in your spelling lists right from the start. If you’re doing a “word family” list, it is usually easy to include at least a couple nicknames (am, bam, Cam, dam, ham, jam, Pam, ram, Sam). You can also include more “difficult” proper nouns that the child sees often–names of family members and friends, names of stores or churches or schools, months, days, name of your city or town, and so on. Because children see these words frequently, they will not find them very hard, they will get practice with capitalizing proper nouns, and of course they will be learning to spell some very frequently used words from their own life. And if you plan to use the spelling list to have your child create a story with the spelling word, you are also providing characters, places, and times for the story.

Maybe your child has been having difficulty with spelling because he is just being pushed too fast, with too much work and not enough time. Try going through the assignment, or test, or list of spelling words, and pick out the most important spelling words. Then have your child try the assignment. You may well find that by requiring less work in the same time period, your child will do much better. And gradually you can add more questions/work in future. It is better to learn a few words well, than to do a lot of words in a big rush and do them all poorly (or to do only the first few words, which are usually the “easy” ones, and not get to the words which really demonstrate that the child does know the skill).

It can be helpful to have your child do “copywork” on a regular basis, being sure to go slowly and write neatly. This helps children learn to spell better as they copy, pick up correct punctuation and capitalization, and develop good writing skills by copying well-written pieces, whether prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction. Copying slowly and carefully also encourages focusing, and can help to improve comprehension and thinking skills. (Another related activity involves, after having the child copy the piece, asking the child to create his own questions about it. By creating his own questions, the child actually is developing deeper comprehension and inference skills. Talk together about different kinds of questions–for example, “what/who/when/where/which” questions are usually “fact-oriented” such as “What kind of animal is in this story?” … while “how/why” questions often require more thinking/inference, such as “How do you think the police officer figured out who committed the crime?” or “Why did the main character have to work so hard while other characters hardly did any work at all?”)

Another way to expand a child’s spelling ability–and at the same time build her creative writing skills–is to use the child’s own vocabulary in her written work. Read together a double-spaced piece your child has written. Together, try to make it more interesting by crossing out plain nouns and verbs and replacing them with more specific, interesting words; and by adding describing words (adjectives, adverbs, and phrases with extra details). Use the “old” and “new” words to make a “spelling list.” Because the child has written the original story, and has come up with the new words, she will feel “ownership” for those words, and be more willing to learn to spell them correctly. As she wrote them as part of a story, they will have more meaning for her. And of course, she will at the same time become aware of how to make her story-writing more interesting.

Note that some children, in their writing, often leave out the “small words” that are actually some of the most-frequently-used-words (sight words). If your child does this, make a list of the missing words. First have your child read the story aloud as he wrote it, then have him figure out where the “missing words” go and write them in (you may need, at first, to draw blanks where words are missing), and then have him read the story aloud again. As some children (and yes, adults, too!) will read the original as they “thought/planned” it, rather than as they actually wrote it, you may need to read it aloud to the child the way it is written, so he can “hear” that words are missing. The fact is, we ALL do this to some extent–reading what we planned to write, rather than what we actually wrote–which is why even very good writers need someone else to edit and find the mistakes!

On the topic of “small words,” some children actually do have a difficult time figuring out where small words should go in a sentence. Some children leave out small words when they speak, but others do it only in their writing. Either way, a good exercise is to mix up the word order of a sentence (start out with sentences from stories your child is familiar with, or even have him dictate a sentence, but then you write it in mixed up order). Be sure to capitalize the first word and other proper nouns, and put punctuation (commas, periods, question marks, etc.) beside the words they go with. Then have your child sort out the sentence, and rewrite it in correct order (and read it aloud as well). When your child becomes adept at this, you can leave out capitalization and punctuation, and once he has written the sentence in correct order, can practice his capitalization and punctuation skills on the sentence.

And then of course there is always the all-time favorite spelling game, “Hangman!”


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I’m back–and here are some sight word tips


It’s been a long time–but I’m back! And I’ll be posting regularly with lots of tutoring tips, writing tips, and editing tips.

Many children have difficulty learning a lot of sight words–those most frequently used words we all need to be able to read and spell, but which often don’t “follow the spelling rules” and/or are not easy to “sound out.”

Rather than just telling your child, “Well, you just have to memorize it!” — why not be a bit creative and think up some great mnemonic devices (memory tricks) that will help your child learn and remember those words? If you can work together with your child to come up with those tricks, all the better, as your child will remember even more clearly when he or she has been involved in coming up with the memory device.

Below are some simple “tricks” for a few sight words–and I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with lots more yourself! If you’d like to print out a copy of this list, click here: Sight word practice tips


good (other “oo” words: wood, hood, stood)

four (other “ou” words: pour, your)
(homonymns: for, fore)

want, wash (“wa” words have an “aw” vowel sound: wall, walk, wad, wan)

any (equation: n + e = any)
(two syllable words ending in “y” have the “long e” sound: any, happy, funny, bunny: Do you have any happy, funny, bunnies?)

because (two syllables: be/cause)
(Bunnies Eat Carrots And Usually See Everything)

does, done (verb “to do”: I do, he does, she has done)
(done has the “short u” sound: I have DONE the FUN game.)
(does/does homonyms: The bambi does stay with the mother does [deer]).

why (“wh” is the start of many question words–who, what, why, where, where, which)
(equation: wh + y = why?) (or: Y asks “why?”)

work (“Work” is an oddball “word” because they both are spelled “or” but say “er”–also: world, worm,     worst, worry)

write (“wr” says “r”: wreck, wrestle, wrong, wry)
(homonyms: right, rite, write)
(When I write, I start with a squiggly line, “w”!)

right (“igh” says the “long i” sound)
(right, bright, flight, light, might, night, plight, sight, tight)
(Now I can write just right!)

far (bar, car, harm, jar, lard, March, part, star, start, tart, yard)

full (The bull will pull the full cart.)

hurt (burn, curt, crul, fur, hurl, purr)

only (only has 2 syllables: on + ly = only)
(Remember: two syllables ending in “y” have the “long e” sound: happy, any, bunny, only)
(I ONly have ONe cat!)

eight (weight, freight)
(homonyms: I ate eight cookies.)
(I met eight friends at 8 o’clock.)

carry (Words with a double consonant in the middle have 2 syllables that are divided between the consonants–this is very common with words that end with “y”: car/ry, bun/ny, hap/py, pret/ty)

“wh” words: white, why, while, who, what, when, where, which

why (one syllable words ending in “y” have the “long i” sound: why, sky, my, fly, by, buy)

“th ending” words: both, bath, hath, math, path, with, quoth

“sh ending” words: wash, fish, cash, dish, mash, rush, push, dash, fresh, hash — and: shush!

Were—or—where  (Where were you?)
(WE WEre right here! — “were” starts with “we”)
(“Where” is a question word, so start with “wh”–like who, what, when, why, which)

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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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