Use A Short Story to Teach Story Writing

Do you wonder how to study short stories with your children–and how to use a short story to help them understand how a good writer develops a story? Or perhaps you as a parent feel that your understanding of story writing is lacking, and you’d like to develop your own skills. Well, you can learn writing skills together by studying short stories!

Following is an example from a study I did with one of my tutoring students. The story is “The Wild Duck’s Nest” by Michael McLaverty, and we used the copy from p 230-233 of the anthology, Impact: 50 Short Short Stories, Second Edition, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, c1996. The story in this book is followed by Multiple Choice comprehension questions, Talking It Over questions, Setting and Character discussion, Vocabulary Multiple Choice and Matching, and Writing It Down description and sensory images exercises. The entire anthology includes exercises like these for each story, and if you can find a copy of the anthology for your short story studies, I do recommend it–though I think you will find the hints in my discussion below will help your child go beyond “paperwork” type exercises. However, if you can’t find this anthology, you can do an internet search for “The Wild Duck’s Nest by Michael McLaverty” and will find multiple locations with copies of the story, a number of which include useful worksheets and discussion questions. Or you can use the explanations below to develop your own study with a short story of your choice.

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A Step-by-Step Plan to Solve Math Word Problems

Many students have difficulty solving word problems–but if they learn this step-by-step method, they will find it much easier. Word problems are important because they illustrate the use of math in real-life situations! Also, while these steps might seem like an awful lot of work in the beginning stages of math, by the time a student starts doing more advanced math, like algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, these steps will be automatic and the “hard” math will actually be much easier. You might want to print out the following steps and post them on the student’s desk or in the front of his or her math binder.

  1. Read the entire word problem at least twice, so you understand the general flow of it.
  2. Circle the important number facts for each problem.
  3. Underline the question for each problem.
  4. Look for key words in the problem that will tell or hint whether to add, subtract, multiply, or divide, or use other math methods. Above those key words, write the sign for the method.
  5. If there is more than one question, underline the first one with a straight line, the second one with a squiggly line, the third with a dotted line, and so on. When word problems have multiple equations and/or steps, be sure to think them through very carefully indeed.
  6. Write out the equation. Be sure to copy the numbers (and signs + – x /) carefully from the word problem. Double check!
  7. If having trouble creating an equation, try drawing a sketch to understand the problem better. Do NOT try to “do it in your head.” You can also write the information and equation in words before converting it to numbers and signs.
  8. Write the equation down carefully and double check. Write the equation from left to right (horizontally). When you do the calculations, you can use the vertical method–but you need to first have the equation right there to refer to. Compare the horizontal equation and the vertical calculations. Do they match?
  9. Is one equation enough, or do you need to answer more than one question? Should you use two or more equations, and in what order should they come? If you are more advanced, can you combine your separate equations into one equation?(Don’t forget, if you do combine equations, to follow the rules for order of operations and use parentheses to make the equation clear and in proper order).
  10. Read the word problem again, and double check your equation(s). Are you sure you are using the correct method(s)?
  11. Solve the equation, step by step, line by line (if it is a complicated equation, you might need to do it in several lines, one line for each step). Show all your work beside the equation, both for yourself to double-check, and so the teacher can see how you have approached the problem! Don’t be in a hurry. (You will be able to do calculations more easily if you have memorized your math facts. If you haven’t yet memorized your facts, you can use a calculator or “times table” to check your facts–but do the rest of the problem solving yourself.)
  12. Check the answer. Double check your calculations to make sure you didn’t make any errors. Also double check that you did the correct calculation–did you add where a subtraction sign is, or divide where a multiplication sign is? These are common errors. Always double check each step. Put your answer into the original equation and do the calculation to see if it works out.
  13. Remember, with the number answer, put the measurement units (kg, L, etc.) or the signs ($ etc.).
  14. Ideally, write the answer as a sentence. This is another good way to make sure you have used the correct equation(s) and solved them correctly. Also, when you write out a complete answer, if there are sets of word problems with later problems based on answers to previous ones, it will be much easier to find the information you need.

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Creativity Tips for Students #4

This series of 4 posts covers the following topics:

  1. Creative Brain and Inner Creative Self
  2. Creative Relationships
  3. Creative Activities
  4. Keeping At It

KEEPING AT IT: Here are lots more useful tips to keep on stimulating your creativity every day:

  • Have a planner or a calendar on which you can write all your creativity goals and activities and check it every day. Check off things as they are done; give yourself stars or stickers. Be accountable.
  • Allow yourself to fail. Everyone fails sometimes. But don’t use that as an excuse to give up. Instead, figure out what went wrong and work on that. Maybe you need to learn a special skill. Or maybe you made a goal that was too big for the amount of time. Or maybe you slacked off and didn’t keep at it. But don’t give up. Keep working at it!
  • If your goal or plan isn’t working out: Sometimes it becomes obvious that something is not working out. It is okay to stop and try something else or start over again. Don’t feel bad about it.
  • Don’t waste your talents and strengths: Everybody has strengths, things they are good at, talents. Do your very best with whatever strengths and talents you have. Let your light shine! Don’t hide it or waste it.
  • Don’t worry about things you can’t change. We all have times or events that we can’t control. But keep an eye open for things you can change, and do your best to make good decisions and changes.
  • Get enough sleep!
  • Build good habits: Choose the creativity tips you find helpful and put them into action regularly until they are habits.
  • Exercise and eat healthy foods: good health leads to greater creativity.
  • Reward yourself. Set goals for your creative activities and reward yourself with something that you’ll like–a visit with a friend, a special snack, etc. Something to look forward to!
  • Look ahead. If a goal seems to be too big, think of the future (for example, learning a couple extra languages will help get you into good universities (including international ones), will help you get good-paying jobs, and will allow you to really enjoy your world travels and even get jobs in other countries.)
  • Don’t just think about these creativity tips do them! Start putting them into practice every day–starting right now!

Your turn: Are you enjoying these creativity tips? What tips can you add—we’d love to have you list your ideas in the comments! Thanks!

If you’d like creativity tips directly related to writing, why not check out this series at my blog:

What is Blocking Your Creativity?
Creativity: Planning and Organizing
Creativity: Be Unique, Original
Activities to Stimulate Creative Thinking
Creative Writing Relationships
Try Lots of Different Writing Formats

Creativity Tips for Students #3


This series of 4 posts will cover the following topics:

  1. Creative Brain and Inner Creative Self
  2. Creative Relationships
  3. Creative Activities
  4. Keeping At It

While there are dozens–let’s face it, millions–of creative activities out there that you can copy, why not try to come up with some that have your own special, fresh, twist? Be a young child again, and see the world through fresh, curious, eyes. Get messy. Stretch your imagination. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Try to create your own fun jokes and puzzles and other humorous things–creativity and humour go together. Don’t worry if no one else gets the joke. If you laughed, that’s awesome!
  • Try to do one small creative thing every day. Walt Disney has been quoted as saying: “When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably.” You might extend that to say, “When you explore, explore all the way, implicitly and unquestionably.”
  • Follow the 4 C’s: be curious all the time; have confidence (it’s easier if you start out with small things and succeed; then you can try bigger and bigger things); be courageous and believe in yourself; be constant (do something creative every single day even if it’s a little thing: step by step by step).
  • Look deep into nature – what is creative in nature? What can you learn about creativity from nature?
  • Learn that your creative work is work–and play. Find creative activities you enjoy and work diligently at them to become really good at them–but at the same time don’t lose your inner child’s sense of adventure, curiosity, enjoyment–play!
  • Learn (or rather, relearn) something small children enjoy–like the fine art of taking a nap, or colouring outside the lines, or experimenting with all kinds of things. Be interested! Create!
  • Watch TV and films and play games: If you are writing about a certain topic, watch documentaries about that. If you want to write a story in a certain genre (adventure, mystery, etc.) watch TV programs that are in that genre to get ideas on how to tell those kinds of stories. In everything you watch or play, consciously pay attention to the creativity and storytelling in it.
  • If you want to earn money, don’t just look for a job. Instead, think of creative ways to start your own small business. For example, if you wanted to mow neighbours’ lawns in the summer, what creative things could you offer that would make them want to hire you instead of someone else? (Offer to pull weeds in the garden, use a spade to dig along the sidewalk, plant flowers, etc.). If you prefer to be an employee, think of creative ways you can make your job more interesting–how can you stand out as a creative, amazing employee?
  • When you’re sitting around feeling bored, expand your mind. Create a crazy plan (for example: how to catch the little green men on Mars and bring them back to earth and have them live with you)–the crazier, the better, as it stimulates the creative parts of your brain!
  • Look at good, unique, creative art you really like and try and figure out what makes it so creative and why it appeals to you so much. Then try out some of the things you’ve discovered—in a variety of arts like writing, drawing, painting, dance, music, theatre, and so on. Apply your discoveries to your school assignments to make them unique and fresh–your teacher will be delighted!
  • Keep at it. Do something unique and creative every day, even if it’s something small. Useful things, too, like trying out new pizza toppings for supper, or a new way to do a chore like dishes to make it more fun!

Your turn: Are you enjoying these creativity tips? What tips can you add—we’d love to have you list your ideas in the comments! Thanks!

If you’d like creativity tips directly related to writing, why not check out this series at my blog:

What is Blocking Your Creativity?
Creativity: Planning and Organizing
Creativity: Be Unique, Original
Activities to Stimulate Creative Thinking
Creative Writing Relationships
Try Lots of Different Writing Formats

Creativity Tips for Students #2

This series of 4 posts will cover the following topics:

  1. Creative Brain and Inner Creative Self
  2. Creative Relationships
  3. Creative Activities
  4. Keeping At It


Find a Mentor: someone who is already good at what you want to be able to do, and ask them for pointers. Maybe they would be willing to mentor you.

Ask questions: Find people who have been learning to do what you want to do. Ask them if they have had any problems and how they solved them.

Learn to set boundaries. Don’t let people push you to do things (like friends pushing you to do activities you’re not really interested in) when you have creative endeavours you really want to use the time for.

Learn from masters. Find people who are experts in what you are interested in and learn as much as you can from them.

Practice every day for a thousand days or ten thousand hours or however long it takes to master your goal. Take lessons, imitate, watch, participate.

Learn how to say no when someone tries to get you to do something is not the right thing for you, and learn to accept no when others don’t want to do something you are doing.

Don’t compare yourself to people who are ahead of you or behind you. Just keep doing your own very best.

Cooperate and be a good team member.

Your turn: Are you enjoying these creativity tips? What tips can you add—we’d love to have you list your ideas in the comments! Thanks!

Creativity Tips for Students #1

This series of 4 posts will cover the following topics:

  1. Creative Brain and Inner Creative Self
  2. Creative Relationships
  3. Creative Activities
  4. Keeping At It

Creative Brain and Inner Creative Self:

To become more creative, you need to do creative things to exercise the “creative” parts of your brain! Any kind of creative activity, such as any of the arts (drawing, dancing, music, theatre, etc.) or anything else creative in life will help your brain’s creative centres to become stronger.

Listen to the voices in your head. If you hear yourself saying “I’m not good at this” or “I’m not creative,” tell that voice to be quiet. Instead, say out loud (affirm) “I AM good at this and I AM creative and I’m going to keep trying.” Don’t listen to the negative voices; keep being positive.

Learn how to be bored! Spend time relaxing, just letting your mind wander to come up with interesting new ideas.

Learn to have a thicker skin–when people criticize your creative work (or anything you try hard at and enjoy).

Learn to embrace change. Change keeps life interesting and keeps you in a creative mode.

Learn something you think you’re too old to learn, or something you think you’re not strong enough, or not smart enough, or whatever. If you are interested in something, at least give it a good try.

Believe in yourself that what you do is important. Don’t brag and be stuck up, but also don’t look down on your efforts. Get to know yourself. Think about what you can do and do it. Be proud of it.

Don’t be afraid of trying new things.

Stretch your creative “muscles”: Use your brain/learning in many different ways (logical, graphical, musical, active, interpersonal, etc.). Avoid stress and frustration.

Think about things that make you kind of uncomfortable or that you don’t like doing or are scared to try, and think of ways to overcome that fear or discomfort. Then try out those things, step by small step, to build self-confidence.

Your turn: Are you enjoying these creativity tips? What tips can you add—we’d love to have you list your ideas in the comments! Thanks!

Memory Tips

My best-selling booklets on Teachers Pay Teachers is the 3 booklet series on memory tips. Here are some of those ideas:

  • Make associations between what you want to memorize, such as the spelling of a word or a math fact, and a picture or object. One way is to draw a little sketch–if it’s funny, all the better: you want to make the association memorable.
  • But you can use other sensory associations, too. For example, if learning to spell the name of a food, try tasting it, smelling it and feeling it while practising the spelling. Likewise, if learning a “sound” word (like “whistle”), listen to the sound and/or make the sound while learning the spelling.
  • Practice in a variety of ways: flash cards, books that contain the word (or formula or whatever you’re memorizing) in context.
  • Write the item to be memorized in context of a practical kind of writing (e.g. use a spelling word in an email or letter to a friend or grandparent; do a practical demonstration of a math or chemistry formula, and practice writing the formula on the board).
  • Play games that strengthen vocabulary and word retrieval: Scrabble, Spill and Spell, Boggle, hangman, crosswords and word searches. Play dice games like Snakes and Ladders–but before taking a turn you have to spell a word. Start with the easiest ones and work toward harder ones. If you spell it incorrectly, you can only move 1 place or half the places indicated on the dice (avoid having to miss a turn or other similar “punishment”). Do the same kinds of activities for math facts.
  • Visualize: create a mind’s eye picture. Imagine some particularly memorable aspect of the word or item to be memorized. Concentrate on getting a “flash” of that element. For example, if learning to spell “shoelace,” close eyes and picture a bright, colourful, shiny shoelace on a favourite pair of shoes or boots. Then close eyes and visualize the spelling of the words. Then try to visualize them together.
  • Association is very helpful in memorizing any sequence of data (including spelling). For example, you are memorizing a list of spelling words: banana, gloves, guitar, flashlight, midnight (they don’t even need to have much in common). As you practice each word, visualize it or draw a sketch. Then link those pictures (and spelling) together.
  • Create a fun sentence or story. Imagine putting the gloves on your banana-sticky hands before you play your new guitar by flashlight at midnight. Use any kind of linking story that pops into your mind. Crazy is memorable!
  • Use a variety of writing tools when drawing or writing. Try pencil crayons, markers, sidewalk chalk, paints, black/white boards, or “write” with fingertips on textured surfaces (fabric, sand, finger paints, shaving cream, sandpaper, etc.).
  • Study the word or math fact or formula for 15 to 20 seconds. Don’t just read the letters or numbers themselves, but look at the shape of the item, the shapes of the letters and numerals. Close eyes and recall as much as possible. Then open eyes and take in more detail. Close eyes and add new observations to the original mental picture. Repeat until you have all the details in mind. Then write the word with eyes closed (on a large sheet of paper or a whiteboard, etc.), drawing the “word picture” from your mind.
  • Write the item to be memorized with different kinds of letters–eg. manuscript, cursive, different fonts (you can also do this typing on a word processor like Word), different sizes of letters, uppercase, lowercase, different colours, highlighted with different colours. You can even “decorate” difficult-to-remember letters and letter combinations. For example, for the word “between”, sketch little eyes in the circles of the “e” letters, and emphasize the “smiley” part of the letters to put the “ee” into memory.
  • Say or sing the item, set up a beat (tap, bounce a ball), say a syllable (or letter) for each beat. While this works well for spelling and math facts, it’s also really helpful when memorizing poetry, verses, etc.
  • Set up a pattern: for example, for a spelling word, listen to someone spell it aloud, spell it aloud yourself, write it in the air with giant imaginary letters, close eyes and visualize it, write it on paper, type it on the computer, write it in a sentence. Figure out a pattern that works well for you. Do the same for math facts, formulas, etc.
  • Make up catchy rhymes or songs of the material to be memorized (or search a poetry or song book for poetry/lyrics that repeat that word/sound–children’s poetry/songs like Mother Goose are especially good).
  • Have a family discussion related to a spelling or vocabulary word. Talk about what it means, how it is spelled, any spelling rules, similar words–and how the word is used in practical ways. Find it used on cereal boxes, how to instructions, recipes, newspaper articles, etc.
  • Have a helper spell a list word (start with the simplest one). You repeat it. Then the helper spells that word and the next easiest one, and you repeat. See how far you can go with this. If a word is very difficult, start with one letter, then add a second, then a third, and so on. Or do it by syllables and/or by vowel combinations, consonant blends, etc.
  • Use repetitive, rhythmic physical actions/activities while doing memorization. For example: spell the word or repeat the fact or formula while playing hopscotch, climbing stairs, jumping on a trampoline, bouncing a ball, skipping with a jump rope, or playing catch with a friend.
  • When using the memorized word or fact in writing or math assignments, don’t be afraid to whisper or speak the spelling, use the sketch you developed, close your eyes and visualize, etc. These associations and actions will bring the word back to your memory.
  • Make up funny acronyms of words you need to remember. Almost everyone can spell “because” due to that little sentence you learned in grade one: Bunnies Eat Carrots And Usually See Everything.
  • Use a puppet. Have the puppet repeat or act out the idea to be memorized.
  • Teach someone else how to memorize the fact in as many ways as possible. Teaching a newly learned fact or concept is one of the best ways to retain it.
  • On small cards or slips of paper, make a collection of individual letters, vowel combinations, consonant blends, etc. (Make at least 2 or 3 of frequently used ones). Spread them out on the table or floor. Instead of writing the words, find the correct letters/combinations and put them together side by side. Then have someone remove one or two important letters (without you looking) and say what letters were removed. This can also be done with numerals and math signs when memorizing math facts.
  • Create a “bingo” game, but use spelling words or answers to math facts instead of numbers or letters.
  • Act out the item to be memorized with gestures or role-playing.
  • Play charades and similar traditional parlour games, using the items to be memorized, with family and friends. Personal interaction can add greatly to memorization.
  • Long-term memory strategies: Once you’ve memorized the item in the short-term, you’ll want to make sure it sticks with you. Here are some tips:
    • “Store” new words in memory categories with words you already know how to spell, that have similar attributes. Practice by making a list of similar words. With math facts, write out the math fact “families.”
    • Use rote drill. But do short daily practice sessions (10 minutes or so) for 6 days in a row, then take a day off. This is much more effective than long sessions a couple times a week.
    • For rule-based learning (as in spelling) combine practice and discussion. Give examples of words which follow the rules, and similar words which break that same rule. The learner identifies which is the “broken rule word” and which is the “rule word” and then explains the rule.
    • Knowledge is best consolidated right before sleep. Read, practice or review material for 5 to 10 minutes (don’t spend a lot of time; that just causes frustration and disturbs sleep) before dozing off–then immediately turn off the lights and go to sleep. Your brain will continue to practice. “Test” briefly the next morning.

What memory tips work well for you? Why not share some of your memorization tips and experiences with us, in the comments. Thanks!