Archive For The “English & Creative Writing” Category

Prompting Creative Writing

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Disclosure: While this is not a sponsored post, it does contain affiliate links. The contents and opinions expressed herein are strictly my own.

writing-prompt-pic-2Even for the most creative or artistic students, creative writing can be challenging. Many students struggle with a blank sheet of lined paper, not knowing where to begin. Will the topic be enough to write about? Do I have anything interesting to say about this? My advice for parents trying to inspire children to write creatively – openly, is to offer smaller digestible writing exercises. Thank you cards, for instance, are perfect.  Along the same line, postcards offer a terrific way to fold in some writing skills without having it become overbearing. As an alternative, have your child describe the picture on the front side of the postcard. He/She can make up a story or describe a recently visited place. Then they can be mailed for sharing… or not, but it’s really about making writing feel less intimidating.


Another writing trick is to incorporate lists but in such a way that the child is expanding on each bullet point. This of course is the start of an outline, but that already is projecting too far. Keeping the concept simple allows for freedom and eliminates unnecessary pressure. Outlines will come later but for now we’ll look at my example below about summer break. Again the idea isn’t to “teach” your child how to write but instead allow your child the freedom to write. Normally a child would jot down 3 to 5 favorite places he’s been in the summer. Instead encourage a string of thoughts, not necessarily not complete sentences. Once the child has written a few points, then he can pull them together into a small paragraph. For me, I don’t worry about the spelling, grammar and punctuation… I just want to see well constructed thoughts expressed in a simple paragraph or essay, depending the age/skill level.




A third option for getting the creative juices flowing is using a tool like Daybook of Critical Reading and Writing by Great Source.  Using small passages, this resource prompts children to dig deeper into the story to answer open ended questions, look for clues, draw inferences and in some cases write an essay in response to the lesson. It will be awhile before Victoria is ready for the copy I picked up at a second-hand shop. In the meantime, we have a book called Monkey Business (Road to Writing) by Sarah Albee that incorporates doodles into simple writing exercises. For instance, one activity is to create an ad for skunk perfume… super silly, colorful and engaging story prompts to build the child’s confidence and creativity.

writing-prompt-picBefore long, the essays and research projects will creep into our children’s routine. Let’s empower our children to feel confident about writing. Let’s help them overcome writer’s block and fear of written expression. A small prompt can kick off a full discussion and plenty of insight… and afterall that’s the gold, right? Knowing what’s going on inside their minds.

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Create A Story With Storymaker Cards

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This #sponsored product review was instantly adored as we have our own avid storyteller. This post contains our honest opinion and some affiliate links.


The most simplest things turns out to be some of the most beautiful. Here we have some cards… some very simple Storymaker Create-A-Story cards with some very beautiful and whimsical designs and on the reverse side… just one or two-word descriptions of the illustration. That’s it. Oh but it’s so much more…


In the simplicity of the design and the fact that there are “no rules”, children are free allow their imaginations to wonder and craft their stories. The Storymaker Create-A-Story cards showcase images to include a rainbow, pirate ship, sea monster, monkey forest, and many characters among other places and objects.

Here are our three suggestions for using these Create-A-Story cards to enhance your child’s creativity, storytelling skills and creative writing skills. Of course, the sky is the limit… and don’t be surprised if your little masterminds have an idea of their own too, but here are mine:

  1. Solo stories. In a small group of 2-4 people (adults and/or children), each participant selects three Create-A-Story cards. Taking volunteers turns, each participants creates and shares aloud a (very) short story using those 3 cards. If a participant struggles, they can trade in one card for a new item or location card. Stories should be kept short to ensure everyone has their turn and if interest still allows, participants can later expand on their story line… with or without adding new cards. (Hint, if “game play” has concluded and participants are no longer interested in extended versions, player can write their full story down. It would be a shame to cut off creativity, so allow children a second option to continue on their own.)
  2. Story Share. In a small group of 3-10 participants, each player selects a random Create-A-Story card. All participants will create a colorful story with the player holding the card that comes first alphabetically starting the story line. One by one, players continue the story from where the last player ended, incorporating the person, place or item on their card. By example, the story may start with the Black Sand Beach being the letter “b” and the player holding that card would begin a tale, to then pass to the next player in a clockwise motion until all participants have spoken. The story would either end with the last person or each player could take a second card and continue for a second round. (Hint: Each participant shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to share their contribution to keep the flow of the story. Perhaps use a 2 min timer.)
  3. Story Swap. Similar to the Story Share concept, except written so have paper and pencils available. In a small group of 3-5 participants, each selects 3-5 Create-A-Story cards (depending on the number of participants). Each participant then begins to write a story using ONE of their Create-A-Story cards for inspiration. After a few moments (two to four minutes for writing), each participant passes their story to the person on the left. Then each participants reads the stories to themselves and selects another card from their hand to incorporate into the next paragraph. Again give approx 2-4 minutes for writing and allow increasingly more time for reading the previous contributions. Repeat by handing off the story to the person on the left and continue with another card in their hand. After the final round, each participant should have their original beginning story… with four other paragraphs. For laugh-out-loud fun… take turns reading the stories to the group.

Personally, I can see this as a wonderful Girl Scout activity and can’t wait to try it with my troop. I think it not only encourages creative thinking and storytelling but also public speaking/reading aloud and sequencing skills (option 2 and 3) providing that “what comes next” in the story line. And of course the third option is a sneaky way to get some creative writing accomplished. Either way, it is fun; it is sharing; it is valuable and educational.

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Heartfelt Letters From Santa To You

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Veroncia Steck My Letters From SantaIt is the time of year for traditions and nothing beats the heartfelt kind.  Kids everywhere are writing out their Christmas wishlists and some might actually write a little more (like an apology, for example).  Obviously this is a great opportunity for parents to engage their children in a little creative writing – telling Santa about their proudest accomplishment or largest challenge.  Click below for my video review on an awesome holiday tool to even further engage your child’s writing skills (not to mention a beautiful keepsake tradition to be enjoyed for years to come).

Veronica Christine Steck’s Heartfelt Letters from Santa is an amazing, creative gift of words from Santa to your child year after year to capture the warmth of the holiday spirit, to acknowledge his/her challenging efforts, showcase the cool stuff and keep childhood memories and the Christmas magic close at heart forever.  The 2 book program includes a journal (red) with blank pages for Santa’s letters to be written and The Parent
‘s Guide (green) with helpful suggestions on what to write, how to introduce the concept to your family and answers to many of kids’ curiosities.  Ten chapters to guide you through a tradition that you can stick to; ten chapters to help you capture the joy of Christmas through this new tradition.

Heartfelt Letters from Santa to You can be purchased via Amazon for $34.95 and additional journals (it is suggested that each child have their own for personal messages and keepsake) can be purchased separately at their website: for $15.95.

Disclosure:  I received a complimentary 2 book set for review and FELL IN LOVE with this idea.  The article is otherwise not compensated and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.  I very much look forward to starting this tradition and especially appreciate the guidebook to help me through the writer’s block.

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What The Avengers Can Teach You

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The Avengers and You – Guest Post by Mark Spalding

With the amazing turnout to view the Avengers, I thought it might be a good time to expand upon what learning possibilities even a summer “popcorn flick” can provide. You may not know the characters as well as the truly devoted comic book fan may, but that doesn’t need to stop you from doling out a few choice tidbits to your superhero –curious child. So let’s take a closer look at some of the main characters of the story;

Iron Man

Tony Stark is now as much of a name in our superhero vernacular as Bruce Wayne is (Batman in case you were stumped!). The two previous Iron Man movies have given us a lot of insight into the man behind the iron mask, but did you know that when the first Iron Man comic came out, Tony Stark’s injuries were due to shrapnel from a landmine he encountered while in Vietnam?! That’s right! His first appearance occurred in Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963). Instead of Afghani terrorists, he was captured by Viet Cong soldiers. It’s a little sad that it’s so easy to update a character whose origin revolved around a war of a previous generation with a war of the current generation, but you know what history says about learning from your mistakes.

The Hulk

The green goliath made a triumphant return in this movie and, in my humble opinion, was portrayed wonderfully by Mark Ruffalo. You know about the anger management issues, but did you know that gamma rays (the source of all the hulk-related trouble) are a real thing? While Wolverine’s adamantium claws and Captain America’s Vibranium shield are made up metal alloys, gamma rays do exist in our universe. Here is a quick link to the Wikipedia page for the science behind gamma rays (

One of the more interesting facts about these rays is that, while they react with the human body in a way similar to cancer (destroying cells it comes in contact with), we have learned to use the rays to selectively treat cancer patients (because the rays destroy cancer cells just as well). This relates well to the Hulk, as he’s just as likely to harm his friends as he would his enemies.


If you saw last summer’s Thor movie, you have a slightly better idea of the mythic god of Thunder. But if all you’ve seen is the Avengers, then you know Thor doesn’t go anywhere without his hammer. So what’s the deal with it? The hammer, Mjolnir by name, which literally translates to “Crusher”, was forged by magical means and has been enchanted to always return to Thor at his command. The implement channels his god-like powers of thunder and lightning and also aids in his ability to fly. One other interesting tidbit of info…did you notice when Thor was fighting the Hulk, and the big guy tried to pick up the hammer and couldn’t. There is another enchantment on the hammer. An inscription on the side says “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” No mortal has ever been able to pick up the hammer. No mortal except…

Captain America

The popularity of the Captain America character has ebbed and flowed over the years. The first Cap comic hit newsstands 9 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor and It sold over 1 million copies, more than the circulation of Time magazine at the time! He stayed popular right through the war (for obvious reasons), but public interest waned in superheroes by the early 50’s and the comic was axed. Cap didn’t make a return until the 70’s with the Avengers comic. Ever since, he has been the guidepost for doing what is right and standing up for the little guy. His “goody two-shoes” way of doing things has riled as many readers as it has inspired over the years, and this point was actually played out in a recent storyline Marvel did in 2007 called “Civil War”. The government wanted to register all super-powered beings, in effect making secret identities illegal. While Tony Stark and even Peter Parker (Spriderman) agreed with this idea, Captain America chose to fight against this legislation, even though Steve Rogers is known to all as Cap. He felt that it was a person’s right to choose whether they reveal their secret identity, due to the risks to their family and friends if villains found out their secret. This led to superheroes picking sides and essentially fighting a civil war. In the end the govt. side led by Iron Man won out, but this story showed that Cap is at his best when words no longer work and someone needs to stand up and fight for what he believes in.

Hopefully this has helped shed some light on the characters your kids are coming to enjoy. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have them, just drop them in the comments or pop an email out to and I’d be happy to entertain them.   -Mark

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Calling All Creative Writers…

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PBS Kids is holding a Writing Contest for kids in grades K-3.

What a wonderful addition to the creative writing curriculum on the main website and a great tool to encourage your little one to pick up his or her pencil.   Be sure to check out the contest rules and specifics at but some details for this local/national contest are included below.

Kindergarten and 1st grade entries are required to have a minimum of 50 words and a max of 200 words.  Grades 2nd and 3rd with submissions require a minimum of 100 words and a max of 350 words.

Awesome prizes at the National level include tablet computers, e-readers, and MP3 players for 4 winners in each 1st, 2nd and 3rd placements. National winners will be announced mid-July 2012.   Stories and illustrations must be original work by a single student author.  Download the entry form and find your local PBS station

Such an exciting opportunity!  Parents, consider sharing last year’s entries with your children as well.  Happy Writing!!

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