Archive for the ‘Writers’ Category

Using Comic Cards for Narration

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My boys were not enthusiastic writers. We would read piles of books together, which they thoroughly enjoyed as long as the books were interesting.  And they were happy to talk about the reading, as long as I didn’t call it “narration” (because that sounded too contrived or schoolish), but when it came to “Let’s write a paragraph about what happened during the War of 1812,” there was absolutely zero interest in this.

Being a fairly laid-back sort of homeschooling mom, I didn’t want to force them to write, but I was a bit anxious. It seemed like they ought to occasionally write something. I also felt that keeping some sort of history timeline would be helpful, because we would sometimes jump from Ancient Greece to Early American History to Medieval Europe, and they needed some way to put it all in perspective. I finally had the idea to try something that my oldest son was already doing – drawing comics.

He could spend 45 minutes with one sheet of blank paper, drawing epic space battles with laser blasts and little text bubbles for the characters to hurl insults at one another. So, I suggested that he illustrate scenes from our reading on a small 3 X 5 card, and then we would collect the cards to lay down on a timeline. He thought this was a fine idea, and my younger son was happy to do whatever his big brother was doing.


It worked pretty well. After reading, the boys would choose something to illustrate and I would write a short description of the event because they believed that even this would be too much writing. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before they started writing their own descriptions on the front or back of the card. We also included the date of the event on the back of the card.

Each boy had his own index card box to store the cards, and once a month or so, we would lay all the cards down on a timeline on the floor. I had purchased a roll of adding machine paper and used about 20 feet to mark out time periods. When we taped the paper to the floor, the boys used the dates on the back of their cards to lay them out in the proper order. It was tricky because some areas would have LOTS of cards (Early American time period), while some areas would have none. This did make an impression though, because we all realized, “Hey –  I have no idea what happened during these 600 years!” It was humbling.


Eventually, as the boys got older, they did learn to write well (perhaps a subject for another post), but drawing timeline comics on the index cards provided easy nonthreatening preparation for note-taking in those early years. For one thing, the small size of the card seemed more manageable. They weren’t faced with a full sheet of blank notebook paper to fill. Plus, using dialogue bubbles meant that they could write without worrying about complete sentences or exact punctuation. They also enjoyed seeing what the other brother created for each event. It was always a secret until they finished and traded cards.

I’ll mention another idea for cards here – if your kids like to collect and play with cards such as “Pokemon” or “Magic the Gathering,” they might enjoy making similar cards for history, science or literary characters. My only advice would be to give them plenty of artistic license. It wouldn’t be any fun if they couldn’t use their imaginations to embellish the truth a bit!

Do you have any other ideas for using index cards in your homeschool?

Reluctant Report Writing

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I was never the sort of homeschooler who assigned reports, and it wasn’t the sort of thing my kids spontaneously decided to do on their own. But sometimes, they would be invited to do some research about something and present it to others at a science fair, world culture fair or other homeschool group activity. This was usually a lot of fun, and the kids were happy to put in the work if it meant that somebody else might see it.

The tricky thing is trying to show kids what is meant by a report or a science fair project. What does one look like? The intent of a report is to convey information about a topic, based on research from a variety of sources (properly cited of course), and presented in an engaging manner, but the format really depends on the intended audience.

In our own school days, we were taught the old fashioned report format, with the title page, introduction, multiple paragraphs, conclusion, and maybe a few illustrations or diagrams. There is nothing terribly wrong with this format, and it does prepare young writers for bigger, more complex writing assignments in the world of academia or business. But it’s very hard for beginning writers to do this well, and it certainly isn’t fun.

There are so many skills involved with writing these reports: picking a suitable topic; picking suitable research sources; how to research; how to take notes; how to cite sources; how to organize the information; deciding what is important; how to write in complete sentences; how to write a paragraph; how to format the paper; deciding what to say; spelling and grammar. It’s hard to do all of this, even as an adult.

I suggest postponing the old-fashioned report format until your kids are more comfortable with writing in general, and instead concentrate on other ways to assemble and present information. Writing regularly is still important, but there are ways to build fluency without making your kids hate it (more on that in a future post).

Here’s just a few ideas for alternative report formats:

  • Write and illustrate a book for small children (perhaps younger siblings?) about the subject.
  • Create a short video documentary, using basic video editing software to add captions and effects.
  • Create a “National Public Radio” style report using a recording device, or presented live.
  • Create a mixed-media poster with copies of photos from the web or magazines, drawings, diagrams, text boxes, etc.
  • Try “lapbooking” or “notebooking,” or any other form of inventive book making. Check out this Pinterest board to see what I’m talking about.
  • Use graphic organizers to present information. Here’s a great site I found with fish-bone diagrams, Venn diagrams, timelines, and other fun ways to arrange the details of any topic.
  • Create a fake Facebook page on this site. This would be especially useful for history or biography based reports. Your kids can also see examples of what other students have created.
  • Write a satirical song, news report, or poem (some kids are highly motivated by sarcasm).

With any of these formats, it’s important to show kids an example first. If they don’t know what a lapbook or a poster looks like, they may be hesitant to try it. No worries though, because you can find all kinds of examples, including images from homeschooling families, with a simple Internet search. Also, any of these projects will take time, and probably some of your help to figure out how to get started, and how to use the computer/printer/etc.  Be careful not to take over though, and remember that the process is just as valuable as the final product.

It is not a small thing to learn how to organize thoughts and ideas; and presenting ideas in a visual format is really the way of the future. The computer has made it so easy to create graphic reports and presentations that now there are endless creative possibilities for sharing knowledge. Don’t be afraid to try something different!