The Surprising Benefits of Writing by Hand

the surprising benefits of writing by hand, literatelives.wordpress.comLast week, as I worked endlessly on my school computer sorting files, typing out procedures, and making preparations for leaving my job (a job my boss, colleagues, and I had pretty much invented as we went along because it was an entirely new position for our building), I yearned to curl up in a cozy chair and journal by hand (instead of on the computer as I usually do).

So this week, when I had a chance to catch up on reading some articles I’d been saving for a long time to enjoy, one in particular, The New York Times’  What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades,” from June of 2014 caught my eye.

What I read impacted me powerfully, not only as a writer, but also as a grandparent and nurturer of literacy.

Some of the Findings of a Variety of Studies:

  • Writing by hand activates more regions of the brain than keyboarding.
  • Young children who learn to write at the same time they learn to read, learn to read more quickly.
  • People generating ideas in print or cursive, generate more ideas than those using a keyboard.
  • Students who take notes by hand, rather than by keyboard, are better able to understand and remember the information from lecturers and other auditory sources.

The Implications for Me

  • I have always written out the rough drafts of stories, poems, and novels  longhand and will definitely continue to do so.
  • I also print out the work I want to revise and revise in pencil on paper. I will continue to do so.
  • I will start to vary my journaling practice between computer and paper, depending on my mood and the nature of the thinking in which I want to engage. I can always scan in what was written by hand if I want to keep everything together.

The Implications for My Grandparenting Style

I had been thinking a lot about ways to have fun with my grandkids this summer. We live just fifteen minutes away, so activities like picnics and craft projects have always been high on our list. However, just because we live nearby does not mean we cannot write to each other. This summer I will write to one grandchild each week and enclose a card and self-addressed stamped envelope to encourage them to write back. (Why not write to all of them once a week? I do not want this practice to become overwhelming or a burden for them, or by familiarity, to lessen the delight in getting a hand written letter now and then.)

The Implications for This Blog

As the creator of Literate Lives , I will encourage you, my readers to sometimes put pen or pencil to paper, and to ask your children or students (come fall) to, now and then, do the same.

Your Turn

What do you think about this information on writing by hand? How do you want to incorporate this practice in your, your kids’, or your students’ lives? Please use the comment box below to share. Let’s encourage one another!

 

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The Best Ereads of Spring: Reflections on Parenting, Reading, Writing, and the Mind

The Best Ereads of Spring: literatelives.wordpress.comI had the opportunity to do a lot of reading this spring and so accumulated a lot of candidates in by “best ereads of the season file.” Finally I narrowed them down to these six reflecting on parenting, reading, writing, and the mind.

Hello, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Graduation

In Parents: Let Go of Graduation Nostalgia, by Jennifer Grant, the author chronicles her resistance to the nostalgia and even grief that can accompany a child’s graduation. With the premise that yes, our years of parenting were magical and significant, it is wise to savor where we are, perhaps even with younger siblings, and the opportunities that will open up for us and our graduates as they move into their adult lives.

Reading and Family Life

These next two articles celebrate the fun and health benefits of a reading life.

In How to Make Reading Fun: 25 Ideas Kids Will Love, by Jean Reagan. Reagan includes innovative ideas like having your child read a wordless book to you, reading a book which might include words or names you find difficult to pronounce, and much, much more.

For those of us with an overactive sense of guilt about the time we put in reading, Andre Calilhanna‘s Can Reading Books Lead to Better Health?  is a refreshing antidote. With headers that include, “Increases Longevity by 23%” and “Reduces Stress,” lovers of reading can throw guilt out the window and indulge in their favorite pastime with a clear conscience.

For Fiction Writers

First of all, for fiction writers, here is an excellent article by Dash Buck, Three Writing Exercises for Better Characters, which I would have titled “Three Awesome Writing Exercises for Better Characters.” It made me want to try them right away. (And isn’t the illustration, Butterfly Book by Rick Beerhorst beautiful!)

For writers working on planning and story structure, The Triangle of Structure for Writers, by Sarah Sally Hamer, is informative and provides a handy 3-sentence fill-in-the-blank exercise for crafting an effective inciting incident.

A Quiet Mind

One of the issues I struggle with is quieting my mind. Unless I am reading, writing, or–okay, I admit it, staring at the television, it ceaselessly ruminates, reflects, remembers, worries, plans, and imagines, which in reasonable quantities is, perhaps, a useful trait for a writer to have. Running out of ideas is definitely not an issue. However, resting and simply enjoying the moment is. Therefore, I connected immediately with and was inspired by Mindfulness and Memory, by Pamela Moore. Even the image chosen to accompany the article is deeply soothing, and the active form of mindfulness she describes is something that feels so much more doable with a busy mind like mine.

Your Turn

Have you found any great articles on the web? If so, please use the comment box to share them with us (include author and title or web address, please). Tell a little about why you liked it. Let’s encourage one another.

Barbara Bush: Literacy Advocate

Barbara Bush: Advocate for Literacy https://literatelives.wordpress.com/One of the many national events that occurred while I was on hiatus was the death of Barbara Bush. Now I never knew her personally, but I so admired her. You see, I always thought she was a real lady, and I’ve always wanted to be a “lady,” but seem to fall terribly short.

What is my definition of a lady, you ask? To me a lady is a woman who is confident, gracious, kind, generous, and who loves people and knows how to put them at ease. However, there is one trait Barbara Bush and I share, a love of literacy and passion to help others become literate.

Why Value Literacy?

What exactly is literacy? In its simplest sense, it is the ability to read. However, the ability to read is a complex skill set that includes more than translating letters on a page into words. It includes the ability to question what is read; to analyzed what is read; to hold and idea in your mind and compare and contrast it with others; to not just understand the words on page, but the author’s mind on the page. Even when we read for pleasure, we do this unconsciously.

Why is literacy still important when we have T.V., radio, audio books, podcasts, text to speech programs…? We can listen, and learn to listen well, (and there is a lot to be said for interpreting body language and tone), but it is much more difficult to listen and be analytical at the same time, or after you had heard something, to look back over it, tear it apart mentally, and draw deeper meaning from it.

So why be literate? It enables us to be better citizens from the local all the way to an international level. To vote wisely for a candidate of your choice, you need to learn about all the candidates. To wisely embrace a “movement” you need to understand its purpose, which sometimes is not so obvious behind its banners and signs.

For the individual, the acts of learning to read and reading engage the brain in a unique way and actually changes it, producing more synapses and connections, making it easier to think and learn. On a professional level, an ability to read, communicate effectively, and write are tickets to advancement (not the mention the ability to learn new skills, which often also requires reading). Education itself is dependent on knowing how to read. In our public schools, educational strategies shift at around the fourth grade, to not just learning how to read, but using your reading skills to learn other subjects.

And as for communicating effectively? Academic studies have shown that the more a person reads or writes, the better one becomes at doing both. While we communicate most frequently face-to-face, the ability to write involves thinking about what you want to say before putting it on paper and organizing your thoughts to present them in the most effective way—a very wise move when you have something important to say, either face-to-face or on paper.

Those of you reading this are already lovers of reading and writing, and like Barbara Bush and me, you care about helping others improve their reading and writing skills. Doing so starts in the home. Read to your children from the moment they can hear you, many people even read to their children before they are born. When reading picture books to young children, pause to ask appropriate questions about the words or pictures. The brains of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers are growing and developing at a rate higher than they ever will again in life. They are ready to start learning from the people they are the very closest to from day one. Furthermore, associating words and story with the closeness of a loving caretaker loves primes their brains to view reading as something to be enjoyed.

Of course none of us have children this little for very long. They grow up, faster than the crop of spring weeds in my flower beds. However, as Mrs. Bush did during her lifetime, you can commit to helping other people learn. Volunteer in a local school (K-12) or adult literacy center. A “reading buddy” can make such a difference to a struggling reader. Or support a local, national, or international literacy organization. Here is the link to the Barbara Bush Association for Family Literacy.

 Your Turn:

What are some ways you nurture literacy in your home, in your work, or as a volunteer? What literacy organization do you know of or support? Please use the comment box to share. Let’s encourage one another.

Image: George Bush Presidential Library & Museum

St. Patrick’s Day Writing/Journal Prompt

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up Saturday. It’s a fun time for kids and families–wearing green, eating green, hunting and making shamrocks. It has also inspired the following writing prompt for either class writing projects or journaling fun.

St. Patrick's Day Writing/Journal Prompt Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesPrompt

  1. What is one St. Patrick’s day wish you would make for yourself?
  2. What is one St. Patrick’s day wish you would make for someone you love?
  3. What is one St. Patrick’s day wish you would make for your community?
  4. Write a paragraph explaining why your chose the wishes you did?

Note, question number three quite deliberately focuses on the writer’s community. I framed it in this manner to avoid the more generalized answers a wish for “the world” might inspire.

Use this St. Patrick’s Day Writing Prompt in the Language Arts Classroom

If you are a teacher, or a parent teacher, you might use the prompt, even the graphics I have included, for a language arts class warm-up or writing project.

A fun bulletin board might include cut-out shamrocks with each student’s wishes written in on each leaf and their explanations written on an index card to go with each.

Use this St. Patrick’s Day Writing Prompt to Inspire a Journal Entry

If you are someone who enjoys journaling (that would include me), or you want your students to journal as a way to develop writing fluency, you could also use this as a journaling prompt. Our wishes, hopes, and dreams change with the situations in which we find ourselves. A journal entry based on this prompt would provide a brief snapshot of who and where you/your students are at this time in your lives.

Your Turn

What might you wish for in answer to any of the first three questions. Explain why.

Please share your response in the comment box below. Let’s inspire each other!

St. Patrick's Day Writing/Journal Prompt: Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives

Play With Your Words Writing Prompt: Describe a Unicorn–There’s More Options Than You May Think

Play With Your Words Writing Prompt, literatelives.wordpress.com, http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2017/11/how-many-horns-does-a-unicorn-have.html

 

Writing to a prompt is a great way to exercise writing skills. Today’s prompt was inspired by a post I read recently on the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts Blog, “How many horns does a unicorn have?”

 

Prompt

Go to: to http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2017/11/how-many-horns-does-a-unicorn-have.html.  Read the article and enjoy the illustrations from medieval manuscripts ranging from the 1500’s to the 1600’s.

I found this article delightful and was both surprised and inspired to discover so much variety in the “unicorn species.”

Prompt: Use the writing process to write a description of a unicorn. Use some of the surprising details from the article, dream up your own.

Pre-write

Brainstorm a list of characteristics for your unicorn–both in appearance and nature. Throw down anything you think of. The list doesn’t commit you to using any of them.

Write–Rough Draft

Describe your unicorn.

Revise/Edit

Look back at your description.

Do you use any words that are kind of bland? Substitute in more specific words.

Are there places where a comparison might enhance your reader’s understanding? Use metaphors or similes to create vivid word picture’s in your reader’s mind.

Ready to share? Not yet. Once you have finished revising, proofread your description. Do you use uppercase letters at the beginnings of sentences? Do you use end punctuation at the end? (I often skip these when I’m doing a rough draft because my mind is so focussed on creating.) How about your grammar and punctuation? Remember, writing conventions help to make your writing more easily understood and therefore you communication more effective.

Publish/Share

Share your description with your classmates, friends, or family. If they have also written a description, compliment them on the strengths of their writing. Encourage one another.

* Want to do this exercise with a pre-reader writer in order to improve their pre-literacy skills? Read the article to them and point out the pictures. Then ask them to imagine and describe their own unicorn. If you’d like, write their description down as they create it, then read it back aloud, pointing to each word as you pronounce it. This reinforced the one-to-one correspondence between the spoken word and words on the page.

Your Turn

Share your response in the comments box. If you share yours, I’ll share mine. Let’s encourage one another.

Winter Holiday Literacy Activity: Borrowed Poems

Winter Holiday Activity literatelives.wordpress.comOne of the things I love doing with my students, which you can do either in the classroom or at home for fun, is write what I call Borrowed Poems.

What is a Borrowed Poem?

A borrowed poem is a new poem created by analyzing and playing with an already existing poem or song. The winter holiday season is so jam-packed with so many familiar songs that it lends itself well for this activity.

How to Write a Borrowed Poem

First, select the song you wish to play with. For this exercise, I have chosen a traditional favorite: “Deck the Halls.” If you ou your student do not know the words to the song, you will need to access them.

Observe and analyze the first verse of the song.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly.
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La
‘Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La

What do I notice?

The first sentence is an imperative statement, instructing the listener or an unknown participant to do something. As such, it begins with the verb, “deck,” meaning to decorate.

I also notice this song uses an ABAB rhyme scheme: the two A rhymes are  “holly” and “jolly,” the two B, part of a repeated refrain, repeat the final “la.”

Finally I notice the rhythm of the verse: Dum da Dum da Dum da DumDum. Since I will use the refrain as is, I have no need to analyze this. It may be helpful to select a song that does have some repeated verse or refrain that can be incorporated into the poem.

Plan, Prewrite, Compose

Jot down any ideas you have for your new poem:

  • Who is the narrator?
  • What is the setting?
  • What is the poem about?
  • What are some rhyming words that may suit your intent?

My first thoughts were that I wanted my poem to be about getting all dressed up and doing something fun. At first I considered making it a New Year’s Eve poem. However, my imagination, right now, is rather caught up in brightly colored lights and Christmas fun. The “lights” concept gave me one of my first rhyming words: “glow.” (I love light, especially in the dark days of December!)

Thinking about lights got me thinking about all the decorated houses in my neighborhood. I thought maybe the “fun” activity in my poem can be going out to view all the lights.

However, once I got to thinking about going out–outdoors–the traditional practice of caroling popped into my head. I decided caroling would be my activity.

And once I got to thinking about caroling, I thought about neighbors and all the ways we love and serve each other through the year.

With all those ideas in mind, it was time to write.

Write Your Poem

Prepare yourself with plenty of paper, a pencil, and possibly an eraser (although often in the midst of drafting, I don’t have the patience to erase and just cross words out and go on).

Do not expect perfection the first time out. Initially, I was determined to include a babysitter in the caroling rounds, but discovered the word just had too many syllables. After much switching words in and out, I at last settled on a cat sitter instead.

Even once you think your poem is done, don’t ink out a final copy right away. Set it aside and do something else. The idea for the cat sitter did not come to me until I had washed the dishes and gone upstairs to put away clothes.

Edit and Revise

Go back and look at your poem. Play with sound of the words using alliteration, assonance, consonance, and repetition.

Edit for grammar and punctuation. Don’t be intimidated. A sentence is a sentence whether it’s written as prose or a line in a poem. However, if you wish to get creative with grammar and punctuation, a poem can be a good place to do it.

Publish

Once you feel your poem is done, “publish” it. Publishing can come in many forms–inking out a final handwritten copy, entering it into a word-processing program and printing it out, doing either of the former and decorating the final copy with stickers, borders, zen-doodling, or clip art, or mounting it on some holiday paper.

Publishing also means sharing. Maybe you want to read it to family or friends one evening after dinner, post it on a bulletin board, or write it into a card.

Here is my poem:

Caroling in Oregon

Dress yourselves in clothes that glow,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La,
Tonight, out caroling we’ll go,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La.
First to Jim, who shares his garden bounty,
Fa-la-la La-la-la La La La.
Next, to Sue, best baker in the county,
Fa-la-la-la La,  La-la La La.

Santa songs for little Sam,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La,
Angel’s carols for Mrs. Lamb,
Fa-la-la-la-la La-la La La.
Cross the street to cat-sitter Jayne’s
Fa-la-la La-la-la La La La,
All while hoping it won’t rain,
Fa-la-la-la La,  La-la La La.

Your Turn

Did you try it? Did you and your kids have any fun? Please use the comment box below to share the titles of other songs that have a refrain, or, even better, your own creation. Enjoy this week with the young people in your life and borrowed holiday poems.

Reading Response/Writing Prompt for Characterization

Characterization Reading Response Writing PromptSome of my most viewed posts are the ones I create for use in the classroom. Thank you, teachers! However reading response exercises are not only useful in teaching reading, but for helping fiction writers develop their stories. Today’s focus: Characterization.

Characterization Reading Response

What is the main character (or one of the supporting characters) in today’s reading grateful for?

This question helps to build students inferential reading skills, as it is not particularly likely their selection will have dealt with the topic of gratitude. Students will need to look for clues in the text that help them understand what the character likes, what the character longs for, what the character values, in order to infer what this character is grateful for.

Characterization Writing Prompt

What is the main character, or a supporting character in your story or novel grateful for?

Strong characters are created, not when we sit down and list their traits, values, and preferences, but when these things are demonstrated through your character’s actions, words, thoughts, and feelings–especially sensory feelings. This is the season for Thanksgiving, so leverage that holiday feeling by imagining what your main character or other characters are grateful for.

Your Turn

Can you share what you are reading? How about providing the author and title of the work, and one of the things a main character is grateful for.

Writing? Whose character did you develop today? What is he/she grateful for?

I love to hear from you. Happy reading and writing, and thanks for joining me here at Literate Lives!

 

November Fall Gratitude Leaves Classroom Project

November Gratitude Leaves, Teachers File Drawer, literatelives.wordpress.com

Tomorrow begins one of my favorite class activities of the whole school year–the daily posting of “gratitude leaves” on our windows.

Why do I love it so? Well, visually, the month of November in Oregon is terribly gloomy. With this practice, the gloom outdoors is gradually obscured by brightly colored leaves.

Even more so, here in the U.S., Thanksgiving falls in November, and so it seems appropriate to focus our thinking on things for which we are grateful.

Most significantly, Studies have shown that people who are grateful tend to live happier, healthier lives. I want the best for my students, and as the holidays make life more hectic, I need to remember I have so much to be grateful for!

What are Gratitude Leaves?

They are individual paper leaves, that we as staff cut out in a variety of shapes and colors. Each day, at the beginning of the school day, we pass out a single leaf to each students and every adult present. Then everyone writes one thing they are grateful for and tapes their leaves to the window. We continue to do this until we break for Thanksgiving.

By the time Thanksgiving break comes our windows glow with beautiful autumn colors as the western light shines through them.

My Gratitude Leaves, 2016

Here is what I wrote on my leaves last year:

  • I am grateful to have a husband who loves me and who is my friend and partner in life.
  • I am thankful Emmy snuggled with David and I to watch the family Halloween movie.
  • I am thankful that using the treadmill yesterday woke me up enough to get my work done.
  • I am thankful for my Grandparents and the way their love helped shape who I am.
  • I am grateful to be a child of God.
  • I am thankful for my delightful Grandkids.
  • I am grateful for my college education.
  • I am grateful to have a mother who loved to read, that learning to read came easily to me, and I have had ample access to books.
  • I am thankful for my charming, delightful, funny, marvelous grandchildren
  • I am thankful for chocolate.
  • I am thankful that I know how to read and have access to books!
  • I am thankful to be able to come back to work.
  • I am grateful for parents who love me.
  • Today is my writing day!

Your Turn

Today is my writing day! However, before I move on

Alack and Alas…A Change of Schedule

New Blog Schedule: Literate Lives

Alack and Alas…

It has been fun blogging twice per week through my recovery from mono and over the summer, however, like summer itself, this too must come to an end.

While I love blogging, sharing my life, my reading, my love of writing, and my encouragement for parents and educators, I will be returning to the class room as an educator and will therefore have less free time for blogging.

A Temporary New Schedule

Next week I will begin blogging once per week, and next week’s post will come out on Tuesday.

However…

I will only continue the Tuesday schedule if I do not hear from you.

Your Turn

On what day of the week would you prefer to see Literate Lives bounce into your inbox? Please voice your opinion using the comment box below. Based on your preferences, I will determine and begin blogging on your chosen day for posting.