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I recently received an inquiry from a parent seeking a tutor for her son, a fifth grade student. He was a good student--As and Bs--but he struggled to write in great detail. He was fine with yes or no, or multiple choice responses, but struggled with open-ended questions and expanding upon his ideas. His reading comprehension was strong and he could easily describe a book in conversation, but when it came to writing the description he was lost. Writing is the most common area for improvement for most of my students. They all perform well in their school work, especially math and science, but dread writing assignments because, just like this fifth grade boy, they struggle with details. When we begin the writing process, I ask my student, "What's your favorite food?" And then I explain that their writing needs "sabor," or flavor, so that the essay is so interesting, so tasty, that the reader will enjoy reading all the way to the end. That "sabor"... read more

In my previous blog I mentioned twenty-five cent words and dollar words, and how learning new words enhances your writing and expands your vocabulary. My current student, "Kyle," is very good about researching new words and building his vocabulary. He knows that he should look up an unfamiliar word in the dictionary and if he doesn't understand the definition, we review it together. One day he had "mediocre" as a spelling word, and it was the first time he heard it. When he discovered the meaning, he said, "That's a good word, I'm going to start using it! I don't want to be a mediocre student." [And for those readers who haven't yet checked the definition of mediocre, it means "of ordinary or undistinguished quality, average.] The difference between a twenty-five cent word and a dollar word is like the difference between store brand and name brand snacks. Which do you prefer to eat--A&P brand potato chips, or Lay's potato chips? Store... read more

Yes, you do. :) The first assignment I give all of my language arts students is journal writing. Journal writing is a great way for a student to improve their writing and spelling skills and expand their vocabulary. I often say, "Why use a 25 cent word when you know $1.00 words? " (And if you don't know any $1.00 words, then it's time you become acquainted with a dictionary--I STILL look up words I don't know at least once a day!) Seeing one's written thoughts can also help solve a problem, be it a misunderstanding with a friend, a fight with a brother or sister, or just sorting out feelings. This summer I worked with Zach, who just started sixth grade. Zach's daily assignment was to write a page a day, about any subject. In the beginning his journal entries were barely a paragraph long, but session by session his entries became more detailed as he learned how to expand his ideas and add "flavor" to his writing. Before he knew it, he was easily writing... read more

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