Tag Archives: Brave Writer

Fun with Literary Devices – Opening Hooks

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks

How do we teach our kids to write like their – and our – favourite authors? We can start by playing with some of the literary techniques successful writers use. One example is the opening hook.

C(10) and I learned about opening hooks a few years ago from The Arrow (a Brave Writer language arts program for 8 to 11 year olds).

I thought it might be fun to revisit opening hooks, this time involving J(9).

Setting up

We each brought to the table a pile of our favourite books. I quickly typed and printed a table listing the book titles.

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks
I left space for us to give each opening hook a score out of 10

What we did

We took turns reading the first few lines of our chosen books. After each opening we discussed how effective it was in drawing us in to want to read more.  I like that there are no right answers in this exercise – a nine-year-old’s opinion is as valid as an adult’s.

What kind of books can you use?

I didn’t impose any rules about the type of books the children brought to the table. J(9) listens to lots of good quality audiobooks, but for actual print reading he likes series like Tom Gates and Wimpy Kid. (I’m just happy that he is reading and enjoying books. I know that eventually his visual reading skills will catch up.) Interestingly, we all gave J(9)’s “The Diary of Dennis the Menace” ten out of ten for its opening hook – the only book which received a perfect score from us all:

“This is the WORST day in the history of the universe ever … EVER!!! It’s so horrible I don’t think I can even write it down.”

The Diary of Dennis the Menace

J(9)’s other choices also scored highly. C(10) and I speculated later about how important it is that books for emerging boy readers have effective opening hooks!

Literary elements for kids - the power of opening hooks

Writing our own opening hooks

Next, we all wrote a few of our own opening hooks. Here’s one of C(10)’s:

“Alexander was falling. The wind tore at his hair and clothes and suddenly with a sickening thump he crashed to the ground.”

We played a verbal game of “opening hooks” later, on our dog walk. One person would make up a hook and then everyone took turns to continue the tale. We ended up with some very silly stories!


How does your favourite book begin?


More Brave Writer-inspired language arts posts


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

The Home Ed Link Up – Adventures in Homeschool

Finishing Strong #35 – Education Possible

Collage Friday – Homegrown Learners

Weekly Wrap-Up – Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

A writing game for all ages

Writing game

I don’t know how she does it. Every day Julie Bogart drops into my inbox yet another pearl of wisdom that makes our homeschool more fun. A game, an idea for stimulating big conversations, or simply words of encouragement reminding me to appreciate what’s going well in our homeschool, instead of worrying about what’s missing.

In last Sunday’s Daily Writing Tip, Julie suggested using the game Boggle to generate words to use in stories.

We don’t have Boggle, so I downloaded the free app Popwords to use instead.

How we played

First, we used Popwords to generate a list of words. We let J(9) spot the three-letter-words while C(10) and I searched for longer ones. I wrote all our words on a whiteboard.

When we had 15 words, we grabbed paper and pencils. We each set our own goal for how many words to  include in our piece of writing. J(9) decided on six words, C(10) thirteen, and I tried to use all of them.

The game was so much fun. We all smiled as we wrote, and giggled as we shared our writing. We created such different pieces of writing from the same set of words!

What we wrote

J(9) wrote a movie promo, which he read in his best “big movie” voiceover voice:

“It’s the sun trial – the kills of a pig in a wig … Coming out soon.”

C(10) made a vampire poem:

“I run from the pale animals who never see the sun

With their fangs glinting, ready for the kill

Theirs is the trial which inflicts awe

The dots of blood on the hen – no, pig

No human – yes, human, beware

They are everywhere

In the eggs, in your wig, at the gig


I wrote a silly story, which started:

“It all began the day I came home from my run to discover the hen, Suki, wearing a blonde wig. She’d been quite an ordinary chook when I left home as the sun was rising. And now here she was – dancing on the toaster, with the pig playing on Uncle Solomon’s banjo.”

Games at teatime

Fun writing games are always a hit in our house, and they’re by far the best way to inspire J(9) to pick up a pen. Over the last week we’ve got into a pleasant routine of meeting for afternoon tea while we play a game or enjoy a story. On Monday lunchtime we returned from a long weekend away, and I found myself ignoring the unpacking while I made scones to eat over a game of Consequences. I’m starting the school year as I mean to go on!

Where to find Brave Writer writing ideas

You can sign up for Brave Writer’s daily writing tips on the Brave Writer homepage. Julie has compiled her first set of tips into Daily Writing Tips: Volume 1 which can be downloaded for $4.99.  (I’m not affiliated to Brave Writer, I just love Julie’s gentle wisdom and want to share the inspiration with you.)

 What writing games does your family enjoy?

Do you have a favourite teatime snack?


 I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Home Ed Link Up #15 – Adventures in Home Education

Weekly Wrap-Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday at Homegrown Learners

The Hip Homeschool Hop – Hip Homeschool Moms

Unschooling Plans for English and Maths

Unschooling Plans for English and Math

Unschooling plans? Is that an oxymoron? I was going to say “unschooling ideas” but that sounded too vague. Call them what you will – over the last few weeks I’ve been chatting with the children about what they want to learn this term and jotting down ideas in Evernote, and that’s what this post and the next are about.

Today, I’ll share our plans for maths and English. Next time I’ll talk about history, science, projects and extras.


Fourth grade maths

Without a maths curriculum, how do I know what to cover with C(10)?

One place I look for ideas is past SATs papers taken by 11 year-old English schoolchildren. (These are actually quite fun, would you believe.)

When I come across a topic I think C(10) will enjoy learning about (or revisiting) I look it up in our collection of maths books. We especially like the Murderous Maths series at the moment. I usually read aloud, pausing while C(10) – beside me on the sofa –  works through problems on a mini-whiteboard.

I also scan our favourite maths websites for games and hands-on activities relating to the topic. Two new (to me) resources I’m looking forward to exploring this term are Mathtrain.TV (loads of short maths videos, mostly made by children) and MathForum (hundreds of links to maths websites and activities).

Third grade maths

For the moment J(8) wants to continue working through Life of Fred. As we progress with the elementary series I’m inclined to agree with Hwee that this series has a few flaws. This has particularly struck me in our current book, Life of Fred: Ice Cream, which focuses heavily on learning the times tables by rote and introduces concepts like perimeter and graphing in a dry and confusing way.

However J(8) loves the Fred story and as it doesn’t form our entire un-curriculum, I’m happy to stick with it for now.  He prefers his maths a bit less seat-of-your-pants than C(10), so it works for me to try out new things with her, knowing I can do them with J(8) later when I’ve ironed out the wrinkles. In the meantime we include J(8) in any games, stories and fun hands-on activities we do.

unschooling maths and english


English (language arts and literature) is the subject I feel most relaxed about leaving to the children. Over the years I’ve become convinced that the single thing that makes the most difference to their proficiency in the English language is books. Not spelling and grammar workbooks, or learning how to construct a paragraph, but books with stories they love.

Books improve my children’s vocabulary, spelling, grammar and writing voice and style, not to mention their debating skills, critical thinking and general knowledge. There’s plenty of time for them to learn to write essays; for now I want to give them time to develop their own voices, inspired by the books they read and listen to. As a former lawyer I’m also a stickler for accurate punctuation; however I believe this, too, will come easily and naturally when the time is right.

What we’re reading/listening to

Audiobooks  unschooling english

As usual we have many audiobooks on the go. Together we’ve just started the fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series,  So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (warning: contains some scenes between a man and woman you may not want your kids hearing. J(8) drifts off during the “sappy bits” which in any case are general enough to go over his head, and C(10) is mature enough to handle them, so this doesn’t bother me personally).  J(8) has asked to learn about the world wars this term, so I’ve got The Silver Sword lined up for us to listen to together next.

C(10) and I are listening to I, Coriander (historical fiction/fantasy set in the days of Oliver Cromwell).  J(8) and I are listening to The Once and Future King (a charming classic re-telling of the King Arthur legend). I love finding myself in the car with just one child and being able to flick on our special audiobook (on the Audible app on my phone). (We do talk sometimes too, honest.)

Meanwhile, on their own, J(8) is re-listening to the Kane Chronicles and C(10) has just started reading The Underland Chronicles series (by Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins) while she waits for the fourth Heroes of Olympus book to arrive at the library.

Over the Christmas break we finished an excellent trilogy which prompted some very stimulating discussions about human nature, war and politics. I’m not going to mention the title (it’s not The Hunger Games) because I don’t want you to think I’m recommending it for eight-year-olds, but once I’ve formulated my thoughts I might be brave and write a post about it. Both my kids loved the books, and the listening experience really brought home to me how valuable fiction can be for deepening children’s (and adults’) understanding of complex real-world issues.

Brave Writer Lifestyle

I’m intending to use Brave Writer’s Daily Writing Tips: Volume 1 for inspiration, especially as a springboard to write alongside J(8) who has suddenly taught himself to spell (two years after we gave up spelling lessons and six months after we stopped his phonics programme. There’s a lesson for me there).

It’s a joy witnessing J(8)’s emerging written self-expression, not just for its own sake but because his writing is just so funny. Last week I was sitting alongside C(10) as she wrote Christmas thank-you emails. Her messages were polite, well-spelt and punctuated, and followed all the usual thank-you note conventions. Then J(8) joined us. I started out typing for him but he soon seized the computer to stop me editing what he wanted to say. We were soon all snorting with laughter at J(8)’s idea of appropriate greetings and thank-you sentiments. I’m not sure what J(8)’s kind relations and godparents will make of his thank-you notes, but I can be sure they won’t be receiving many others like his!

It won’t take long for J(8) to learn how to formulate his written thoughts into exam-ready paragraphs when he needs to do so. J(8)’s written voice is just beginning to emerge as the perfect expression of his exuberant, off-the-wall personality. To attempt to squash it into a rubric-constrained framework, before it’s had time to fully develop, would be a tragedy.

C(10) will continue her writing sessions with her tutor, the homeschooling mum friend who first introduced me to Brave Writer. C(10)  thoroughly enjoys these sessions and I’ve seen wonderful developments in her writing style since she began them.  I’ve also noticed that she’s been writing more often spontaneously recently – stories, notes and a very detailed dream journal.

Unschooling English and maths

We’ll also continue daily(ish) copywork, poetry teatimes, word and writing games and our read-aloud chapter book. We might read Puddles in the Lane next. I remember loving this story of evacuated children when I was ten, and it will fit well with J(8)’s request to learn about the World Wars.

More on that, and our project plans, next time!


I’m appreciatively linking up here:

The Hip Homeschool Hop

Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Entertaining and Educational

Collage Friday

This Week In Our Homeschool

paper aeroplanes - navigating by joy homeschool blog

In our homeschool/”unschool” this week…

J(8) made paper aeroplanes from his Klutz Paper Aeroplanes book. Then C(9) taught him how to make an aeroplane she told him she invented when she was eight.

My children are both quite intense and although they have great fun playing together, things don’t always go smoothly, so my heart sings when I see them working together like this.

Paper aeroplanes on the trampoline
They had great fun flying their aeroplanes on the trampoline.

A helpful homeschooling resource to share…

I’ve been collecting Brave Writer’s free Daily Writing Tips for writing inspiration. This week we wrote riddles to read to each other. Even reluctant writer J(8) joined in with enthusiasm!

Brave Writer riddles - navigating by joy homeschooling blog
J(8)’ s riddle: “Toppings go on me, warm, good-smelling” (pizza)

Places we’re going and bugs we’re seeing…

We made it to our nature-study pond for the first time since we returned from Norway. On our last visit we were surprised to find our swan still nesting, but this time we knew from the “Happy Birthday” bunting someone had put up that something had happened!

Happy birthday cygnets

There was just one cygnet left, but he (or she) was worth the wait. The children have named it “Shadow”.

cygnet - homeschool pond study

We noticed how the cygnet held its leg in the same way we had seen one of its parents do.

Cygnet and swan leg comparison

Cygnet feeding
Feeding with mummy swan

J(8) commented on how much his willow tree has changed since March.

Willow tree nature study

Continuing the nature study theme, I was sceptical when J(8) ran in to tell me there was a bug “as big as my hand!” on the trampoline. We just don’t get bugs that big in England. He wasn’t far off, though – this little lady measured an impressive 6 centimetres!

Female stag beetle  homeschool nature study

I know you folks in more exotic climes are shouting ‘Call that a bug?’ but believe me, it was exciting for us! And by “exciting” I mean, of course, an opportunity to take a deep breath or two and show my squeamish-as-me son how “interesting” bugs can be. 😉

We think we identified it as a (dying) female stag beetle, which we were both pleased to see described as “rare”. Apparently they die shortly after laying eggs in or near rotting wood, which J(8) decided must be our old shed (we could probably do our nature study there next year).

As soon as C(9) walked through the door, hours later, J(8) whispered to her “We found a massive stag beetle next to your den, but don’t worry, the babies won’t come our and NIP YOUR ANKLES til next year”. (Gotta love little brothers.)

My favourite thing this week was…

Playing Consequences. My kids can’t get enough of this game.

Here they are literally rolling on the floor laughing at the idea of Ghengis Khan asking Princess Peach, “Have you got any string? My pants are falling down.”

rolling on the floor laughing while playing Consequences

Consequences as writing practice
More effortless writing practice 🙂

I’m cooking…

mackerel stir fry
Mackerel stir fry – loads of veggies, mackerel and a couple of eggs stirred in. We eat it with rice.

I’m grateful that…

Byline, the blog reading app I’ve used for over two years, has updated to Feedly. I’m so happy that my transition from Google Reader on 1 July will be completely seamless! I love Byline’s unfussy interface and the fact that it caches content for offline reading.

A photo to share…

our 1 year old cavachon
Our dog Harvey celebrated his first birthday this week
birthday card writing practice - navigating by joy homeschool blog
J(8) decided to make him a card. (More spontaneous writing, yay!)

HMJ Logo1 1024x992

Collage Friday

Hobbies  Handicrafts

Hip Homeschool Hop

Weekly Wrap Up at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Weekly Wrap Up – The One With Science, Gangnam Style

Portrait - homeschooling art

A look at what’s been going on in our homeschool this week…

What’s Been Inspiring Me

This week I’ve been inspired by Brave Writer’s One Thing Principle, which is about creating the conditions to invite in inspiration, and finding the time to follow it up.

Here’s what I took away from the One Thing Principle podcast:

(1) When you’re inspired by an idea for a homeschooling project, plan for it by putting a date in the diary two weeks from today. That gives you time to get in any supplies and prepare.

(2) Be open to putting aside routine tasks (yes, even maths and English) on that day, to give yourselves the time to create a fun and memorable learning experience.

Simple but effective!

Most Fun We Had This Week

The most fun we had this week was definitely making butter, “gangnam style”! (I love how my autocorrect wants to say “gingham style”.)

Home Made Butter Science Fun

(Yes, I was there too.)


We began a mini-unit on China in the Middle Ages – so much fun!.  First we reviewed what we learned about Ancient China last year   Then we started to look at some Chinese inventions.  C(9) was inspired to make an animated film about the invention of gunpowder.

Middle Ages China Unit Study


We’re enjoying our short break from Life of Fred to practice times tables on Mathletics – they have some great multiplication songs.  Well, they’re great the first six times you hear them. 😐

We’ve also dipped into the Maths Made Easy workbooks to look at some concepts on the UK National Curriculum  that haven’t yet been covered in Life of Fred.

It’s so reassuring to realise how quickly the children catch onto new ideas when they learn them in a relaxed, one-to-one setting – concepts that might be worked on for weeks in school. I think Life of Fred has helped C and J develop a “maths is fun” attitude, which makes everything else so much easier.


For this week’s Art Lab For Kids project I bought a mixed bouquet for us to draw with soft pastels.

art labs for kids - soft pastel bouquet - homeschool art

As soon as she saw the flowers, C plucked out the rose in delight and asked me to photograph her so she could draw herself with it. She’s been drawing lots of portraits since I put a box of skin-coloured pencils in our art area. I love successful strewing!

What have been the highlights of your week?


We’re appreciatively linking up here:

Weekly Wrap-Up @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers

Collage Friday @ Homegrown Learners

It’s A Wrap @ Hammock Tracks

Yes, I Was There Too @ More2Les

Yes I Was There Too Button

Homegrown Learners


homeschool langage arts grade 3 at navigatingbyjoy

Homeschool Language Arts Curriculum – Grade 3

Homeschool language arts grade 3 at navigatingbyjoy

Our Grade 3 (UK Year 4) language arts programme is centred around Brave Writer’s The Arrow.

We love how The Arrow exposes us to new literature and inspires us to use language in new and exciting ways.  I say “us” because part of the Brave Writer philosophy is that parents learn alongside their kids – I probably get as much out of The Arrow as Cordie does!


Our language arts goals are for Cordie (9):

  • to enjoy using language to express herself
  • to improve her written communication skills so as to enhance her self-expression
  • to appreciate great literature, and
  • to learn in a fun way how to spell accurately and use good grammar


The Arrow


This term we looked at the “hero’s journey” plot structure as we read the fantasy story Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  We also enjoyed Frindle, a funny and thought-provoking story about a ten year old boy who makes up a word.

Each issue of The Arrow highlights a literary element. We especially enjoyed looking at “the hero’s journey” plot structure as we read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.

Copywork and Dictation

Each Arrow contains four passages from the month’s book to be used for copywork and dictation. These simple practices help teach punctuation, grammar and spelling and  and introduce concepts like paragraph indentation and how to write dialogue.


In my heart I know that The Arrow probably provides all the grammar practice Cordie needs. But sometimes I get to wondering why, then, do schools and most homeschool curricula spend so long teaching the mechanics of grammar? My compromise with my inner worrier was to look for a grammar book that Cordie would enjoy using independently.

Nelson Grammar is an old school book that was donated by emigrating friends. Cordie loves it.  Each unit is nicely set out over a double page spread.

Cordie’s using Pupil Book 4 which is apparently for Year 6 (Grade 5) students. You can preview the inside of each book at Google Books if you’re not sure which level would best suit your child.

Nelson Grammar


Our shelves also contain a number of spelling books collected over the years. We selected CGP  KS2 Spelling (Book 3) because Cordie can work through it independently and the wordlists were pitched at about the right level.

Each list of 23 words is designed to be read, copied, then covered and written again, and finally clues are given for each word so that the student can test herself.

In theory Cordie learns one wordlist a week; in practice she doesn’t do it that often. I don’t insist – I’m not convinced spelling programmes are the best way to learn to spell.  But I like knowing that one is available to Cordie should the mood take her!

Language Arts Websites

There’s lots of practice available on subscription websites like Grid Club, Education City and Study Ladder, and free websites like BBC Bitesize. These sites make learning good English so much fun – incomparable with the mind-numbing reading comprehensions I endured at primary school!

Poetry Teatime

Last term we celebrated poetry tea every Monday afternoon with local homeschooling friends. Sadly our friends have now moved to the other end of the country, but the poetry tea habit is firmly in place and we have several other friends keen to join us.  We even held poetry tea with Daddy over the Christmas break!

poetry tea

Other Writing

I never set Cordie writing assignments other than those we work on together using The Arrow, but she writes spontaneously and often – comic strips, a diary, recipes, stories, songs, letters and poems and posters (usually aimed at her brother).

She also from time to time writes “mini essays” (her description) about aspects of her project work, like this one about electrons.

electrons mini essay

When we have time, Cordie creates history notebook pages. I like the way notebooking helps organise thoughts on a topic.  It also develops planning and organisational skills which will be increasingly used later on.

Writing Mentor

Finally, Cordie is going to be having a few creative writing sessions with a home-educating mum friend who is also a homeschool tutor, an arrangement which came out of a casual conversation between us. Cordie loves the idea.

I think it will be a great opportunity for her to have the benefit of someone else’s perspective and will add some positive accountability to inspire her to write.


Of course, no language arts curriculum would be complete without a mention of reading.  Luckily, this requires very little planning in Cordie’s case as she reads (or listens to) everything book can find. (I have to warn her off certain books in our shared Audible account.  I’m not sure she’s quite ready for Stephen Fry’s autobiography!)

Recent family car-listens have been The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and Gerald Durrell’s wonderful My Family and Other Animals (part of his Corfu trilogy). We’re just starting on the Narnia series which Jasper (7) hasn’t read – Cordie made me read them to her back-to-back a few years ago, but we’re both more than happy to re-experience C.S. Lewis’s magical fantasies.

Other Posts You Might Like

Grade 2 Language Arts: Brave Writer’s The Arrow

Our Homeschool Curriculum: English (Language Arts) – Grade 2

Grammar Land: A Living Book about the Parts of Speech

Shakespeare for Younger Children in 3 Easy Steps

End of Term Homeschool Curriculum Review – English (Language Arts) Grade 1

Poetry Tea

Homeschool Language Arts for the Dyslexic and Dysgraphic Child

The Arrow: Grade 2 Language Arts at Navigating by Joy

Grade 2 Language Arts: Brave Writer’s The Arrow

The Arrow: Grade 2 Language Arts at Navigating by JoyC and I had so much fun – and learned so much (yes, me too) – this week doing an exercise from Brave Writer’s The Arrow.

What is The Arrow?

The Arrow uses one classic novel each month to teach language arts to children aged from 8 to 11.  It places strong emphasis on literary elements – elements which “make writing pop”. C has a great imagination and her writing is naturally crafted from vibrant language.  I think The Arrow will help refine her grammar, punctuation and spelling skills while nurturing her unique writer’s “voice” and giving her the means to use, in her own writing, literary tools she enjoys in her reading. As she becomes more consciously aware of these literary elements, I think she will also begin to appreciate literature more deeply. We’re are using The Arrow in combination with other aspects of the Brave Writer lifestyle, such as Poetry Tea.

Novel of the Month: The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth: Grade 2 language artsOur first novel (from August 2011’s The Arrow) is The Phantom Tollbooth, which grabs the reader’s attention in the opening paragraph with the magical words “There was once a boy named…” and then hooks us in with a series of contrasts using the literary element of surprise.  The Arrow points out how punctuation – in particular, the em dash – is used in the passage to create literary power, for example in the very first sentence:

“There was once a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself — not just sometimes, but always.”

Opening Hooks Exercise

To look at more opening hooks in action we gathered a pile of novels – old favourites and some from my read-aloud wish list – and took turns reading the opening lines aloud. We talked about how each opening introduced us to the flavour of the novel – humorous, magical, etc – and described characters, places or situations we wanted to find out more about. We piled the books in order of how effective their opening hooks were, with the most powerful at the top. (C had the casting vote!)

C”s favourite hook was from her old favourite, “You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!”:

“Mr Gum was a fierce old man with a red beard and two bloodshot eyes that stared out at you like an octopus curled up in a bad cave.  He was a complete horror who hated children, animals, fun and corn on the cob.  What he liked was snoozing in bed all day, being lonely and scowling at things.”

This reminded C how much she loves Mr Gum, and she spent the rest of the day re-reading Mr Gum books!

I liked the start of “The Return of the Twelves”:

“Max sat on the bare stairs below the attic, wondering whether to tell anyone.”

We haven’t yet read The Return of the Twelves but I’m sure we soon will – we want to find out what had happened to Max!

Interestingly, we decided that the opening of “Heidi”, which we we have just finished, and enjoyed immensely, had the least effective opening hook (at least in the opening paragraph) out of our selection  – which was a nice reminder of how authors use a variety of ways to appeal to readers.

More Brave Writer: Language Arts for Grade 1

Next time I’ll post about J and I’s first experiences using Brave Writer’s The Wand.

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