Month: May 2015

Banned Words #2 and #3 "Very" and "Really"

It would be a very, very good idea to ban the word “very,” for very many reasons.  It would also be a really good idea to ban the word “really,” because it really doesn’t help your writing become really descriptive. 

I could give you all kinds of reasons why these words should be avoided in writing. Instead, I’ll give you one simple test to show why these words should be banished.

It would be good idea to ban the word “very” for many reasons. It would also be a good idea to ban the word “really,” because it doesn’t help your writing become more descriptive.

Sorry, “very,” and “really.”  When you’re gone, you aren’t missed. In fact, including you in a sentence only serves to water down the description.

When a writer resorts to pulling out “very” or “really,” and adds them to a description, the intent is to amplify that description: 

It’s not just loud. It’s very loud. 

It’s not just cold. It’s really cold.

Rather than resort to the crutches of ‘very’ and ‘really’ to amplify descriptions, think of more specific, concrete ways of describing something.

It was so loud, the fillings in my teeth were rattling loose.

It was so cold, the hairs in my nostrils froze solid.

During the revision process, go through your writing and remove ‘very’ and ‘really,’ and see if these two words are really necessary. I think you’ll find they’ll soon be forgotten.

So, in summary, our list of “Banned Words,” so far includes:

  1. Literally
  2. Very
  3. Really

Literally, it would be a very good idea to really avoid all of these words in your writing if you can. Really. I’m very serious about this!


What’s Your Point of View? A Visual Prompt



For this visual prompt, imagine you are one of the two characters in the picture. What is going on in your head? Tell the story from your point of view as either the cat or the… whatever that is. Give us a detailed telling of what is going on in the character’s head over the next few seconds from the moment shown in the picture. How is this encounter going to end?



Banned Words! Not the kind you may think, however.

When I talk about banning words in student writing here, I’m not talking here about those words that, if used, get students sent down to the principal’s office or result in a soapy mouthwash.

No. These are other words. Some of them do have four letters, but that’s just a coincidence.

The banned words I would like to put forth are words which lead a writer down that path of poor writing.

The first word I’d like to nominate is literally. Yes, I literally mean it! I was prompted to nominate literally after reading this article, “On Behalf of ‘Literally’,” by Courtney Kirchoff.

Unlike other words I will later nominate for banishment, the banning of literally should only be a temporary measure until everyone learns to use it properly. And I literally mean that!

Five Endings in Search of a Story A Reverse-Prompt Writing Challenge

This is a writing challenge with a difference. Rather than giving you a prompt to start your writing, instead, we are giving you the ending of your story. Yes, the ending. (Actually, we’re giving you five endings to choose from.)

Here’s how the Five Endings in Search of a Story Writing Challenge works. Choose an ending for your story. The challenging part is to write your story so that it leads to the ending you have chosen. Think carefully of the events, characters and settings you will need in your story to arrive at your chosen ending.

Of course, as you write, bonus words will be flying your way. Further adding to the challenge will be including these bonus words into your story as it progresses toward your ending. To succeed in this writing challenge, you will need to muster every ounce of creativity you possess! As always, remember to have fun while you write.

Four easy steps for the Five Endings in Search of a Story Writing Challenge:

  1. Choose the Alieo bonus word list.
  2. You can choose to start your story with a blank page, OR, if you are really daring, ask for a prompt. (Can you start with a given prompt AND write a story that arrives at one of the five endings?)
  3. Choose one of the five endings from the list below:

    Five Endings in Search of a Story

    1. From that day forward, it was against the rules to bring a live rattlesnake to school.
    2. Only after Dave had finished the entire cake did Sarah tell him about the dead mouse.
    3. The next day, the king declared a new law: Kangaroos were forbidden to be kept as pets!
    4. Riley knew she had won the argument when she saw the house go up in flames.
    5. “Well, we certainly won’t do that again,” Robby said, as he pulled his leg out of the mouth of the dead crocodile. 
  4. Now, go ahead and write!

Using Maps to Inspire Writing

When I first read The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, one of the most engaging aspects of the books for me were the maps.  I’ve since encountered other great fantasy works which include detailed maps of the imaginary worlds in which the novels are set.

As a writer, when I look over a map relating to a novel, I’m wondering, “What came first: the map or the novel?”  Was the world created through words, then interpreted in a map, or vice versa?  The answer may sit somewhere in between.

Regardless of how J.R.R. Tokien, George R.R. Martin, and other authors used their maps in the writing process, I’ve found with young writers, drawing a map can be a great pre-writing strategy.  With their imaginary world set out before them, the ideas for plot development flow much more effortlessly when they can actually ‘see’ where their story is taking place.

For further reading on the topic of maps of imaginary places, check out this great article by Maria Popova:  “Legendary Lands: Umberto Eco on the Greatest Maps of Imaginary Places and Why They Appeal to Us.”

The Old Piano A Visual Prompt

oldpianoBefore you start writing with this visual prompt, here are a few questions you might want to think about to get those creative juices flowing:

1.  Whose piano was this?

2.  What was special about this piano?

3.  Where did the piano come from?

4.  What is the history of this piano before it came to this scene?

5.  How did it come to be in this field?

6.  What is important about this field?

7.  What will happen next?  What is the future of this piano?

Now, get writing and create music with your words!

Combating the Summer Slide Motivating Students to Write Through the Summer

The Summer Slide is a term used to describe the regression of students in their academic skills over the summer holidays.  An eye-opening article in Educational Leadership, “Slowing the Summer Slide,” by Lorna Smith examines the severity and consequences of this phenomenon. 

According to the article, “There are estimates that reteaching forgotten material when students return to school after the summer costs more than $1,500 per student each year, or more than $18,000 over the course of a K–12 career (Fairchild & Boulay, 2002). Schools can ill afford these expenses at a time when their budgets are already stretched to the breaking point.”

Although most of the studies are examining students’ reading abilities, it wouldn’t be a huge leap to assume the same regression would occur in other academic areas such as writing.

At Alieo Games, we have specifically structured our licensing such that students can continue to use our writing app COW throughout the summer.  With the summer holidays looming on the horizon, we are offering 60% off per class of thirty students– less than two dollars per student.  By having COW introduced to the students at school, they can then head into the summer holidays familiar with the app.  This will give parents another tool for helping children avoid the Summer Slide.

In addition, new writing challenges will be posted on our blog throughout the summer to keep students engaged and motivated to write.

If you are interested in having your students use COW, please head to our website.  When you purchase your license, use the code ALIEO60 to receive your Summer Slide discount.

How to Become a Better Writer according to a few people worth listening to . . .

Listen to what some of the greats have said about writing.  Can their words of wisdom provide insights to inform our instructional practice as teachers?

Here are five quotes from eminent writers to give us food for thought:

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Louis L’Amour

“[Be] willing to write really badly.”

Jennifer Egan

“The worst enemy to creativity is self doubt.”

Sylvia Plath

“You fail only if you stop writing.”

Ray Bradbury

“It is only be writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.”

PD James

What can we take from these musings? What important aspects of writing instruction can be drawn from these words of wisdom? Here are some possible takeaways:

  1. Encourage your students to write frequently
  2. Provide opportunities for them to experiment with their writing
  3. Establish an atmosphere where students feel safe in taking creative chances

Who’s one to argue with a collection of writers such as this?

Once Upon a Time The Classic Fairy Tale Writing Challenge

Think back to all of the classic fairy tales you have read or have been read to you over the years. Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and the list goes on. Classic fairy tales usually include a number of common elements.

The Common Elements of Fairy Tales

  1. Fairy tales do not need to include fairies.
  2. They are set in the distant past.
  3. They include supernatural, make-believe or fantasy elements like magic.
  4. There are clearly defined good characters and bad characters.
  5. Things usually happen in threes.
  6. The plot involves a problem or conflict that needs to be solved.
  7. The ending solves the conflict and is usually happy.
  8. The tale teaches some sort of lesson or demonstrates something important.

Okay, so you’ve probably been told a million times you should never start a story with “Once upon a time…” That’s true most of the time. Not for this writing challenge. What better way to start a classic fairy tale than with, “Once upon a time…”?

Remember, this is a classic fairy tale. Later on, we’ll give you another writing challenge where you can create something a little more wacky. (In other words, save the ninjas and aliens for a later writing challenge.)

For Teachers:

  1. In your Bonus Word List Manager, go to the Shared tab and copy over the “Classic Fairy Tale” Bonus Word List. You may want to add some of your own words to the list. Be sure to assign the list to your class. 
  2. As mentioned above, the prompt for this writing challenge is, “Once upon a time…”

Have fun, and we hope this writing challenge lives happily ever after.

‘Tis the Season for Year-end Woolgathering Alieo Games offers a cure

Every May and June, teachers witness the onset of a condition that is wide-spread throughout the student population:  Year-end Woolgathering.  The symptoms include staring out the window, imagining themselves in the warm sunshine, and attempting to calculate the number of minutes of class time remaining until summer holidays.

Yes, thanks to Year-end Woolgathering, May and June can be the most challenging months for motivating students to remain engaged and academically focused.

To help teachers find a cure for Year-end Woolgathering, Alieo Games is offering our writing app COW at a 60% discount to teachers and their classes.

The gamified learning environment, combined with a number of writing challenges and visual prompts provided through our blog, will keep students engaged with writing through the most advanced cases of Year-end Woolgathering. Their writing will also provide teachers with a number of writing samples to draw upon for year-end assessment.

In addition, students can continue to use COW throughout the summer holidays from home, helping to fend off another dreaded condition:  the Summer Slump.

If you are interested in using COW with your students, please head back to our website. When you purchase your license, use the code ALIEO60 to receive your 60% discount, and may Year-end Woolgathering be eradicated from your classroom!

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