2016 Creative Writing

Update: The Creative Writing camp has been cancelled due to low enrollment. Check back next summer!

Who: Students in grades 5-8 in fall ’16
When: July 25-29, 2016, 9:00-12:00 p.m., Monday through Friday
Where: Houston Baptist University, hosted by The Academy at HBU in the University Academic Center (UAC) classrooms, 7502 Fondren Rd, Houston, TX, 77074
group of students talking and writing at school

Creative writing students will participate in activities aimed to inspire a love of words, sentences, and word-play. In addition to building an awareness of sentence structure and style, students will construct key word outlines, write stories, and exercise public speaking skills through oral story retelling. Students will articulate stories in their own words using pictures and a variety of fables, myths, and fairytales as springboards. Throughout the week, students will learn how to incorporate style and literary devices into their writing.

To receive the full benefit of the writing camp, students will need sufficient time and a handful of supplies. In addition to three hours of class time each day, plan to spend another hour or so completing assignments at home. Please secure the following supplies before the start of class:
  • Dictionary & Thesaurus—Consider apps such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the English Thesaurus.
  • Pack of 6 different colored pencils: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, & purple
  • Pens
  • Pencils
  • Eraser
  • 3-ring binder with 5 or more dividers and lined notebook paper

Camp tuition is $200/student. Enrollment will be confirmed and your spot reserved once payment is received.

This class will be offered if a minimum of seven students are enrolled by June 24. Full refunds will be made for any classes that are cancelled due to low enrollment.

What Your Student Needs to Know about Writing

Because language is the primary avenue for learning every other subject, you really can’t skimp on language arts in the early years without hampering a student’s academic development down the road. To ensure that a student transitions smoothly from elementary to middle school writing, there are some basic skills and concepts that a student will need to master in the early years and beyond.

 

The Fluency Stage

The first several years of elementary school constitute what I like to call the fluency stage. Students are learning how to read and write words and sentences with increasing ease. They are becoming fluent in both the written and spoken word.

By the end of third grade, in addition to mastering phonics and penmanship, a student on strong footing in language arts and writing will

  • have a firm understanding of a sentence as complete thought containing both a subject (what the sentence is about) and a predicate (what the sentence tells about the subject). (She need not know the words “subject” and “predicate,” but she will be able to recognize a complete sentence and to distinguish between a sentence and a fragment.)
  • know and consistently implement the basic mechanics of a sentence. In particular, he will know that the first word of a sentence is always capitalized and that every sentence must end with either a period, a question mark, or an exclamation mark. He will also know when to use which end punctuation and be familiar with the different kinds of sentences (such as questions, statements, commands, and exclamations).
  • be able to recognize paragraphs in a text and understand that a paragraph is a series of sentences relating to a particular point or topic.
  • understand that a word that names a person, place, thing, or idea is called a noun and that specific names, called proper nouns, begin with a capital letter.
  • be developing fluency with capitalization and basic punctuation norms.
  • have plenty of experience writing sentences, preferably through copywork and dictation, as well as from her own compositions.
  • have accumulated many, many hours of hearing books read aloud, both picture books and chapter books. (Even after, and maybe especially after, a student can read on his own, he still needs to hear the written word.)
  • have committed to memory several beautiful prose and poem selections which she is able to recite.
  • be able to orally tell back in his own words a short anecdote, story, or passage he has heard read aloud.

There are many good tools for helping students master these concepts and skills. One I’ve enjoyed using is English for the Thoughtful Child: Volume 1 by Mary F. Hyde revised and edited by Cynthia Shearer.

 

The Grammar Stage

Beginning around fourth grade, most students are ready for a more systematic study of grammar. In classical education circles, this stretch from fourth through fifth or sixth grade is commonly known as “the grammar stage.”

By the end of fifth or sixth grade, a student who is thriving in language arts and writing will, in addition to the above,

  • know and be able to identify all the parts of speech and all the parts of a sentence.
  • be familiar with the various verb tenses and moods and know how to maintain agreement and consistency across a composition.
  • understand the various functions of nouns and pronouns within sentences and be able to identify the various cases and roles within specific sentences.
  • be familiar with more advanced punctuation, mechanics, and usage norms.
  • know how to format a composition assignment for an academic setting.
  • be able to summarize and amplify sentences and rearrange the parts with ease.
  • be able to summarize, amplify, and imitate stories and passages.
  • be able to identify and articulate the main idea or central fact of a paragraph or selection.
  • be developing the ability to recognize literary elements such as character, setting, and plot.
  • understand how to organize paragraphs and multi-paragraph compositions utilizing topic sentences, transitions, clinchers/conclusions, and titles.
  • have experience incorporating descriptive writing, dialog, and other narrative elements within a composition.
  • be familiar with poetic elements such as rhyme, alliteration, simile & metaphor, and basic stanza forms.
  • have read (and heard read aloud) a variety of short stories, longer fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from different time periods and genres.

Here are a few among the many available resources that I have found helpful in developing a student’s grammatical know-how at this stage: (I wouldn’t use all three at once!)

 

Middle School & Beyond: Logic & Rhetoric

With their foundational language skills building to fruition, Middle School students are ripe for forays into essay writing where skills of logic and disputation come into play. In the classical trivium, the middle school years are known as the Logic stage wherein students engage in pre-Rhetoric exercises known collectively as the progymnasmata. Then, during highschool, students who have mastered the previous stages are ready for more formal studies in rhetoric and composition.

At An Elegant Word, our summer writing camps are designed to review the basics while stretching students to develop their essay-writing skills at the level appropriate for them. Basic Essay Writing introduces students to the structure of a simple essay, while Thesis Essay Writing challenges students to reach a higher level of argumentation and organization. The Advanced Essay camp builds on the others as students study modern and contemporary masters of different essay forms. In all three camps, we review basics such as formatting, sentence structure and style, principles of organization, and descriptive writing. Which of the 2016 camps is right for you?

 

Note: If your middleschool or highschool student has not yet mastered grammar, punctuation, and usage, it’s not too late! Easy Grammar Plus is a comprehensive resource that is especially easy to use. After you’ve got your feet wet with that, why not add Jensen’s Punctuation?

 

2016 Advanced Essay Writing: Imitating the Masters

Who: Grades 9-12, returning students only
When: August 1-5, 2016, 9:00-12:00 p.m., Monday through Friday
Where: Houston Baptist University, hosted by The Academy at HBU in the University Academic Center (UAC) classrooms, 7502 Fondren Rd, Houston, TX, 77074

Business woman writing in notebook

In addition to reviewing sentence structure and stylistic elements, returning students will read essays by master writers, analyzing and imitating their respective styles in a series of response essays of their own. Studying an array of the best American essays from the past century, students will gain exposure to different essay structures and themes ranging from opinion piece to social appeal, from personal essay to literary theodicy. The skill and insight of great authors serves as inspiration for students who are finding their own individual voices. By imitating the sentence structures and essay organization of great authors, students can be empowered to compose their own beautiful, powerful work as they join the larger conversation. This advanced essay course makes a direct bridge for the student between imitating great writing and composing beautiful writing in their own words. Students will also gain practice with timed, in-class writing as well as with the revision and critique process.

To receive the full benefit of the writing camp, students will need sufficient time and a handful of supplies. In addition to the three hours of class time, students should plan to spend another two or three hours each day completing homework. Students should secure the following supplies before the start of class:

  • Dictionary & Thesaurus—Consider apps such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the English Thesaurus.
  • Pack of 6 different colored pencils: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, & purple—Preferably erasable!
  • Pens/Pencils
  • 3-ring binder with 5 or more dividers and lined notebook paper (If you have the binder with handouts from last year, please use that!)
  • Composition book

Students in the Advanced Essay Writing camp will also need to be able to type, print, and email assignments using a sharable word processing program such as Microsoft Word.

 

Space is limited! Enroll today.

Camp tuition is $250/student. Enrollment will be confirmed and your spot reserved once payment is received.

This class will be offered if a minimum of seven students are enrolled by June 24. Full refunds will be made for any classes that are cancelled due to low enrollment.

Note: This Advanced Essay camp is open to highschool students who either participate in another of the 2016 camps this summer—the Basic Essay camp/the Thesis Essay camp—or who have participated in a 2015 writing camp with An Elegant Word last summer.

2016 Basic Essay Writing

Who: Students in grades 7-10+ in fall ’16
When: July 11-15, 2016, 9:00-12:00 p.m., Monday through Friday
Where: Houston Baptist University, hosted by The Academy at HBU in the University Academic Center (UAC) classrooms, 7502 Fondren Rd, Houston, TX, 77074

Positive Afro-american woman studying at home

Incorporating both report-style and descriptive writing, students will learn the structure and style of a basic five-paragraph essay. By the end of the week, students will produce an original essay including integrated quotations, MLA in-text citations, and a properly formatted “Works Cited” page. An intensive overview of style elements will assist students in developing vivid vocabulary and sophisticated sentence variety. Throughout the week, students will gain an awareness of sentence structure and grammar that goes hand-in-hand with their growing ability to amplify and manipulate the parts of a sentence.

To receive the full benefit of the writing camp, students will need sufficient time and a handful of supplies. In addition to the three hours of class time, students should plan to spend another one or three hours each day completing homework. Students should secure the following supplies before the start of class:

  • Dictionary & Thesaurus—Consider apps such as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the English Thesaurus.
  • Pack of 6 different colored pencils: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, & purple—Preferably erasable!
  • Pens/Pencils
  • 3-ring binder with 5 or more dividers and lined notebook paper
  • Composition book

Students in the Basic Essay Writing camp will also need to be able to type, print, and email assignments using a sharable word processing program such as Microsoft Word.

 

Camp tuition is $250/student. Enrollment will be confirmed and your spot reserved once payment is received.

Space is limited! Enroll today.

UPDATE: This class is full! You can add your name to the waiting list here!

Note: Highschool students are welcome to participate in both the Basic Essay camp as well as the Advanced Essay camp.

2015 Writing Camp Testimonials

Satisfied parents recommend the Writings Camps:

“This camp has equipped my son with an expansion of tools to increase his confidence and enjoyment in writing.”  —Michelle Reynolds, mom to a 2015 Thesis Camp student

“Great experience! Jen Hartenburg is a superb teacher with a very engaging method of instruction.”  —Dr. George Eapen, dad to a 2015 Creative Writing Camp student

“When my daughter came home from Creative Writing Camp, she brought me a book she’d never read and said, ‘Mom, look! The back of the book describes the setting and characters, but not the plot!’ She then began to read ravenously. I credit writing camp with this new eagerness to understand other writers!”  —Rachel Motte, 2015 mom

“My daughter really enjoyed the camp—studying with other students and being creative in a group setting. She had fun! She is starting to understand how to stylistically dress up a story she writes.”  —Susan Alai, mom to a 2015 Creative Writing student

“We are so grateful for the opportunity to have our students learn from an accomplished writing instructor such as yourself. Thank you for allowing them to attend. I would highly recommend the writing camp over and over again!”  —Mona Cook, mom to two 2015 Thesis Camp students

“My student was stretched,” writes another mom, “I think it was a great opportunity for him. Thank you for adding enjoyment to a process that doesn’t come naturally to him.”

 

Students agree that Writing Camp activities helped improve their writing:

“I liked the camp a lot. I now have many more tools to make my writing winsome. I especially enjoyed learning the different kinds of sentence openers.”  —Cole R.

Creative Writing students enjoyed “writing stories and key word outlines,” “writing warm-ups,” and “meeting new friends.”

“I like my classmates and it was fun!” writes Charis A.

“Thesis Camp was very beneficial,” writes a student, “especially the ‘dress-ups’ and group editing; I enjoyed Mrs. Hartenburg’s teaching.”

“The class was helpful overall, and it was very enjoyable.”  —Jadon H.

“The assignments were difficult but very helpful in improving my writing technique. Learning how to include citations was especially helpful.”  —Hannah K.

“It was a great experience and an excellent way to spend the summer,” writes another student; “I enjoyed learning how to write an introduction.”

“It was good practice writing and using ‘Dress Ups.’ I enjoyed the camp,” a satisfied student says.

“I enjoyed the Thesis Camp,” says another, “and the reminder of the importance of grammar.”

“I enjoyed ‘Writing Warm-Ups” and brainstorming with others. The small-group critiques were also helpful. It has been an encouraging experience to meet with others who are thinking about the same topics and discussing with them.”

“It was fun! I liked the games and learning how to write an anecdote. I liked how we students talked and looked at each other’s papers.”  —Camille B.

“The Thesis Camp was challenging, but I learned how to do the thesis statement. The grammar exercises and games were the most enjoyable and helpful parts.”  —Esther B.

 

Write What Is Beautiful: A Cure for Formulaic Writing Instruction

“Before giving a youth the rules of good style, let us tell him first never to write anything which does not seem to him really beautiful, whatever the result may be.”
               -Jacques Maritain, Education at the Crossroads, p.44

 

A group of acclaimed authors are raising concerns about how creative writing is taught in UK schools, The Guardian reports. The concerned writers claim that “primary school teachers are steering children towards ‘too elaborate, flowery and over-complex language.’” This is a valid concern, especially when the writing instruction ingrains bad habits in stylistically tone-deaf students.

The authors, who are drafting an open letter to the education secretary, wisely point out the twin dangers of teaching writing to a test and of teaching writing in a literary void. It does students no good when we evaluate them for a writing product when we should be focusing on their process. We do them no good when we praise them for creative production when they have merely been doing syntactical, like musical, scales. And we harm students most when we ask them to produce creative work yet fail to provide them with any masters to imitate. Truly beautiful and compelling writing comes from readers. And when stylistic exercises devolve into strict rules about what makes good writing, everyone loses.

While the letter writers accurately take issue with these disturbing trends in writing instruction, they need not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. There is a healthy tension between helping students expand their stylistic and syntactic range, on the one hand, and habituating formulaic and overly flowery writing, on the other. Vocabulary and sentence structure variation happen more naturally for some students than for others, but all can benefit from exercises that increase awareness of and proficiency with a growing toolbox of structural and stylistic options. Assignments that require practice in these areas are helpful when treated like the playing of scales in piano lessons: playing scales is not playing a musical masterpiece, but it may be a necessary step toward developing the proficiency needed to eventually play a musical masterpiece. In the same way, vocabulary, structural, and stylistic exercises should be treated as practice in developing fluency in a growing variety of writing forms and styles.

All writing instruction should be undertaken with the goal of developing the student’s ear to be able to both recognize and also imitate beautiful prose and verse passages within a wide range of style and genre. To accomplish this end, it helps to have a teacher who knows good writing when she sees it. Does the writing teacher read widely and well? Does she have good literary taste? Can she point her students to exemplary writing? Can she herself turn an elegant phrase? In short, does she have discernment and aptitude? A teacher with an ear for good writing will pass this ability on to her students through her example and enthusiasm. She will hold the balance between formulaic practice and fine-tuned elegance.

While some individuals may have an in-born affinity for writing, everyone has the capacity to recognize beauty. Good writing instruction stirs this capacity and awakens in the student a growing hunger for the good, the true, and the beautiful in the written word.

Play with Your Words!

Play with words

 

ALPHABET STEW

Words can be stuffy, as sticky as glue,
but words can be tutored to tickle you too,
to rumble and tumble and tingle and sing,
to buzz like a bumblebee, coil like a spring.

Juggle their letters and jumble their sounds,
swirl them in circles and stack them in mounds,
twist them and tease them and turn them about,
teach them to dance upside down, inside out.

Make mighty words whisper and tiny words roar,
in ways no one ever had thought of before;
cook an improbable alphabet stew,
and words will reveal little secrets to you.

~Jack Prelutsky, The Random House Book of Poetry for Children

Tutor words to tickle you this summer at one of our Writing Camps!

 

 

 

Chew, Sharpen, Carve

Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested [. . .] Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.

Sir Francis Bacon, “Of Studies,” The Essays

 

Chewing on delectable books this summer? After filling up on wholesome, chewy reading, “conference”—or discussion—helps us think on our feet and sharpen our minds for action. Then writing requires our sharpened minds to thoughtfully reflect, to articulate ideas using careful wording and a logical structure, to carve an elegant argument or description.

Reading, speaking, writing—these three go together and build on one another. When writing, we draw on what we’ve read, on our conversations with others, as well as on our own experiences. To write well, we have to understand and think clearly. We also have to know how to use words and sentences effectively. This is what Sir Francis Bacon tells us when he says that writing makes us exact. Writing is the culmination of all our reading, thinking, and speaking. It is a test of our precision.

So gnaw on some tasty nuggets of literature this summer and then come join us for mind-sharpening discussion and fine-tuning of your writing skills at one of our Writing Camps.

“Writing Is a Refining Fire”

CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

CSIRO [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing is in the rewriting [. . .] the necessary re-envisioning of the piece. In fact, when I write there usually emerges both a death and a resurrection. I begin a piece. I find it dies on the page. It isn’t what I had hoped. It falls short. It falls flat. It goes nowhere. Then I find a new beginning somewhere embedded in the piece and start writing into it again. [. . .] Writing is a continual reworking [. . .] a refining fire until all the elements come together in a unit.
—Diane Glancy, “After the Fire of Writing: On Revision,” A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Craft

 

Like most things worth doing, making beauty takes tenacity. This is true of any art form, the written word included. Perfect paragraphs do not simply drip from our pens without effort or revision.

Diane Glancy describes the value of peer critique in the writing process:

Making constructive critical comments on the work of peers develops self-editing that is a necessary tool, a tool to be developed alongside the craft of writing. For me, it is the vital part of writing. Years ago, I was in a group of beginning writers. We critiqued each other’s work. I learned the value of receiving critical comments. And providing critical comments for others helps me criticize my own work. The editorial faculty is required after the fire of writing.

Muscle up this summer with An Elegant Word as we hone the intellectual virtues of honesty, courage, humility, and tenacity in the Thesis Essay camp.

Do You Like Sentences?

A well- known writer got collared by a university student who asked, “Do you think I could be a writer?”

“Well,” the writer said, “I don’t know…. Do you like sentences?”

The writer could see the student’s amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am twenty years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, “I liked the smell of the paint.”  —Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, Chapter 5

Whether you’re just beginning in your appreciation of sentences or already a sentence enthusiast, the summer is a wonderful time to sink yourself deeper in the aesthetic delight of words elegantly arranged. Budding amateurs and aficionados can enjoy the hunt, the thrill of glimpsing and chasing down just the right adjective, noun, or verb that will bring a phrase to life and make a sentence sing.

This summer, become a verbal acrobat bending plain, boring syntax into exhilarating contours. Enliven your vocabulary. Amplify simple clauses. Learn syntactic gymnastics.

Enroll in one of our Summer Writing Camps today!