Number 1 Trick to Improving a Student’s Writing

There are many effective strategies worth instructing that can improve a student’s writing, but my number one, favorite strategy is teaching the effective use of a thesaurus.

What is a Thesaurus? 
A thesaurus is a book or online site that lists words in groups of synonyms or related concepts.

What are the Benefits of Teaching Students to Use a Thesaurus?
Teaching your students or children to use a thesaurus offers many gains and can be used to:

  1. Expand vocabulary – Using a thesaurus helps students increase their usable word choices.
  2. Avoid repetition – Consulting a thesaurus guides students to alternate word choices when they are concerned with the overuse of a single word within their composition. 
  3. Improve writing quality and sophistication – Utilizing a thesaurus assists students to select more appropriate or mature wording.
  4. Select descriptive words – Consulting a thesaurus helps students find more descriptive words that will enable their audience to better visualize their content.
  5. Impress your readers – Utilizing a thesaurus assists students in finding words that can impress their audience.
  6. Nurture a mindful approach – Using a thesaurus feeds an active, thoughtful and analytical approach to writing.
  7. Find words that are difficult to spell – Consulting a thesaurus assists in finding challenging words to spell when you enter a common synonym to the desired word.
  8. Make the writing process fun – Employing the use of a thesaurus is enjoyable.  I have always enjoyed using a thesaurus and find that it has nurtured a personal love for words.

Are There any Problems with Using a Thesaurus?
When used in a passive or rushed manner, students might select words that don’t make sense in a composition or they may overuse the thesaurus and make documents sound awkward and complex.

What are Some Activities I can Use to Help Students Learn How to Use a Thesaurus?

  1. Provide a passage with a lot of word repetitions.  Ask your students to change the repeated words in the passage by using a thesaurus.  Once the students have rewritten the passage, ask the students to read them aloud and discuss the benefits of using a thesaurus.
  2. Highlight boring, simple words in a passage that are difficult to visualize.  With the use of a thesaurus, ask students to rewrite the passage with synonyms that conjure more visuals in the reader’s mind’s eye.
  3. Give your students a list of simple words and ask them to find other words in a thesaurus that are more descriptive.
  4. Ask students to find words in a thesaurus such as the word, “Kind” and ask them to make a list of all the words that they didn’t know that have the same or similar meaning.  They might come up with words such as philanthropic, benevolent, or one that I just learned by looking at the thesaurus – eleemosynary.
  5. Discuss how mindlessly selecting synonyms can get a writer in trouble because many words have multiple meanings. Then provide a game where your students have to take a mixed up list of words.  Ask them to place these words in order based on similar meaning.  For example, Sad = Down = Under = Lesser = Minor = Young = New.  Once the students are finished with the activity ask them to create their own.

I hope you got some good ideas!  If you have any more activities ideas, please share them below this blog.

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to &  
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Free Text to Speech Software Can Help Students Edit Papers

Text to speech software is a valuable tool that comes for free on all Mac computers, and now a number of free apps make this technology available at no cost for PC users too.  Text to speech has been used as an accommodation for struggling readers, but did you know that it is also an advantageous device for writers too?  In fact, I often teach my students how to use this technology to help them edit their written language.

What is Text to Speech Software?
Text to Speech software is a form of speech synthesis that converts text to a spoken computerized voice.   This technology was originally created to aid those with vision impairments so that they could hear written text.

How can Text to Speech Help Students Edit Their Writing?
Many students struggle to edit their own work, because when they go back to refine their text, they often glide over mishaps and read it as they meant to write it.  Furthermore, there are many errors that are easy to make but difficult to see.  For example, for many learners simple letter and word reversals are difficult to detect.  If you type the word “from” as “form,” you probably won’t catch this reversal when scanning your document visually.  In addition, many young learners get confused by words that look similar but are pronounced differently such as loose and lose.   Text to Speech allows students to hear the mistakes that they may not see!

How Can I Access Text to Speech on a Mac Computer?

  1. Select the Apple icon on the top left of your screen.
  2. Select System Preferences.
  3. Click Dictation and Speech.
  4. Click Text to Speech.
  5. Select “speak selected text when the key is pressed” checkbox.
  6. The default for enabling Text to Speech is Option-Esc – or to select a different key, click Change Key, press one or more of the following keys (Command, Shift, Option or Control) together with another key and click OK.
  7. To have your Mac read text aloud, press the specified keys.  To have it stop speaking press the same keys again.  If you want it to read specific text, highlight the text before you select the specified keys.

What Free Text to Speech Apps are available for PCs and Surface Computers?
There are a number of free apps, but my favorites are Read and Write and Natural Readers.

I hope you found this blog post informative.  If you have any thoughts or comments, please share them below this post.

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to, &

Show Don’t Tell 2: A New Descriptive, Suspense Writing Game

Have you ever read a book that you couldn’t put down, because the author’s words allowed you to visualize the scenes as if you had a movie going on in your head? These authors are masters of descriptive writing and have learned to paint pictures in their audiences’ minds eye through the use of descriptive and figurative language.

How Can Descriptive Writing Be Taught to Students?
Many teachers instruct their students to “show” their readers the scenes through rich descriptions, instead of just telling the audience what happens. In fact, a common critique that students might hear is, “Show me; don’t tell me!”

Bringing Games Into the Learning Process:
If you follow me or have purchased any of my products, you probably already know that bringing enjoyment and games into lessons is one of my primary goals.

Due to the popularity of Show Don’t Tell Descriptive Writing Game, which many teachers play in classrooms and homeschoolers use to bring joy into teaching descriptive writing, I have now released a new version that teaches students the fundamentals of descriptive, suspense writing.  My new game, Show Don’t Tell 2, is a multisensory, downloadable and printable game. The purpose of the game is to help young writers learn how to and practice the skill of “showing” readers with the use of descriptive words and figurative language.   This new game also integrates additional types of figurative language, as well as practice with leading words, sensory hints, suspense words, setting the scene and building tension.  Instead of “telling a story” players quickly learn how to vividly describe a dramatic scene or scenario while having fun!

If you would like to learn more or purchase this game, Click Here.

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go,  

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Developing Writing Skills for Students with Dyslexia

Like reading, writing is a complex process that requires students to multitask.  In fact, all students must master a number of fundamental skills before they can be expected to become competent writers. However, for students with dyslexia, the process can be even more challenging as their learning disability may impact cognitive tasks such as spelling, word finding, as well as the formulation and organization of ideas.

What are the Fundamental Skills Required to Write?
The fundamental skills include:

  • Transferring the inner voice into words on the page – spelling
  • Formulation of letters or typing skills
  • Access to a rich vocabulary and creative ideas
  • Awareness of grammar, sentence structure, and literary elements
  • Cognizance of transitions, and paragraph structure  

What are the Key Features to Consider When Teaching Students with Dyslexia?

  • Help Students Learn to Automaticity: The fundamental skills required for writing must be done simultaneously, therefore, to become efficient and effective writers, many of these tasks must be mastered to a degree of automaticity.  In other words, students should be able to do these tasks with little thought or effort.  If the fundamental skills are not fully learned, student will not have enough cognitive space to unite these skills and write.   
  • Make Learning Multisensory: Integrating as many of the 12 Ways of Learning into your lesson plans will help students’ encode the needed skills.  Here is a free Prezi that reviews these diverse teaching modalities.
  • Include Enjoyable Activities in the Learning Process:  Consider what your students love to do and integrate that into lessons about writing.  For example, if Peter likes to draw, get him to create a story board where he illustrates pictures that represent the sequence of ideas.  If Sue likes balls, consider brainstorming ideas while tossing a ball back and forth.  If legos are popular, place adjectives on red pieces, nouns on yellow pieces, verbs on green pieces and so forth and then have fun joining them to create silly sentences.  Finally, come learn about how to make free word collages and wriggle writing to increase the fun factor.
  • Play Games that Allows Students to Practice their Lessons: Play sentence building games such as DK Games: Silly Sentences and Smethport Tabletop Magnetic Sentence Builders. You can also master grammar skills with games like Grammar Games Glore and the Best of Mad Libs. If you want to develop creative writing abilities consider the writing game Show Don’t Tell.
  • Teach the 5 Ws:  The 5 Ws are questions students can ask themselves when they are trying to formulate the whole story. Who is it about?  What happened?  When did it take place? Where did it take place?  Why did it happen?  If you would like to practice this, consider the game The 5 Ws Detectives.
  • Teach Students to Visualize before Writing: One of the best ways to bring the fun factor into writing is to have students visualize the setting, characters and plot before they begin writing.  Then all they have to do is paint the images with words.  If you need to develop this skill, consider teaching this skills with products like Mindful Visualization for Education.
  • Teach Grammar and Literary Devices: Here are a number of tools that can be used to help students master grammar and literary devices: A Writer’s ReferenceThe Giggly Guide to Grammar Student Edition, Word ShuffleMastering Literary Devices, and Grammar Games Glore.
  • Expand and Develop Vocabulary: There are many tools that can help students to broaden their vocabulary.  Workbooks like Wordly Wise 3000, or free sites like Free Rice, can develop this skill.  What I really love about Free Rice is that students work is reinforced because for each correct answer, the site donates 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program.  Also, teaching students how to use a thesaurus to vary word choice and learn new words is a terrific strategy that they will use for the rest of their lives.
  • Teach about Transitional Words, Phrases and Sentences: It is also important to instruct students about transitional words, phrases, and sentences so that their writing is understandable and flows from one idea to the next.  Here is a free transitional word sheet, and if you would like some activities to develop this skill consider Categorizing, Paragraph Building and Transitional Words Activity.
  • Use a Scaffolding Approach:  Like a scaffolding that supports a weak building, adults can help students develop their writing skills by assisting young learners with the process of writing.  For example, if handwriting is labored and monopolizes a student’s attention, acting as a secretary for a student can lessen the cognitive load so that he or she can learn some other aspects of writing such as the development and organization of ideas.  If you would like to learn more about scaffolding, read The Joy of Writing: A Scaffolding Approach.
  • Analyze Good Sentences and Paragraphs:  Look at sample sentences and paragraphs from each student’s favorite books and talk about what makes the author such a great writer.
  • Use Software to Help with the Writing Process:  My favorite products are Kidspiration (for K-3) and inspiration (4-adult).  These two programs help students generate and organize ideas.  They offer the full software for free for one month.
  • Teach the Formula Behind Writing:
  1. Sequence the Steps: It is important to also review the steps required to formula sentences and paragraphs.  Here is a free Prezi that reviews the sequence required to write a 5 paragraph essay.
  2. Teach about Main Ideas and Details:  Each new paragraph introduces a main idea that is then supported with details.  Therefore, teaching students how to formulate main ideas and details is a vital step in teaching the writing process.  I have two games that teach kids how to generate main ideas and details.  The first publication, the Main I-Deer, offers instruction on main ideas and details as well as two games.  The second publication is a game, Hey, What’s the Big Idea.
  3. Provide Graphic Organizers: Graphic organizers help students to visually brainstorm, organize and connect ideas before writing.  There are many sites that offer free graphic organizers to help students with the writing process.  In addition, it’s always a great idea to help students create their own graphic organizers.  Come learn how to create your own templates.

For more information, check out the webinar from the DyslexicAdvantage where they interviewed Dr. Charles Haynes who provides strategies to help students with dyslexia in the areas of writing, sentence building, paragraph cohesion, and word retrieval.

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to &  
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Using Free Mac Text to Speech to Edit Student Writing

For many students it is a struggle to edit ones own writing
– if it is even done at all.  We all tend
to read what we have written the way we meant to write it, and it’s easy to
scan over misspelt words, word omissions, improper word choices and more.   Typos like “form” instead of “from,” will
never be detected by a spell check and these types of mishaps can be very
difficult to notice.  However, activating
text to speech on the Mac, can really help with the editing process.
What is Text to Speech?
Text to speech is an assistive technology device that allows
the writer to highlight text and with a simple command, the computer will read
your writing aloud.  It uses computerized speech, but there are a couple voices that are quite realistic.  


How Can I Use This Technology on My Mac?

  1. Go to system preferences.
  2. Select “Dictation and Speech” which offers
    a microphone icon.
  3. Select a “System Voice” (my personal favorite is Alex), and pick a speaking rate by sliding the icon between slow-fast.
  4. Select the check box next to “Speak selected text when the key is pressed.”
  5. Select the “Change Key” button and make your
    preferred selection.  Let me suggest using the control key and the letter s).
  6. Now, select the text that you want the computer
    to read and hold down the control key while selecting the letter S.

What Else Can I Use Text to Speech for?

If you find text on the Internet, and you would like your
computer to read it to you, all you have to do is highlight the desired text and hit the
control key while selecting the letter s.  You can also use this to edit your emails.  I do it all the time.
I hope you find  this helpful!

Teaching The Joy of Writing: A Scaffolding Approach

For many students writing can be
an overwhelming, taxing chore.   In order
to be proficient, students must be able to manage multiple tasks at one time,
and to juggle these responsibilities, the following must be developed to near
Conjuring up and organizing ideas.
Understanding and being able to implement basic
grammar and sentence structure.
Recording words through legible penmanship or proficient
Comprehending and utilizing various literacy
Knowing how to spell.
If a student struggles with any of the above tasks, their
writing will likely suffer.
How Can Students
Develop the Needed Skills to Automaticity? 
I evaluate each student’s current writing capabilities and note any difficulties. 
Then the two of us collaborate and write together. 
The student picks the topic.  It could be a story, a research paper, a blog, a book of poetry, a diary, a recipe book…  In fact, I have been known to write 20-40
page documents with young learners that are illustrated and later bound.  
I never came across a student that
didn’t have a wonderful imagination that could be unearthed, and I provide the
support needed so they can get those ideas in writing.  I offer a scaffolding approach, which gifts
the needed backing until the student can do each task on his or her own.  In the beginning, I am doing the majority of the work, but by the end, the student has taken over most of the tasks. This means that I first offer repeated
demonstrations, then I present recurrent verbal reminders – where I think aloud,
and eventually, I pass responsibilities on to them – when they are ready. 
What Are Some Examples of a Scaffolding Approach?    
1.    If spelling, penmanship and typing is a problem, I offer to be the secretary – so I can capture their ideas. 
2.    If organization is a problem, I help the student to shape their approach. 
3.    If sentences are simple and word choice is poor, I teach the student how to use a thesaurus and help him or her to learn how to visualize their ideas and “paint with words.” 
4.    If grammar and sentence structure is poor, I walk the student through the process.  For example if capitalization is a problem, I might say for each sentence.  “I start with a capital letter.”  After ten sentences, I say, “I start with a…” and let them fill in the blank.  Later I ask, “How do I begin my sentence?

5.    If they struggle with thesis statements, topics sentences and supporting details, we weave those concepts into the project.
I do offer three writing games that can also help to bring joy to the learning process.  Five W’s Detectives was created for my beginning writers, Show Don’t Tell helps students to develop creative writing abilities, and Word Shuffle assists students with the mastery of grammar and literary devices.  
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to,,  
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Using a Geoboard to Help Students with Dysgraphia

Recently I discovered the geoboard and now I love to use this product to develop mathematical skills, visual spatial skills, visual reasoning and fine motor dexterity.  In fact it is great for my students that have dysgraphia.

What is a Geoboard?
A geoboard is a math manipulative that students can use to explore basic shapes and geometry such as perimeter, area and coordinate graphing.  It consists of a wood board with evenly spaced rows of nails or a plastic board with protruding pegs around which string or rubber bands are wrapped.

How Do I Use My Geoboards?
Due to the popularity of rubber band bracelets, one can get a huge variety of colorful rubber bands in many different sizes.  I have organized mine into sectioned plastic boxes so that my students have many options to choose from.  Here are a number of fun activities that I offer my students in my own private practice.

For my young learners I use the geoboard to:

  1. learn the formation of letters and numbers.  It is a wonderful tool to use when students struggle with letter, number or symbol reversals.
  2. instruct about the many shapes – triangles, squares, rectangles…
  3. develop spatial skills where students copy a design I create on another geoboard or from a picture of a design that I created on a geoboard.
For my older students I use the geoboard to:
  1. develop writing skills.   Players create images that they then described in writing so that another player can create the image by following the directions.
  2. teach and review coordinate graphing.
  3. teach and review the plotting of points on a coordinate plane.
  4. creating, line, frequency and bar graphs.

If you too are using a geoboard, I would love for you to comment below this blog.  Also please share if you are using the geoboard in other creative ways.

Click on the image below to purchase on Amazon:

Word Collages and Wriggle Writing Make Writing Fun and Engaging

Bringing creative ideas and images into the writing process
can make class work and home work assignments fun and memorable for
students.  I love teaching my
students how to create word collages in the shape of an image.  In addition, I find that my students
love wriggle writing, too, which allows them to write their stories and poems in
a nonlinear fashion.

The Process of
Creating a Word Collage:
By Erica Warren Copyright 2013

Provide your students a theme, such as their favorite
animal, a friend, a self portrait, an event, a concept and so forth.  

Share with them that they will be creating a
word collage using phrases, sentences and/or words that they can type, write or cut
out of magazines.
Indicate that they can place their words,
phrases and sentences randomly, or they can organize them within a traced image
on a piece of poster board.  Then, show them some examples.
As an added option, students can be encouraged to add small
objects and designs.  

* The image to the right was done about the concept of learning.

The Process of
Creating Wriggle Writing:
Provide your students a topic, such as a description

By Erica Warren Copyright 2013

themselves, their favorite animal, a friend, an event, and so
forth.  This can be written as prose or as a poem.

Share with them that they will be taking a short
writing piece or poem and rewriting it on the outline of an image, on a
squiggle, inside a maze and so forth.
Share that they can trace an image or design on
a piece of poster board and then write their story or poem on the outside of
the image.  Then, show them some examples.

 * The image to the right illustrates wriggle writing on a squiggle.

Two Websites Make Word
Collages and Wriggle Writing a Breeze
If time is an issue, you can let your students use one of
these internet sites to help them create their word collage or wriggle writing
The online site, Tagxedo, makes wonderful word collages from
your own file, a website, a blog and more.  It allows you to pick a shape, the color combinations and it
will generate the image for you!  Your students can also get their creations placed on a T-shirts, mugs, bags and more. 
 * The image to the right one that I did about my dog Butter:
The online site, Festisite, allows you to paste your text
into a text box and it will create a PDF file of your written work into a
spiral, a heart, a wave pattern, or a maze. 
If you pull the PDF image into a word document you can then change the page background, and then take a screen shot to add color. 
 * The image to the right is one I did from a poem I wrote:
If you decide to use these fun methods, I would love to hear
your thoughts!
Cheers, Erica

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to &  
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DIY 5 Paragraph Essay Templates: A Creative, Metacognitive Tool

Although there is a common formula to writing a five paragraph
essay, students soon learn that each teacher has their own unique
preferences.  I can remember a
teacher that didn’t allow students to use the transition, “on the other hand,”
unless they had already used, “on the one hand.”  Some insist on transitional sentences, others do not.  Some want a student’s thesis statement
in the middle of the introduction, while others want it at the beginning or
even at the end.  As a result,
students have to adjust their writing to accommodate each new teacher.  How can this be done?
Help Your Students by
Reviewing Your Expectations: 
At the beginning of the school year it is important for each
teacher to share his or her expectations, preferences and requirements so that each
student can prepare for success from the very beginning.   
Provide a lesson and a handout that reviews the
5 paragraph essay.  Make sure to
discuss everything you want in your introduction, body paragraphs, and
Review and define important terms such as:
thesis statement
topic sentence
transitional words
transitional sentences
supporting details
quotes and examples
catchy opening
Introduce the idea that you will be asking the
students to make their own, creative, 5 paragraph essay template.  You can even turn it into a contest and
let the students vote on their favorite.
Help Your Students Create
Their Own Essay Template:
One of the best ways to help your budding writers is to ask
them to create their very own essay template.  This can be a fun assignment, and I have found that if my
students are apart of the creative process, they will most likely “get it” and
“use it.” 
Steps to Creating a
Clever and Creative Essay Template:
This activity can be done collaboratively with your students,
in small groups, or it can be given as a class or homework project so each
student can exercise their own ideas: 
        1.     Ask your students to come up with a fun and creative name for their templates.  Thinking up a catchy
title always helps to integrate the fun factor.
Encourage your students to bring color and images
into the project.
Explain to your students that they can choose their own
format.  Then make some suggestions and let the students brainstorm in small groups or
independently.  Some possible ideas
to get you started are:
Create a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation
Create a web, flow chart or diagram
Create an outline.
Write a poem, song or rap.
What are the Benefits
of Creating an Essay Template:
Develops metacognitive skills.
Permits students to be creative.
Helps to uncover misconceptions.  Always be sure to look closely at each
template to assure that each student integrates all the needed components.
Offers a tool or strategy that the students can
use through the school year.
Teaches an approach that students can use with
each new teacher that they encounter in the future.  Your students can always share their template and then make
any needed alterations.
I hope you found this idea helpful.  I would love to hear your thoughts.
Cheers, Erica

Show Don’t Tell: A Descriptive Writing Game

Descriptive writing enables the author to paint scenes and
characters in the mind’s eye of the reader.  Like an artist, carefully selected, colorful words can
convey vivid imagery, but only if the author learns to “show” and not “tell” the audience.  Learning how to use illustrative adjectives, action verbs, graphic adverbs, expressive
metaphors, vivid similes and showy personification is the key to writing engaging stories.  What’s more is it makes the process of writing a lot more fun!

Concrete learners or students that struggle with
visualization or language processing can find descriptive writing difficult to
learn.  They can also find the learning process boring and tedious.  As a result, I created a
game to help make descriptive writing both enjoyable and memorable.

Show Don’t Tell: A Fabulously Fun Descriptive Writing Game, by Dr. Erica Warren at Good Sensory Learning, will walk you
through the process.  You will be
amazed at the beautiful paragraphs that players of all ages will create. 
Copyright 2013
Come learn more by clicking here
Cheers, Erica
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to and