Category Archives for "Writing"

SAT Grammar Secret


Here’s a posted conversation that may help:

Great question about the SAT.

The SAT is timed, so no one is going to operate effectively by recalling and applying a matrix of rules. The SAT prep  courses pretty much tell you to go with what sounds better anyway.

Here are some thoughts I’ll share (especially from working with my own kids on the SAT)…

*  The SAT grammar questions are about a couple of primary things—

  • Directness
  • Clarity

If one choice is more direct…that is likely the best version.  If one choice can be taken a couple of different ways…or…it isn’t clear who is doing what in the sentence–it is likely wrong.

Try a practice section and see if the most direct and the most clear aren’t basically the two things they are  after in the test.

Finally, in most of the ‘grammar choice’ questions you will be wise to cover up the answers and make a ‘guess’ before you look at choices A-E.  If you will go ahead and have a guess of what it ‘should be’ the way it sounds to you…then you will be able to quickly see what answer matches closest (and that’s the one that will usually be right).

Bless you,


P.S.  I’m often blunt because I am direct and clear 😉 –  sheri hollinger wrote

Fred, Your blunt-ness cracks me up. =)

I completely agree that grammar diffuses the ability to write, and to comprehend reading at times too.  Try to dissect scripture; many times this just baffles me, lol.

My question is….How can we get our kids to score well in state testing if we don’t plug away at grammar?


From: [email protected]…January 14, 2011 12:43:06 PM> Subject: [LybrandWriting] Re: A NewQuestion (Grammar – Jacee)Jacee,

I’m a rebel on this one!  We have NEVER taught our kids much formal grammar at  all…mostly because it is a stupid and foolish waste of time that takes kids away from learning how to write well (and creatively).

Now…let me reverse course…I’ve studied English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Spanish. Here’s is where grammar is useful…in the ANALYSIS of WRITTEN words. If you are analyzing a Bible verse it comes in handy (maybe).  In writing, on the SAT, and in college…using good grammar is important, but knowing grammar rules and principles is not. Mostly grammar slows the brain down.

Good use of grammar comes from good reading and good feedback (on papers and while talking).  Mostly the SAT is just concerned about clarity and directness.

Unfortunately, since we are all scared to death, we supplement our kids with grammar ‘just in case’  All I can say is, “Go for it.  More power to you!”I’m cheering for everyone and each of us must find our way.

For me and my house…we write and get feedback…and learn to make what we write sound even better.

God bless,

Fred –  Bibliomomiac [email protected] wrote:

Topic of Grammar – I was intending on waiting til high school to begin a serious study of grammar. My thought is that lots ofgrammar will be learnt from the writing programs and read great literature. But I do catch myself wondering if I should do more.It seems most my homeschool friends have a yearly grammar curriculum.  Right? Wrong?Oh, we will be covering grammar with Latin First Form, although notenglish grammar, it should be a good if not better base then english grammar.

– Jacee

How to Help a Child Think Up What to Write

what to write

The following was my response to an enquiry about a child who doesn’t know what to write during the writing part of the homeschool day.

Even though we don’t yet know the exact details (always best to find them out because each situation is different), I will throw out some additional thoughts to the excellent stuff several of you have posted.

In The Writing Course we explain how we can always write because everything reminds us of something. When kids don’t write it is almost always an issue of fear or control…not an issue of writing. If a child knows that he is just trying to write OK, and he knows that he can’t really think up what he is going to write before he writes it (this is in the course too), then all that is left is to learn how to make use of his own mind’s ability to associate. I show them how to use their own name.

I’ll use my middle name RAY (yes, I am Fred Ray…hey…born in Alabama) and come up with three words:

R – rollercoaster

A – airplane

Y – yarn

So, all I’ll do is start writing something OK involving those things.

Petula was always scared of rollercoasters. Even when she flew over the County Fair in her uncle Ceadric’s airplane and the rollercoaster looked very small and safe, she just couldn’t remember that feeling when she got near the ticket booth. Today was different. She was going to conquer the rollercoaster! Maybe it was the way the kitten played with the yarn, she couldn’t really say. But, she did notice that the kitten fell off the counter three times. After each fall it just climbed up again to win the prize. “If Tinker can keep trying for a ball of yarn,” Petula said in a squinted whisper, “Then I can ride a silly rollercoaster.” With that she grabbed her uncle’s hand and walked toward the booth holding a paper dollar she had gotten from her Hannah Montana wallet.

Well, you get the point. At the very least (if a child doesn’t know what to write) have him:

1. Do copy work (that will eventually motivate him to make up something more fun)

2. Write a description of something outside the window or of a couple of items in the refrigerator.

3. Use some of the other ideas mentioned in this group

God bless,

Fred Lybrand


My son rarely talks, how can he write?

Re: My son rarely talks: how can he write?

Here’s a note I got on this subject:

Dear Fred, My 10 Y.O. son is very quiet and has trouble saying or explaining his thoughts. He has always been this way. He also dreads writing. How can a person write well if they can barely speak or converse very well? ANd what can a parent do?  On the other hand, my 11 yo daughter can talk your ears off….she has so much to say. She loves to write and will write for hours! Is there a correlation between good speaking skills and good writing?  Thanks for your help

My Response:

Thanks for this question…I’m quite sure you are not alone.  Writing isn’t connected to talking a lot (in fact, most of the studies give the advantage to the introverts…it seems the extraverts don’t won’t to write it down if they’ve gone ahead and told it to someone!), though there are exceptions everywhere.  The problem when people are quiet is ALMOST ALWAYS that they are attempting to figure out how to say the right thing before they speak.  This is really an impossibility since the mind can only plan about 7 words ahead (this is all in one of the lessons in The Writing Course ). Here’s my thought for your son (who does need to get talking more)…he needs to use both hands.   Talking and quiet are both parts of our personality.  Talkers need to learn how to hush, and quiet folks need to learn how to speak up.  This is what I mean by using both hands.  We are all basically either left or right handed…but we can learn to use the non-favored one. Emerson observed that the greater part of courage is having done it before…so, I’d just get him talking.  If you know a book he likes, have him read it aloud to you some everyday.  Have everyone at dinner tell something that was fun (or funny) from the day.  Anything that gets him talking and learning that he doesn’t have to have the perfect words will help.  He likely just needs to realize that the world doesn’t end when he talks.  Of course, he will never be the talker you daughter is (I’m guessing here).  With talking…some is good, more is better (in his case). As to writing…he needs to be doing copy work if he isn’t writing his own stuff (10 is still usually a little young for much writing).  On the other hand, he can write single sentences that are OK (that he makes up).  He must be pointedly discouraged from writing GREAT sentences.  He must first learn to write OK…and get great later on. Is this a help? God bless, Fred Lybrand P.S.  If you don’t make it a practice, please hug your children together at the same time (not separately as much)…this makes a big difference, but I’ll have to explain it some other time. Grading Help:

The Writing Course is Getting Better

The Writing Course

Hi All,

You may not own our revolutionary course yet, but that’s totally cool. I just want to share a few thoughts that might be helpful.

I suppose in our hurried world we zip through information and zip through groups…on the way to feed our kids, love our spouses, read the Word, help at church, get some exercise….whew!

The Writing Course is going to get better…AND…what I’m recognizing is that there is a more strategic role I can play with helping families succeed (and excel). As with your children, what we want to stress is:

1. We can’t start with perfect, but we can start 2. The best place to start is with something that’s “OK” (Great comes later) 3. Learning means improving; that’s the mindset we all need to cultivate

You can actually have two families follow the EXACT SAME CURRICULUM, but each one will have different results.  The reason is that the ENVIRONMENT you establish has and effect on everything.

That is the greatest secret of The Writing Course …it is a system (with really important information too) that cultivates effectiveness and confidence in writing.

Yet, the same kind of strategy goes with our homes, and marriages, and parenting, and crisis management.

When you learn how to build a system that works (and that you don’t have to waist energy thinking about), you can see an even greater result!

My focus is shifting to broaden in service to those who want the help.Yesterday I coached a lady with some amazing challenges with kids who have both health and LD issues.  As we talked, it became obvious that if she could start school on time every single day, her life would become much (much) more tolerable.  It is easy to say to someone, “Well just do it.”  Instead, I showed her an exact strategy (designed for her situation) that will produce starting on time every day as she follows it.

Now, maybe it won’t work, but I’ve been doing this stuff for 30 years…and, honestly, I know how to make it happen :-).  Even better, I know how to make adjustments too!  This is the stuff I coaching with… “the system is your solution.”

This is the kind of thing I want to broaden and help with—because, even if you buy the write curriculum, the wrong set up around the kids will neutralize (largely) the impact. In fact, any curriculum you buy can suffer the same fate.


Imagine having a group meet in your home. The aim is to have everyone get to know one another by laughing and sharing fun stories from growing up. The food is great and there’s a talented facilitator you hired (who is also a great storyteller). THE PROBLEM is that all the chairs must face outside of the circle toward the walls. It wouldn’t matter how hard you tried, the ‘set up’ simply wouldn’t support what you wanted for the gathering. THAT’S WHAT SYSTEMS & STRUCTURES ARE ALL ABOUT.

On The Writing Course (it’s discounted just now)—you all have my word…if you buy it (or already own it)…I’m going to take care of you! Those of you who have been with us for the past decade already know it and often send the coolest letters about the change in your child as a writer. You also know it’s the 3rd / 4th time through that starts to really launch a lifetime writer.



Fred LybrandP.S. Just to stress the point…there is a misspelled word in here somewhere. That means this little blog is just OK (not great). And yet, you still can read the sentence and understand what I’m getting at. I’ve found wanting kids to write EXACTLY RIGHT is the most common way to throw water on a young writer’s fire.



Why Studying Grammar Hurts Writing (Video)

This is a post of an old rant of mind that I wanted to make sure was in my blog.  Frankly, we know that the more one studies grammar, the less likely he will be able to write well (especially creatively).  If we wake up and notice that grammarians don’t win Nobel Prizes in Literature we are almost home!  Grammar study is fine for analysis (Bible / Literature studies), but it just simply slows the brain down.  “Did I use a subjunctive there?  Is that infinitive split?  Are there too many prepositions?  People learn best to write by writing!

So here’s my rant 🙂

What do you think?

Fred Lybrand



You Can’t Test Creative Writing

Now even the UK is up-in-arms about the inadequacy of using standardized tests to access writing skills.  Here are a couple of quotes from an article:

Head teachers fear some pupils in England have been graded incorrectly in a writing test that forms part of their national curriculum tests or Sats.

It also polled members in one local authority – Lancashire – where 47 out of 48 respondents reported “serious inconsistencies” in the way different papers were marked.

In June, a review of Sats by Lord Bew recommended the creative writing test should be scrapped and children’s creative writing skills assessed by teachers.

See: Head teachers angry over Sats creative writing marks

Of course, they are running into the same issues we face with our own SAT writing section.  It is genuinely improbable that we will ever create a standard way to judge writing quality through a mechanical method.  We attempt it with the supposed ‘rules of grammar and punctuation’—but if you spend any time studying and reflecting, you will realize that such things are not standardized.  Actually, it is impossible to create a static set of rules for a fluid thing.  Language continues to adapt and adjust and grow.  Sorry, that’s just how it works.  Language may be the only truly democratic thing on the planet (Thank you Rudolf Flesch for this point!).  A writing course could be the answer, but wouldn’t it need to foster freedom instead of crush us by its rules?

If English had a static set of rules then wouldn’t we all talk like Shakespeare?  Well, methinks I doth protest too much 🙂

Language is indeed fluid, and creative writers come up with even more cool-and-unique-to-the-moment ways of communicating things.  You can rest assured that Shakespeare wouldn’t have written with the same ‘grammar’ if he were alive today.  Or, stated plainly, if he had—we wouldn’t know who he is!

Isn’t it time for all of the stuffy grammarians to recognized excellence in writing on the basis of some other set of criteria rather than their own ‘approved’ set of rules?  N.B. –  I didn’t say, “Give up on excellence in writing.”

My suggestion?  Go back to sound.  Recognize language is an instinct in the same way music is an instinct.  Pay attention.  If people like a song…maybe there is a reason.  If people like a writing style…maybe there is a reason for that too!  In fact, could the reason be that it just sounds cool, whether it is grammatically approve or not?

What if we permissioned (cool use of a verbifying a noun that I’d get a D for in school) our own children to write, at least occasionally, in a way that just struck them as sounding great?  What new writer with a new style might we gift to the world because of our kind empowerment to write in a fresh way (it will also possibly become the new ‘good writing example’).

Recently I ran a few of my sentences through a popular grammar-fixing software program…and I did poorly (a D 🙂

Next, I ran Faulkner and Hemingway through the same program…they did worse than I did!

Maybe the other experts will figure it out and we can have the creativity perfectly programmed out of us.  In the meantime, why not join my expertise and help a generation of writers by encouraging them to write with their instinctive ear for what sounds how they want it read?  Curse the rules…full Grace ahead!

Write well and write free,

Fred Lybrand

P.S.  Thoughts?  Comment away…let’s think together.

P.P.S.  If you found this helpful, you might want to know I have a whole curriculum available to teach children how to write by sound (instinct): It’s called The Writing Course

How Do I Grade My Child’s Writing?

Weekly I get a note or a question that sounds like one I received today, “Biggest challenge—being able to correct my student’s writing myself. I know what sounds good, but I am not a writer.”  What great honesty, and how common it feels to all who don’t see themselves as writers.  If you know what sounds good you are about 80% there already.

Of course, my conviction is that most of the punctuation and grammar training is killer our joy and effectiveness in writing.  I feel, sometimes, I’m on a one-man-mission to help people return to the love of writing [you can see my rant against grammar in the article called Why Studying Grammar Hurts Writing].

As a parent you have great motives and surprisingly wonderful insight on your child and his or her writing.  Frankly, you taught them to speak…not too shabby for just hanging around and discussing what’s for supper and why the neighbors don’t like you!

Here’s what you can do about correcting a child’s writing:

The Best Way to Give Writing Feedback

Well, that’s the idea.  You have so much to offer…but really, it is when your child starts correcting him or herself that everything jumps to a new level.  In the meantime, you are far more helpful than you think.  We even have our own children grade each other from time to time (it’s that helpful)!


Hope this helps,


Fred Lybrand

Do You Know the Shortcut to Good Grammar?

I started out thinking I might want to explain why all the folks griping about grammar (and punctuation and spelling) on the internet need to relax.  Look, I love grammar too (it is so cool to get at meaning / change meaning by looking at how words fit together)…but if your goal is for people to use good grammar, why not use the greatest shortcut available?

The greatest shortcut is our own instinct for language.  Here is an example of an article that explain the innate and consistent ‘basics’ of grammar hard-wired into all of us.

Article: Good Grammar in All of Us (ABC News)

It is innate and instinctive…in fact, evolution has a really hard time explaining how a language instinct would ever develop.  Pinker even admits that if evolution (gradualism in his view) isn’t true, then there MUST be a GOD!  Ockham’s Razor (in my view) also suggests to me that GOD is the answer to this one.  He is the simplest explanation.  He clearly designed us for communication….which includes grammar, of course.

When students start to discover that they can figure out what is ‘right’ (which means it works / makes sense) with their own internal sense of language–apart from knowing the rules consciously— or they grow a kind of confidence that invites them to see what else can be done with words.  Often this same experience blossoms into asking, “I wonder why it works that way?”  Getting curious about something one innately knows becomes real motivation that can last a lifetime.

Why not first show a student that he already knows a lot about language…then show him how folks have recorded the rules he already uses?

Of course, reading good material helps us learn in the same way splashing in the water leads to better swimming skills.

Hope this helps,


Dr. Fred Lybrand

P.S.  If this was useful, won’t you please share at facebook and twitter to let others know? Thank you!

You can also sign up to receive access to our FREE 6 Part Video Series


Typos: Lighten Up or Your Kids Will Never Write

I may be overstating my point, but I see people obsessing on Typos in their writing, reading, and editing…I mean, literally obsessing.  Honestly, it isn’t worth it and it really isn’t that important.  Worse yet obsessing on typos— it can really damage a young writer.  I hear how awful typos are a lot from educators, parents, and the occasional passerby.  I don’t hear the same complaint from real writers.

A few days ago, I got a note from someone who had visited my Writing Course site.  This person wrote these words:

If there weren’t so many typographical errors on your webpage, I might have been interested in this for our son.

Well, I could get defensive, but I’m actually glad to know about them.  You see, I believe that no one ever writes things perfectly to begin with…in fact, trying to write perfectly is the number one reason children don’t write much at all.  Imagine if you had to write a paper word-perfect from the very beginning!  Well, it is that attitude that subtly creeps into the lives of our children as we teach them anything.  They don’t realize that ‘you can’t start with perfect’ is not only a good saying, it is also a good motto.

We teach kids to write in 3 Stages: OK…GET HELP…MAKE IT GREAT.  If they just try to write something OK to begin with, they do the single thing they MUST DO to learn to write– they start to write!

Well, here was my response.  I hope it was gracious, but I haven’t heard back.  Of course, this person and I may just have a disagreement about this topic.

Thanks for your input. I appreciate the concern about typos.  I love to clean them up myself and almost never find a published book that doesn’t have a few.  Typos are really about editing rather than writing. And, while I am embarrassed, I do know that this is the very thing that often keeps people from learning how to write.  Many great writers where notorious as poor spellers, but again, that’s what editors are for.

If your son has a steady diet of having to get everything word-perfect, he will have a tough time getting on to the business of writing.  Typos are not grammar mistakes or style mistakes…they are the very things humans have a hard time seeing (that is why it takes many to eyes catch them all).

The first thing we teach is how to move from writing OK…to getting help…to writing Great.  Unless we learn to write this way, we never learn to write at all.

I’ll make sure the typos are cleaned up.

Bless you in you labors for your son,

Now, honestly there were a number of typos like ‘the’ before The Writing Course.  How was this missed?  I have no idea, jeepers!  And yet, if our kids learn to come to us and accept correction matter-of-factly, then they will be able to receive feedback for the rest of their lives.  On the other hand, if we are constantly badgering them about the ‘mistakes’ in their papers, then they’ll just learn to avoid writing like the plague.  Writing isn’t easy.  Writing must be learned.  And, even great writers have editors the count on to catch every mistake!

I beg you to practice lightening up about typos…especially in texts and on the web.  Do you get their point?  Do you make typos and don’t see them yourself?

I’m not saying we should not have standards and edit our papers well, but I’m just saying…



Fred Lybrand

P.S. Please comment with typos you see and I’ll fix them 🙂

P.P.S.  As a further thought, the New York Times just blogged this op-ed called The Price of Typos …here’s a quote:

Before digital technology unsettled both the economics and the routines of book publishing, they explained, most publishers employed battalions of full-time copy editors and proofreaders to filter out an author’s mistakes. Now, they are gone.

How Could Going to College Ruin Your Writing?

I have a terrible habit of not agreeing with folks very often.  It isn’t that I disagree, but it is that I don’t agree completely.  On the other hand, I occasionally find someone who says something I want to give everyone I see a hug about!

Michael Ellsberg wrote an article recently that clearly explains the problem with college writing (and frankly, the high schools can’t be left out because the teachers learned to write in college 🙂  Here are a couple of his points:

Knowing how to write compelling and persuasive emails, letters, memos, pitches and proposals sets you apart from the masses, who are mediocre communicators. It is one of the most effective skills you could develop for expanding your leadership and impact on the world—and for fattening your wallet.

Anyone hoping to learn writing should stay a thousand miles away from people who write in such a manner. That is, they should stay a thousand miles away from most university professors.  Click Here for the Article

It doesn’t get much more exact and on target.  His point is that the bureaucratic nature of education gives itself to a conformity in writing so that voice (my way of saying it) is lost.  Whenever you are busy copying you are never original.

That really is all there is to it.  Some silly notions about the ‘correctness’ of grammar and punctuation and style simply destroy both confidence and uniqueness in writing. Honestly, this is exactly why The Writing Course is so effective for those who dare to follow our wild ideas.

But do you need a writing course at all?  Heavens no…you actually just need to write, especially if you are reading some well-written literature!  Of course, if good minds give you helpful feedback, then you can learn at the speed of light.

Don’t avoid college, but do recognize it is a GAME that your child (or you) will just have to play.  It is best to write like they want (the game) and secretly despise the lessons (despise in a proper and friendly way 🙂 they try to teach you.

Impactful writers are simply going to be rebels of a sort…but Oh how we will need you!


Fred Lybrand

P.S.  For a free video on how to give feedback to writers, click here: How to Give Feedback to Writers.