Post Tagged with: "writing"

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game for ages 8 and up

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-I-n-g game

If your kids could use a little brush-up on their spelling, beezi might be the game that does it.

My son and I took the game for a test drive. He figures he’s a better speller than his mother (who is a writer by trade, a-hem).

We really enjoyed beezi. For off, it was easy to figure out how to play it–a huge plus. I hate having to read through two pages of directions to figure out a game before you can even play it.

And it was fast-playing. Another plus.

Essentially, beezi takes you around a board; you select cards and spell words. The harder the word, the further you go on the board. Special spaces on the board let you roll again, skip a turn or advance.

The game includes spelling challenges at different levels. That’s good because it means that your eight-year-old can play with your 10-year-old at the same time. And it makes it extra flexible for playdates.

There’s also a Teens and Parents edition, which we will definitely have to get (we were given this one by beezi, for review). We did find that the younger game was a bit too easy for my 12-year-old. Although, he did not—I stress, did not—win against his mother.

Because kids write down their answer, rather than just spell it out loud, the game can definitely help kids improve their spelling. The game provides a real incentive to sound words out and try to get them right. It also gives adults a chance to explain why certain words are spelled the way they are.

Some kids are shy or embarrassed about not being able to spell very well. Even my son, who’s a pretty good speller, didn’t like to admit it when he couldn’t spell certain words, and I can see that. So you may want to keep that in mind when you’re playing. Usually, I was able to explain that “everyone gets that one wrong,” or “that spelling rule is tricky” and then roll the dice and keep the game moving.

The game is themed around bees, a riff on “spelling bees.” The bee theme continues with the die, which features six types of bees (from honey bee – the easiest words to spell, to killer bee – the most challenging). My son likes “Shaggy Fuzzyfoot” the best; Shaggy’s a wildcard. And the object of the game is to reach the “beehive” in the middle of the board.

The illustrations are quirky and modern, and the dice is one of those big, chunky ones that are such fun to roll.

Bonus: The next time I go to a restaurant or a long car ride with my son, I’m going to bring along the card deck. It will be a terrific quiz-me activity, even without the game board. beezi would also be a good game to take to the cottage, because everyone can play it, using different level card packs.

beezi: the s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g game sells for $29.99 and is available at toy stores and Chapters/Indigo. You can also purchase it from the beezi website ($10 to $15 shipping within Canada).

(If you’re in Toronto, buy it from my friend Sam at her Playful Minds toy store. Tell her I sent ya.)

On the beezi website, click on Take the Beezi challenge for a fun online spelling challenge.

+Continue Reading

Getting kids writing – a book that worked for me

Just Write: Here's how by Walter Dean MyersDo you have a budding writer on your hands?

Here’s a terrific, fast-reading book that aims to get young people writing.

Walter Dean Myers has written more than 100 books, including the best-selling Monster.

He is currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in New York.

His books tend to be about the young, urban black experience in America. And he knows whereof he writes.

Being able to write lifted Myers out of his sometimes difficult home life. It gave him possibilities. It saved him.

He wants young people to be able to make the journey that was so important for him.

Just Write: Here’s How! is a book I picked up at the library because I was stuck. Having a been a journalist for more than 25 years–and writing nearly every day that I can remember–I was stuck. I had several looming book-related deadlines and I needed something to help me get unstuck, and fast. I’m delighted to say that Myers’s book has done just that.

I didn’t have time for boring, introduction-heavy tomes that were written from atop some author’s high horse. And kids don’t either.

Just Write doesn’t beat around the bush. It tells you how to start, how to plan, how to plot and how to revise. It’s practical and specific. “Here are the tools; it’s not easy, but you can do it.”

For instance, Myers plans his novels using a “six-box model.”WalterDeanMyersPhoto
The boxes are:
1) Character and problem
2) Obvious solutions
3) Insight and inner conflict
4) Growth and change
5) Taking action
6) Resolution

The writer fills in each box to create a plan. Later, each box is fleshed out to create an outline.

Myers also advises writers to pin photographs of their characters on a wall near where they’re writing. It’s a good idea.

Although it was great for me, Just Write is aimed at young people. Myers recounts his collaboration with a young writer who happened to send him an email. (I’m not sure how he got Myers’s email address, by the way, because I’ve been scouring the Internet for it and can’t find it anywhere–so right off the bat, this must have been an exceptional kid.)

The two–experienced writer and absolute beginner–began planning their book and then writing it, a chapter at a time, until they had something that could be published. Their book, Kick, was published by Harperteen (Harper Collins) last year.

Myers does a lot of work with kids in correctional institutions. He figures that without writing, that’s likely where he’d have wound up. He knows that there are kids in there who have something to say; he wants to help them get a chance to say it.

I love that although I’m not black, I’m not male, I’m not young, I’m not in crisis, I’m not a new writer and (I hope) I’m not headed for jail… this book helped me to write. If you know a kid who is even one of those things, I’m sure it will help them, too.

This is a book that will help kids get–and keep on–writing.

Related links
A collection of Myers’s books with descriptions.
Myers’s website.

+Continue Reading

Writing contest for Canadian kids grades 4 to 12

Madonna with Writing Child, by Pinturicchio, 1490s.

Madonna with Writing Child, by Pinturicchio, 1490s.

If you’re a Canadian kid in grade 4 to 12, you could win a great prize in a writing contest sponsored by the Canadian Children’s Centre and TD.

Here are some details:

  • Deadline is Feb. 1, 2013;
  • Fiction or non-fiction stories or poems;
  • Entries must be mailed in (no emails or faxes);
  • Must include an entry form — found here;
  • Prizes: $250 book gift certificate for a winner in each grade plus two honourable mentions ($50) from each grade.

You’ll find more details, the address to send your entries to and the entry form on the Canadian Children’s Book Centre website, here.

(Oh, the image? Yeah, that’s a child in the 1400s. He’s writing. In a book held by the mother of Jesus. Don’t worry, he’s not eligible for the contest–not Canadian. Phew!)




+Continue Reading

Rory’s Story Cubes – simple, elegant literacy fun

Rory Story CubesHere is a simple, elegant, wonderful game that’s great for:

• Story-building
• Fostering imagination
• Putting events in sequence
• Inspiration for writing a story
• Staving off boredom while you’re waiting at a restaurant
• General all-round silliness.

There are nine dice. Each one has six simple pictures. For instance, a happy face, a magic wand, a tree.

You use the nine images to build a story.

For instance:

I was happy when I found a magical tree.


The magician used a tree to make his wand. It was a happiness wand.


I “wand-ered” over to a tree, where I stopped and smiled at my own pun.

The great thing is that there are no wrong answers. And all kinds of possibilities.

Rorys Story Cubes box

Rory's Story Cubes come in a compact, efficient little magnetic box.

You can use as many or as few dice as you want. You can ignore some. You can make the images mean just what you want—even if that wouldn’t be someone else’s interpretation of the picture.

And you can get as silly as you want.

Rory’s Story Cubes are portable and stored in an elegant little magnetic-closure case. We bring them to restaurants and roll them while we’re waiting for the food to come.

Rorys Story Cubes app

The app sells for $1.99.

If you’ve got a few kids in your group—even if they’re very diverse in terms of age or interests—it’s a great way to keep them occupied. And laughing.

There’s a great back-story to this game. Rory originally invented his cube game for companies to foster creativity and teamwork. He has since come up with a number of different versions, including a version with just “action” pictures (verbs), one that’s about voyages, and a smart phone app.

Rory’s story cubes sell for about $15 and they’re available at most toy stores or online at the Rory’s Story Cubes website.

+Continue Reading

A book full of book bites

Breakfast On A Dragon'sTailIf you’re looking for an activity that will get your kid writing, Breakfast on a Dragon’s Tail, by Martin Springett, is a new and interesting concept book.

Dragon’s Tail gives you the beginning of a story, and your kid writes the rest.

There are 13 book bites in all, each one an intriguing start, whimsically illustrated, to a story that your child will finish.

Here’s my favourite:

Dracula and Son

“Wake up, son! It’s time to terrify the neighbourhood!”

Papa Drac stretched and yawned, flexing his long, white hands and testing his bright, white fangs with a handy fork.

Ping! They were solid and scary–ready for all the terrifying stuff he had planned for the surrounding countryside, the lonely farmhouses, and the craggy castles.

“Nah, I’m tired,” said Drac Junior. “I wanna sleep in.”Dracula And Son

“You’ve already slept in for nine months! It’s Hallowe’en–time to sharpen those pearly whites and to practise blood-curdling screeches, climbing down walls, and flapping about in a creepy way!”

It goes on, but you get the idea.

Dragon’s Tail would be great for homeschooling, for teachers and for parents with kids who are keen to write but need a bit of inspiration.

And best of all, kids can go to the book publisher’s website and upload the endings they’ve written for any of the stories. Fun!


+Continue Reading

Silent E

Here is a great video that teaches what Silent E does. (Spoiler alert: For one thing, it makes a hug huge!)

Thanks to, who brought this to my attention via a tweet.
Their website is fantastic – it’s a collection of videos that kids just gotta see.

And if you’re in the mood for something slightly more modern…

+Continue Reading

Fun online spelling bee

Oxford Spelling BeeThis one’s for kids who are already good spellers and who think spelling is fun. (To me it’s a no-brainer, but I have to remember that not everyone reads the dictionary for fun.)

Anyway, that kid will appreciate this great online spelling bee from Oxford. It’s fast and it’s fun – and it’s challenging.

Go to the Oxford Spelling Bee site.

Choose British English or US English. Then choose your level, from Tricky to Fiendish, and then click Start.

Warning – Fiendish will require you to spell words like gymkhana and belligerent, one of which I got wrong (Does the word not look better to you with one l? Look: beligerent. Oh. OK, that looks wrong.)

The website reads the word in a lovely British accent, so make sure your computer sound is turned well up. You can hear the word again if you want before you try to spell it. If you get it wrong, you get an X. If you get it right, you get a checkmark. Each category goes up to 15, and at the end you get your score.

I love that they start with “Tricky” as the lowest level which implies that if you get one wrong in that category, well, it was tricky. (It’s not you, it’s me, Oxford is saying.)

You can work your way through the levels, and you can do a level again to try to get a better score. When you do that, the words change so you can keep playing over and over again.

Now I’m feeling a bit belligerent about my score so I think I’ll go work out in my local gymkhana. Wait – with my horse. (I just looked it up.)

+Continue Reading

Advice from a young author: Dare to suck

Do you have a kid you’re trying to encourage to write more?

Is your kid discouraged because she’s worried that her writing isn’t good enough?

Here’s some great advice from a young author, Maureen Johnson, who is currently working on her 10th novel for teens.

She will tell your kid (in her own inimitable way) that in order to write well, first you need to suck. (3:56 but it goes fast.)

Here’s a link to Maureen’s website.

+Continue Reading

TDSB writing contest – win a laptop!

TDSB Prize pack for writing contest 2011.It’s time to get writing again – and here’s a wonderful incentive for kids in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

Write 150 to 250 words about what you’re most looking forward to this school year.

And you could win a Dell Inspiron Duo Laptop (value $550) or a backpack full of back-to-school stuff including a Kobo reader and a digital camera (value: $400).

Here’s the link to the contest where you’ll find all the details.

The contest is open to TDSB students, kindergarten to Grade 12. Four winners will be chosen (two elementary and two secondary). Winners will be judged on originality, style and overall impression.

Email your entry to before Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.
Include your full name, student ID number, grade and school.

So… get writing, and good luck!



+Continue Reading

How a pencil can help your child become a writer

Palomino Blackwing pencils in a boxI have a theory that a really great pencil might get your kid to do more writing.

Now, hear me out. (And let me assure you right now this isn’t an ad and I’m not being paid by anyone.)

I’m not just talking about a pretty pencil. It’s not some “normal” pencil with a fancy topper. It’s not sparkly and it doesn’t write in three colours. I’m talking about a pencil that is so special, so outrageously beautiful to use that it makes you want to keep writing and never stop.

To understand the Blackwing Palomino you have to go back a few years, to the 1990s when Eberhard-Faber stopped making them. (Those original Blackwings have sold on eBay for up to $40 each.) The Blackwing came back last year, produced by Cal Cedar. They did extensive research to figure out how to reproduce, as closely as possible, the pencil that Eberhard-Faber used to make.

I purchased a box from after reading this review on

Now here’s my review… and the reason why the Blackwing is the only pencil I will ever use… and the reason I never let my Blackwings out of my sight… and the reason I think that giving one to your kid will actually help his schoolwork.

The first thing you’ll notice is the cool, white, square-topped flat eraser. It is armoured in a shiny golden ferrule. You can pull up the eraser to extend it as you use it – or you can replace it altogether. The pencil itself is matte black, accented with a band of gold just below the eraser.

Then there’s the feel of the pencil in your hand. It’s soft and smooth, almost warm to the touch. You want to caress its perfect octagonal sides. You do.

But the best thing about the Blackwing is the way it writes. As the graphite glides along the surface of your page it lays down a fine, soft, black trail. If you’ve ever written with a stick in hard moist sand on a fine beach, you’ll know something about how this feels. There is a satisfying friction as the lead glides over the page, tracking its lines along your paper.

It is a soft, warm, smooth writing experience. Easy to erase, and to write and to smudge. It is an artist’s experience, but it is just as much a writer’s experience, or a mathematician’s. Or a kid’s.

On you can also buy one of the finest (cheap) pencil sharpeners you will ever use, and this I recommend for the Blackwing. It uses a two-step process; one hole cuts away the wood from the lead and the second one sharpens the lead itself. And there will be a great deal of sharpening with the Blackwing. The smooth, lazy writing experience comes at a price–you will have to sharpen often and well because the graphite is so soft.Two-holed pencil sharpener, called KUM

But it will be worth it.

A non-disclosure: I don’t work for Blackwing, nor did I get anything from other than a box of Blackwing 602 pencils, which are not the ones I have reviewed above. (The 602 is also a superb pencil; it is grey matte with a black eraser. It lays down less graphite and doesn’t need as much sharpening and for that reason some people say that the Blackwing is for artists and the 602 is for writers. But I am a writer, and I heartily disagree. Take back my 602s and replace them with more Blackwings, I say.)

In a media release from Blackwing, I see that they’re coming out with a line of premium notebooks in September. If they’re one iota as satisfying as the Blackwings that are meant to write on them, I’ll be rushing to get one.

Palomino Blackwing 602

Palomino Blackwing 602



+Continue Reading