Writers Workshop Archives - Eva Varga

January 30, 20152

Art Journaling has been a huge hit in our weekly Writer’s Workshop. An art journal is much like a diary. Anyone can make an art journal. The only difference is how you use it. You can use it like a diary every day, like a comic book of your life, things that happened to you, or just do sketches of interesting or memorable moments from your day or week.

In Writer’s Workshop, we have been using it as a means to express ourselves with words as well as with art. We create lists, include excerpts from books, and collages of words that have meaning to us as individuals. They become “art journals” when we add any kind of illustration or embellishment to the pages.

GIAmAs we were first getting started with art journaling a few weeks ago, I selected the prompt “A few things about yourself” as our first assignment for the new year.

I first asked the students to create a watercolor wash as the background. In the center, they were asked to write in bold lettering, “I Am”.  Thereafter they were instructed to glue down words they cut from a newspaper or magazine that they felt described them as individuals to create something of a collage. I love the artistic details of the page pictured above.

We don’t always have time during workshop to complete the art journal page. I thereby instruct them to finish them at home as homework.

Some students didn’t have access to print material that they could cut apart at home so they chose to write out descriptive words in pen. I just love how she has her words going around in a circle.


The kids have really enjoyed the art journaling lessons and writing explorations. Here are few of the lessons we have completed previously.

There are dozens of articles about artists’ journals and how to create and keep your own art journal. As I find ideas and inspiration, I pin them to a collaborative Pinterest board that Michelle Cannon recently started, Art Journaling. You will also find tips for success pinned here as well as links to mixed media journals and other useful supplies.

Follow Michelle Cannon’s board Art Journaling on Pinterest.

January 23, 20152

Sometimes coming up with topics and things to write about can be difficult. In Writer’s Workshop this month, we talked about where our writing ideas come from.

When you put your thoughts, feelings, and ideas on paper you are opening yourself up to whoever reads your writing. You are letting readers see into your heart. That is where a lot of your ideas can come from – your heart. Real authors also use their hearts to help them decide what they want to write about as well. Authors think about special people, places, and things that are close to their hearts to help them write their own stories.
A heart map is a visual representation of your heart, displaying topics that live there; these topics are ones we show passion for and find interesting if we are reading or writing about them.

Your heart map is for you, to help you discover your inner vision and your own unique voice that derives from your unique experiences and passions.

Begin by asking students to think about the things and people that are important to them. Go around the circle and allow each student to share one thing that is in their heart – one thing that is special or important to them.

Share samples of student heart mapping you’ve found online or demonstrate the process of creating your own heart map.

Use these guiding questions to help students uncover what is in their heart. The questions are to help students think about what is important to them and what they may want to include.

  • What has stayed in your heart?
  • What has really affected your heart?
  • What people have been important to you? Are they friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, teachers, and other people?
  • What are some experiences or central events that you will never forget?
  • What special moments stand out to you?
  • What happy or sad memories do you have?
  • What secrets have you kept in your heart?
  • What small things or objects are important to you – a tree in your backyard, a trophy, a stuffed animal… ?
  • What places, books, fears, scars, journeys, dreams, relationships, animals, comforts, and learning experiences do you hold in your heart?
  • Should some things be outside of the heart and some inside of it?
  • Do you want to draw more than one heart – good and bad; happy and sad; secret and open – and include different things inside each heart?
  • Do different colors represent different emotions, events, relationships?
  • What’s at the center of your heart? around the edges?

heartmapjOnce you have considered these questions, encourage students to begin their own heart map.  They may wish to draw a rough draft and then a final copy into their art journal after they have made any revisions.

Draw a large heart on your paper. In the center of your heart, place the most important person, place, or thing. Then, work your way out using specific words in each section. Verbalize each section as you’re placing it on your map (e.g., “My brother and I go to heritage camp in the summer. I’m going to write ‘Heritage Camp’ in my heart since I have so many memories of camp.”)

Tips: Take your time – possibly taking a break to give your long-term memory time to do its work. Do not worry too much about the illustrations, but do take care with the contents of your heart, filling your heart map with as much personal meaning as you can.

Encourage students to color in sections of their heart (e.g., they might want to color code it: purple for people, green for places, blue for things, yellow for ideas) once they’ve filled in all of the sections.

When a student runs out of ideas for his next story, he can re-visit his heart map to find an appropriate topic. The heart map has become the single best idea I’ve ever seen for keeping students from saying, “I don’t know what to write about.”

December 19, 20141

Last month in my post Cultivating Passions with Art Workshops, I shared with you that my daughter and I were looking forward to a mixed media art class this winter. The class is now underway and we are delighted in the format and all that we are learning.

This post contains affiliate links.


We were given free access to “Winter Wonderland” in exchange for our honest insights about how this course is working for our family.

 One of the first things Alisha shared was how to use an old book to create an art journal. Alisha slowly walks through each step of the creative process and we quickly fell in love with this process.

In fact, we have adapted many of the projects she later shared specifically for our art journal. We also began using art journals in our Writer’s Workshop and I’ll be sharing more details in later posts.

Our favorite project thus far has been the Birch Forest – a simple project that was quick and easy. It captures the stark beauty of a birch tree forest in the winter time. My son had shared a poem by Robert Frost in book club and I was thereby inspired to include it on my page.

The Winter Wonderland Mixed Media Workshop is a 4-week e-course which means classes are taught via videos in a private, password-protected site. Though the course began the first week of December, enrollment is still open and you will have access to the video tutorials for a full year.

Through the Winter Wonderland Mixed Media Workshop, participants learn to integrate a variety of art techniques and create 20 beautiful projects. You can watch them on your own time and adjust them to fit your family’s schedule.

The projects are a fun and creative way to express the spirit of the holiday season. I hope you’ll join us. 🙂

December 13, 20141

In the month of November, we read Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief for book club.  When we gathered for Writer’s Workshop, I gave each student a Percy Jackson word search puzzle. For about 2 to 3 minutes, they were allowed to find as many words as possible. This was a great segue to our lesson on Blackout Poetry.
Blackout poetry focuses on rearranging words to create a different meaning. Also known as newspaper blackout poetry, the author uses a permanent marker to cross out or eliminate whatever words or images she sees as unnecessary or irrelevant to the effect she’s seeking to create. The central idea is to devise a completely new text from previously published words and images, which the reader is free to interpret as desired.

Austin Kleon is the person who is credited with first creating this process. He has even published a best selling book with these types of poems, Newspaper Blackout.
When you are starting out with black out poetry do not read the article as you normally would. Look at the words as raw material. See the words as tools to be manipulated. You may toggle between two articles or remain within one. Your creation does not have to relate to the original article in anyway. You should take the authors words and twist them in to your very own creation. You are making fiction out of nonfiction.

Tip: Do not linger over one article for too long. If an article does not spark inspiration MOVE ON!

The kids had a great time creating their own black out poems.  My daughter has even dedicated a book with which to use specifically for this style of writing.

Have you explored this style of poetry yourself or with your children? Share your work in the comments!

April 22, 20142

Our writing curriculum – though effective – has just not been very exciting.  The kids have never been very enthusiastic about the daily assignments.  I have known for a while that I needed to make a change. I was familiar with the workshop format and had used it a little with my own kiddos, but with only two – it just wasn’t effective.

A few months ago, I read Heather’s post Workshops Work! A Parent’s Guide to Facilitating Writer’s Workshop for Kids and I was immediately intrigued.  Hosting a workshop for our homeschool community may just be the solution. Perhaps this was just the spark our homeschool writing program needed.

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Writers Workshop

What is Writer’s Workshop

Writer’s workshop is a time for writers to gather together and share their work. Sometimes workshops incorporate mini lessons and give participants time to write and some, encourage writers to bring pieces they’ve already written to be shared during the workshop. The format of workshop can vary and of course evolve over time. 

Like Heather, our workshop is based on the model from the book Workshops Work!: A Parent’s Guide to Facilitating Writer’s Workshops for Kids by Patricia Zaballos. Her approach to workshops give kids a reason to write, such as having an audience and something to say. She provides tips on how to create a safe, supportive, peer-to-peer experience.  Upon reading it, I was convinced this format would work.

I thereby posted an invitation on our local homeschool forum and awaited their responses.  I was delighted to see that many were interested; though some wanted to wait for the following school year, others were as anxious to get started as we were.

I began hosting workshop just a few weeks ago.  We had to be out of town last week, so the group has only met twice thus far.  Already, however, it has been a success and I look forward to getting to know the kids better and growing together as writers.