Thursday, November 19, 2009

Medieval Legends and King Robert Bruce

Dear friends,

In my 7th-8th grade English class in our Providence Home Educators co-op, we've been doing a unit on Medieval Legends.  I've been sending home handouts with the legends in them, as well as comprehension questions and related writing assignments.  The two main source books I've been using are:
I also pulled my vintage copy of Hero Tales from History (which belonged to my grandfather when he was a boy in the 1920's) off the shelf for the story of Alfred, the Saxon King.  Then I found an on-line version of my childhood favorite, "Robert Bruce and the Spider" which I will link a little later in this post.  I can't copy the book versions of these stories into my blog post, but I did find on-line versions of many of the stories written at a slightly lower reading level.

THE KING AND HIS HAWK by James Baldwin


Robert Bruce was a king of Scotland who lived from 1274-1329.   Here is the tartan pattern of the Bruce clan.

Click the link to read the story (preferably print it out) and the poem. I have provided study questions below.  Choose several words to underline in the story to use as vocabulary words. You will find the first page of the story (with a link for the second page) at:

Story Questions

  1. In which century did this story take place?
  2. What is the first setting of the story? Where does the story end?
  3. List the three words in the first paragraph that let you know it is cold.
  4. Note that the story was written in British style. The quotes are single (') instead of double (") and there is one word in the first paragraph that uses British spelling. What is it? How do we Americans spell this word?
  5. Write down the words that your parent has underlined in the story. Look up the definitions and write them in your own words.
  6. Underline all of the adjectives in the story. Notice that they are generally vivid and descriptive, adding interest to the story.
  7. List at least four words used to show the king's emotions.
  8. Why was Robert in agony?
  9. How long after seeing the spider did he still need to persevere in order to gain the final victory?
  10. What is the lesson of this story? Write at least three sentences.

Writing or Oral Narration Assignments:
  1. Write a one paragraph summary of the story using vivid verbs and quality adjectives. Use a variety of sentence structures.
  2. Tell of a time when you hesitated to do something.  What helped you overcome this?  What was the result?
  3. Read more about Robert Bruce at (or for more advanced readers or parents who want to paraphrase or other sources.  Write a paragraph about what you learn.

"Bruce and the Spider"
Bernard Barton (1784-1849)

For Scotland's and for freedom's right
The Bruce his part has played;--
In five successive fields of fight
Been conquered and dismayed:
Once more against the English host
His band he led, and once more lost
The meed for which he fought;
And now from battle, faint and worn,
The homeless fugitive, forlorn,
A hut's lone shelter sought.

And cheerless was that resting-place
For him who claimed a throne;--
His canopy, devoid of grace,
The rude, rough beams alone;
The heather couch his only bed--
Yet well I ween had slumber fled
From couch of eider down!
Through darksome night till dawn of day,
Absorbed in wakeful thought he lay
Of Scotland and her crown.

The sun rose brightly, and its gleam
Fell on that hapless bed,
And tinged with light each shapeless beam
Which roofed the lowly shed;
When, looking up with wistful eye,
The Bruce beheld a spider try
His filmy thread to fling
From beam to beam of that rude cot--
And well the insect's toilsome lot
Taught Scotland's future king.

Six times the gossamery thread
The wary spider threw;--
In vain the filmy line was sped,
For powerless or untrue
Each aim appeared, and back recoiled
The patient insect, six times foiled,
And yet unconquered still;
And soon the Bruce, with eager eye,
Saw him prepare once more to try
His courage, strength, and skill.

One effort more, his seventh and last!--
The hero hailed the sign!--
And on the wished-for beam hung fast
That slender silken line!
Slight as it was, his spirit caught
The more than omen; for his thought
The lesson well could trace,
Which even "he who runs may read,"
That Perseverance gains its meed,
And Patience wins the race.

Poetry Questions:  
  1. Read the poem aloud.  Can you determine the rhythm pattern?  Which syllables are emphasized?  How many syllables are in each line? Is there a pattern of the number of syllables in each line of all of the stanzas? Note: In some cases, two syllables may be compressed into one to keep the rhythm. An example of this is the word "seventh" in the first line of the last stanza.
  2. Notice which pairs of lines in each stanza rhyme. Assign each rhyme pair a letter. What is the rhyming pattern of the poem? Hint: each stanza has the same basic pattern, though with different rhymes.  Note: sometimes the rhymes are not exact, like "host" and "lost" in the first stanza.  These are more visual than audible rhymes.
  3. An archaic word is one that is obsolete, and is not used anymore. "Meed" is an archaic word that means "reward." Find the two places it occurs in the poem, and circle them.   What other archaic words do you see in this poem?
  4. In what ways is the poem different than the story?

(Note to parents: The rhythm pattern of the poem is dee DUM dee DUM dee DUM, etc. with even numbered syllables emphasized.  The pattern of the number of syllables in the lines of each stanze is roughly 8-6-8-6-8-8-6-8-6-6-8.  The rhyming pattern of the poem is A-B-A-B-C-C-D-E-E-D.  You will notice that the rhythm and rhyming patterns are similar.  The first four lines alternate, the next two lines are the same as each other, and the last four lines have the first and fourth lines matching and the second and third lines matching.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sentence Style Variety for Writing

Sentence Style Variety for Writing
by Virginia Knowles

These handouts, which I have used in my 7th-8th grade English class in our home school co-op, are loosely based on concepts from materials published by Institute for Excellence in Writing (

Using a variety of sentence styles in each paragraph makes your writing more interesting.

Very Short Sentence: Very Short Sentences contain only 1-5 words. Use them to contrast with longer sentences, or put two or three in a row for effect.

• You won! Congratulations!
• Your mother is gorgeous.
• God loves you. I do too.

Begins with Subject

These tend to be boring if there are too many of them strung together in a row, so don’t use them all the time.

• Kate couldn’t believe what she saw in the box.
• The red kite dipped and swooped on the strong breeze.

Begins with Prepositional Phrase:

The prepositional phrase lacks either a subject or a predicate, so it is not a clause.

• In the house, we found a complete mess.
• Before bedtime, be sure to put away your laundry.
• During the sermon, Mike sat very still and paid close attention.
• Outside, the boys were arguing loudly.

Begins with –ly Adverb

• Cautiously, Margaret peeked around the edge of the doorway.
• Wearily, I plopped down on the couch.

Begins with an –ing or -ed Word:

• Swimming furiously, she made it to shore despite the riptide.
• Exhausted, she slowly pulled herself onto the beach.
• Panting, she explained that she had fallen overboard.
• Perturbed at this news, her mother fainted.

Complex Sentence with Begins with (or Contains) a Dependent Clause:

A dependent clause contains a subject and a predicate, but it cannot stand alone because it starts with a subordinate conjunction or a relative pronoun. It makes you want to know more to complete the sentence. You can use dependent clauses at various places in a sentence. Play with them and see which way it sounds better. You can use more than one dependent clause in a sentence.

• When you are done with that magazine, I would like to read it.
• I would like to read that magazine when you are done with it.

• While we were watching TV, Bowser dug underneath the fence and ran away.
• Bowser dug underneath the fence and ran away while we were watching TV.

• Where I live, we walk to the beach every day even if it is raining.
• If I don’t find my car keys, we can’t go to the concert.
• Since you won the local Spelling Bee, you can advance to the regional competition.
• Although she hated to wear them, your grandmother loved to knit socks.
• Because I detest loud music, I leave the room whenever Bob blasts the radio.
• Until you clean that room, you aren’t going anywhere!
• In order to ensure a clean room, tidy up a little every day so the mess doesn’t get too overwhelming.
• Once she had told the whole truth, she gained a clear conscience.
• Rather than tell a lie and suffer the consequences, you should always be honest.
• We practice writing so that we can get better at it, whether we enjoy it or not.

Begins with Transition or Sequence Word or Phrase:


• Early that morning, she prepared breakfast for herself.
• First, she squirted honey onto a whole wheat bagel.
• Next, she spread crunchy peanut butter on it.
• Then she ate it.
• Finally, she cleaned up the sticky mess.
• Later…
• Before that…
• Beforehand…
• Once…
• Once upon a time…
• Soon…
• Meanwhile…
• In the middle of this…
• After that…
• Afterwards..
• In the end…
• At last…
• In conclusion…
• To summarize…


• Thus…
• Therefore…
• Consequently…
• As a result…
• Hence…
• If… then…

Explanation and Example:

• In fact…
• For instance…
• For example…
• In other words…
• To illustrate…
• Furthermore…
• Indeed…


• Likewise…
• In the same way…
• Similarly…


• However…
• On the other hand…
• In spite of…
• While this may be true…
• Yet…
• But…
• On the contrary…
• Still…
• Otherwise…
• Nevertheless…

Other Contrast Sentences

These can be structured in a variety of ways.

• Fresh vegetables give us many vital nutrients, but most of us don’t consume enough of them.
• We should eat healthy foods, not junk foods.
• We should eat healthy foods rather than junk foods.
• Instead of junk food, we should eat healthy foods.

Completion Sentences:

One part of the sentence makes a statement, and another part extends the same line of thought. This is not so much a grammatical structure as it is a logical structure.

• We are going to write essays, and then we will revise them.
• We are going to write essays, then revise them.
• We are going to write, and then revise, our essays.

Sentences with Who/Which Clause or Other Appositive:

An appositive is extra information, not vital to the sentence, which is set off with commas, parentheses or dashes.

• Julie, who didn’t know about the rule, ate spaghetti in the living room.
• Julie, not knowing of the rule, ate spaghetti in the living room.
• Julie, my messy little sister, ate spaghetti in the living room.

• My teacher, who wants us to learn to write well, assigned 12 pages of grammar.
• My teacher, wanting us to learn to write well, assigned 12 pages of grammar.
• My teacher, an expert in mental torture, assigned 12 pages of grammar.

• That booklet, which is less than 50 pages long, took me an hour to read.
• That booklet -- less than 50 pages long -- took me an hour to read.
• That booklet (which is less than 50 pages long) took me an hour to read.

Compound Sentences with Two or More Independent Clauses

A sentence with two or more independent clauses is called a compound sentence. Independent clauses can stand alone as sentences. They are combined either by a coordinating conjunction -- and, but, or, nor, for, so -- or a semicolon. Except for very short sentences, the clauses are separated by a comma.

• We will to go to the beach, and then we will go out for dinner with friends.
• I will move or I will go crazy.
• Jane thought she wouldn't enjoy the book, but she devoured it in one sitting.
• He can afford to buy the mansion; he is a millionaire.
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