Okay, maybe “hundreds of lessons” was a little over-the-top.

But I think you’ll soon agree that this strategy “feels” like it’s worth hundreds of lessons. And that word “feels” is the key word. Because that is our focus for today’s lesson on how to Teach Writing to Homeschoolers.


Repetition. Redundancy. Motif.

What do these three words have in common?


They are synonyms. Synonyms, you’ll remember, are words that share similar definitions—but each one has slightly different emphasis or feeling.


Repetition feels like drilling math problems in a textbook.


Redundancy feels like making a repetitive error error.


But motif . . . that feels like an artistic repetition of patterns.


How you can use artistic repetition in your teaching

In 2011, I had the privilege of teaching English in China. During a one-month training in Beijing, I learned a strategy that I like to think of as “Motif Teaching.” I’m sure it actually has another name, but I like the “feeling” the word motif leaves with me. The strategy is this:

“Repeat, repeat, repeat . . . but make it FEEL different.”


What does this mean?


Essentially, you drill a lesson, but do it in a way that the student feels like they are doing something new and exciting each time. Imagine working through math problems in a textbook. Let’s turn that boring activity into something more exciting using Motif Teaching.


We could do a couple of problems in the textbook to start with. Then we could get up and play basketball. Every time they score a point, they must solve a math problem from the book. If they get it correct, they get 3 extra points. After that, we could go outside and do a scavenger hunt that connects with the book problems in some way. The possibilities are endless.


Are they doing the math problems?



Are they doing things they enjoy?

Yes (hopefully you thought of things that fit their interests)


What does this mean?

They are actually learning MORE than they would have been in the book, and they will probably remember it LONGER!


A writing example of using repetition to enhance learning

Let’s apply this to writing now. I’m going to walk you through an example from my recent summer camp for elementary students.


Our goal for the day was to learn how stories are structured. We had a little bit of extra time in the class, the students were starting to get antsy, and I wasn’t sure they were quite getting the narrative arc I was trying to teach them.


So here’s how I used Motif Teaching to help students understand and internalize the narrative arc:

  1. I gave a lecture and had the students write notes
  2. I asked the class to explain each part to me when we were finished
  3. I timed them for 1 minute and had them memorize the charts in their notes
  4. I called on random students to answer questions about the story arc in order
  5. I had one student roll a die that picked a random student to answer a question about the arc
  6. I gave them time to study again and asked random students questions while erasing one part of the arc on the board each time a question was answered so that they had to do it without any hints
  7. I had each student get up and teach the class the different parts of the story arc.
  8. We ended the day with a 30-minute game where each student was an adventurer battling a dragon. They had to answer questions about narrative arcs correctly to get a chance to throw paper balls at the dragon to defeat him.
  9. For homework, the students had to write a story that followed each part of the story arc





Try it out!

I’ve used this strategy to help me populate 4 quarters worth of writing work for high school students so they won’t get bored stiff.


I typically combine it with a list of games in order to come up with fun, on-the-fly activities to do when we run out of material during a class and we still have a ton of time left.


You can access a list of games, writing prompts and other resources at CrankOut Words to start building your idea library. Then, combining what you know about Motif Teaching, you can quickly generate lessons that “feel” different.


Your students are drilling . . . without boredom!


Because it “feels” different.