The Question Box – a lesson plan you can use over and over!

fun idea for any unit

I am not sure where it came from or where it went, to be honest, but we used to have a small, shoebox-sized square box.  It had large red and green paisleys running around the outside and at one time probably held a yummy food gift.

But this was no ordinary box—this was the Question Box.  Using it MADE EACH UNIT MORE FUN by:

  • getting my kids excited about what they were going to be learning
  • starting our school day/history study with a fun, challenging activity  
  • helping our kids actually see how much they were learning as the unit progressed


After morning devotions, our routine was to head to the schoolroom and start the academic day with the kids taking their turns excitedly pulling a question pertaining to our unit study from the box.  Here’s how it worked.

How to do it.

Customarily, I would make up numbered history and science fill-in-the blank and short answer questions on the computer and print them out, making them different colors.  

I also made myself a key on a separate sheet of paper. Don’t forget that. 

I cut the questions apart and into the box they went.  I coded them so we knew which were the ‘younger student’ questions and which were the ‘older.’ 

We would have a new boxful at the beginning of every unit, and a big box full of new questions was always something my kids looked forward to.

Typically, at the start of a new unit they wouldn’t know many of the answers. (If they did not know the answer, the question went back into the box.)

But they had fun guessing and, at the same time, became more interested in what they would be learning. As we progressed through the unit, they were jazzed about how they were getting more and more of the questions right, and how I had to throw in some harder questions just to keep things interesting. 

By the end of the unit they usually had all of the questions, even the hard ones, answered correctly. We also had contests and sometimes received prizes (like a piece of gum or an M&M) for answering, for example, three questions in a row correctly. 

This simple idea could be adapted in a variety of ways:

·The kids could create and decorate the box

·Older students could make up questions for the younger ones

·Kids could pull a ‘seat work’ assignment out of the box, such as a verse to copy or memorize, a sentence with errors to edit, a short word problem to figure out, etc.

·An older elementary, middle or high school student could pull out a person, place or event to research, write about, and present to the group (or to you)

·Even household chores for that day could be chosen from the box.

As I have been slowly cleaning my way through the school room this summer, I came across some of our Middle Ages questions that would be appropriate for late Primary (K-2nd), Intermediate (3rd – 5th) or early Preparatory (6th-8th) students. The last five or so would be suitable for Preparatory and/or Secondary (9th-12th) students.

Sample Middle Ages Questions and Answers

The answers are in bold type and in parentheses after the questions:

1.  What is the name of the part of a castle that is a tower, often round, with many stories?  There, nobles slept, ate and planned.  Soldiers lived on lower stories with the dungeon below.  (keep)

2.   Between 1100 and 1300 AD, large groups of knights, nobles and even some peasants (and children!) traveled from Europe to the Middle East to try and take possession of the Holy Lands from the Turks.  These trips were called the ___________.  (Crusades)

3.  What are two popular games played today that originated during the Middle Ages? (chess and checkers)

4.  During the Middle Ages, craft _________ were set up to make sure their members were properly trained as apprentices and produced high quality goods. (guilds)

5.  From what disease in the 1300’s did about a third of all the people in Europe die? (the Black Death or Bubonic Plague)

6. What was the name of a legendary king who ruled a Kingdom where people were peaceful and content? He came to represent the ideals of justice, peace and honor.  (King Arthur)

7.  Large, rural estates were called _________.  (manors)

8.  A craftsman who made tools, weapons and cooking utensils from iron was called a _______. (blacksmith)

9.  Books were copied by hand, one by one, usually by ___________.  (monks)

10.  In manor houses, people used ___________ to cover walls, to keep out drafts, and/or to divide rooms.  (carpets and tapestries)

11. What were musicians called who traveled around the country, played, sang and told stories at special feasts and other events? (minstrels)

12.  ________ traveled great distances to buy and sell goods. (Traders or merchants)

13.  A special design each knight carried on a shield or his clothing that helped knights tell each other apart in battle was called a  _____ __ ____. (coat of arms)

14.  What were pictures called that were painted directly onto wet plaster?  (frescoes)

15.  What was a mechanical device called that hurled heavy objects into the air, at or over castle walls during an attack?  (a catapult)

16.  The ________ ________ was a survey completed in 1086 of nearly all the lands in England and was conducted by officials of King William the First (also known as William the Conqueror).  (the Domesday Book)

17.  Dried plant seeds, roots and/or leaves that were used to flavor foods or make not-so-fresh meat taste better (and were quiet expensive) were called ________.  (spices)

18.  The _________ was one of the most highly skilled craftsman of the middle ages, combining the jobs of architect, builder, engineer, and sculptor today, working on all stages of a building project.  (mason)

19.  Many ________ and _________ were used as medieval remedies for sickness and disease.  (plants and herbs)

20. What was depicted by the famous Bayeux Tapestry? (The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the famous Battle of Hastings in 1066, when the Norman invader William, Duke of Normandy, challenged Saxon King Harold.William’s forces won the battle; henceforth, he was called William the Conqueror.)

21.  Briefly describe the feudal system. (Vassals gave loyalty and service to lords in exchange for land and military protection)

22. Describe the concept of chivalry. (Chivalry is a group of character qualities thought to be exhibited by the perfect knight, including loyalty, honesty, courage, and courteousness—especially towards women.)

23. Describe the Magna Carta and its significance, as well as the circumstances under which it was signed. (The “Great Charter” was the first document in English history that forced a monarch to be subject to the law and provided for the creation of a strong parliament.King John, a wicked and greedy king who had levied incredibly high taxes, was forced to sign it by his rebellious barons in 1215 in Runnymede, England.Once it was signed, the barons again swore fealty to King John, not realizing the king had no intention of keeping the agreement.)

24. Name at least one key character from the Middle Ages and describe why he or she was historically significant. (This has many possible answers! Among them:

  • Alfred the Great: a noble and wise ruler who bought about an educational revival in England; 
  • King John: [see above]; 
  • Joan of Arc:a young French girl who rallied the French against the English and who victoriously led the French army in battle.She was eventually captured and burned at the stake as a witch; 
  • Charlemagne: French ruler, Charles the Great, who controlled most of west and central Europe and presided over what was called the Carolingian Renaissance; 
  • Genghis and Kublai Khan:Grandfather and Grandson, these Mongolian leaders ruled over much of Asia and almost to Europe.Although Buddhist, they were tolerant of most religions other than Islam.Kublai did much to encourage literature and the arts.)

25. Who were the Moors? (A nomadic people from Northern Africa, the Moors descended from Arabs and Berbers who had moved into the Holy Lands and spent many years fighting the English during the Crusades.They are known for their goal to spread Islam across the world and for their magnificent, unusual architecture.)

Please feel free to use these questions in your school, and have fun making up some of your own!  (And if anyone wants to send in their questions, we will post them.  Many hands make light work, you know.)

How do you think your kids would do at this? Do you see how it could spark some interest in what were studying?


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Kudos – Another Year Done!

Kudos mom







You have worked hard this year, homeschool mom! You are winding down or maybe even finished for this year, finally.  Great job!

If you homeschooled for the first time, you may be feeling a little… well, inadequate. A little disappointed that you didn’t finish all you wanted to do. You might be thinking it was harder than you thought it would be and that you might not be up to the task.


Please don’t beat yourself up — it truly gets easier as you learn more about homeschooling and how your kids learn.  You will “settle in” between years two and three — so don’t feel badly about it!  You are learning as you go, and that is okay!


Use the summer, or your next break, if you homeschool year round, to relax and regroup. Once you have had a chance to rest, carve out some time to yourself to evaluate your school year. Grab something cold to drink and something to write or type on to capture your answers and ideas as you respond to the following questions:


Meditate on these wise words from Elisabeth Elliot:

wheelbarrow to work in the garden on a background of green plants

You can do it!  I have faith in you!  Believe me, if I could do it, you can, too.  =D


Poetry Study: Anne Bradstreet, Puritan Poet

Literature is hardly a distinct subject, so closely is it associated with history, whether general or English…and it is astonishing how much sound learning children acquire when the thought of an age is made to synchronise with its political and social developments.

 A point which I should like to bring before the reader is the peculiar part which poetry plays in making us aware of this thought of the ages, including our own.                      —Charlotte Mason, Vol. 6


Our history and literature study, including poetry, is intertwined. As Charlotte Mason suggests, poetry helps illuminate history for us by letting us peek over the shoulder at the thoughts of those who came before us.

Please take advantage of this rich primary source material by including poetry — the very words of those living in the particular time period you are studying  in history — into your homeschooling.

 Anne Bradstreet, America’s First Poet

The first woman to be published in the U.S. and considered by many to be America’s first poet, Anne Bradstreet was actually born in England. Two years married, Anne braved the Atlantic and moved with her young Puritan family to Massachusetts Bay, where her husband and father were eventually each governors of this new United States colony.

Anne’s vivid, beautiful poetry is a window into the intentional strength and faith of the Puritan soul in response to the hardship of life in Colonial America.

Below is one of Anne’s poignant poems followed by lesson plan ideas to use for your elementary to high school-aged students.

Here followes some verses upon the burning of our house, July 10th, 1666.

by Anne Bradstreet

In silent night when rest I took,
For sorrow neer I did not look,
I waken’d was with thundring nois
And Piteous shreiks of dreadfull voice.
That fearfull sound of fire and fire,
Let no man know is my Desire.
I, starting up, the light did spye,
And to my God my heart did cry
To strengthen me in my Distresse
And not to leave me succourlesse.
Then coming out beheld a space,
The flame consume my dwelling place.

And, when I could no longer look,
I blest his Name that gave and took,
That layd my goods now in the dust:
Yea so it was, and so ’twas just.
It was his own: it was not mine;
Far be it that I should repine.

He might of All justly bereft,
But yet sufficient for us left.
When by the Ruines oft I past,
My sorrowing eyes aside did cast,
And here and there the places spye
Where oft I sate, and long did lye.

Here stood that Trunk, and there that chest;
There lay that store I counted best:
My pleasant things in ashes lye,
And them behold no more shall I.
Under thy roof no guest shall sitt,
Nor at thy Table eat a bitt.

No pleasant tale shall ‘ere be told,
Nor things recounted done of old.
No Candle ‘ere shall shine in Thee,
Nor bridegroom’s voice ere heard shall bee.
In silence ever shalt thou lye;
Adieu, Adeiu; All’s vanity.

Then streight I gin my heart to chide,
And didst thy wealth on earth abide?
Didst fix thy hope on mouldring dust,
The arm of flesh didst make thy trust?
Raise up thy thoughts above the skye
That dunghill mists away may flie.

Thou hast an house on high erect
Fram’d by that mighty Architect,
With glory richly furnished,
Stands permanent tho’ this bee fled.
It’s purchased, and paid for too
By him who hath enough to doe.

A Prise so vast as is unknown,
Yet, by his Gift, is made thine own.
Ther’s wealth enough, I need no more;
Farewell my Pelf, farewell my Store.
The world no longer let me Love,
My hope and Treasure lyes Above.

How to Read Poetry

No matter the age of your students, there are basic steps to reading poetry, as presented in How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. (This is a classic that should be read by all homeschooled high school students, in my opinion!) :-)

First, read the poem through the first time without stopping. Even though there are unfamiliar words and phrases, you will glean much more by first reading the poem through without stopping to figure out  the vocabulary.

Then, read the poem through a second time, but this time read it aloud.

Poetry’s inherent rhythm brings the words and phrases to life.  Now, you may start asking what the poem is saying.

The more you read it, the more the poem can speak to you.

For Younger Students

In true Charlotte Mason fashion, resist the urge to “teach” this poem. Instead, allow the poem to speak directly to your student. And this particular  poem will be more suitable for older elementary children than younger.

For elementary students, just focus on reading the poem. If you anticipate your student becoming frightened about your house burning down, remind him that during colonial times candles were used for light and most household items were of wood, so house fires were much more common than today. (Although we ALWAYS have to be careful of fire, etc…)

For an older elementary or middle school-aged student, read a stanza aloud, one at a time, and have your student narrate (tell back) what s/he has heard.  Record your student’s thoughts for each stanza.

After the narration is complete, you may ask your student to describe how the author feels about what happened, especially if this was not included in the original narration.  Your student  may also ask you questions about the poem, which is fine, but try to be brief in your answers. If your student shows particular interest in any poem, encourage questions, re-reading and further observation.

Of course, younger students will  miss the biblical allusions and will focus on the more ‘concrete’ aspects of this poem, as is normal for their stage of development.

You may choose to read other poems by Anne Bradstreet while studying the American Colonial period, as Charlotte Mason advocated reading one poet at a time, for six weeks or more.  For the younger set, focus mainly on reading and enjoying the poems.

For High School Students

High school students should initially approach the poem in the same way recommended earlier: first by reading the poem  in its entirety, without stopping; then reading the poem a second time, aloud, again without stopping.

Most high school students would benefit by reading this poem through every day for a week or more. As it is rich in biblical allusions and principles and Puritan theology, there is much here to be gleaned by the discerning student.

Assignment Possibilities (High School)

These are written to the student.

  • As you read through the poem, note at least eight examples of the dialect of the time period. Draw a line down the center of a piece of notebook paper and write the phrase or word on the left, as gleaned by your examination of the poem, and the meaning or spelling of the sample on the right, as it might be expressed in today’s language.
  • Read through each stanza of the poem, then write a summary of each in your own words.
  • As you read through each stanza, note any biblical allusions/principles. (There are several.) Make sure to identify and explain the allusion and for extra or Honors credit – add a Scripture reference.

Additional Assignment Ideas from our American Literature course:

  • Read an additional book of poetry by Anne Bradstreet, such as To My Husband and Other Poems.
  • Read at least one poem from each of the sections of the book and be prepared to discuss with your teacher what you learn about Anne from the sample of poems that you read.
  • After reading at least five of her poems, write two to three paragraphs about what you learn about Anne as a person. What is important to her? What did she believe? What did she love? What kind of person do you think she was?
  • Research Anne Bradstreet’s life and compare what you learn to what you discovered from her poetry. Were your observations accurate? How did they differ, if at all, from what you learned through research? Write two to three paragraphs discussing how your research compares to your observations from reading her poetry.
For additional reading on Anne Bradstreet:
For excellent reading concerning the Puritans, consider reading:


Is poetry something you enjoy reading at your house, or do you struggle to include it?

Christian literature based homeschool curriclum





Teaching Character Using Poetry III


We are continuing to celebrate National Poetry month at Train up a Child Publishing!  If you missed our first three posts, check them out: Charlotte Mason on Teaching Poetry, Teaching Character Using Poetry (Psalm 1), Teaching Character Using Poetry II (Psalm 8).

The third poem we are using to teach character is the well-known It Couldn’t Be Done, by Edgar Guest.  This simple poem will be appreciated and understood by all but your youngest primary students, and even they can appreciate it with a little discussion!

 It Couldn’t Be Done

by Edgar Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

About the author

Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959) was a naturalized American citizen born in Great Britain, a prolific poet and writer. Scorned by some poetry critics, he was nicknamed “The People’s Poet” because he wrote about common life and experiences to which most people could relate.  Popular enough to be syndicated in over 300 newspapers, he went on to have radio and television shows.  Guest wrote about topics that encouraged and inspired, and before he died was named the Poet Laureate of Michigan.

Lesson Plan Options

First read the poem silently, then read the poem aloud once or twice. Choose a few of these options depending upon the age of your student(s). Then do a few of the following:

  1. Let your student know that after the reading, he will tell back what the poem said. (Give you an oral narration.)
  2. Ask your students to tell you what this poem means.
  3. Have your students write about what this poem means.
  4. Research the poet and write one to three paragraphs about his life. (See paragraph above for more info)
  5. What character qualities does the person in the poem demonstrate? What specific words in the poem suggest these character qualities?
    • Courageous, unafraid to try:
      • So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
      •  If he worried he hid it.
      • With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
      • Without any doubting
    • Diligence, industriousness:
      • So he buckled right in
      • he tackled the thing
      • But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
        And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
      • Just take off your coat and go to it
      • he did it
    • Good attitude:
      • he with a chuckle
      • with the trace of a grin
        On his face
      • He started to sing
      • with a bit of a grin
      • Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
  6. Have your student memorize the poem.
  7. Here’s a cartoon version of this poem!  Have your student choose another poem, and make a cartoon version of it. Here are some free downloadable cartoon templates to make it easier.

Don’t you love the character qualities this poem inspires?



Are your kids struggling with Blank Page Syndrome?

Steam is starting to come out of your ears listening to the tap, tap, tap of his pencil on that blank piece of paper as he sits there, groaning and sighing.

When is he going to get started with that writing?!

“Mom, I don’t know what to write!  Can’t I do something ELSE now?

Do you have a reluctant writer?

I know what that’s like. I had one, too.

Not just had one. I AM one.

Two things I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Staring at a blank piece of paper is totally intimidating.
  2. Writing is easier to do the more you do it. (Like with so many other things in life, right?)

Here is one idea you can implement TODAY that will help YOUR reluctant writer practice writing relatively painlessly.


Have him begin a reader’s response journal and write in it every day.  But only for FIVE MINUTES. Tell your writer that even if he has more to say, he can only write for five minutes.

How to Do It.

Find a smaller sized spiral notebook or a composition book.  (Smaller = less intimidating.)

Writing about a good story is easiest. Before your student starts his daily reading assignment, have him write the following in his journal:

  • Date:
  • Title of Book:
  • Page Numbers read for this entry (page # started – page # ended)
  • Have him copy the assigned question (examples below)
  • Underneath, have him write his response to the question

What else you need to know.

If your goal is to build writing fluency, I recommend you focus on just having him write without editing his writing.  (If you have a particularly interesting response from your student on one day, you can always choose to make that into a writing project for the week.  In that case, you would expect your student to fully develop his thoughts, write well-developed paragraphs, use correct spelling and punctuation and to self-edit his work.)

You need to periodically check this to make sure it is being done; every day to start and then once a week once the habit has been developed, with periodic spot checks at irregular intervals.  :-)

Make sure the writing is done immediately after the reading.

Not only does daily writing increase writing fluency, this assignment also helps your student develop the ability to choose the main idea and to summarize a passage, both important writing and critical thinking skills.

Start with easier response prompts and then move to more advanced prompts as your student gets used to the process.

Remember that around middle school students mature to the point where they begin to be able to think more analytically, but this is a developmental thing.  If you are not sure your student is ready but you have been doing this awhile now and you want to ratchet it up a bit, occasionally pitch your student a more analytical question and see how it goes.

For your more artistic students, feel free to throw in some prompts that require illustrations.

A month of prompts to get you started.

  1. Do you like what you are reading? Why or why not?
  2. In a few sentences summarize what you read today.
  3. If you were a character in this book, who would you be and why?
  4. Is what you are reading believable? Why or why not?
  5. Draw four objects that represent your reading. Write a sentence for each item and tell how it relates to your reading.
  6. Write down one word from your reading today that you didn’t know. What do you think it could mean? Explain what made you think that.
  7. Is the setting (where and/or when the story takes place) described well enough that you have a ‘picture’ of it in your mind? Why or why not?
  8. Draw the setting in which the story takes place.
  9. Describe your favorite character and explain why.
  10. Describe your least favorite character and explain why.
  11. If you were writing this story, what would happen next?
  12. Tell me about the main character. What kind of person is he or she?
  13. Tell me what problem the main character is facing. What would you do to solve the problem?
  14. What has happened in the story so far?
  15. What is your favorite part of the story so far?
  16. What is your least favorite part of the story so far?
  17. What have you found boring about your reading? What made it boring? If you were writing the story, how would you make it more interesting?
  18. Describe the thoughts and feelings you had while you were reading today.
  19. What are the two most important ideas from this story so far?
  20. Write the title of this book. Do you think the title fits the story? Why or why not?
  21. What is something you have learned from reading this story?
  22. What ideas do you have about what will happen next? Has the author given you any clues in the story? What were they?
  23. What object is important to the story.  Draw it. Why is it important?
  24. Describe what one character from the story looks like.
  25. What is the most important event that has occurred in the story so far?
  26. Who do you think is the most important character in the story and why?
  27. What have you learned about life from reading this story?
  28. Write a paragraph about the main character in the story.
  29. Write a paragraph telling about the setting of the story.
  30. Has anything happened in the story that was unexpected or surprised you? Why?
  31. Write about what one character feels. Write about when you felt that way, too.

Hang in there, Mom!  You are going to hear some groaning about this, but if you cut down on other writing for a week to compensate for this daily assignment, it will go better.

Have you tried reading response journals before?  How did it go?

If you try this method, tell me how it worked for you in the comments!