Help for Beginners

If you’re new to WriteShop and find yourself confused about an assignment or exercise, we’re confident you’ll find the answer here. If not, search the forums or post your question at WriteShopTalk or Ask the Authors, or request personal support at But take heart! By the time you complete Lesson 2, both teacher and student will be accustomed to the schedule, and you’ll easily slip into a familiar routine.

I need help understanding the page numbers.

(TM p. __) refers to material found in the Teacher's Manual and (p. __) refers to material found in the Student Workbook. (TM p. A-__, B-__, or C-__) refer to material found in Appendix A, B, or C of the Teacher’s Manual. Student pages are numbered by lesson (1-1, 1-2, and 1-3 are the first three pages of Lesson 1).

If we want to take WriteShop slowly, how can I plan a three-year track?

The three-year track enables you to teach both WriteShop I and II in three years instead of the more traditional
two. The three-year track is recommended if your student is in 5th, 6th, or even 7th grade.

Page 11 of your Teacher's Manual offers two suggestions for planning a three year track, but here’s one more
option: Try a schedule of three weeks on, one week off. You can download a 2-year schedule to use with either WriteShop I or II.

Week 1: TEACHING. Introduce the new lesson. Together, do the pre-writing activities and the practice paragraph.

Week 2: WRITING. The student chooses a writing topic, brainstorms, and writes her “sloppy copy” (rough draft).

Week 3: EDITING. Do all the student and teacher editing and revising this week.

Week 4: Take the week off or assign a supplemental writing activity (see TM Appendix B for ideas).

By following this schedule, you’ll complete WriteShop I in two years while working about two days per week. Plus, you’ll have lots of freedom each week to stretch writing out over several days as needed. When you’re finished with level 1, advance to WriteShop II, completing it in either one or two years.

I need help coordinating the WriteShop schedule and Teacher Lesson Plans.

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be working through WriteShop like a pro. But first it’s important to understand
how the lesson plans and the schedule work together. Begin by taking a look at the lesson plans (they start on TM p. 20). You’ll notice the bold subheadings such as “Pre-Writing Activities,” “Practice Paragraph,” and “Sloppy Copy.” Next, take a look at the Lesson Plan Overview (scheduling chart) on TM p. 18. Do you see how those same headings appear in the chart? Now, when you plan your week, you’ll simply plug each of the activities from the lesson plan into its corresponding spot on the chart so that on Day 1 you’ll do pre-writing activities, on Day 2 you’ll write a practice paragraph, and so on. It’s that easy!

I can’t find the student pages I need (or I can’t find the Writing Skills Checklists).

You’ll discover that the lesson plans in the Teacher’s Manual refer you to certain pages in the student workbook, where
everything needed for that lesson is organized together. In Lesson 2, for example, each page begins with a “2” (2-1, 2-2, 2-6, etc.). Students will find all instructions, worksheets, Skill Builders, and evaluation tools in one place. (If no student page number is given, or if the page reference is incorrect, go by the title of the page.)

I feel like I'm doing too much flipping back and forth. Does it get easier?

Yes, it does get easier! Remember, your Teacher's Manual is more than lesson plans---it's a reference manual as well!

If you’re having trouble cross-referencing between the weekly schedule and the teacher lesson plans, consider making a photocopy of your chosen schedule (TM pp. 18 or 19) and keeping it close at hand. Once you learn the routine of WriteShop, you’ll discover that every lesson follows the same format. Furthermore, many of the pages you need to flip to are reference pages, and as you grow more familiar with the program you’ll find yourself jumping around less and less.

Also, you’ll learn that with the exception of Lesson 1a, the student workbook pages are always presented in the
same order: 1) writing lesson and related activities; 2) brainstorming worksheets; 3) Skill Builders; 4) Student and Teacher Writing Skills Checklists; and 5) Composition or Essay Evaluation forms. Even if the material is presented out of order in the TM, your student will always know where to find the pages she needs in her binder.

Why is Lesson 1 now divided into Lesson 1a and 1b?

In previous editions, Lesson 1 was very long, so it has been divided into two parts, 1a and 1b, to make it
more manageable for you. When you first begin using WriteShop, take a few days to teach Lesson 1a, realizing that it won’t fit neatly into the scheduling charts on TM pp. 18 or 19.

On the other hand, do treat Lesson 1b as a complete lesson, plugging each activity from the lesson plan into its
corresponding place on the scheduling chart. (Just be aware that Lesson 1b does not have a Skill Builder.)

What is the purpose of the Practice Paragraph?

The practice paragraph serves the important purpose of familiarizing both teacher and student with the lesson's expectations. TM p. 16 gives step-by-step instructions for how to write a practice paragraph. Here’s the general idea: You and your student (or students, if you have more than one child) pick a subject and brainstorm together to gather ideas for the practice paragraph. Follow the student’s lesson instructions, working as a team to write a paragraph on a white board (preferably), a large sheet of paper, or the computer. You do not need to edit the practice paragraph, but you may want to do so once in a while.

Do you have to write a practice paragraph for every lesson? Not necessarily. If your student quickly gets the hang of each writing assignment and appears to follow directions well, you may only choose to write a practice paragraph now and then, perhaps when a new kind of writing is introduced. On the other hand, if your child has trouble staying on track, needs more guidance, or doesn’t always understand the intent of the lesson, you’ll probably want to write practice paragraphs more often.

Just remember that the practice paragraph is a model. It is not the same as the paragraph that the student will write later in the week. She will choose a completely different subject when she brainstorms for her own composition. For instance, Lesson 5 asks you to write a practice paragraph describing fresh popcorn. When it’s time to describe her own food,
however, the student might write about fried chicken, pizza, or chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, but she may not write about popcorn.

When do I assign Skill Builders?

The Teacher’s Manual Lesson Plans do not usually make mention of Skill Builders because they are self-explanatory. Refer to the lesson plan overview charts on TM pp. 18-19. Notice that you will always assign Skill Builders on the
first three days of every lesson---it’s important that they’re finished before it’s time to write the “sloppy copy,” since typically the student must apply her new skills to her composition.. For a little more information about Skill Builders, see TM p. 13.

When do I assign copying and dictation?

The Teacher’s Manual Lesson Plans do not make mention of copying and dictation. We recommend assigning each of
these once a week. Refer to the lesson plan overview charts on TM pp. 18-19 for scheduling suggestions. To gain a better understanding of the importance of these exercises, see TM pp. 13-14.

Where can I find passages to use for copying and dictation?

WriteShop offers Copying and Dictation Exercises for WriteShop I. It contains one copywork selection for every WriteShop I lesson. Each excerpt has been specifically chosen to coordinate with student lesson topics and writing objectives, so they dovetail beautifully with WriteShop assignments.

Of course, you are always free to choose your own copywork passages. If relating the literary passages to the lesson is important to you, The Swiss Family Robinson contains a number of excellent paragraphs describing animals. Anne of Green Gables or the Lord of the Rings books may be used for passages describing scenery or people. A contemporary cookbook or a food article in a magazine will give you colorful and sensory food descriptions, as will many restaurant reviews. Often an anthology like The Book of Virtues or an anthology of children's literature from your local library will provide copying material.

Sources for copying and dictation are as close as your own bookshelf. Choose grade-appropriate passages or verses from storybooks and literature, famous documents, speeches, the Bible, anthologies of literature, poems---the possibilities abound! For more information about copywork and dictation, or to get started with some online sources, go to Writing and Homeschool Resources (Online Sources for Copying and Dictation.

Who edits the “sloppy copy”?

Using a Student Writing Skills Checklist, students edit their own “sloppy copy.” You may make yourself available as needed, but this exercise is designed to train them in the important skill of self-editing. Even if you as teacher offer a few suggestions, you will never edit the sloppy copy, and should avoid marking on it at all.

Who edits the first revision?

You do, using the Teacher Writing Skills Checklist (found within each lesson of the student workbook). If you or your student needs help understanding any of the terms, the “Editing and Evaluating” section of your Teacher’s Manual explains each element of the Student and Teacher Writing Skills Checklists in detail.

What are "to be" words?

Is, am, are, was, were, be, being, and been make up the list of "to be" words (conjugations of the verb "be"). Beginning in Lesson 2, students learn to limit the number of "to be" words they may use in a composition because these weak verbs often result in passive writing. WriteShop encourages students to choose active, descriptive verbs whenever possible.

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