Cathy Duffy Reviews WriteShop

WriteShop is featured in Cathy Duffy's newest book, 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum,
published by Broadman and Holman.

WriteShop: An Incremental Writing Program

by Kim Kautzer and Debra Oldar

Product Review by Cathy Duffy
Author of Christian Home Educators' Curriculum Manual

Parents who lack confidence in their own ability to teach their students to write have finally got a resource that takes the guess work out of the process. WriteShop provides detailed daily lesson plans and instructions for teachers plus student workbooks with worksheets and forms that walk you all the way through activities, evaluation and grading. Examples, check lists for both students and teachers, and evaluation forms show students the objectives and teachers what to look for in completed work.

Not only do these features make the program easy to use, but the authors have structured lessons to build from the ground up, covering sentence and paragraph structure and style before tackling lengthier assignments. The subtitle, "An Incremental Writing Program," refers to the way the program incorporates and builds upon skills taught in previous lessons. Because of this, you should not skip lessons or change the order.

WriteShop I targets students in grades 7 through 10, though it might actually be used with students as young as fifth grade. WriteShop II is written for students in grades 8-12. The program works well for parents working with one or more of their own children, but it will also work in a group class situation. Co-op teachers will find the Handbook for Teaching in a Group Setting a helpful supplement to the Teacher's Manual.

WriteShop does need to be taught. It is not designed for independent study even though students do much writing on their own. WriteShop is a great starting place for those who have done minimal writing instruction with their children. Lessons—each of which might take about two weeks to complete—include “skill builder” exercises that focus on a particular skill, usually related to grammar or vocabulary. The “skill builder” activity feeds directly into the primary lesson. For example, the second lesson is “Describing a Pet.” The “skill builder” teaches students to use a thesaurus to come up with more interesting words to replace overused adjectives and weak verbs. This skill is then incorporated into the pet description. Many of the grammar-oriented skill builders help students finally see the use of some of their grammar lessons.

Two weeks per lesson sounds like a lot, but the authors have incorporated more than the "skill builder" focus into each lesson. For example, the pet description also works with mind maps, topic sentences, metaphors and similes, and concluding sentences. In addition, students are working through the editing and rewriting process on the original assignment. They also should be completing copying and dictation assignments that build skills of observation and attention while working on various sentence constructions and broader vocabulary. I think the authors have actually resolved a critical problem with copying/dictation by requiring copying first, followed by dictation of the same piece. This way, students have already encountered unusual punctuation or sentence breaks that otherwise might be unpredictable when encountered only through dictation.

The program is presented in a single teacher's volume and two student volumes, I and II. The teacher's manual offers more than lesson plans. It also has instructions on how to edit, how to make comments, descriptions of typical student errors and probable solutions. Student sample writings are accompanied by sample edited versions and check off lists with teacher comments so you can get a feel for how you might write your own responses. Other helps in the manual are answer keys; reproducible check off lists, reference sheets, and forms; supplemental activity ideas; story starters; essay topics; and suggestions for writing across the curriculum.

The first student volume focuses primarily on description and narration, although it includes lessons on writing short reports, concise (5 sentence) biographies, and news articles. Skills covered are typical of those covered up through junior high. The second volume gets into high school level with advanced narrative and descriptive writing plus heavy emphasis on essay writing. The level of difficulty straddles junior high and high school; none of the writing assignments are very lengthy. High schoolers will still need to practice writing lengthier papers and research reports than required by WriteShop. (Keep in mind, that the program is not intended to cover all types of writing assignments. For example, there are no lessons on poetry or writing business letters.) If you start the program with younger students, move through it more slowly, taking at least three years rather than two. Older students might be able to complete both volumes in a single year if they are very diligent and have already developed basic writing skills.

The program is written by Christians; you will find occasional biblical references, primarily in the teacher's manual. However, it also appears indirectly in lessons such as writing a description of a person where the authors caution the student to remember to be gracious and focus on a person's positive features.

Overall, this is one of the best resources I've seen for parents who need lots of help to teach writing as well as a great tool for group classes.


From 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, © 2005 Cathy Duffy.
Reprinted by permission.



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