Frequently Asked Questions
About WriteShop

General Questions
Ages and Grades
WriteShop Structure and Style
Teaching WriteShop in Co-ops or Classes

What does WriteShop teach?

WriteShop focuses on teaching the elements of style. Students learn to develop strong paragraphs through choosing vivid, descriptive words and using sentence variations. In WriteShop I, they first learn to write descriptive paragraphs before moving on to informative, narrative, and persuasive writing. WriteShop II reviews WriteShop I concepts and then covers descriptive narration and essay writing. Skill Builders, found in both levels, reinforce new concepts that students then apply to their current compositions. While not a complete language arts program, WriteShop encourages growth and awareness in vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

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Can we combine WriteShop lessons with history or unit studies?


Yes! Appendix B of the Teacher's Manual has a section called Writing across the Curriculum. It's filled with ideas for applying each WriteShop composition and essay to whatever you happen to be studying in history, science, art, literature, or other related subjects.

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What grades can use WriteShop?

WriteShop I works best for typical students in grades 6-10. After its completion, they may advance to WriteShop II.

High school students who lack the basics of good writing skills will develop a solid foundation using WriteShop. High schoolers at all levels will benefit from the essays and other more advanced writing activities introduced in WriteShop II, especially if they plan to take the SAT college entrance exam.

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Can I Use WriteShop with third-, fourth-, or fifth-graders?

WriteShop I was written with the average seventh- to tenth-grader in mind, though many are using it successfully with their sixth-graders as well. In their desire to find a writing program for their younger children, however, parents are now beginning to look to WriteShop to meet the needs of their third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders.

Although many of WriteShop's lessons and activities are appropriate for bright students in the eight- to eleven-year-old range, they are not necessarily AGE-appropriate. For instance, a fourth-grader can certainly play sentence-building word games or other pre-writing activities. He can, at his level of ability, describe an object, a pet, or a person or tell a story about his most exciting experience. But he cannot and should not be expected to have the patience, the experience, nor the thinking skills to apply all the WriteShop concepts to his compositions. He also does not have the vocabulary to fully develop his writing. When using WriteShop, children in this age range usually have difficulty:

  • fulfilling the expectations of each assignment.
  • understanding some of the vocabulary they encounter in the student instructions.
  • grasping more mature writing concepts.
  • applying required sentence variations to each composition (as many as nine), including using participial and adverbial phrases, subordinate conjunctions, similes, and appositives.

As bright and advanced as your child may be, it is not really necessary to do much formal writing with him or her before fifth grade. Even though you may love the WriteShop methods and concepts, please don't be tempted to begin the program too soon, as the following problems will likely arise.

  • Your child, because he is younger, will not gain the full benefits of WriteShop.
  • Your child will finish WriteShop I long before he is ready for WriteShop II. This will leave you with the new predicament of finding yet another writing program to carry him until he can begin WriteShop II in two or three years {during which time he will likely forget much of what he learned in level I).
  • You will be stuck wondering, "Now what?" for junior high and high school. Remember that WriteShop was developed for older students. There are other methods and programs more appropriate for your younger ones. Since finding an incremental, hand-holding writing program for the older grades is not as easy, it's better to do something different now and wait to begin WriteShop when your child is in seventh or even eighth grade.

On the other hand, if you are teaching WriteShop to older siblings, it's certainly appropriate to include the younger ones in the pre-writing activities and practice paragraph discussions. You can even have them compose age-appropriate paragraphs similar to the ones their older brothers or sisters write. Do not have them complete every part of every lesson nor hold them to the high standards and requirements of the Student and Teacher Writing Skills Checklists. In other words, allow them to explore the ideas of concrete, descriptive writing without expecting them to perform at a junior high level. Then, when they are old enough, take them through the program in its entirety.

WriteShop is not inexpensive. We want you to be satisfied with your purchase and pleased with your children's writing efforts. Waiting to use this program with the students for whom it was designed will help ensure that they receive maximum benefit from WriteShop. In the meantime, consider Wordsmith Apprentice for your younger children.

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Can a new student begin with WriteShop II?

WriteShop II covers advanced description and narration and emphasizes development of persuasive writing and essay skills. You are probably aware that abstract thinking does not develop before junior high. Younger children think concretely and have trouble reasoning. With this in mind, you will probably not want to use WriteShop II with a 5th, 6th, or 7th grader.

Although high schoolers with a strong writing foundation will benefit from WriteShop II's lessons---be careful! They might be ready for the writing activities, but they will not be familiar with the WriteShop philosophy and style of instruction. A wise teacher will review the fundamental concepts taught in Lesson 1 (and found in the Teacher's Manual) before introducing new students to WriteShop II.

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My 7th grader is a reluctant writer who just freezes when he's looking at a blank paper. Would WriteShop be a good fit for him?

You're not alone---many kids are reluctant writers, boys in particular! It's a common myth that people are born with a "writing gene." In reality, writing is very much a learned skill. By nature some children certainly do seem more expressive. Others, like your son, are totally intimidated by the blank page, groaning, "I don't know what to say," or "I don't know how to start."

Fortunately, the WriteShop program will help your struggling writer overcome this very real frustration. First, WriteShop teaches the reluctant student how to pick suitable writing topics. Second, with guided direction he learns to develop them in an interesting manner. WriteShop requires him to brainstorm before each composition. As he is walked through a series of steps to help him gather ideas, he'll also be encouraged to use his thesaurus and word banks. And finally, when it's time to write the rough draft, the lesson instructions will carefully lead him through the process. In the end, even the most reluctant of writers feels a sense of accomplishment when he sees an idea unfold and take shape on that once-overwhelming blank page!

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Should I start my 17-year-old in WriteShop II even though he's a weak writer? I'm concerned that WriteShop I will be too "young" for him.

WriteShop I has worked successfully with students in 6th to 12th grades. Although your son is a bit older, it will still teach important skills to help him grow as a writer. Don't be too quick to advance him to WriteShop II without giving him a solid foundation in descriptive, informative, and narrative writing.

Lesson 3 is called "Describing a Person." You can give this assignment to a 6th grader, a 10th grader, or an adult and get different results based on each one's abilities. Just because your son is now 17 doesn't mean he shouldn't have to learn how to describe a person! Adults who learned descriptive writing skills have written some of our most beloved novels, including Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, and The Hobbit, each of which contains detailed descriptions of people.

Remember---your son will gain something valuable from every lesson. Students write based on their skill, vocabulary, maturity, and life experience. Expect your son to write at his level, and encourage him to be challenged and stretched along the way.

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My 15-year-old daughter has taken an essay writing class using Format Writing as the text. She also loves to write stories, though she can get a bit wordy. Should she begin with WriteShop I or II?

It sounds like she could go right into WriteShop II. It's good that you can recognize her wordiness. Some parents think that's a plus---they think flowery writing and long sentences make their children strong writers---but such students need to learn conciseness. That's one of the reasons WriteShop limits the number of paragraphs the students may write. WriteShop students learn that it's better to say all they want using fewer words---as long as they choose those words carefully! And you have the benefit of the Teacher's Manual, which has the lesson plans for BOTH student levels. You can always review concepts from earlier lessons.

Consider this as well: WriteShop I introduces new writing skills and sentence variations gradually. WriteShop II quickly reviews the key concepts and sentence variations taught in WriteShop I, and then expects that students will be able to handle the new material. If you think your daughter can keep up, go with WriteShop II. You know your daughter best---in the end, the decision will have to be yours.

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Is WriteShop "user friendly"?

Absolutely! All the preparation has been done for you. Easy-to-follow lesson plans and complete, clear instructions take the guesswork out of teaching writing.

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What is the teacher/parent role?

Relax! You do not need to be an "expert" writer to succeed at teaching WriteShop. This program has been designed with the insecure parent in mind! Introduce each new lesson using clear, easy-to-follow instructions. The Teacher's Manual walks you through proofreading and editing your student's first revision, discussing ways to improve each composition. Then, when the final draft is complete, you will use the Composition Evaluation form to give a grade.

Plan to work closely with your children. Some students, lacking experience, concentration, or self-assurance, will need to work side-by-side with you. Others will happily write independently. However, we strongly recommend a partnership. We personally discovered the importance of sitting with our own children through each step of the writing process, encouraging, directing, leading, and asking questions. As they grew in ability and confidence, we released them more to their own work.

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How much teacher prep time is required?

Prep time is minimal. All the preparation has been done for you, and the lesson plans are laid out in an orderly, step-by-step fashion. Once in a while you will need to gather some simple materials. For example, Lesson 3 asks for magazine pictures of people's faces. Lesson 5 requires a bowl of popcorn.

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How long will it take to complete the program?

Most students can complete both WriteShop I and II in two years. However, because of built-in flexibility, a bright and motivated older student may choose to tackle them in one year, completing WriteShop I in one semester and WriteShop II in another.

On the other hand, the three-year track, which provides extra practice, is ideal for students who need to work at a slower pace, or for anyone who wants to cover all the basics found in a good writing program while supplementing with additional creative activities. Regardless of the track you choose, it's important to work for understanding and eventual mastery of WriteShop concepts, even if it takes more than two or three years. Your goal should not be to finish within a certain time frame, but to improve your student's writing.

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What is a typical WriteShop schedule?

Each day is a little different. Here's a typical 2-Week Plan. The Teacher's Manual has lesson plans containing detailed instructions for each step.

Day 1: Teach the new lesson.

Day 2: You and your student(s) write a practice paragraph together. This helps them understand the lesson expectations.

Day 3: Each student picks a new topic and brainstorms for his or her own paragraph.

Day 4: Students write their "sloppy copies" (rough drafts).

Day 5: Flex day (no writing is assigned).

Day 6: Students edit their "sloppy copies" and write a first revision.

Day 7: You edit their first revisions using a special checklist (no writing is assigned).

Day 8: Return the first revisions; students write their final drafts.

Day 9: Grade final drafts (no writing is assigned).

Day 10: Flex day (no writing is assigned).

As you can see from this schedule, there are some days where your student will not do any writing at all. On the days he or she does write (or on days you work together), the time spent will usually vary from 15-90 minutes, depending on the work load and the student's motivation. Some kids take longer. (The longest days tend to be Days 1, 2, 4, and 8.)

You can complete WriteShop I or II in a semester, a year, or two years. To view sample schedules, click here.

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How is material introduced?

Typically, students write one composition over a two-week period, revising it twice. Systematic and incremental, WriteShop introduces new ideas in each lesson. Meanwhile, students continue using previously-learned material in their writing. New concepts, ingrained through frequent practice, eventually become natural.

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Why does WriteShop emphasize editing?

Your student will discover that all published writers edit and revise frequently. Their goal is to produce a polished piece they can be proud to share with others. Learning to edit is fundamental to the WriteShop program. Students edit methodically, using a unique Writing Skills Checklist that is individually tailored to its corresponding lesson. As the students work through the revising process, this wonderful tool helps them search for ways to improve their paragraphs. The checklists simplify your job, too, as you discover ways to help your child with objective and encouraging suggestions.

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I hear a lot about "style." Why is this important?

Style is the element that adds interest to a written piece. Sentence variety and colorful word choices are two fundamentals of style you can readily teach children. Most writing programs focus on content, where students are asked to write compositions about particular subjects. Fewer programs, though, appear to teach style. WriteShop teaches both.

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What about structure?

One of WriteShop's goals is to expose students to a variety of writing opportunities. Pre-writing activities, brainstorming exercises, and the compositions themselves all help contribute to a well-rounded writing experience.

To some, certain pre-writing games and activities seem like "fluff." But in our experience, many of these so-called "fluffy" exercises actually help uncork the student who is full of ideas but just doesn't know it yet! If you think of yourself as a no-nonsense, let's-get-to-the-point person, you may decide to opt out of the pre-writing activities. However, your child may not be of the same temperament. Be willing to try some---and you might be pleasantly surprised!

Through a variety of brainstorming techniques, WriteShop teaches students to organize their thoughts in different ways as they prepare to write. They might make a chart or list as they answer a set of idea-inspiring questions. Graphic organizers such as mind-maps and question boxes help them learn to separate and arrange ideas. Traditional outlining is taught in both WriteShop I and II, and WriteShop II introduces Venn diagrams. Students also learn to think through the process of linking together a series of events in preparation for writing narratives. And one lesson teaches interviewing skills as a method of gathering and organizing information for yet another type of narrative.

Finally, the writing assignment itself teaches students how to organize their brainstorming or research into a composition that will be revised and polished several times on its way to becoming a final draft. They will advance through descriptive, informative, narrative, and essay writing, practicing with vivid description, point of view, narrative voice, expository writing, and persuasion. Each incremental step of the WriteShop program will lead and direct the students as they gain competence in both structure and style.

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What kind of growth might I expect to see in my student's writing?

Although each student's abilities vary, you will see improvement in your child's writing as he or she repeatedly applies newly-learned skills to every writing activity. The following example was written by a struggling 7th grader. The "before" paragraph was composed prior to his first lesson, and the "after" paragraph was written after the completion of WriteShop I. You will still find a few errors; it is important to realize that David received no parent or teacher help for either paragraph. Notice how his second paragraph improved in focus, style, organization, clarity, and description.

For example, although David's first paragraph is titled "My Vacation," see how the content shifts from David's experience to an observation about water skiers in general. It's filled with vague and repeated words and run-on sentences. His second paragraph, however, clearly draws the reader into David's own experience as he narrows his topic, expands his vocabulary, and improves his mechanics and style.

My Vacation (before)

by David, age 12

When I was on vacation we went water skiing it was fun. I got up on the skis. When you water ski your leg muscles start to hurt. You can do lots of tricks on water skis. People who are really good go off jumps it looks like fun but I have seen people fall when they land and it looks like it hurts!

Water Skiing in Wisconsin (after)

Excited and anxious, I await Debbie my aunt to take me water skiing. Boating out to the middle of Pickerel lake, I strap on my life jacket. Reaching our final destination in the lake, I leap off the boat and into the water. Quickly I hook on the skis to my feet. I give the signal to start and away we go! Holding tight to the tow bar like a sloth to the tree, I struggle to stay on my feet as we cross other boat wakes. Concentrating on all the mechanics I notice that my time is up and I release my grip from the bar and slowly sink. I have finally completed my first water skiing trip.

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What can we do after completing WriteShop II?

WriteShop lessons may be repeated year after year simply by changing topics and requiring longer compositions. Suggestions for additional and/or more challenging writing assignments, ideas and projects for writing across the curriculum, and ways to expand existing WriteShop lessons are included in the Teacher's Manual. You will also discover a wealth of ideas, topics, and story starters for writing creative fiction, along with dozens of topics for timed and untimed essays.

Older high schoolers should learn how to write term papers and longer essays. They should also learn how to analyze literature. If you have a community college in your area, perhaps you might consider enrolling your student in one of their English courses. Many of these colleges give placement tests.

For a high school level course aimed at homeschoolers, you might want to look into Biola University's STAR Torrey Academy. This Christian university offers challenging online courses for homeschooled high schoolers. Torrey Academy is a strong academic program that emphasizes great literature and extensive writing. The program includes a writing lab that teaches students to write a research paper. Visit their website for details. Because of the course demands, it is helpful for students to have experience with a preparatory writing program such as WriteShop.

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Is there any religious content in WriteShop?

WriteShop is not an overtly religious curriculum, but it does contain occasional references of that nature. They are minimal and can easily be skipped or even changed if you are not a person of faith. These are the religious references you can expect to find:

  • Student/Teacher Writing Skills Checklists. Each checklist will ask students to determine whether their topic and choice of words are pleasing to the Lord and edifying to others. (In other words, did the student refrain from offensive content and vulgar, crass, or unwholesome language?)
  • Teacher's Manual lesson plans. The teacher’s instructions for Lesson 1 include the references for four Bible verses to look up, if you wish.
  • Examples of student writing. A few of these samples make a one-time mention of God or a Bible verse. They include phrases like "I think this [rock] is one of God's most unique creations" (Lesson 1); "Abraham, a mighty man of God, had many struggles during his life" (Lesson 10); or "He lives out the verse in Proverbs that says a friend sticks closer than a brother" (Lesson 29).
  • Student lesson content. In Lesson 15, students are asked to retell the Old Testament story of David and Goliath from the point of view of one of the characters. If you don't mind teaching Greek mythology or Native American folklore, you can similarly view this as using the Bible as literature. But if you don't want to follow the lesson at all, simply choose another short, familiar tale that your child can rewrite. (For example, the Teacher's Manual uses The Tale of Peter Rabbit for the practice paragraph.) The lesson focus is not about retelling a Bible story; it's about writing from a particular point of view.
  • Skill Builder content. Skill Builder worksheets teach vocabulary-building and grammar concepts. They occasionally include a sentence with religious connotations, such as "(_____________), Pastor Edwards bowed his head." A student can fill in the blank with a “religious” answer ("Praying quietly…") or a “neutral” answer ("Trying to avoid the stinging rain…"). Of a Skill Builder’s typical 20-30 problems or exercises, there is usually no more than one such example. As a rule it will refer to church or a Bible character. The majority of Skill Builders contain neutral themes like sports, pets, family, home, nature, and food.
  • Specifically Christian content:
    • Teacher's Manual
      • The teacher's instructions for Lesson 3 contain two sentences discussing the Christian attitude toward excellence.
      • Of the 84 essay topics suggested in Appendix B (for use with WriteShop II), seven deal with biblical subject matter, appropriate for such classes as "The Bible as Literature" or "Comparative Religions." Only three of the seven are Christian-specific.

        Note: Essay topics are not found in the student workbooks; you choose and assign them yourself.
    • Student Workbooks
      • In a pre-writing activity in WriteShop II (Lesson 25), students are asked to read an essay (about the importance of studying one's Bible) with the purpose of identifying transition words and paragraph breaks. This activity is NOT essential for successful completion of the lesson, and the lesson itself (writing an opinion essay) is unrelated to religious themes. Teachers are free to develop a similar exercise using more neutral material.

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