How to Use Wordsmith Apprentice
by Janie B. Cheaney, Wordsmith Apprentice author. Used by permission.


Wordsmith Apprentice Philosophy

My own experience with teaching writing to children is that some love it from the start, but most don't. A common misconception is that writing (especially "creative" writing) is a special gift that can't be taught. Wrong! If that suspicion is lurking in your mind, you will be ahead of the game if you understand this simple fact: Writing is a craft. Any craft can be taught. How does one learn? By learning how to use the tools, mastering the techniques, and practicing. Of course, it helps if the student brings some enthusiasm to the task. Wordsmith Apprentice attempts to arouse that enthusiasm and build those vital skills.

Wordsmith Apprentice Approach

The intermediate grades (4th, 5th, and 6th) are the ideal time to become familiar with the "tools" of writing: words, sentences, and paragraphs. Since use improves with practice, students should have plenty of opportunities to use their tools. . . . Creative writing projects for beginners should meet three criteria: they should be firmly rooted in the writer's experience, they should build on skills already learned while stretching to new ones, and they should be at least a little fun.

Wordsmith Apprentice meets these criteria within the framework of journalism. The scenario of writing for a small-town weekly newspaper introduces an element of imagination that makes the writing projects fun and interesting while at the same time it reinforces practical skills.

How to Use Wordsmith Apprentice

The purpose of the course is to awaken students to the fascinating possibilities of using English language and imagination while they learn solid principles of writing structure, content and organization. The course allows plenty of opportunity for a teacher to be involved by responding to the child’s work, offering suggestions when asked, or even doing some of the exercises along with the student.

In these early attempts at creative writing, children need encouragement more than iron discipline. That’s not to say that grammatical or spelling errors should not be corrected, but revision needn’t play so large a role in the writing process as it will later.

The book is not divided into "lessons" so much as topics. It will be up to you how many pages to cover in a week or a day. Many fourth-graders will be enthusiastic about the course until they bog down in basic sentence structure, say, or prepositional phrases. If they come to a point where Wordsmith Apprentice is more pain than gain, it might be wise to lay the book aside for a couple of months while they gain more proficiency in grammar.

On the other hand, some children will steam right through the book and beg for more. These literary wonders may be excited by the prospect of editing their own newspaper. It’s hard to imagine a project more conducive to developing writing skills.

The student will need a spiral notebook for some of the writing assignments and any additional projects inspired by the book.

Answers for some of the exercises are found on pages A & B at the end of this workbook. You may remove or leave them, whichever you feel is best.

Two supplementary resources will be very helpful to this course. One is a thesaurus (specifically called for in a few exercises). Paperback copies of Roget’s Thesaurus are easily available at any bookstore, but no teacher should overlook the editions that are written especially for children. One of these is A First Thesaurus by Harriet Wittels and Joan Greisman.

The other resource is a newspaper. Big-city newspapers are best, simply because of the greater variety of material in them. I realize that some of this material is not appropriate for children, and the skepticism that many parents share about the mainstream media is justified. Still, it will be very instructive to use a few newspapers as references throughout this course. If you do not subscribe to a newspaper, I suggest you buy one Sunday edition, one Saturday and one daily. These three will last you through the entire course--the news doesn’t have to be new!


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