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Writing With Skill Level 1 - Student Workbook

by Susan Wise Bauer
Publisher: Peace Hill Press
Consumable Workbook, 550 pages
Price: $28.95
Used Price: $20.00 (2 in stock) Condition Policy

The first book of a projected 4-volume series, Writing With Skill Level 1 actually combines all the best elements of the best writing curricula. It's primarily student-directed, teaches composition through narration and outlining, guides students in the fundamentals of research, is fully self-contained, and covers both creativity and mechanics.

It's a big book. The intended middle school audience will probably balk, especially when they realize they're supposed to complete the whole thing in one 36-week school year, but their fears should fade when they begin the lessons. Susan Wise Bauer's forthright style and literature-based exercises are accessible for reluctant writers, and downright fun for those who enjoy it.

36 weekly lessons build students' skills in one- and two-level outlining; writing chronological narratives, biographical sketches, and sequences; crafting basic literary exposition essays on fiction and poetry; topical research; and source documentation. Each lesson contains four days of work, with exercises and concepts presented in digestible quantity and format.

Writing With Skill Level 1 begins with a review of material presented near the end of Bauer's elementary writing series, Writing With Ease. After practicing simple sentence summaries of classic fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, students begin to make outlines, develop their own topics, and finally draft original compositions.

Two Classical education ideas are at the core of this approach: the topos and the copia. Topos refers to the art of developing a topic, and is the foundational skill needed for original writing. Copia is more complex—the word is part of the title for a rhetoric text written by Desiderius Erasmus in the 16th century, and refers to the generation of plenty in terms of words and ideas. As sudents learn to produce ideas and words, combining them to make pleasing and profitable essays, they learn to write.

In the final two lessons, students write their first research paper. It's a fairly rigorous assignment, but they'll have learned everything they need (and put it in practice repeatedly) to finish the paper in good time. Throughout each lesson, students not only learn good composition, they're exposed to literary criticism, creative writing, and the elements of style.

The student workbook may be consumed, but it's cheaper to have kids complete exercises on a seperate sheet of paper. All content is addressed directly to the student, though there is an Instructor Text available with scripted lessons, criteria for evaluating student output, and help for students who are struggling; the Instructor Text is invaluable and necessary.

Writing With Skill is the next in Bauer's comprehensive writing curriculum. It requires commitment and patience, but students who complete the course will know how to write. There are few illustrations, no cute games, no "activities," just excellent writing instruction from a woman who's made her living writing and teaching writing. Writing With Skill is highly recommended.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

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Customer Reviews

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  Writing With Skill; Level 1
Gail R. of Beaverton, 9/20/2013
This is a long, arduous course. We did not finish in a 36 week school year, but we did finish. In a small, quiet, focused homeschool of two girls, ages 9 and 12, my 12 year old struggled with this course. She is an avid reader, with a strong working vocabulary, and good conversational skills,but a reluctant writer.

The teacher text is, indeed, necessary; the scripted lessons required me to be at her elbow for 20-30 minutes on those days; not every day has a script. Your student's maturity and propensity for discouragement will affect the effectiveness of this curriculum. I relied on my daughter to show me her work whenever she was instructed by the student text to do so; she did not. Some of the time, she overlooked those directions; some of the time she just got tired of getting up to tell me she needed me. By the time I knew she was having a problem we were far out of step.

On the plus side all reference material for every writing assignment is provided in the text. Your student does not need to choose a subject or find source material; it is all excerpted in the text of the student workbook. (Just hope he or she is interested in Marie Antoinette!)

While I find no fault with either the content or the pedagogy of this curriculum, it exceeds the scope of Ms. Bauer's own recommendations for grades 5-8 as stated in her book, Writing with Ease: Strong Fundamentals, where she describes the ordering of ideas as the primary objective. The skills employed for the recognition and ordering of ideas are sentence diagramming and outlining.

Here are some of her thoughts regarding writing instruction for grades 5-8:

'The student's ability to plan out and use an outline will not reach maturity until the high-school years. The middle-grade years are training years--a period of time in which the student learns the skills of outline-making.' (p. 13)

'So between fifth and eighth grade, the student practices outlining pages from history and science . . . This skill should be developed slowly and carefully. . . . In the early stages, while the student is learning to outline, she will continue to practice writing narrative summaries, using this now-familiar form as a platform to practice sentence style and structure. But by sixth and seventh grade, the narrative summaries will give way to a more advanced form of writing: writing from an outline.
After making an outline of a passage, the student will put the original away and then rewrite the passage, using only the outline. Then she'll compare her assignment with the original. . . . Again, this is preparation for mature high-school writing; before the student is given the task of coming up with an outline and writing from it, she needs to see how other writers flesh out the bones of an outline.' (pp.14-15)

Anyone who has used Writing with Skill: Level 1 can see she has far exceeded these demands. To anyone who hasn't used the curriculum . . . forewarned is forearmed.

Having already done battle with this text, with great respect for all who have striven--the author and my fellow homeschoolers--I have a few diplomatic recommendations that I hope will smooth the way to a more peaceful course of study, a more harmonious relationship with writing. Stick to what the woman herself says in her own book, as quoted above. Buy the book, so that you may review it as often as is necessary to maintaining a clear vision. Use material of your own choosing in the areas of science and history, and go as slowly as she originally suggested.

My daughter and I discussed some possibilities. For science you might use any of Jean Bendick's books, or the short articles in the series from the Core Curriculum folks, What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know (et al.), or the Christian Liberty Nature Readers. For history the Famous Men of . . . series are an obvious choice, and once again, the Core Curriculum series.

With all good intentions . . . blessings,

Gail
  Writing With Skill - Recommended!
Kelly of Silverton, OR, 10/18/2012
We've been blessed to use a few writing programs over the years. We're currently in our twelfth year of homeschooling.

My son (13) loves to read. He excels at telling a good tale orally. His vocabulary is extensive. However, when it comes to putting pencil to paper it's a bit like pulling teeth! We've been doing IEW lightly over this past year and I am a devoted fan. However, this particular boy is very independent and self-directed. He likes to be given clear instructions and then he likes to complete on his own.

Writing with Skill has been a huge hit. We've been using it for about two months now. I usually love the curriculum Susan Wise Bauer creates, however, I've often found them to be incredibly teacher intensive. With nine children, the words "teacher intensive" can paralyze me! Rest assured, this program is a welcome departure from her elementary programs. Yes, it requires some teacher input, but truly this program is written to the student. It's clear, concise, and to the point. I also feel it is specifically written to boys. (Girls will also like this program, however, I really appreciate her being boy topic aware!)

You will need *both* the teacher manual and the student workbook. Often her student manuals are optional. Writing with Skill absolutely REQUIRES you have the Student Manual.

I would not hesitate to recommend this program to any friend, especially if she has a 6th-8th grade son. While it is recommended for fifth grade and up, I feel that it is best suited for 7th graders especially if you'd like them to be more self sufficient. I'm eagerly anticipating using WWS Level 2 next year.
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