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.