Writing Curriculum

Reading and writing are the most important subjects your children will learn. Without them, all other fields of knowledge are effectively closed. Reading allows us to gather information, while writing helps us organize and understand it. If students never learn to write well, they will be hindered not only in all areas of communication, but also in logical and clear thinking. Those who can best put words on paper are those who think clearest and know exactly what they want to say and how they want to say it.

In the classical education model, writing is one of the first things students learn and they continue to hone their writing skills throughout their education. It is closely linked both to logic and to rhetoric because it deals with analysis and presentation not just of facts, but of ideas and concepts. The book report, one of the most basic school assignments, isn't merely a venue for kids to demonstrate their ability to regurgitate facts or plots; it is an opportunity for them to show understanding of the material as well as to further cement it in their minds as they are forced to deal with it on an interactive level.

There are a lot of writing programs available. Not all of them are created equal, and it can be hard to wade through them all. One of the hardest aspects of choosing the right curriculum for your students is the fact that many of the courses are designed for age ranges or are comprehensive for 1-12 grade. Some of them focus on creative writing, others on technical mastery and composition skills. While neither approach is mutually exclusive, favoring one form of writing over another can lead to a lopsided understanding. If you're going to err either way, however, it's probably best to concentrate on technical composition skills.

The problem with many writing courses is that they expect kids to come up with wholly original material before they've even been taught to put a sentence together correctly. This leads to confusion and frustration on the part of kids as they stumble for both content and words. Our favorite curricula don't ignore creative writing skills, but they refrain from addressing them until students have mastered the fundamentals—sentence construction, paragraph organization, thesis statements, etc. Once these skills have been learned and can be applied without concentrated effort, students are ready to write their own material in a clear, fresh way.

Many parents complain they can't teach their children to write because they were never taught properly themselves. Our favorite programs (IEW's Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and Susan Wise Bauer's Writing with Ease) bypass this problem by first teaching parents how to teach the material, and then having them pass the information on to their children. This boosts both the instructor's confidence as well as the child's, since they feel their teacher thoroughly knows the material beforehand. One of the main impediments to learning is a sense of the teacher's lack of confidence.

A little-known but quite good writing program no longer in print is Understanding Writing, which starts with the basics, moves into more stylistic concerns, and eventually teaches students how to write essays and papers. Author Susan Bradrick maintains a Christ-centered approach throughout, emphasizing personal character and writing for God's glory and the improvement of others.

Classical Writing Courses

Classical writing is the rock star of homeschool writing programs. He rides around in a black Cadillac with tinted windows, wears cowboy boots, has a thousand-dollar haircut, and sees his face staring back at him everywhere he goes. Some parents are wary of the newcomer, wondering if he's as good as everyone seems to think, but here's the rub—he's been around a lot longer than any of his peers.

Rooted in an instructional mode employed by the ancient Greeks called the progymnasmata, Classical writing takes students along an arc of fourteen rhetorical forms in order to arm them with all the necessary tools for composing interesting, logically sound, and eloquent essays. Since basically all Classical writing programs use this same format, there tends not to be a lot of variation between them, though some are clearly superior to others.

All the programs of this kind that we carry are teacher-intensive. Because much of the method relies on dictation and spoken narrative exercises, teachers must be involved so kids have someone to interact with. Fortunately, not all of them are complicated (some are!), and there are more and more being written that follow the Classical model while maintaining an easy-to-use, minimal approach.

With so many Classical-style writing programs flooding the scene, it's often hard to get excited about a new one. Fortunately for Classical Academic Press, that isn't the case with Writing & Rhetoric. It doesn't depart dramatically from other courses like it, except that it's easy to use, doesn't require a lot of teacher preparation, and still remains effective.

Classical Writing Grades 1-12

Built around the progymnasmata, Classical Writing offers a complete, integrated approach in which each year builds on the one before. Kids start with rigorous dictation and copywork exercises, and move by stages through the various elements of good original composition and rhetoric.

Imitation in Writing Grades 3-12

Implementing the methodology of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, the Imitation in Writing books offer ready-made exercises in which kids read theme-oriented text, take notes, and then rewrite the paragraphs in their own words. There are also poetry courses available.

IEW Excellence in Writing Grades 3-12

At the center of the Excellence in Writing family of products is Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, a DVD and notebook set which parents familiarize themselves with before instructing their children directly. There are similar courses for advanced students, and plenty of supplemental resources.

Memoria Press Classical Composition Grades 3-11

Unlike many Classical-style writing programs, Classical Composition from Memoria Press is actually easy to implement and understand. Each of the nine levels available (which cover the fourteen levels of the progymnasmata) are comprised of a student and a teacher book; an English Grammar Manual is also used with each level.

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Writing & Rhetoric Grades 3-9

Writing & Rhetoric doesn't depart dramatically from other courses like it, except that it's easy to use, doesn't require a lot of teacher preparation, and still remains effective. Only the first four books for grades 3-6 are currently available, and introduce students to the basics of storytelling and narrative through fable, myth, parable, and more.

Writing Tales Grades 3-5

Writing Tales is largely imitation-based, and works well in an individual homeschool situation, or in a co-op or group context. Lessons combine direct instruction and student exercises based loosely on the progymnasmata. The focus is composition, but there is spelling and grammar work, too.

Writing Trails Grades 2-6

Logos School, publishers of the Imitation in Writing program, offer here three consumable worktexts that offer imitation-based composition exercises about American history, great composers, and men of science. As in the other series, kids read text and rewrite it in their own words.

Writing with Ease Grades 1-8

Though it doesn't actually call itself a Classical approach program, Writing with Ease is more thoroughly and effectively Classical than many of its peers. Parents familiarize themselves with the philosophy behind the course, and move from dictation and narration to original compositions.

WriteShop Grades K-12

WriteShop is another teacher-intensive program, but with more focus on creative writing (and less obviously Classical in approach, though elements are there). The materials for younger students are colorful and fun; the coursework for older students is challenging and straightforward.

Textbook Writing Courses

There isn't a lot of variety when it comes to textbook writing courses. The biggest difference you'll find among them is between those that are student-directed and those which rely on a teacher to present the material. All the textbook courses we offer at Exodus Books combine composition with grammar instruction, showing kids how words ought to fit together and how to present ideas in a clear and accessible way. Most of the programs we carry go all the way from kindergarten to 12th grade, offering a consistent and progressive method of instruction that develops right along with your students.

A Beka Grammar & Writing Grades 1-12

For a more traditional textbook approach that balances grammar, spelling and composition, A Beka Grammar & Writing is a solid choice. You can hand these worktexts to your kids and let them complete all the work on their own, though you'll want to guide them in composition. The authors don't use particularly innovative or unique methods to teach, but they do cover all the bases thoroughly and engagingly.

BJU Writing & Grammar Grades 1-12

Like all BJU curriculum, BJU Writing & Grammar isvery teacher-intensive. You'll need the teacher guidesfor each of the student worktexts; they aren't just answer keys, but include plenty of teaching helps. These texts offer an excellent blend of grammar and composition.

CLP Applications of Grammar Grades 7-12

CLP Applications of Grammar covers mechanics and composition, showing how the two interract and relate. The series is explicitly Christian. Students gain proficiency in sentence diagramming, making this a great place to nail down the essentials of language mechanics.

Rod & Staff English Grades 2-10

Rod & Staff English is far from complex: its ease-of-use and the quantity and nature of exercises are both student- and teacher-friendly. It is, however, pretty strong on composition and the basic mechanics of the English language, and offers an excellent foundation for written communication.

Write Source Grades K-12

The authors of Write Source identify a solid grasp of grammar and the ability to think clearly as the essential foundations of good writing skills. Though these are politically correct texts, they are extremely well-designed and effective, having kids read about then imitate good composition.

Writing Strands Grades K-12

Writing Strands isn't terribly teacher-intensive, but parents do grade students' work. There's a heavy creative-writing emphasis we're not entirely comfortable with, since most kids need to learn the fundamentals before they can balance clear composition with original thought.

Video Writing Courses

More and more parents are looking for video-based courses. For a long time the Institute for Excellence in Writing has been the biggest thing on the market. IEW makes excellent writing courses, but they are expensive and can be very teacher- and time-intensive. Here are a few more options.

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Here to Help Learning Grades 1-6

Beth Mora's program is not only designed to make an oft-maligned subject "fun" but also to promote writing as a way of interacting with and thinking about the world. She presents tools for creating a "culture of writing" and has an obvious respect for the subject and desire to translate that respect to young writers. It has more of a creative writing bent than an essay writing bent.

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Essentials in Writing Grades 1-12

This is a student-led video-based English and composition course for grades 1-12. It features "bite-size" lessons, broken into manageable pieces for students (and teachers) who find writing intimidating. At its core, it's a no-frills program that will teach your child the basics of grammar and how to write a decent essay, with little to no prepwork for the teacher beforehand.

Supplemental Writing Courses

None of these should be used on their own, but they do offer easy-to-use options for remedial work, supplementation, or simply filling in corners not adequately covered in a more comprehensive program. All these series are workbook-based, and perfect for kids who need a worksheet or two to complete each day. There are no teacher materials to speak of, though the EPS materials usually have an accompanying answer key.

Core Skills: Language Arts Grades 1-9

There are always gaps to fill. Core Skills: Language Arts is a grade-based series of workbooks designed to reinforce rather than teach. Each text presents single-page lessons to work either as test preparation, or as remedial work for struggling students.

EPS Writing Grades 1-12

A variety of EPS texts cover composition from several angles. The Report Writing books focus on writing reports, from formulating a thesis to writing the final draft. The Just Write series focuses on creative writing. Writing Skills covers all grades, and includes composition and grammar.

Evan-Moor Writing Grades 1-8

A variety of series from Evan-Moor help students stay at grade-level in terms of composition, creative writing, and sequencing/organization. These are probably best used as remedial texts for struggling students, though the content is solid enough you could use them as supplements for students who need a bit more of a challenge, perhaps using a book one grade-level advanced from their own.

One-Volume Writing Courses

If you've had much experience with writing programs that include workbooks, teacher guides, test banks and test keys, etc., a one-volume course that does it all in a single text is a dream come true. Most of them eschew grammar instruction to focus entirely on composition, both nonfiction and creative, meaning that your kids will need to be proficient in grammar before embarking on one of these programs. The one-volume courses we offer tend to focus on choosing a topic, organization, and logical thinking, all of which are essential and often overlooked elements of the writing process.

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Creative Writer Grades 5-8

The Creative Writer is a 4-volume series by Boris Fishman designed to bring student writers from the basics of creative short story and poetry writing to its more advanced principles. Concrete and practical while still engaging, it's a superb program for beginning writers in which to nurture their skills while grasping the theory behind the world's best writing.

Easy Writing Grades 3-12

Easy Writing teaches a single but essential element of composition through tons and tons of drill: how to write a good sentence. It does NOT teach paragraphs, essay writing, etc. The text is straightforward, content is easy to understand and to teach, and there are separate answer keys for parts one (grades 3-6) and two (grades 7, up).

Jensen's Format Writing Grades 7-12

Frode Jensen's Format Writing is a no-frills composition course that takes kids from writing a clear paragraph to composing a research paper (an incredibly streamlined and effective book). This is NOT a course for students struggling with grammar or writing, but for those who are proficient.

Jump In Grades 5-8

Some of the best writing programs focus on composition alone. One of our favorites is Jump In, a worktext from Apologia that guides middle school students through the basics of essay writing, like picking a topic, evaluating one's audience, and keeping one's thoughts organized.

Put That in Writing Grades 7-12

The only prerequisite for students entering the Put That in Writing program is that they are fluent in grammar. Parents teach the content to students, who learn to write a basic nonfiction essay that is clear and interesting in Part 1, and to write a rhetorical essay in Part 2. This course is challenging, thorough, and probably the best we carry to prepare students for taking written tests.

Understanding Writing Grades 1-12

Frode Jensen's Format Writing is a no-frills composition course that takes kids from writing a clear paragraph to composing a research paper (an incredibly streamlined and effective book). This is NOT a course for students struggling with grammar or writing, but for those who are proficient.

Wordsmiths Grades 4-12

Wordsmiths is creativity-oriented. Students pretend to be journalists, with the intention of generating legitimate interest in writing; unlike similar programs, however, it's somewhat stronger on the fundamentals. Each text is a workbook, and the entire course is student-directed.

We have done our best to accurately represent each curriculum in our reviews. Many of the courses are full of good ideas, and while we wouldn't necessarily recommend using them alone, they could make excellent supplements to a more thorough curriculum. Not all styles fit all, and in the end it's up to you which one you choose. As long as your child learns to write (and think, and communicate in general) well, you can consider whichever program you choose an invaluable investment.

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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