At a time when standard methods of teaching seem to have let down so many of America’s students, an increasing number of parents and teachers are looking to rediscover the classical methods of past eras. Amy Olsen attempts to capture the essence of classical writing instruction for younger elementary students in Writing Tales, a two-part course for students grades 3-5. Based on the imitation model, the program teaches both grammar and composition using an integrated approach.
How Do These Work?
Each of the two levels covers one year in 30 lessons, so that Level I can be used for grade 3 or 4, and Level II for grade 4 or 5. There is a teacher’s guide and a student workbook for each level, and while you could use the teacher’s guide without the student workbook, the reverse is not true. Two sets of lesson plans are included in the teacher’s guide: one for use in a single-student home school setting, and one for use in a co-op or multiple-student situation.
Home school lesson plans present five days of direct instruction and exercises per lesson, while the co-op plans are based on one day of instruction followed by four days of homework to be completed by the student alone. This is a teacher-intensive program either way; you can’t just give your kids the student book and let them teach themselves, and you will have to evaluate and correct their work.
Both courses include grammar and spelling instruction, since good writing results from a synthesis of language arts skills. The structure of the program is loosely based on the progymnasmata, a classical rubric guiding students through the various stages of writing and composition competency. Like many similar courses, Writing Tales has kids read or listen to a story, copy it word-for-word, and eventually rewrite it in their own words (with or without their own details added). Lessons outlines in the teacher’s guides are detailed and include scripted moments, so you don’t have to figure out how to present the information on your own.
The teacher’s guides also offer appendixes with extra exercises and games to help students understand the material more fully through kinesthetic interaction. Answers to many of the student exercises are included, but for many others answers will vary. The complete text of the student workbook is included in the teacher’s guide, but with notes and answers so you can’t just copy pages for students to use. Students learn to edit and revise, and the teacher’s guides help parents lead them through these processes.
Our Honest Opinion:
There are a growing number of imitation-based writing courses available. Our favorite is IEW’s Style and Structure for its comprehensiveness and adaptability, though if you don’t want to putintons of work (or use it for multiple years) you'll probably want to look elsewhere. Writing Tales is built on similar precepts,but is less involved and lasts (at most) two years.We've heard suggestions that it's a good prelude for the more advanced Classical Writing series, though Classical Writing has its own 3-5 grade books, making the use of Writing Tales superfluous. If you want a course that more fully articulates the author’s educational philosophy while implementing the imitation-based approach to writing instruction, we suggest you check out Susan Wise Bauer’s Writing With Ease for grades 1-6.
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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