Wordsmith Apprentice is the first book in the Wordsmith series, designed for students grades 4-6. Kids are asked to imagine they now work as journalists for a small newspaper. There is a story arc throughout the text told in black and white cartoon strips, and the assignments are framed in the context of journalistic assignments. Part one covers proper sentence structure, part two covers sentence modifiers, and part three covers sentence and paragraph organization. Exercises include everything from writing "For Sale" ads and recipes to travel writing and sports stories. Teacher involvement is minimal: the parent will say "how much" and "when," but much of the content is self-taught. A short answer key is included in the back of the book.
The author has plenty of wit, and the exercises flow and make sense. She recommends that "if [students] 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 with grammar. On the other hand, some children may steam right through the book and beg for more. . ." After recommending this to many customers for nearly eighteen years, we continue to receive far more positive comments from parents than negative.
You'll need a notebook for some of the writing assignments, a thesaurus (Roget's, or the American Heritage Student Thesaurus and other children's thesauruses are recommended), and the author also suggests a newspaper subscription (or at least one copy of a big city Weekday, Saturday, and Sunday paper).
About the philosophy:
"Writing is one of the most basic skills anyone will ever learn, and it goes hand-in-hand with learning to think. To organize information, recall details, and get right to the point are hallmarks of good writing and clear thinking. . .The ability to work with words and the ideas behind them is absolutely vital to any kind of academic learning and vocation."
Some children love writing "from the start, but most don't." But it can be taught. "Writing is a craft. Any craft can be taught." One learns by "learning to use the tools, mastering the techniques, and practicing." Wordsmith Apprentice attempts to "arouse enthusiasm and build those vital skills."
About the approach:
"The intermediate grades 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." Since many grammar-book exercises aren't applicable to a child's experiences, and skills mastered in model sentences don't always carry over to writing projects, the author provides a different approach. "Creative writing projects 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, giving your student a chance to write for a small town newspaper. The "editor" offers instruction and projects.
About the Scope & Sequence:
The student should be able to complete the book in one year, but that is not required. The book is broken into three sections:
- Part one covers basic sentence structure while introducing five parts of speech: nouns, verbs, articles, pronouns, and conjunctions.
- Part two covers modifiers and more complex sentences and addresses three types of modifiers: adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases. (This book does not work with clauses.)
- Part three covers organizing and reporting, introducing paragraphs. The student learns to recognize topic sentences, write in sequence, and summarize main points. With that learned, he moves on to reporting and the "five W's" (Who, What, When, Where & Why).
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