Recognizing the unpopularity of writing among most students, the Wordsmith series is an attempt to generate genuine interest and enjoyment in writing. Many of the assignments are designed to bring out the fun of writing creatively without ignoring structural concerns. Each of the three books addresses a specific element of writing from essays to research papers to descriptive pieces. Plenty of exercises keep kids busy, while clear text explains the rules of composition and structure.

How Do These Work?

Author Janie Cheaney orders her course based on the assumption that the most important element of good writing is good thinking. Assignments are based on thorough planning, and organizational instruction is based on logic and clear thought. Each text moves through a logical progression, beginning with sentences and moving to writing essays and research papers.

The series is student-directed. The first two levels consist of one consumable student worktext; the middle volume, Wordsmith is accompanied by a slim teacher's guide. The third in the series, Wordsmith Craftsman, is a non-consumable student text. There are no lessons as such, though each topic is set apart under a bolded heading and there are generally exercises at the end of each topic discussion. Students read text and complete the assignments; teachers need only grade students' work, though of course you can supplement with extra material. (There are plenty of exercises, so supplementing actual written work might be overkill.)

The first book is Wordsmith Apprentice, 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.

The second book, Wordsmith, is for grades 7-9 and is basically an elaboration and expansion of the first book. The first section is a series of word games intended to familiarize students with the parts of speech and their proper use. Part two is about sentences again, and how to make them stronger and better. Part three is a series of creative writing exercises designed to help students bring together everything they've learned to this point. The focus gradually moves from simple writing structures (sentences and short paragraphs) to more complex compositions. The teacher's guide provides suggestions for teaching and presenting the material, though this book is like the others a student-directed course.

The third book, Wordsmith Craftsman, is for high school students and focuses on serious essay writing. Part one discusses "everyday writing"—thank you notes, business letters, etc. Part two reinforces key rules and concepts for paragraph writing, and part three applies everything that has gone before to writing clear, concise and interesting essays. Writing assignments have kids writing descriptive, narrative, expository, critical and persuasive essays.

You can really move through this series at any pace. Advanced students could conceivably breeze through all three texts in three consecutive years (or less, for older students), while younger or less advanced students will find the work challenging at a more even pace. Since it follows a clear internal progression, this is a difficult series to move to from another course, though not impossible. If you do, you should still probably start with the first book, no matter how advanced a writer your child is.

Our Honest Opinion:

The instruction in this series is very clear. The emphasis on creative writing from early on is a different approach than we're comfortable with, but there is enough information and instruction concerning proper forms and how to compose well that that shouldn't be too much of an issue. And unlike many courses, Cheaney doesn't talk down to the kids. As a result, some of the material may seem dry, but the assignments usually make up for that. While there are much more comprehensive writing courses out there, for teachers who don't have enough time to teach the subject themselves, this is probably the best choice for a student-directed writing program.


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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