A retired journalist and communications professor at several universities, Dean Rea originally wrote The Write Stuff Adventure for his two homeschooled granddaughters, aged ten and twelve at the time. Not so much a curriculum as a way to get kids to enjoy writing, Rea's book offers a variety of exercises and prompts to help students get something on paper. He stresses that writing should be fun, not drudgery, and therefore emphasizes creativity and imagination rather than rules and forms.
A central focus is helping students to write something interesting that will genuinely engage the reader, rather than something that may be technically correct but intolerably drab. Rea covers everything from descriptive pieces to family history to a letter to grandma, providing ideas for spicing them up. His tone is chatty and informal rather than meticulous, a feature many kids will like.
How Does This Work?
Since this isn't a grammar or format writing course, it isn't intended for any specific grade level. Elementary and high school students can benefit equally from the assignments, though they will need some instruction on sentence structure and paragraph writing beforehand. There are a total of 100 lessons in six sections beginning with creative writing basics and covering personal and family history, essays, non-fiction, news writing, and short stories. Students can either read the assignments themselves or teachers can present the information. If you like to avoid teacher-intensive programs, just have your kids finish the assignment and all you have to do is grade their papers.
The first section, "Simple Things," is a series of fairly easy assignments designed to get kids putting their ideas on paper. The emphasis is creativity and fun to reverse the common complaint that writing is boring or too hard. Rea integrates drawing, conversation and games into the lessons for this reason. Section two on "Personal and Family History" is many students' favorite because it gets them writing about things directly concerning themselves. Assignments include writing a brief autobiography, researching the family tree, and interviewing older relatives.
The third section deals with essay writing. This is the most useful part of the book from a strictly educational standpoint, as it not only develops kids' writing abilities but their organizational and analytical skills. Starting with making a thesis statement, Rea walks students through organizing the structure of the essay, paragraph transitions, and the conclusion.
The next section, on non-fiction writing, deals primarily with creative interviews. The fifth section is about news writing and covers concepts like the use of photography in an essay or article. Some forms are covered, but again the emphasis is on creativity and interest. The sixth section is the shortest and deals with writing a short story. A book on writing fiction is recommended (Writing the Short Story: A Hands-On Program by Jack M. Bickham), and a brief schedule for reading and completing the exercises is provided.
The author consistently encourages teachers to "publish" students' work. This simply involves showing others the result of written assignments—"others" may be limited to family members or extended to include whole churches, groups of friends, etc. This "publishing" helps students write to a specific audience, as well as to encourage and motivate them when they receive feedback.
Rea provides no timeline for completion of his course. Again, it isn't a complete, self-contained writing curriculum, as much as it is a series of prompts and guidelines for helping students write something interesting. He says at the beginning that writing should be seen as an adventure and fun rather than drudgery, and he does his best to demonstrate that this is so.
Our Honest Opinion:
This program would best be used as a supplement to a formal writing curriculum. While there is some guidance as to editing and revision, there isn't enough hereto make it a stand-alone course. Many of the assignments will be exciting for many students, but the turn-'em-loose-with-a-pencil-and-paper approach will also frustrate a lot of kids who have trouble getting their thoughts out on a page. The prompts are one of the best parts, since kids often have a hard time focusing on one topic long enough to choose to write about it; since the topics are already provided, a lot of frustration can be by-passed. Don't rely on this as your only means for teaching your kids to write, but if they think writing is boring or if they're consistently stumped as to what to write about, this could be a good place to help them.
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