Writing is a source of dread for many students and teachers. WriteShop was designed to alleviate that fear and replace it with a love of written communication. While not a full language arts course (you'll need to use a separate grammar curriculum), it covers all the basics of composition with the exception of the research paper. Clearly written and easy to implement, WriteShop may be what you need to turn your reluctant student into a confident writer.
How Do These Work?
Books A-C constitute the WriteShop Primary course for grades K-3, while WriteShop Junior Books D-F, for grades 3-6, begin to bridge the gap between the primary books and the middle/high school level WriteShop I.
The WriteShop Primary books exist only as teacher guides, with small student activity packs to accompany. A variety of schedules let you tailor the speed of the course to your children's abilities. The emphasis of WriteShop Primary is on fun, in order to predispose kids toward enjoying writing, and many of the assignments are simple hands-on activities that illustrate an aspect of the writing process, like having kids compose a fake menu. At these early stages, most of the written assignments are copywork- and dictation-oriented, as kids haven't yet developed the skills enabling them to write creatively. However, children are encouraged to participate in the actual writing according to their ability.
Pages in the activities/worksheets packs include fun exercises that actually advance kids' writing skills; some of the more craft-oriented activities in the teacher guides are less obviously helpful (the story organizers are fun, for instance, but don't serve a clear purpose). The author says they are meant to help children learn simple writing skills such as how to brainstorm for and organize a story, plan a beginning, middle, and end, and so on. This is, however, a pretty solid introduction for youngsters: as early as Primary C kids are learning to edit their own work.
WriteShop Junior D-F are more explicitly about composition. Students receive explicit grammar and composition instruction, with the goal of preparing them for more advanced work. Children work through each step of the writing process, from pre-writing and brainstorming through published final draft. Along the way, they are introduced to different fiction and nonfiction writing genres such as mystery, adventure, personal narrative, and short report.
WriteShop Junior introduces engaging pre-writing games; emphasizes brainstorming and story organization; and provides helpful tools for editing and revising. The two-part student Activity Pack includes Student Worksheets (journaling, brainstorming, skill building, and editing pages) and a colorful Fold-N-Go Grammar Pack containing 10 lapbook-style grammar lessons.
Before Junior D was completed, Wordsmith Apprentice was recommended as a prerequisite to WriteShop I. While the publishers still think it's a good course, they specifically designed Junior D to flow into the next WriteShop level, making the use of Apprentice superfluous.
WriteShop I & II
It is possible to complete WriteShop I and II in one year, but the authors suggest taking two or three; plans for both the one-year and two- to three-year tracks are included in each book. (In this review it is assumed you will use the two- to three-year track.) There are 16 lessons in WriteShop I and 14 lessons in WriteShop II for a total of 30 lessons, each to be completed in two weeks, five days a week. Each book is typically completed in one school year.
There are three main pieces for the grade 6-12 materials, all in three-ring binders: WriteShop I, II, and the Teacher's Manual. While each book is available separately, it is best to purchase the Teacher's Manual with WriteShop I; you'll use it with both levels. The teacher's manual includes the teaching philosophy of the program, evaluation methods, and answer keys, while the student workbooks include lesson text and assignments. The student workbooks are consumable, though you can reproduce them for single-family use. A small staple-bound book of copywork and dictation exercises is also available for student practice.
WriteShop I is intended for grades 6-10, and focuses on descriptive and narrative writing, particularly through building strong paragraphs. Since the emphasis is on creative writing, many of the exercises are intended to draw out and develop students' vocabularies, help them generate interesting topics, and improve their self-editing skills.
In WriteShop II for grades 8-12, students begin with extensive review and expansion of the material covered in Level I, before moving on to essay writing. Where WriteShop I deals with creativity and imagination, Level II deals with logic and clear thinking. Students who are not familiar with Level I can begin using WriteShop II, though there are setbacks—they will be unfamiliar with the philosophy and format of the series, and much of the review section may be lost on them.
The authors have attempted an incremental approach to writing instruction. Topics are introduced in manageable segments and reappear often in review. There isn't an intuitive flow to the sequence of material, because writing isn't a sequential skill. That's not to say the program is disorganized, however; lessons are fully planned, and the text is carefully and clearly written to ensure ease of use.
There are two basic kinds of exercises: written compositions and Skill Builders. Written compositions include paragraphs as well as longer works that are original to the child. Skill Builders are shorter assignments that cover sentence and paragraph mechanics and key grammar concerns; while this isn't a grammar course by any means, there is plenty of relevant review and reinforcement. (The authors recommend supplementing with The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.)
For each student composition there is a 5-step process. The first step is to brainstorm—come up with a suitable topic—and decide how to approach it on paper. The next is to write a "sloppy copy," a rough draft that is readable but doesn't need to be pretty or even more than an extensive outline; only students use this copy and it is not turned in for grading. In the third step, students compose their first revision, fine-tuning and improving their rough draft. The fourth step is for the teacher to edit the student's first revision, and to return all comments and edits with the first revision. Finally, students re-write the edited first revision and turn it in as the final draft, which the teacher then grades.
Checklists are included for both students and teachers. The student checklists are largely style-oriented, designed to make them better crafters of the language; as they write, they check off items on the list that they have included in their work. The teacher checklists are more extensive, and aid editing and grading by providing specific lists of things to look for and how students can improve mistakes. These are one of the most useful aspects of the entire course, especially for the teacher as they put in concrete form otherwise abstract concepts.
Many parents are as scared of teaching writing as their kids are of being taught to write, mostly because they never learned to write well themselves. Recognizing this, the authors of WriteShop spend as much time preparing the teacher as instructing the student. Teachers are given guidelines for analyzing and assessing their students' compositions, as well as extensive tips, suggestions and background information for presenting the material. The teacher introduces each lesson, proofreads and edits the student's work, and grades the final draft. Each of these steps is fully explained and illustrated for the teacher; there is even a section in the teacher's manual containing examples of edited student papers with accompanying grading forms.
This is a teacher-intensive course, but not in the typical sense. You don't have to spend too much time preparing lessons; the real work comes in editing student papers and evaluating final copies for grading purposes. Though there is plenty of help for these tasks in the teacher's manual, they will still take time, as will discussing assignments with your kids as the authors encourage.
Our Honest Opinion:
If you're going to start with Primary A it's a good idea to go all the way through Junior D, as the material continues to build on what kids have learned; and if you go that far, it doesn't make sense not to finish the entire WriteShop curriculum. With the addition of these four books for younger students, WriteShop has become a viable option for a complete writing course.
This is a good course as long as you move to it from something else. Teaching creative writing before the technical aspects are mastered is like putting the cart in front of the horse, so we recommend using Writing with Ease or IEW's Teaching Writing: Structure and Style before implementing WriteShop; the authors recommend starting with Wordsmith Apprentice. Some parents find the program fairly boring, but that will really depend on your approach to the subject. If you drag your feet, your child probably will too, and what could be interesting writing assignments will turn out drab. On the other hand, if you infuse your student with a sense of the possibility and excitement of writing, this curriculum may be just the one he needs to expand his creative potential.
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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