When I talk with homeschool moms, many of them share how they just do not feel able to effectively teach writing to their children.  Some cite that they are not good writers themselves.  Some are weery from the battle of getting their reluctant writer to fill that white sheet of paper with creative and wonderful thoughts.  Others struggle in knowing how to “grade” their child’s work and worry about crushing their child’s heart by being critical of the thoughts they have shared. There are many different approaches one can take and I would like to share with you some of our experience in using a writing program produced by WriteShop.  We recently received a copy of WriteShop Junior Book E Teacher’s Guide that we used along with the supporting materials that included the Junior Notebook, the Time-Saver Pack, and the Activity Pack.

The Program

WriteShop is an incremental writing program designed for students from the early elementary grades through high school.  One of the wonderful things about this system is that the levels do build on one another, but each book also has enough explanation and direction that those with no previous formal writing experience can jump right in.  The materials are written in such a way that even the parent extremely tentative about teaching their child writing will feel at ease.  The directions in the Teacher’s Guide truly guide you as you guide your child.

Our review today will be focused on the Junior Book E materials that we were able to use with our 10 year old who just completed 4th grade.  On the publisher’s website there are guidelines for figuring out which level to start your child at on each product page.  This is what we found for the Junior Book E that led us to believe it would be a good fit for our son.

Recommended Grade Levels and Placement Help

  • Ideal for students in 4th and 5th grade.
  • May also be used with reluctant 6th and 7th graders who have had little or no formal writing instruction.
  • Parents also appreciate being able to use the program with struggling learners.
  • If your child has not learned punctuation or grammar skills and still needs a lot of help planning, organizing, and adding details to a story, we recommend starting with Book D.

Students completing Book E will spend time learning the following writing styles:

  • Writing a Fable
  • Writing with Humor
  • Writing an Adventure
  • Writing Science Fiction
  • Writing a Mystery
  • Concrete Poetry
  • Writing a Personal Narrative
  • Descriptive Narrative
  • Writing a Book Report
  • Writing a Nonfiction Report

A sample lesson from the Book E materials can be found here.

The Materials We Received and Used:

The Teacher’s Guide

The Teacher’s Guide guides you as you guide your child.  This spiral bound resource begins with a thorough explanation of the various activities and assignments that you will do with your child as well as the different tools included with the curriculum.  This section is both good to review when first getting started, but I also used it extensively during the first few lessons in making sure I was “doing it right”.  Following this, there are step by step instructions for each lesson.  Many sections of the lesson are even scripted depending on the activity.

The lesson format is fairly consistent so it becomes easier and much more familiar as you work your way through the book.  Contained in the lesson introduction is the objective, materials needed from the resources packs, and required household supplies.  Following this are the individual Activity Sets or Lessons.  Multiple schedules are presented in the introduction to assist you in figuring out the pace you prefer to take.

The Teacher’s Guide can be purchased from the vendor’s website for $45.95.  It is a nonconsumable resource, which means that this is a one-time purchase.

Activity Pack

The Activity Pack is the equivalent of a student workbook for the student.  This is a necessary element for the program.  In the Activity Pack, the student will find all of the worksheets needed for the lessons on the left side of the packet and the materials needed for the fold ‘n’ go grammar packets.  These are attached to the cardstock covering by a gum strip at the top of each side.  From the mom’s perspective this is a wonderful design feature.  Many homeschool resources that come in a pack are loose.  As soon as you open the seal everything seems to just spill out.  I was truly impressed with the thought of the gum seal and how it helps my son know what’s next and just be able to tear it off and go.  The worksheets are all normal black and white copies so it is easy for your student to write on them.  The fold ‘n’ go grammar materials are printed on colorful cardstock that just makes them feel fun.

Once the Fold n Go Grammar Pack is assembled it will look like this and be a wonderful resource for your child.  Throughout the lessons, he is encouraged to refer to it as he works through different activities and revises his work.  This was the most enthusiastic we have seen our son over a grammar related resource.  It was colorful and contained the same about of grammar instruction as would have been found in a chapter of a traditional grammar book.  There is one Fold n Go Grammar Pack for each unit in WriteShop Junior E.

Each student needs a copy of the Activity Pack to be able to successfully complete this curriculum.  This can be accomplished through purchasing the digital download and making copies for each family member or purchasing the already printed copy from the publisher.  If you choose the preprinted version, you will need one pack per student.  We received the preprinted copy as part of our review which has a purchase price of $45.95.

Time-Saver Pack

The Time-Saver Pack is designed to be just that – a time saver.  On average there is one game or exercise in each unit that requires some advanced preparation on the part of the parent.  My son loved these activities.  It made the creative wheels start turning in his mind and was more fun than learning to him.  It helped him get excited about the topic we would be considering for his assignments for that unit.  Purchasing the Time-Saver Pack is completely optional.  It normally retails for $14.95.  The pages are once again printed on colorful cardstock.  This would be a highly recommended resource for mom’s who find prep time a challenge.  Our son definitely would not have been as enthused about the curriculum as a whole if it weren’t for these fun exercises which would have been easy for me to put aside because of those busy days that just don’t seem to go as planned.

Junior Writer’s Notebook

The Junior Writer’s Notebook is also an optional resource.  Like the Time-Saver Pack, it is a component that helps to make the writing more fun because of the visual appeal and the way that verbal prompts can be organized visually.  For example, one of the worksheets from this notebook had our son visualize his main character.  He had to draw a picture of him/her, and fill in different information about the character such as age, size, color of hair or fur, and other physical attributes.  He then had to identify where the main character lived and what his family was like.  The main character came even more alive as he helped to pick his favorite toy, food, hobby, and other traits.  By the time, we finished this activity my son almost felt like he had a new best friend.  If we did not have the Junior Writer’s Notebook, we would have still gone through this same exercise, but it might not have been laid out with quite the same organization or eye appeal.  The digital download is available for $3.50.

Our Experience:

Because we have already finished most of our schoolwork for the year, we chose to follow the most relaxed schedule as suggested by the publisher for this review.  This schedule allowed us to finish one writing unit over a three week span, which means we were doing one activity three times per week.  During our normal school year, we will probably follow this same schedule with doing some extra grammar reinforcements on the off days.  It just seemed like a good fit.  If we stick to this schedule, we can anticipate finishing the curriculum in one full academic year or 30 weeks.

As we worked through the lessons, I found us talking and brainstorming a lot.  I found my son getting really excited. He came alive as we explored creative ideas that I don’t think he would have ever come up with it I had simply given him a writing prompt and a clean sheet of paper.  The various activities, games, and all the preplanning at first seemed like overkill, but as we walked through the process I found my son owning his story, getting investing it, and wanting to go way beyond anything that he ever has before.  I came to realize that it was always there, but he had never been equipped with tools like these to help him flourish.

At first glance, I questioned whether what we were about to review was worth the current retail value of these items.  As we worked through the program, I did realize that if we did not have the preprinted materials and graphic organizers offered my son’s experience would have been much different.  Some of the games that helped to introduce concepts found in the Time-Saver Pack just wouldn’t have gotten done.  The Fold n Go packs would not have had the visual appeal or durability if I had printed them myself on regular white paper.  We would have probably done the same exercises as contained in the Junior Writer’s Notebook, which without the worksheets contained in them might have felt more like an exercise than a fun activity.  My impression and my son’s impression of the WriteShop materials would have been much different.  As I combined this with the cost of printing these materials on colored cardstock, I started to really see the value in what we had received more and more.

I have procrastinated in teaching writing to my children in the early years for many of the reasons that I shared at the beginning of this post that I have heard from other moms.  In having used the WriteShop materials, I am much more excited about doing writing on a much more consistent basis with our 5th grader and have gleaned a lot to help enthuse our older students as well.

I encourage you to read the reviews from the other Review Crew members that had the opportunity to review the different levels of the WriteShop Junior series.