Want to know what has been the biggest challenge in our homeschool? Teaching writing. I can handle math, I can handle science, but ask me to teach a kid to write, and I panic. Here’s the thing about writing…. I just do it! I have no idea where to start with my kids, and while I have found wonderful programs for older students, writing programs for early elementary have been elusive. This summer, the Schoolhouse Review Crew had a chance to take a closer look at WriteShop, so I jumped to try their very first level, WriteShop Primary: Book A, to see if it was the program I was looking for to fill the gap with my younger students.
How does WriteShop Primary teach writing?
WriteShop Primary is a program intended for kids in grades kindergarten-second grade. It’s focus is on building a child’s enthusiasm for writing, and helping them experience success along the way, so writing is an enjoyable task for them. This program is built on the idea that you can surround your child with a literacy-rich environment, and they will thrive.
To use this program, they suggest you set up a writing center with materials to help your child write. Throughout the program, you’ll make portable themed “word banks” in folders (or just on a piece of strong paper) with themed words, paper, writing tools, craft supplies, a board to write on, or a pocket chart with sentence strip and other materials to help your child write, and write often.
I wasn’t able to build a writing center in my home at this point (since we are in the middle of our big move) but I have been taking notes and can’t wait to incorporate the ideas from the teachers manual into our new homeschool space (when I do, I’ll come back and share pictures and how-to!)
Our Experience with WriteShop Primary Book A
For this review, I was sent both the WriteShop Primary: Book A Teachers Guide, and the Activity Set Worksheet Pack A.
I chose to start Mr. Man on the very first level of WriteShop, Book A, because he is a bit of a reluctant writer (okay, he’s a reluctant learner, period.) While he is technically a first grader, we’re still working on building up his endurance, motor skills, and excitement for learning, so with a subject like writing, I didn’t want to push him too hard, too fast.
Book A contains a couple different scheduling options depending on the age and experience of the child using the book. Since Mr. Man is a first grader, I chose to have him complete one lesson every two weeks, which would bring him through all three of the WriteShop Primary books over 2 years, completing the series at the end of the second grade.
What I really love about Book A is that it has separated out penmanship from composition. What this means is that during the 6 weeks we have used this program, Mr. Man has not been required to actually put pencil to paper and write. There are opportunities for him to have done so (many assignments could be written by the child rather than the teacher) but he was never required to write in order to learn how to compose.
This is worlds apart from other programs we have used in the past, where the number one step for teaching composition was to simply put pencil to paper, either by using copywork, or sometimes journaling to get kids writing.
WriteShop doesn’t do that. Instead of copying the work of others, or simply telling a child to write without direction, it slowly and deliberately helps kids first structure their thoughts, put them into words, and then put those words on paper.
Each day, we start our lesson with a “guided writing practice.” For this activity, I lead Mr. Man in a simple conversation using the prompts in the book. For example, I’ll say something like “Let’s write a title for today’s writing time. Let’s call it “Park Day”‘ (page 41). Then, I’ll ask some questions, help Mr. Man answer them in complete sentences, and write them down on the board for him to see. Once we’re done writing our paragraph, I’ll read it to him, and have him try to read it back to me.
Then, during the week, there are writing projects. There isn’t a huge amount of output each week, but your child will have assignments to do. WriteShop taught him how to brainstorm, how to write down his thoughts from the brainstorming session, and how to edit and revise his work. For each lesson, there is also a small worksheet (in the Activity Set) to complete, suggested reading, and a small craft to “publish” the written work.
The topics of the lessons are all very age appropriate, and are things that keep Mr. Man engaged. Each lesson has a theme, like friends, trains, bugs, movies. Along the way, the lessons teach everything from coming up with a main idea, story structure, rhyming and punctuation and more.
Like I said, so far, I haven’t required Mr. Man to do much writing during these lessons. For now, he is brainstorming, and organizing his thoughts, and I am scribing for him. The only thing I do have him complete are the worksheets, which come up once every two weeks.
He does work on penmanship at a separate time during the day, but I love that I am not requiring him to both process information, remember how to form letters, AND spit out his own thoughts at the same time. Separating these skills allows him to focus on on thing at a time, and has helped us avoid meltdowns.
The neat thing is, despite not pushing him, Mr. Man has grown more with this program than any other we have tried. He’s becoming more confident with his speech, and has actually begin “writing stories” in his free time. He has been writing me little notes, and is showing a ton of growth, so soon, we are going to “step it up” and I will scribe less and less for him as he is able to do more and more.
PDF or Print Version?
WriteShop sells many of their materials, Book A included, as PDF or Print Copy. For this review, I actually had a chance to see (and use) both versions of the materials. My personal preference is the Teachers Guide in print form, but the Activity Set Worksheet Pack in PDF. The Teachers Guide is very well done, with nice thick paper, a glossy cover, and strong spiral binding. It’s easier for me to use an already printed Teachers Guide, and to be able to mark the pages as I need. The Activity Set, while also printed on quality paper, is the actual reproducible products needed for the program. The copyright does allow for reproduction in your personal home or classroom, but I have found that it’s easier for me to just print what I need for my children at the time, and I prefer to be able to print extra student pages in case of careless mistakes, or, as to often happens in my house, a “my juice spilled all over my worksheet” emergency.
Don’t just take our word for it! 54 other bloggers reviewed this program, including the other levels of WriteShop Primary, and WriteShop Jr, intended for older students. If you are looking for a solid writing program that will teach organization along with composition, click on the banner below!