Aug 072012

Writing is probably the most difficult subject for me to teach. I guess part of that is because it is subjective. There aren’t definite right and wrong answers in writing. Sure there are some things that are definitely wrong, but moving my children from acceptable writing, to good writing, to great writing has been difficult. And I’ve actually spent very little time on writing with my 10 year old. We’ve been focused so much on reading and spelling that the only writing we’ve done so far is dictation. I do have a writing curriculum for the older 2 that I am happy with. However, I am always on the lookout for additional resources for writing. I find it helpful to have multiple approaches in writing instruction.

I recently received How to Teach the Five Paragraph Essay, How to Teach the Paragraph, and The Home School Writing Action Plan from Create Better to review.

How to Teach the Five Paragraph Essay is suitable for students as young as 4th grade through 12th grade. It begins with a review of the paragraph, so a student who has good paragraph writing skills can start in the Five Paragraph Essay course.

From Create Better

How To Teach The Five Paragraph Essay is for you if your answer is “yes” to any of the questions below.

  1. Would you like to show your students how to write a strong five-paragraph essay to a timed prompt, and have them complete it in about an hour?
  2. Would you like to show your students a simple format that will help them write essays from any writing domain?
  3. Would you like your students to be able to write exciting introductions and conclusions?
  4. Would you like a detailed lesson plan that will show you, step-by-step, how to teach the five-paragraph essay?
This resource really contains what it promises. The instructions are simple but detailed. It does an excellent job of breaking apart the essential parts of an essay. I do not remember ever having such straight-forward instruction in writing an essay.I love how the whole process can be completed in as little as 20 days. It would be a great way to focus on essay writing before taking the SAT or any other test with an essay section.


I also reviewed How to Teach the Paragraph. It targets students in the 3rd grade and up who need more instruction in writing paragraphs. Like the Essay program, How to Teach the Paragraph breaks down the process into simple steps. It teaches the teacher how to teach the student. That is just what I need. It has suggested pacing guides for different levels and is very easy to adapt to meet the needs of different students. I predict I’m going to be spending a lot of time with William writing paragraphs this year!


In addition to both the writing instruction books, I also received The Home School Writing Action Plan. This plan presents a big picture of all the writing topics that need to be covered in writing instruction. It provides a good general framework and can be a guide with other writing curricula as well. It refers to both the paragraph and essay book, as well as the Complete Writing Program from Create Better I found the action plan a little more difficult to understand since much of it was an outline that referred to other sources. I received all 3 of these resources as e-books, and I think this is one time that a physical copy would have been helpful since I couldn’t physically look at both books at the same time. Also not having the Complete Writing Program made it a little confusing.


All these materials are available from Create Better


How to Teach the Paragraph is only available as an eBook for $7.99.
How to Teach the Five Paragraph Essay is available as an eBook for $17.95 or a soft-cover book for $19.95.
The Home School Writing Action Plan is available as an eBook for $15.95 or a soft-cover book for $19.95.
There are also several bundle deals available. Please visit Create Better for more details.


Be sure to visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew to read more reviews of Create Better


Disclosure: I received these products for free in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Apr 122012

Have you heard of WORLD magazine? It’s a Christian news magazine, published every other week. I’m not a subscriber, but I have read a few articles, and it is a high quality magazine.

WORLD magazine is entering the curriculum business, and what could be more fitting than with a writing curriculum? This paragraph from the introduction is a great summary of why. Read the complete introduction here.

Write with WORLD aims to produce young writers who love writing, can write effectively, and intelligently share ideas, beliefs, and their worldview. We hope to support a generation of young believers who aspire to use their writing skills in the service of God’s Kingdom and explain effectively the reasons for their beliefs.

Write with WORLDWrite with WORLD is written for middle school students. It comes with both a Parent/Teacher manual and a Student text. The entire student text is included in the Parent/Teacher manual along with introductions and teaching tips throughout. The curriculum is divided into 4 units. Each of these units is divided into 4 lessons, which are further divided into 5 capsules. If one capsule were completed every week day, the entire curriculum could be completed in 16 weeks, though this is recommended as a full-year curriculum. There is a wide variety of writing assignments used in the text with journaling playing a major role. Many lessons require the use of either WORLD magazine or God’s World News, though you could probably substitute if necessary. Basic grammar lessons on common writing errors (like its and it’s) are also included in the program.

Our thoughts:

The organized structure and layout of this program is fantastic. It is easy to plan (i.e. takes next to no planning time) for a busy homeschool mom. I love the broad scope. I also like that it could be completed in 1 semester if you wanted to a focus on writing, or used for an entire school year. I agree with the overall vision of the program, and what the authors hope to accomplish.

But it is not a very good fit for my 8th grade son. He is a very literal thinker. He needs very concrete instruction. The journaling is something that he is completely uncomfortable with. I knew we were in trouble when the very first lesson has the student write what questions a picture (in the text) brings to your mind. He does not do well with those types of assignments. He simply cannot come up with legitimate questions. I personally find the process of guiding him through the questions exasperating. He also has a very strong grasp of English grammar and found the grammar assignments too easy.

These issues may be ones that we should just push through. Obviously, I can’t let the fact that I am frustrated trying to teach my son be the deciding factor on whether or not I use a curriculum, because it’s not really an issue with the curriculum. It’s an issue with me and my son. I have been thinking about how I should make curriculum choices. I am not of the mind to let my children be completely self-directed. And sometimes (often) we don’t like things because they are hard. (I have found this to be especially true for bright, perfectionist students like my son, and myself.)

The basic point I’m trying to make is that even though we may not continue to use this curriculum, I would still recommend it to others. It is definitely one to be considered when choosing a middle school writing curriculum, especially if you have a student who is not a reluctant writer and is eager to write about his thoughts. And this may be just the thing to teach a student who is not comfortable writing about his thoughts to become comfortable. I just can’t say that at this point, because we haven’t made it far enough into the program to make that determination. I think that when the time comes, this might be perfect for my 5 year old daughter. She is very eager to express herself and doesn’t let a thought go by without sharing it. (Literally, the child talks to herself all the time!)

The curriculum will begin shipping this summer. The course includes the student text, the teacher guide, plus on-line access for $95. You can place your order on the website.

To read more reviews of Write with WORLD, please visit

Disclosure: I received a copy of the student text and teacher guide in order to write this review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.


May 132011

Institute for Excellence in Writing Student Writing Intensive

Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) is perhaps the most well-known writing curriculum among homeschoolers. At least it seems to be among the people I know, both locally and on-line. I’ve been hearing people rave about it for years.  So although I’ve been curious about IEW for a while, I had never actually tried it. In fact, I’d never even had a chance to take an extended look at it. So I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to review IEW’s Student Writing Intensive  (SWI) Level B with the Homeschool Crew.

What do you get?

SWI Level B, designed for students in grades 6-8, includes 4 DVD’s, a student binder with dividers, and about 100 pages of teacher’s notes, handouts, and checklists. The teacher’s notes include detailed instructions for using the program, beginning with the Easy Start Instructions and the Student Notebook Set-up. These are followed by a Scope and Sequence Chart and a chart detailing every segment of the 4 DVD’s. Also included is a suggested course schedule, which breaks down the 15 lessons into daily sessions spanning 30 weeks.  There are Teacher’s Notes for each lesson that include how much of the DVD to watch, key details from the video, and the writing assignments for that lesson. The corresponding student pages follow the Teacher’s Notes.

How does it work?

The lessons begin with teaching students how to write a key word outline. The DVD’s are live recordings of Andrew Pudewa teaching the material to a classroom of students, so you are able to watch this process from beginning to end. Key word outlines include important words from every sentence of a source document. The student uses this outline to rewrite the information from the source document using his own words.

The concept of “dress-ups” is also introduced in the first lesson. “Dress-ups” is a term Andrew Pudewa uses to describe ways to add variety to writing. They are additions such as who/which clauses, “ly” adverbs, strong verbs, and because clauses.

Pudewa also makes use of banned words lists. Banned words are words that are overused and not particularly descriptive. The students on the DVD brainstorm and make lists of different words to use in place of specific banned words. The student watching from home has a sheet in his notebook to record these replacement words and can then use them in his own writing.

The students are given writing assignments to practice using the skills taught on the video. Some of these are the same assignments that the students in the video are given, but there is also additional source material included in the handouts for extra writing practice.

Building on the foundation of the key word outline practiced in Lessons 1-6, Andrew Pudewa moves on to teach Story Writing, Report Writing, and Creative Writing in Lessons 7-15. Grammar concepts are discussed throughout the course in relation to writing. Editing skills are also practiced throughout.

We also received a really nice supplement called a Portable Wall. This folder has graphic reminders of the writing process as well as helpful lists of strong verbs, adverbs, and good synonyms for said.

How do we like the program?

For the purposes of this review, I had my 7th grade son begin SWI. He doesn’t fall into either of the two stereo-typical extremes of young writers. He could be termed a reluctant writer, but not using the term in the usual sense. He could also be described as a natural writer, because what he writes is typically very good. But he doesn’t like to write. So he is reluctant to start writing, but given clear guidelines, he usually writes quite well. But with his strong reluctance (i.e. grumbling and complaining), I have failed to give him enough writing assignments. I have not used a writing curriculum before and have struggled to come up with meaningful assignments for him on my own. I am finding that even though I have great intentions, I need structured programs that are planned out for me. I am becoming less of a teacher and more of a learning facilitator.

My son and I both enjoy watching these videos. Andrew Pudewa does an excellent job of instructing the students and is also quite funny. The assignments are very clear. They also have been relatively short, which is a plus for my son whose chief writing goal is brevity. I find the program easy to implement. We have not completed all 15 lessons, but I intend to continue with SWI next school year. I also plan to start my daughter, who will be in 6th grade at the beginning of next year, using the program as well.

Who should use Student Writing Intensive?

As I mentioned, SWI Level B is designed for students in grades 6-8. There are 2 other levels available (A and C). You can choose the one that fits the target age of your student, or if you’re teaching multiple ages, you can select B since it is in the middle. I am thoroughly impressed with this curriculum. Both systematic and thorough, it is great for the homeschooler who wants to teach writing, but doesn’t know how to teach it.

Where to purchase?

SWI can be purchased directly from the Institute for Excellence in Writing website for $109.00.  The Portable Wall can be purchased on the website for $7.00.  The company really stands behind their products and offers “an unconditional, no time limit, 100% refund guarantee on everything we sell.”


Linked to: The Homeschool Curriculum Review Roundup.

Disclosure: I received this product for free to review. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions expressed are my own.



Aug 312010

I was recently introduced to Big Universe Learning. This unique learning website is designed for students in grades K-8. It offers on-line books in a wide variety of subjects, both fiction and non-fiction, from 24 different publishers. Some of these books include an audio option for students to read-along while the book is being read to them. On-line quizzes are provided for many of the selections as well. In addition to on-line reading, Big Universe Learning provides the capability for students to create and share their own on-line picture books with other Big Universe users.

As I explored the site, I thought of some great uses for homeschoolers. First, everyone knows that homeschoolers love the library, right? But many of us have a love/hate relationship with the library. For many, overdue fees are a considerable problem. I found books on many non-fiction topics available at Big Universe that could save you both a trip to the library, and fees if you forget to return the book on time. This would work well particularly for times when you’re not looking for a specific title, but just more information on weather, George Washington, or knights for instance.

I also think the on-line quizzes are useful. Though homeschoolers often use atypical methods of assessment, having a student take a quiz on what he has just read does help them to pay attention. Also, poor scores could indicate that reading comprehension is a skill that needs more focus. And with 4 children, I’m very happy to find independent educational activities for them.

Then there’s writing. I struggle with teaching writing. It’s one of my goals for this school year to spend more time on writing. Big Universe Learning provides a fun way for kids to practice writing while creating on-line books. There is no need for software, everything is ready to use on the site. There are tutorials demonstrating the steps in the process, but it’s really simple anyway. The hardest thing is choosing from the thousands of available images available for the books!

Home subscriptions to Big Universe Learning are available for $8.95/month. (There is a 26% discount if you subscribe for a whole year.) Is the price worth it? Well, I’ve learned that price and value are very subjective. We personally spend well over that per month on purchasing books (on average over the year). I don’t pay library fines because our library doesn’t charge for overdue books (please don’t hate me!), but I’ve heard of many people who regularly spend that much on fines. The good news is that Big Universe offers a 7 day FREE trial so you can check out the site and see if it’s something that your family would use. You can’t get any better than free!

Disclosure: I received a free 6 month membership from Big Universe Learning in order to write this review. I was not compensated in any other way. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.