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Friday, April 17, 2009

WriteShop Primary Book "A" Review

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to review WriteShop's StoryBuilders, and this past month, they offered a few members of the TOS Crew the opportunity to look over their newest product-their WriteShop Primary line.

WriteShop Primary is a brand new incremental writing program from WriteShop. It's so new in fact, that only Book A is available, although Book B and Book C should be out soon. This program is designed for k-2nd graders as a parent guided introduction to the basics of writing. Each book CAN take a year to cover, but two alternative paces are also laid out for you if you are working with very motivated students or students in the 2-3rd grade range. Book A has 10 lessons, and each lesson has 8 "activity sets" within it. These "sets" are bite sized lessons-each building on one another until you reach the finished project. Here's a little more info diirect from their website: "Each Activity Set includes Guided Writing Practice. Activity Sets 2-8 also include a key activity or project.

Activity Set 1: Guided Writing Practice only
Activity Set 2: Pre-writing Activities and Picture Book
Activity Set 3: Brainstorming
Activity Set 4: The Writing Project
Activity Set 5: Editing and Revising
Activity Set 6: Activity Set Worksheet
Activity Set 7: Publishing the Project
Activity Set 8: Want To Do More?"

In addition, Activity Set worksheets can also be ordered to enhance the activities each week.

I think the program has many "pros". Like many of the popular curriculums that teach reading, this writing curriculum guides you, the teacher, completely. What you say is entirely laid out for you, and the type of response you are looking for is laid out too. If you have ever felt like teaching writing is something you can't do because you feel that YOU don't write well, this program is for YOU because it will literally walk you through it. It is broken down into managable bites and they fully realize that the parent may well be doing most of the physical writing in the beginning. There are also suggestions for tailoring the program up or down to accomodate writers who need more of a challenge or a slower approach. Each lesson has a craft in Activity Set 7, each includes times for the student to draw pictures to go with their story, and each one includes time for the parent to read to their child, so it is a multisensory approach. Each lesson is themed too. For example, lesson one is "animals" and all 8 Activity Sets deal with writing stories about animals. Then in the back of the book is a list of suggested reading books that go along with that theme.

In my opinion though, the program also has some "cons". First and foremost is the price. I try to review a product and really use it before I ever find our the price. And this one is a shocker to me. Book A is $26.95. Books B and C will be $29.95 each. WOW...I think that's high. I was expecting them to be about $10-15 each. They are/will be available as an e-book for less, but not much less. The e-book price for Book A is $24.25 (although you do save by not having to pay for shipping too). And the Worksheets are $4.95 for the hard copies or $4.50 for the e-version. While they are neat, I probably wouldn't spend the extra money on them. My next "con" is that, while the publishers clearly understand homeschoolers and even suggest some adaptations to tie the projects in with your particular area of study, I still think they are a bit "school-y". Their "predictable sentence starters" certainly are-you'd find them used in any "building school" you went to. (Things like Today is... It is... We will... Today will be...). I do realize that just because they are not original does not mean they are not effective, but they just seemed a little too predictable to me. And my last con is very much a reflection of my approach to homeschooling. I just have to wonder, why? Why do you even need a formalized writing curriculum for students who can't even actually WRITE, or at least not write well? It seems like on of those things where you can start in kindergarten and teach it for three years, or you can start in 3-4th grade and teach it in three weeks. But I wasn't asked to review whether the product is necessary, so this is really just my personal aside.
So what's the bottom line? If you want to start teaching you children the mechanics of formulating thought and putting it on paper at an early age, then this is the program for you. It's thorough, but the lessons are brief and build upon each other. And they are easy for anyone to teach, even if writing "isn't your thing". If they were half the price, I'd wholeheartedly endorse them because they really are well done. But the flip side is that I personally am not in a place to add formalized writing training to our daily or even weekly homeschool schedule. And even if I were, I'm not in a place to afford this program right now. You can view sample lesson pages HERE to decide for yourself.
If you'd like to see what other members of the TOS Crew had to say, go HERE. Some of them reviewed the e-book version, so I'd definitely check our their reviews if you are considering that.
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