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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Create Better Writers Review

Like every other educational subject out there, when it comes to teaching creative writing, there is no shortage of resources out there all claiming to be "the best" and all competing for your homeschool bucks.  Each has its own approach, and because of that, each have their own strengths.  Where many writing curriculums try to cover everything in one guide or course of instruction, the strength of Create Better Writers lies in the fact that each of their books focuses on one specific aspect of writing.

I received 3 ebooks to review.  The first, and the one we spent the most time in, is How to Write a Paragraph.  This book begins by teaching the one thing every paragraph must have- one main idea.  Then it teaches the five parts of a good paragraph.  Students are introduced to a simple graphic organizer to come up with their supporting sentences, taught how to set up their paper for writing, and then taken through the process of writing a paragraph together.  Part two of that book focuses on improving the basic steps once mastery is achieved.  A short appendix offers a few of the forms used in the book.  The ebook version of How to Write a Paragraph is $7.99.

How to Teach The Five-Paragraph Essay begins with a brief walk through of how to write a paragraph.  It quickly though moves into lessons on how to write a 3 paragraph essay, and from there into writing a 5 paragraph essay.  It also has a pacing chart and lesson plans, as well as lessons on adding "bells and whistles" and taking your writing to the next level.  Like the paragraph book, there is also an appendix with some of the forms used.  The ebook is $17.95 and the soft cover book is $19.95.

The final ebook I received was The Homeschool Writing Action Plan.  This book is designed to give homeschool parents a basic overview of how to teach writing.  While it DOES NOT cover each step in the same detail as the specific ebooks relating to that element, it does give some general guidelines and refer the reader to the appropriate Create Better Writers book or to any other chosen writing curriculum.  This Action Plan has a seven page action plan summary, a guide for implementing the plan across each grade level (3rd and up), and a road map that offers practical advice on how long it should take to cover each writing element (paragraphs, sentence building, vocabulary practice, etc.) at different grade levels.  Also in the road map are some useful suggestions on teaching each element.  The Homeschool Writing Action Plan is $15.95 for the ebook or $19.95 in print. 

Below is the Table of Contents for The Homeschool Writing Action Plan book.

The pros:  Create Better Writers's ebooks are straight forward and easy to understand.  All three that I looked would make it easy for a parent who "doesn't like to write" (or doesn't know how to teach writing even if they do) to walk their students step by step through the process.  After using these books, all my kids know a paragraph is about one main thing.  And they know what a good paragraph needs to have.  Having been a good writer when I was in school, I never used a graphic organizer to organize my thoughts, but I like the idea because it helps them visually see some of the things they can write about for their supporting sentences.  I can absolutely see how this is a very easy framework to follow.  That easiness continues into the 5 paragraph essay instruction as well.  And the Action Plan gives good advice, especially if this is the first writing curriculum you've looked at.  I really appreciate that they give suggestions for how to use these techniques to write across your curriculum.  It's also FAR less expensive than some of the other writing curriculums out there.

The cons:  First, because each of these focuses on one aspect of writing, none of them is a complete writing curriculum.  In other words, the paragraph one will teach how to write a paragraph, and how to make it stronger, but NOT how to write strong, creative, imaginative sentences.  If you want to teach that, you'd need to order the Writing Tricks book and The Complete Writing Program, which actually includes the ebook on writing a paragraph.  All of that is okay, but it means that if you really want to use this as your writing curriculum, you should buy a bundle upfront that contains all the elements.
My second "con" is really more of a clashing of instruction.  When I learned to write, our formula was very similar, except for one thing- the number of supporting sentences.  This system teaches students to have a theme sentence, 5-7 supporting sentences, and a closing sentence.  Five to seven supporting sentences means the paragraph is seven to NINE sentences long.  That's a really, really long paragraph, especially for younger writers!  So I *tweaked* that a bit to be 5-7 total sentences.  I know when I learned, our formula was theme, three supporting, and closing.  That sets you up for a five paragraph essay easily since one of each of your supporting sentences can be about each of the topics of your three supporting paragraphs.  Create Better Writers calls that the "boring" intro paragraph, but again, it works as a framework until students understand the process and advance in their writing enough to spice it up a bit.  And even they acknowledge that "boring" is a huge step forward from not being able to write it at all.  (Hah, hah, there is irony to the fact that this paragraph I just wrote actually has 9 sentences...but then, I'm not a beginning writer.  Nor would I say that most bloggers follow traditional, formal writing guidelines ;-).)

The bottom line:  I actually really like the simplicity of their system and the fact that it's easy for the parents to teach and easy for the kids to remember and use.  I will definitely continue using these until I feel like my kids have the process mastered. 

To order any of the ebooks I mentioned, go to Create Better Writers.  To see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew had to say, check out the Review Crew blog.

Legal Disclaimer:  I received the 3 ebooks pictured above in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.
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