It's funny, isn't it, that even in the subjects that we as homeschool moms are confident in, we still often have trouble teaching them to our kids? Maybe it's because we know so much and we want to give it to them all at once. Maybe it's because we think they should be able to *get it* since we do. Whatever the reason, writing is one of those subjects for me. For that reason, I am always excited to see new writing programs, like Essentials in Writing's Fifth Grade, which I have been using with my children for the last six weeks.
Essentials in Writing encompasses both grammar and writing. The course has two components: a pdf downloadable workbook and a DVD of lessons. The grammar portion of the Essentials in Writing comes first, and makes up the first 33 lessons of the program. Each lesson has multiple parts, so that one lesson may have parts A-D. Each part is its own discrete exercise (at least that's how I treated it). The format of the program leaves a lot of flexibility, something homeschool moms love. If your kids like grammar and understand quickly, you may consider one lesson (in all of its parts) one day's work. For my children (and it will be clear why momentarily), I chose to treat each part as one day's work, so Lesson 6A was Monday's assignment, 6B was Tuesday's etc. Either approach is completely legitimate.
The worksheets themselves are not too cluttered with an overload of either writing or pictures. There is a perfect balance of each. A small colorful graphic is easy both on the printer and on the eyes. There is just enough color to break up the black and white writing, but not enough to distract.
The second part of the program is the writing portion. It occupies lessons 34-64, and covers topics ranging from writing a narrative to writing a compare/contrast essay, to using figurative language. The best part about the writing exercises is the continuity from the grammar program. Because the components are part of a cohesive whole, the entire program flows naturally. When you are doing the writing portion, you can't help but call to mind the grammar portion. Nothing seems pointless in the grammar portion. Since many kids do see grammar as pointless, it is very helpful to be able to reach back just a few weeks and say, "See! *That's* why there was such a focus on that particular concept!"
A student will spend several days (or weeks - it really depends on how many hours per week you spend on writing) on each assignment going through the entire writing process from pre-writing, to rough draft, to revision, to final copy.
The second component to the program is the DVD lessons. Depending on how comfortable you are teaching the subject, I would not say that they are essential (which is a tribute to the quality of the worksheets and program themselves). My kids tried watching the videos, but decided that they preferred me to teach them. A sample video lesson is below. The lessons are short and do a great job of teaching the concept without any unnecessary filler.
Ideally, one would use this program as intended, by following sequentially from the grammar through to the writing portion. I think the curriculum would be a solid grammar/writing program when followed this way. However, because I am a grammar fiend and introduce my kids to hard core grammar at a very young age, we ended up using it a little differently. Happily, it has still ended up being a terrific curriculum for us and one that I intend to keep using.
My son, Nicholas, is my 5th grader, and the writing portion of this program was perfect for him. It was exactly at his level. However, the grammar portion of the program was too easy for him. His current grammar program is at the 8th grade level. Because we definitely wanted to be able to review the grammar portion, I had my 3rd grade twins use it. Starting at the beginning, it was perfect for them! They loved the format of the lessons, they loved that they weren't too long (which was key, as they were technically not the age for which this level was written), and they really liked the worksheet format. As I said, we started out by watching the lessons, but probably because they are so used to me teaching them, they preferred to do the worksheets without first watching the DVD (again, though, I need to emphasize that the DVD lessons are excellent - definitely watch the sample above). I would introduce the topic to my twins, we would talk about the first sentence/example, and they would complete the worksheet independently. Then we would check the worksheet together.
Actually, they completed their grammar so quickly that I almost felt like I was cheating. The fact is, though, that this curriculum is quite complete. It is not dumbed down just because the lessons are concise. Rather, you're not doing repetitious work. For example, when the concept of complex sentences is introduced, an example is given and then the student identifies whether 10 or so sentences are complex (do they fit the definition). Finally, the student writes her own complex sentence. Honestly, most students probably should get the idea by now. I really appreciate that the program doesn't overdo needless practice.
My 5th grader, to be honest, didn't really love the writing portion of the program, but that is because he is lazy. He wouldn't like any writing program that required structure of him. He loves to write, but he wants to write what he wants to write when he wants to write it. The important thing is that *I* liked it. Essentials in Writing is perfect for a kid like Nicholas. I take writing so seriously that I want all of my kids to be well versed in the progymnasmata. That's fine for someone like my eldest daughter. She was born to write. Nicholas is every bit as gifted as she, but not nearly as amenable. He still needs to learn the writing process, though, and Essentials in Writing is teaching him that process in an easygoing, yet still thorough, way. The writing process is broken into bite-sized chunks.
On the first day, Nicholas learned the relevant terms in the writing process. Then he learned to organize his thoughts using a graphic organizer (something that is so familiar to public schoolers but sometimes such an oddity to homeschoolers). He wrote a rough draft (he was writing about a favorite day - he chose a friend's birthday party at a trampoline venue) and learned about using a "hook" to draw the reader in. I was so pleased to see that he really took that lesson to heart. His topic sentence changed to reflect the tactic of the "hook." Being Nicholas, he didn't read (or listen to) directions, so he didn't skip lines on the rough draft which made revisions difficult. His revisions were minimal, but he did correct some errors, and he did produce a reasonable final draft. I was actually delighted that my difficult-to-teach 9 year-old son had written a decent personal narrative that had required almost no coaxing and no teaching from me. Essentials in Writing can take the credit for this one.
I like Essentials in Writing. It's not fancy, but at only $40 for the DVD and pdf worksheets, it doesn't have to be. It gets the job done. This is not a curriculum I would have heard of without the Crew, but it is one I think deserves notice. The approach is simple, but solid, and the price is unreal, given that teacher comes right into your living room! If you have a child who is difficult to teach (like my son), you know that $40 for a year of grammar and writing is a gift! What's better is that the curriculum goes all the way through 12th grade.
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