Writing classes have never been so much fun! Beth Mora teaches writing classes via online or DVD video teaching sessions and workbook activities. Mora often appears in costume, portraying characters such as a flight attendant, a reporter, a star fleet commander, and an airport baggage claim attendant. Even when she’s not in costume, she’s full of energy and excitement as she interacts with small group classes and with people in the community. Children in the video, called the “Here to Help Learning Kids,” clearly share Mora’s enthusiasm since she makes the lessons so fun.
An airplane flight theme is used throughout the courses. Mora, dressed as a flight attendant, gives basic instructions, mimicking a flight attendant’s spiel with her own humorous version. A basset hound in costume appears as a pilot who gives students the “flying solo assignments.”
The six courses in the series (called Flights) are divided into two groups with three Flights in each. The three Paragraph Writing courses are recommended for children in grades one through three, while the three Essay Writing courses are for grades four through six (and maybe even through junior high). Each course covers the span of three grade levels, so you can teach children of different grade levels together.
In the first three courses, students learn to write paragraphs and poetry. They work on various forms of writing: narrative, descriptive, persuasive, and expository. The Essay Writing courses move on lengthier compositions and more poetry while also teaching literary techniques: similes, personification, onomatopoeia, irony, mood, metaphor, tone, hyperbole, and symbolism. Essay Writing Flight 3 shifts gears by having students apply what they have learned to write a six-chapter book. This same course also introduces students to real-life Christian authors.
Each course consists of videos, a student workbook, and a teacher’s guide. (The print version has the DVDs included at the back of the teacher’s guide.) The videos are the primary source of instruction. Student workbook and activity pages support the lesson presentation on the videos, but they don’t repeat it.
The teacher’s guide for each course has a two-page spread for each lesson that lists each step that needs to be accomplished. It adds teaching helps such as suggested answers for the occasional activity where they might be useful. With the teacher’s guide, the person teaching the course might be able to prepare for the next class without even watching the video in advance, but most of the time being familiar with the video beforehand will make it easier to lead the class activities.
Each course teaches six writing projects that address different types of writing. Most writing projects should require about 5 or 6 one-hour sessions to complete. However, independent work in the Essay Writing courses will often require one and a half hours.
Mora suggests two class sessions per week. These courses are less demanding than others that might require daily lessons, but they allow time for parents to also cover grammar and other aspects of language arts that need attention in the elementary grades.
Lessons are ideal for small group classes and families since they encourage interaction through games and activities as well as brainstorming and written work. Mora refers to group activities so frequently that I think a single student working through lessons with only his or her parent is going to accurately perceive that he or she is missing out on the interaction. Nevertheless, most students complete some activities such as research and writing on their own. (Young students will likely need some parental assistance.)
“Discovery Tickets” are used for motivation and encouragement. Printable templates and instructions for using them are on the publisher’s website.
For each project, students work through the complete writing process. They start with brainstorming, webbing (to connect their ideas), writing a rough draft, getting “first input” (teacher’s feedback), writing the second rough draft, getting “second input” (feedback on grammar and spelling), writing the final version, and publishing (sharing the written work in some fashion). Mora teaches body motions to go with each of the writing process steps to help students easily recall them. Self-evaluation forms are included in the student workbooks. Students and teacher will go over the students’ work and the self-evaluation form, and the teacher provides guidance and assistance as needed at these points.
Students will each create a binder where they will put their lesson pages for each week along with completed work. Print versions of the student workbooks have perforated pages that are already three-hole punched, so students can easily remove pages and put them in their binders. There will also be a section in the binder for students to insert the 36 pages of the “Language Helps Booklet” that are also found in the student workbook. This is intended to be a handy reference for questions on composition and grammar.
Each level seems to have at least two hands-on projects—to create a portfolio of some sort and to make essay or composition covers or folders. These require supplies like construction paper, poster board, glue sticks, and a stapler—nothing too complicated. Some courses have drawing activities and other projects. Essay Writing Flight 2 has students create a clay doll to help them with characterization. This project was the most involved that I spotted in these courses.
Each video lesson is divided into segments that walk students through each part of the lesson in order. The videos even tell you when to pause the video. Students need to pay close attention to the video so that they will know what they are to do at each step.
The presentation is thoroughly Christian with Bible verses to memorize and frequent references to God, faith, and Christian living. Some writing lessons are designed specifically to promote Christian character such as writing a letter to encourage and thank a business and writing a paragraph with an idea for a “good deed” that speaks up for those in their community who need help. (The “good deed” writing assignment is prefaced with Mora’s video interview with a family that started a mobile chapel to bring the gospel to people in their community.)
The entire production is very professional with lots of graphics and variety. Even the writing prompts are entertaining. For example, most writing prompts are silly, photo-shopped images such as a koala bear hugging a skyscraper.
Children will not be bored! My one quibble is that some of the lesson video segments such as the “pre-flight checklist” and “flying solo” video segments are very similar in all of the lessons. These are cute the first few times then much of what they are presenting seems redundant.
You can choose an online course subscription, printed books with DVDS, or a combination of both. (The last option allows you to print out student workbook pages for your family even if you want to use DVDs rather than watching videos online.) An online subscription gives you one year of access to all six courses for your family. You can easily view the teacher’s guides on a tablet or similar device, but you will need to print out student pages. Printed student books include a mixture of full-color and black-and-white pages. You can buy extra student books as needed if you go with the printed books. (For co-op classes, one parent/teacher must purchase a web membership, but all students must purchase a student workbook or hold a family web membership.)
Here to Help Learning’s Writing Program is perfect for the family or group class in need of an enthusiastic instructor. The courses are very easy-to-use and enjoyable for both students and adults. They also make it possible to teach children together if they are within a few grade levels of one another. The Christian aspects of the course—memory verses, mentions of faith and God throughout the courses, and activities that stress Christianity in action—are more thoroughly and effectively integrated than in most other Christian writing courses.