Lori Verstegen has written a series of courses to implement IEW’s Structure and Style methodology within the study of history. Parents and teachers need to be familiar with the Structure and Style methodology before using these courses. Ideally, these courses should be used alongside your history course material, but they are not dependent upon it. Topical lessons within each course address particular events or people with writing assignments that include source material for students to use. Because the lessons address a limited number of topics, History-Based Writing Lessons courses do not provide comprehensive coverage of a historical era.
Courses target different ranges of grade levels. U.S. History-Based Writing Lessons, Volume 1: Explorers to the Gold Rush, the course I received for review, adapts to the broadest range, so keep in mind that other courses will not be quite as adaptable as this one.
The courses available and grade levels for which they are appropriate are:
- Ancient History-Based Writing Lessons (grades 3-8)
- Medieval History-Based Writing Lessons (grades 6-8)
- U.S. History-Based Writing Lessons, Volume 1: Explorers to the Gold Rush (grades 3-12)
- Advanced U.S. History-Based Writing Lessons (grades 9-12)
IEW also sells Australian History-Based Writing Lessons by Linda Maher, a course that is appropriate for grades six through eight.
All books are spiral bound and printed in black and white. For each course, except Australian History-Based Writing Lessons, there is a teacher’s manual and a student book. (The Australian course comes in a single book in print or downloadable PDF format.) The teacher’s manuals include reproduced images of student pages (or sections of student pages) with suggested answers overprinted.
All courses require that students also have the Student Resource Notebook. A free download of the PDF version of this 110-page book is available to those purchasing any of the courses. The Student Resource Notebook is both a reference book and a workbook with models of structure, style charts, descriptions of decorations, words lists, grammar rules, charts, and checklists as well as practice exercise pages. The book can be used with a number of IEW courses. (You can purchase a print version of this book if you prefer it.)
Each course parallels the Structure and Style course layout with writing assignments incorporating elements taught in corresponding Structure and Style units. So lessons in the History-Based Writing Lessons books begin with Key Word Outlines then follow with Writing from Key Word Outlines, Narrative Stories, Summarizing, Writing From Pictures, Research, Creative Writing, Formal Essay, and Critiques. While there is sometimes only one lesson on one of these skills, generally there are a number of lessons for each. Occasionally, there are additional lessons such as those on poetry in the course I reviewed. Students will need a three-ring binder with page protectors in which they will place their polished drafts from each unit.
Student books each include a set of vocabulary cards at the back of the book. You need to remove these pages from the book and cut the cards apart so that they can be used as directed. Students will study the vocabulary words and incorporate them into their writing assignments.
Samples of student work for each unit are included in appendices at the back of each book. There are also quizzes at the back of each student book which you might want to remove in advance. Quizzes in the teacher’s manual have answers overprinted.
Because each lesson revolves around a different writing skill, the structure of the lessons varies. However, each lesson after the first one begins with a brief review activity.
I’ll provide a description of a few lessons from U.S. History-Based Writing Lessons, Volume 1 so that you can get a sense of how the lessons work.
The review activity for Lesson 11 directs students to “add all five dress-ups to this sentence….The ship went across the water.” Since this course is trying to address a broad range of grade levels, it often adds “challenges” for advanced students. In this case, it challenges students to add alliteration and a vocabulary word to this same sentence.
The goal of this unit is to write a narrative story, but students do this in incremental steps. They will be using dialogue as a decoration in this lesson, so they are first directed to the Student Resource Notebook for a lesson on punctuating dialogue. Then they use the provided story of “The Shot Heard Round the World” as source material from which they will write a key word outline on the outline form in their book. Next, they will use brainstorming techniques used in previous lessons to describe the setting, character, “sense” information such as smells and sounds, and other story elements. From their own brief outline of the story, they will then write their own version of the story in sections. The first section will reveal the setting and the conflict through dialogue. When students tackle the next section, they will continue the narrative, adding additional dialogue. They won’t complete the story until the next lesson which suggests adding alliteration to the final section of the story. Each lesson includes a checklist form for students to check themselves to see that they have paid attention to structural elements and added the required elements of style. Space for scoring assignments is included on these checklists.
This is only an example of parts of two lessons; other lessons will follow different formats, but they all break the writing process down into very manageable and structured steps that make it easy for children to learn to write well. I expect that the other books in the series that were written by Lori Verstegen are all very similar in format. I looked at the online sample of Australian History-Based Writing Lessons. While it is similar in many ways, the course is contained in a single volume with all instructions written directly to the student.
Advanced U.S. History-Based Writing Lessons for high school level differs somewhat from the other courses. It provides the writing and vocabulary components of a high school level English course including writing research reports with MLA citations. While it requires that students read four books, it doesn't suffice for the literature component. The author recommends Janice Campbell's Excellence in Literature: American Literature course as the prefect complement. Lesson plans in Advanced U.S. History-Based Writing Lessons tell when to use lesson in American Literature, making it easy for those wanting to use both courses. The four books used in this course are Uncle Tom's Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Gardener, and The Boy on the Wooden Box. Those adding American Literature will also read The Last of the Mohicans, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Huckleberry Finn, and The Old Man and the Sea.
All of Verstegen's courses seem to have been written for co-op class settings. They should also work well for a single student, but parent or teacher interaction is required. You will probably find that older students who have worked through other IEW Structure and Style resources previously will be able to do much of their work independently.
While the History-Based Writing Lessons series expands opportunities to apply the Structure and Style methodology across the curriculum to improve writing skills, it certainly will help students to learn history as well.