Writing Strands is a great way to teach writing in the homeschool, especially for the parent with little writing experience. Lots of creative ideas, laid out step-by-step for (primarily) independent student work at upper levels, set these books apart from others. Lessons are broken up into daily assignments to keep students from becoming overwhelmed. The strands (types of writing) within the books--argumentative, creative, explanatory, and report--become increasingly useful at upper grade levels. Writing Strands should generally be used as one component of your language arts study along with other resources that work on grammar, vocabulary, spelling, literature, etc. Note that level numbers do not correspond to grade levels.
Writing Strands 1 is a small book that can be used with children who are at the prewriting stage (preschool through early elementary). It encourages parents to interact with their children through "word" activities. Games, stories, rhymes, and conversations are described which help children to broaden their experience with words before they begin writing. Many of the ideas are fantastical and silly, designed for fun as much as learning.
Writing Strands 2 needs to be presented by the teacher/parent. Students do their actual writing in a separate notebook. They are introduced to a variety of writing skills, among which are the use of adjectives, writing paragraphs, grouping information, story writing, dialogue, writing about personal experiences, and imaginative writing. Some grammar skills are taught within the lessons, but this is not intended to be a comprehensive grammar course. There are fifteen lessons, each of which might take anywhere from a couple of days to a week or more. Author Dave Marks offers suggestions about how much of each lesson might be covered each day, but you will need to make your own plans depending upon the ability and interest of each child. Writing Strands does a better job than most curricula do in teaching writing skills in the primary grades because lessons are purposely organized and content is interesting enough to motivate reluctant writers. Free worksheets, available on their website, can be used with children who need a slower pace and/or more guidance as they work through Level 2.
Writing Strands 3 provides help for parents who lack confidence in their ability to teach their children how to write. The author speaks directly to the students, providing explanations with lengthy examples of concepts being taught. Parents still need to be involved in the lessons with students to varying degrees—more so with younger students, less so with older. Third graders can start at this level, but older students new to Writing Strands might also begin with Level 3. The emphasis throughout all levels is on writing itself rather than grammar and mechanics. However, children are instructed at the end of each assignment to look up solutions to grammatical problems in a grammar handbook (A Write Source handbook or Learning Grammar through Writing can be used for just such a purpose.) Level 3 includes four strands: creative writing, basic writing skills, descriptive writing, and organization. Time schedules are laid out for each writing task, e.g., seven days are planned for learning how to create and resolve conflicts in writing fiction. Instruction and assignments are then given for each day's work, although lessons might take more or less than the allotted time. The tone is friendly and easy to understand—more inviting than most textbooks. The ideas for teaching writing are very creative and unlike those found in most textbooks.
Writing Strands 4 is similar to the third book, advancing slightly in level of difficulty. Level 4 refers back to Level 3, so you should probably start with that level first.
Writing Strands 5 should follow levels 3 and 4, even if an older child is just starting in Writing Strands. It might well be used at high school level.
In Writing Strands 6 and 7 , lessons are clearly broken down into three writing strands: explanatory, creative, and report, with heavy emphasis on report and research writing. Levels 6 and 7 are best for high school.
After Level 7, students might want to tackle Writing Exposition. Writing Exposition is an advanced course in expository writing. Thirteen lessons each tackle different writing assignments. Some of these are quite inventive, and many are very challenging for the average high schooler.
Assignments include writing a "suspenseful" piece, creating a library manual, writing about (and exploring) abstract ideas, evaluating books by their covers, writing an argumentative piece about cultural stability, writing an argumentative piece on role models, writing a comparison and contrast piece, analyzing conversations for the use and reactions to the word "I," writing a reaction paper, writing with bias, writing a propaganda piece and an analysis of how propaganda works, writing a research paper, and writing about magazine evaluation.
Lessons vary on how much step-by-step help is offered. "Notes" page(s) follow each lesson which help students with the collection and organization of information.
The last part of the book is appendices. These include student writing samples from the above exercises, two-pages of instructions on writing expository papers, helps for the SAT II writing test, essay prompts and sample essays, tips for taking essay exams, and a section on "Writing Problems and How to Avoid Them."
Lessons might be used in any order, so you might select those that seem most appropriate for a student, perhaps using the different lessons over more than a single school year.
Note: Personally, I like to use selected lessons from different volumes of Writing Strands. Also, I prefer to use them with group classes or one-on-one rather than having children work through them independently. I arrived at both of these strategies because I believe that some of the ideas are stronger and better developed than others, and I preferred picking and choosing the lessons that would be most useful, something difficult to do when you give a book to a student to use on his or her own.