The Building Writing Skills series consists of three books. The first two books, subtitled Level 1 and Level 2, help students learn particular forms of writing: narrative, opinion, informative, and argumentative. The third book, subtitled Essential Tips & Techniques, helps students hone their writing skills by using vivid verbs, adding details, varying sentence styles, using literary devices such as similes and alliteration, and other strategies. I received the first two books for review, so those are my focus.
Building Writing Skills: Level 1 is identified as appropriate for students in grades three through five, while Level 2 suits students in grades six and seven. Some third graders might not yet be ready for Level 1. I also think that Level 2 can stretch to include students in grades five through eight.
These two books are very similar in many ways. They both teach a widely-used, five-step writing process and walk students through those steps with highly structured activities. The five steps are prewriting, writing the first draft, revising, editing, and publishing.
Both books provide graphic organizers, checklists, sample essays, and other resources to clarify and simplify the writing process. Some of the checklists are the same, although there are sometimes added elements in Level 2. For instance, the Revising Checklist for the story narrative in Level 2 is identical to the one in Level 1 for the most part, but it adds three questions that have students check for their use of sensory words; their use of phrases, clauses, and transition words; and the use of expressive dialogue to show a character’s emotions.
Each book takes students through four complete writing projects with step-by-step help as students use the five-step writing process to write the different types of compositions. The lessons for all four projects walk students through the entire process (including the use of the checklists) with a sample project before having students begin to work on their own compositions. Rubrics are included so that both students and parents know the criteria for scoring the compositions in advance.
For Level 1, students will write these four types of compositions:
- Personal narrative
- Story narrative
Level 2 has students write a personal narrative, a story narrative, and an informative/explanatory piece, similar to Level 1. However, it replaces opinion writing with an argumentative/persuasive essay. In addition, the informative/explanatory assignment in Level 2 asks students to compare and contrast two historical figures while Level 1 has students write about just one person. So, while there is much repetition between the books, Level 2 steps up the level of difficulty in a number of ways.
Third and fourth graders will probably need assistance as they work through the lessons, but the instructions are so detailed and clearly structured that students in fifth grade and above should be able to work independently. Even so, parents should check students at each stage to ensure they are on track.
The Building Writing Skills books are available as paperback books or as ebooks (in a format that can be read only on Windows devices). The physical books have perforated pages for easy removal.
The Building Writing Skills series provides homeschooling families with an inexpensive, easy-to-use resource for developing composition skills. Even better, you are allowed to copy pages for the use of all students in one family or one classroom.