The Hands-On Essays DVD/textbook set is one of the most interesting resources I've seen for a self-instructional essay writing course. It can be used by students in middle school and high school. While students might work independently, they might also be in a group class setting since there are times where they need to discuss or interact with someone—this can be a parent or another student. Whatever the learning environment, a parent or teacher needs to evaluate student work. Evaluation guidelines for each lesson are at the back of the book.
Students begin each lesson by watching a DVD presentation. On the DVD, instructor Bonita Lillie hams it up with costumes, props, and different locations to emphasize the main point of each lesson. Her students often "double" as actors in opening skits. For example, the lesson "Hooking the Reader" begins with a fishing expedition and a conversation about bait. In another lesson on structure, Bonita carries on a conversation with a skeleton in a doctor's office. The entire DVD production is quite well done and certainly more engaging than any lesson presentation most of us have encountered.
After watching the DVD lesson, students proceed through the textbook lesson. Occasionally, they might write directly in the book, but most of their writing will be collected into a separate binder or notebook. (There are so few places where students might write in the book, that you can easily have them do that work in their notebook and later reuse the textbook for another student.) Textbook lessons include models of student writing as well as some pieces by the author herself. Encouraging quotes by famous authors, clip-art illustrations, and icons to identify key points or steps make the text visually appealing. A large font style and plenty of white space keep the pages from feeling cluttered or overwhelming.
The entire course focuses on the five-paragraph essay. The first eight lessons deal with basic structure and approach as students learn the components of the essay, work on topic sentences, create a thesis statement, and develop outlines. Students begin to actually write as they work on the various parts of the essay during these lessons.
In lessons 9 thorugh 11, students write a descriptive essay, a comparison/contrast essay, and a persuasive essay. They learn to revise their essays in lesson 12. Lesson 13 encourages students to develop their own writing style while emphasizing elements such as the use of active rather than passive voice and eliminating unnecessary wordiness. Lessons 14 and 15 prepare students for future essay writing by teaching how to write essays in response to "prompts" they might encounter in class or on tests and how to write within a time limit. Lesson 16 wraps up the course. Since their is an expectation that students will continue to write more essays, there are suggested topics for different types of essays at the back of the book along with a "Proofreading Checklist." The Checklist also appears in lesson 12 on page 50. It appears that pages 76 through the end of the book, which include the evaluation helps and the checklist, might be removed and kept separate by the parent/teacher.
Throughout the course, Bonita Lillie uses humor and a gentle, encouraging attitude that is enjoyable for students as well as an excellent model for other teachers.