Write By Number is a highly structured writing program that can be used with students in grades one through twelve. An older student might be able to complete the entire program in as few as three years, but younger students will work through the lessons at a much slower pace.
The program is much more compact than you would expect. One book for the teacher and one book for the student are all you need to cover all of those grade levels. You might even be able to have two students share one book since they do not write in it.
You can purchase printed books, access the content by subscription, or purchase permanent access to this program through Homeschool Planet's lesson plans--they have the entire Write By Number content embedded within lesson plans. (Subscribers and those using Homeschool Planet lesson plans can view the content of these two books in PDF format but not print them.) These printed books are extremely sturdy, hardcover books designed to last many years. They are constructed with concealed Wire-O® bindings with a wire spine, and the pages are very thick.
How It Works
There are two strands within the program, one that teaches students how to organize and write paragraphs and essays and another that teaches 38 different sentence-pattern constructions to make student compositions more interesting. It is possible to concentrate on only one strand or the other, but the way the program weaves the two together is likely to prove most effective.
You can use Write By Number (WBN) as your primary resource for teaching composition skills. Grammar is taught as needed through applications, but it is a secondary focus. This shouldn't be considered a complete grammar program. The different types of sentence patterns are described with grammatical phrases, such as, “Open with an adjective phrase” (for the twelfth sentence pattern) or the thirty-third type which says, “Use a parenthetical expression between the subject and the verb.” The lessons explain the grammar at the point where each term is introduced. This applies to both syntax (how words are used in a sentence) and punctuation. Students will almost certainly need to learn some grammatical points before they encounter them in WBN, so it will generally work as reinforcement for grammar already taught with other resources. Analytical Grammar comes to mind as an excellent resource for grammar that would work well with WBN.
You might also use WBN alongside a comprehensive language-arts program, adding the specific instructions from WBN to composition assignments in the comprehensive program. For example, you might require students to construct particular types of sentence patterns (from WBN) as they write a book report assigned by the comprehensive program.
The program is presented in 12 "Stages." Students are to master each Stage before moving on to the next. They will use a spiral notebook or something similar in which to write their assignments.
The first three Stages lay the groundwork for writing paragraphs. These Stages are narrowly focused and have only one type of assignment each. In most situations, you will probably want to repeat with additional assignments to help cement the skills. The instructions in the teacher's book suggest that students might practice writing sentences and paragraphs about topics they are learning for other subjects.
In the first Stage, students learn to write complete sentences. You will probably want to spend a great deal of time at this Stage with a first grader before tackling paragraphs. Since the lesson material provided in WBN is very brief, WBN will likely be a very minor part of your curriculum for most first graders. The second Stage teaches paragraph writing with a topic sentence and two sentences with two supporting ideas. The third Stage has students write a topic sentence and four sentences about two supporting ideas.
Beginning with the fourth Stage, there are a number of assignments for each Stage, and the Stages will probably take much longer to complete. Some of the assignments are variations (e.g., writing individual sentences that follow particular sentence patterns, then writing paragraphs that have sentences with those patterns). Some assignments have students repeat the same assignment with different content. A few assignments are identified as “Fast Track” assignments for students who don’t need as much repetition. They can do only the Fast Track assignment and skip the others.
The fourth and fifth Stages have students continue to work on the paragraph structure learned in the third stage, but they switch to a focus on style. The fourth Stage directs students to write sentences that do not begin with “There is,” “There are,” “There was,” or “There were.” This is not a permanent restriction in the program, but it requires students to think of more creative ways to construct sentences. The fifth Stage requires that students write without using any linking verbs (again, a temporary restriction). Stage six introduces the first 6 of the 38 types of sentence patterns that are to be incorporated into the five-sentence paragraphs they will write--one or more sentence patterns are to be used in each assignment.
For each stage after the sixth, the paragraph structures are more complex, and more types of sentence patterns are introduced. As part of the paragraph structures, some lessons teach writing techniques such as the use of quotations, posing a question, or introducing a conflict.
Stages nine through twelve teach essay writing. These lessons do not cover research papers, bibliographies, or attribution, so those skills need to be taught using other resources.
The author generally includes her own example for each lesson along with a student sample. For the sentence patterns, the author often includes lengthy lists of examples, at least some of which were written by students.
Some of the sentence patterns are very odd. I understand that the goal is to get students thinking outside the box, but I’m not sure that some patterns are worth teaching. For instance, the eighteenth sentence pattern, “Open with a direct object phrase,” results in Yoda-style language (which the author acknowledges). The first two example sentences read: “Bits of yarn she had made into a beanie” and “Used cars Silas Yarckom sells.” The eleventh pattern, “Open with an adjective pause,” might be useful sometimes, but examples like one on page 95, “Beautiful, she walked into the ballroom,” sound very odd.
Even though the 38 sentence patterns encompass some that seem awkward and unuseful, having a mental toolbox of strategies should help students learn to write more interesting and compelling compositions.
In the appendices of the student book are 16 grammar and usage exercises that often include brief instruction on a topic. WBN has suggestions as to when to use each of these at points where they relate to the main lessons. The exercises range from one on capitalizing the first word of a sentence to others that require students to either rewrite sentences and underline titles or to insert quotation marks where needed. (These same pages with overprinted answers are at the back of the teacher’s book.) The appendices also include summaries of skills taught at each stage from the sixth stage on and a one-page list of the 38 types of sentence patterns. The pattern list will likely be very useful when students are given assignments to include more than one type of sentence pattern. It saves them from having to search through previous lessons to recall the different patterns.
Students past third grade will gradually start to work more and more independently. By high junior high, students should be able to work on their own, using only the student book.
The teacher’s book includes information such as goals, objectives, differentiation strategies to tailor lessons to meet the needs of all students, and alignment with Common Core Standards. It also has practical tips for teaching that will apply in most situations. While it summarizes the teaching information that the students have in their books, it doesn’t include all of the instructional material that students have. You can check off squares in the Assignment Completion Charts in the teacher’s book as students complete the assignments for each stage. It is possible to use the student book without having the teacher’s book since it has complete instructions for each lesson, but I think most parents will prefer to have both books.
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In the introduction to the teacher's book, the author acknowledges that some students might not like this highly-structured approach. However, she relates that some of those same students let her know afterward that they very much appreciated the skills they developed. The structure of this program forces students to develop an organized approach to writing compositions that will serve them better than the unstructured “write whatever you want about whatever interests you” approach that many students learn. The structure also makes it easy for the inexperienced parent or teacher to teach or facilitate the program. It’s really an open-and-go resource that can be used by anyone.