Authors will frequently write a textbook or a course, sell it in a printed format, and eventually transition that content into an online setting. Write from the Heart has taken an opposite path. They originally offered an online writing class to homeschoolers back in 2005, and that class gradually expanded to ten levels and specialty writing workshops. Their new textbook, Write from the Heart: A Resource Guide to Engage Writers, (hereafter shortened to the Resource Guide for brevity) presents the best ideas from those courses to teach composition skills to students in grades six through twelve.
The Resource Guide is flexible and can be used in many settings, with students at different skill levels. It includes writing assignments, many of which can be customized by the student to reflect their interests. It can be used by co-op instructors teaching their own courses, a parent working with one or more of their own children, or students working independently. (The Resource Guide is now used by students who take the online Write from the Heart courses, although those students are given entirely different assignments. So students who have worked through the book can still enroll in a course and not have it be repetitive.)
Covering writing skills from basic organization through essays and research writing, the Resource Guide teaches more than one would generally try to accomplish in one school year. You could use it over two or more years as the basis for composition courses, or you could use lessons selectively alongside other language arts instruction over many years.
The Resource Guide is presented in nine sections. The first seven sections teach writing skills, the eighth section teaches MLA (Modern Language Association) citation rules, and the ninth section addresses grammar. I’ll discuss the grammar section later since it can be used very differently from the rest of the lessons.
The first eight sections are titled Planning Your Writing, Parts of a Draft, Voice Techniques, Creative Writing Styles, Academic Writing Styles, Revising and Editing Tools, Research, and MLA Citations. The MLA Citations section teaches the mechanics of creating citations─both within the text and as a list of works cited. That section will be read, or at least referenced, as students tackle the assignments in the immediately preceding chapter where they will be doing research.
The eight sections that teach writing each contain three to six chapters. Each chapter within the first seven sections includes assignments. The MLA Citations section has no assignments of its own.
Each chapter will likely take a number of days (or even weeks) to complete. You might have students repeat some of the assignments using different topics or different approaches. For example, you could spend many weeks on the sections on creative and academic writing, repeating assignments or adding others.
You will certainly want expanded instruction from other resources on some types of writing, such as literary analysis and essay writing, so this will not be the only resource you will use to teach writing to teens.
While the course often teaches standard writing techniques, some of the assignments make the application of those techniques interesting. For instance, at the end of Chapter 7: Introductions and Conclusions, one assignment has students locate an article with both a good introduction and a good conclusion and explain how the author successfully links them together.
I found the section on Voice Techniques particularly interesting since it presents approaches used by professional writers that are seldom taught in school. For instance, students learn how to reveal the internal debate with which their character is struggling, and they learn how to slow down or speed up time in a narrative with their word choices, descriptions, sentence length, and other techniques.
Throughout the book, there are many examples from student compositions as well as excerpts from well-known poetry and literature. The latter provide models of particular writing techniques. Student compositions demonstrate how other students have addressed particular assignments.
The assignments at the ends of chapters all have four components labeled Key Terms, Comprehension, Practice, and Application. Key terms lists words, such as expository and memoir, for which students will write definitions. Comprehension asks two questions based on the lesson content. Practice gives students two or three assignments. Most Practice assignments direct students to answer groups of questions that are posed in sidebars next to writing models or examples within that chapter. A few Practice assignments are different. For instance, the two on page 89 instruct students to come up with at least ten verbs to replace the word said and to “start a paragraph in the middle of a conversation with an exciting line of dialogue and then explain what’s happening.”
Application is where students find their lengthier writing assignments. For instance, page 89 has students write a one-page dialogue with two people. Then it follows with an assignment to write a story with dialogue between three or more people. (It adds more-specific guidelines for each of these assignments.) Students will write quite a few lengthier compositions, including researched essays with citations for sources.
Even a student working on his or her own needs to have feedback during the writing process rather than receiving only an evaluation of their final work. Chapter 23 talks about the importance of having someone provide input and feedback to the student. This chapter teaches students how to both receive and give that feedback. The author clearly believes in the value of group classes for writing. Personally, I also see tremendous value in having students meet with others at least once a week so that they have an audience for their work, so they can receive feedback, and so they can benefit from the motivation the group class provides.
The ninth section of the book reviews grammar basics: parts of speech, sentences, common sentence errors, and punctuation. It’s written in the style of a reference resource. Students who don’t need this review can skip the section. For those who need grammar review, you might want to use the Write from the Heart: Grammar Practice workbook that provides exercises that correlate with this section. The 96-page workbook is divided into six units, with worksheets and a test for each unit. Answer keys are at the back of the Grammar Practice workbook.
Worksheet activities are age appropriate. For instance, students identify pronouns and their antecedents in sentences or they rewrite sentences that have structural errors.
The variety of ways that you can use Write from the Heart: A Resource Guide to Engage Writers makes it useful in many situations. Working through these lessons should help students to write with both proper structure and interesting content.