WriteShop is a great resource for parents who lack confidence in their own ability to teach their students to write. It takes the guesswork out of the process.
The program is presented in a single teacher's volume and two student volumes, I and II. WriteShop provides detailed daily lesson plans and instructions for teachers, and the student volumes have all the worksheets and forms they will need. The teacher's manual offers more than lesson plans. It also has instructions on how to edit and make comments as well as descriptions of typical student errors and probable solutions....Other helps in the manual are answer keys; reproducible check off lists, reference sheets, and forms; supplemental activity ideas; story starters; essay topics; and suggestions for writing across the curriculum. These features walk you all the way through activities, evaluation, and grading.
Not only do these features make the program easy to use but the authors have structured lessons to build from the ground up, covering sentence and paragraph structure and style before tackling lengthier assignments. The subtitle, “An Incremental Writing Program,” refers to the way the program incorporates and builds upon skills taught in previous lessons. Because of this you should not skip lessons or change the order.
WriteShop is a great starting place for parents who have done minimal writing instruction with their children. WriteShop I targets students in grades 7 through 10, though it can be used with students as young as sixth grade. Lessons in descriptive, informative, and narrative writing include describing a person, food, and place; explaining a process; writing a short report; and learning about tense, omniscience, and point of view in narratives. WriteShop II is written for students in grades 8-12, picking up where WriteShop I leaves off. Following a brief review of WriteShop I concepts, WriteShop II lessons cover advanced descriptive narration, point of view, narrative voice, and essay writing (including how to write a timed essay).
None of the writing assignments are very lengthy. High schoolers will still need to practice writing lengthier papers and research reports than are required by WriteShop. (Keep in mind that this program is not intended to cover all types of writing assignments. For example, there are no lessons on poetry or writing business letters.)
If you start this program with younger students, move through it more slowly, taking at least three years rather than two. Older students might be able to complete both volumes in a single year if they are very diligent and have already developed basic writing skills.
The program works well for parents working with one or more of their own children, but it will also work in a group class situation. Co-op teachers will find the Handbook for Teaching in a Group Setting a helpful supplement to the teacher's manual; this is sold only as an e-book.
WriteShop does need to be taught. It is not designed for independent study even though students do much writing on their own.
Lessons—each of which might take about two weeks to complete—include “skill builder” exercises that focus on a particular skill, usually related to grammar or vocabulary. The “skill builder” activity feeds directly into the main lesson. For example, the second lesson is “Describing a Pet.” The “skill builder” teaches students to use a thesaurus to come up with more interesting words to replace overused adjectives and weak verbs. This skill is then incorporated into the pet description. Many of the grammar-oriented skill builders help students finally see the use of some of their grammar lessons.
Two weeks per lesson sounds like a lot of time, but the authors have incorporated more than the “skill builder” focus into each lesson. For example, the pet description also works with topic sentences, metaphors, similes, and concluding sentences. In addition, WriteShop teaches students to self-edit. Using lesson-specific “Writing Skills Checklists,” students work through their original assignment to edit, revise, and rewrite. The parent or teacher also has a unique “Teacher Writing Skills Checklist” for each lesson so you know what to look for when editing their papers. An evaluation form helps you come up with an objective grade for each final draft.
Students should also be completing the copying and dictation assignments that build skills of observation and attention, while working on various sentence constructions and broader vocabulary. The WriteShop teacher's manual directs parents and teachers to choose their own copying and dictation selections from the Bible or exemplary literature. While this is fairly easy to do, WriteShop also has published a small booklet, Copying and Dictation Exercises for WriteShop I, with excerpts from well-known literary works that relate to each of the sixteen lessons. This saves parents and teachers from having to come up with their own passages.
I think the authors have actually resolved a critical problem some of us have encountered with copying and dictation by requiring copying first, followed by dictation of the same piece. This way, students have already encountered unusual punctuation or sentence breaks that otherwise might be unpredictable when encountered only through dictation.
The program is written by Christians; you will find occasional biblical references, primarily in the teacher's manual. However, the authors' Christian perspective also appears very subtly in lessons such as writing a description of a person where the authors caution the student to remember to be gracious and focus on a person's positive features.
WriteShop sells a Starter Pack at a slightly discounted price that includes the teacher’s manual and WriteShop I student workbook plus The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus, Copying and Dictation Exercises for WriteShop I, and a poster showing the five steps of the writing process. Older students using WriteShop should have a grammar handbook for reference. While WriteShop is not dependent upon any particular grammar handbook, the Starter Pack includes a Tips sheet that gives suggestions for incorporating the Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation with WriteShop lessons, so this should be a great package for getting started.
Overall, WriteShop is one of the best resources I've seen for group classes and for parents who need lots of help to teach writing.
For students in grades K-6 see the review of WriteShop Primary and WriteShop Junior.