Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review - Create Better Writers

Age:  Late Elementary through High School
Cost:  The Home School Writing Action Plan -  $15.95 - ebook, $19.95 - soft cover
          How to Teach the Paragraph - $7.99 ebook (free with Five Paragraph Essay)
          How to Teach the Five Paragraph Essay - $17.95 ebook, $19.95 - soft cover

David Dye taught writing for over twenty years.  He noted a lack of enthusiasm for teaching writing by parents and teachers, and a disdain for the process in students.  His goal was to write a curriculum that made it easy to teach and be taught how to write effectively.

As a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was sent the e-versions of The Home School Writing Action Plan,  How to Teach the Paragraph, and How to Teach the Five Paragraph Essay.

The Action Plan shows parents the steps to effectively teaching their child how to write.  Included are a Pacing Guide for starting in grades 3, 6 or around high school , and a “Road Map” for teaching writing.  The “Road Map” includes The Paragraph, Sentence Building, Vocabulary, Writing Assessment, Research Report, The Five Paragraph Essay, Narrative Story Writing, and SAT/ACT College Exam Practice.

The action plan is not a full system.  However, it is a sketch of the deeper concepts that should be taught to help students write effectively.  If you know how to write well and are comfortable teaching writing, then this basic guide might be all you need to help you structure your writing program for your children.

Since I teach writing myself, I found that the steps and suggestions are good.  Personally, I don’t think their program has quite enough depth; however, for a reluctant writer whose goal is to produce good basic testing and entry-level college essays, it does teach the foundations.

Strong paragraph writing is the key to strong essay writing.  Too many students start out just putting thoughts on paper without understanding that there is a formula for writing strong paragraphs.  This 23-page e-book helps to illustrate those fundamental components.

The author uses an eleven-step approach. 

Part I – The Basics
Step 1 – Assessment: Students write a paragraph (p. 2)
Step 2 – Learning the five parts of a good paragraph (p. 3)
Step 3 – Memorize the Five Parts of a Paragraph (p. 3)
Step 4 – The Paper Set-Up (p. 4)
Step 5 – Write a Paragraph Together: The Prewrite (p. 6)
Step 6 – Write a Paragraph Together: The Paragraph (p. 7)
Part II – Improving the Parts of a Paragraph
Step 7 – Topic Sentences (p. 9)
Step 8 – Closing Sentences (p. 11)
Step 9 – Paragraph Assessment (p. 13)
Step 10 – Practice, Practice, Practice (p. 13)
Step 11 – The Perfect Paragraph (p. 15)
Appendix A (p. 17) / Appendix B (p. 20)

While this may seem like a lot of steps for a paragraph, it really isn’t.  I appreciate that he has really delineated what the component of a paragraph are and what makes the writing in a paragraph effective.  Topic sentences, strong closing sentences, making sure your word choice is effective are all important aspects of paragraph writing.  For the cost of $7.99, younger students especially would benefit from this approach.

I’m not a huge fan of the five paragraph essay approach for older students.  Students in elementary and early middle school will benefit from the structure that the five paragraph essay provides.  However, this approach can be limiting in terms of depth and creativity.  By the time your student is ready to take the ACT or SAT, and especially before going off to college, he or she should have progressed beyond the limitations of the five paragraph essay.

That being said, the author provides the following steps for approaching the five paragraph essay format:

I. The Steps
1.       Review “What is a Paragraph?” Make sure the students understand that a paragraph is about ONE MAIN IDEA.
2.       Teach the Three-Paragraph Essay in 60 seconds. Start your watch! Ready…Set…Go!
3.       Prewriting Practice for the Three-Paragraph Essay. Creating your Three Main Ideas and listing your supporting details for each.
4.      Introduction Paragraph – Make a thesis statement and give your three main ideas.
5.       Conclusion Paragraph – Summarize your thesis statement, review your three main ideas,and say goodbye.
6.      Putting it All Together
7.      Timed Prompt Writing
8.     Assess and Re-Teach as needed. Put the expert essay writers into “writer’s workshop” activities while working with those who need a little more help.
Bells and Whistles
1. Teach Interesting Introductions
2. Teach Classy Conclusions
3. Teach Terrific Transitions
The Next Level – Tweaking the Essay to Fit All Domains and Genres
1. Narratives
2. Persuasive Essay
3. Problem-Solution Essay
4. Cause and Effect Essay
5. Research Reports

What I really like about this approach is attention to the details.  He makes sure that students understand that the introduction and the conclusion are just as important and must be just as effective as the body of the essay.  Additionally, the Bells and Whistles section does and excellent job of illustrating techniques for really enhancing writing.  This is one of my favorite sections as many students never learn the importance of the intro, the conclusion and especially strong transitions.

This e-book does not fully cover the Domains and Genres section, but it does give a brief overview.  You would have to follow up with your student and cover each of these in addition to other genres like comparison, definition, and process analysis.  Research reports are of greatest value and are not thoroughly covered in either the Action Plan or the Five Paragraph Essay.  For college preparedness, you will want to include these prior to graduation.


Honestly, I feel like this is a good, basic program.  I would use it with elementary or early middle schoolers to really help them understand the process of academic writing.  If you have a very reluctant high schooler, this might be a good approach as well.

To see reviews by other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew - click here.

***Disclaimer:  I received this product free of charge as a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest opinion.

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