We recently received Essentials in Writing for review. I had not heard of this company before, but I am always excited to find a new way to introduce writing concepts to Ben. We received Grade 6 for ages 11-12, including a DVD with video lessons and an CD-ROM containing Printable Worksheet Files.
From the website:
In Sixth Grade, your child will learn: detailed sentence structure, additional grammar, additional capitalization/punctuation rules, proper use of a friendly letter, using the writing process to compose narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive writing (including formal paragraphs), and five paragraph essays, compare and contrast writing, effective writing skills, multi-paragraph composition, the process to complete a research project, other forms of written communication, and other topics.
I began the review by inserting the CD-ROM into my laptop to print off enough worksheets to cover us for about 4 weeks. Because Ben did not need a great deal of grammar instruction, we began in earnest at Lesson 27, to make sure Ben understood the mechanics of writing dialogue before we moved on to writing paragraphs. We also briefly zoomed by some quick lessons on figurative language -- onomatopoeia, simile, metaphor, and personification -- just to review. Ben was pretty familiar with these tools, but enjoyed the lessons and worksheets that went along.
The program is a fairly complete language arts program, covering grammar and composition -- great if you are a homeschool that delays formal grammar, or if your student needs review. It begins with the basics -- subjects, predicates, prepositions, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions and possessives. We did briefly review a few of these before moving on to the composition part of the program. This is where I really wanted to see how things work.
Before I get to how Ben did with the composition portion of the program, I want to stop and give kudos to the way the Student Text Worksheets are designed. There were a few times we had not watched the lessons on DVD, but I felt Ben needed to go back and practice a some segments. While the worksheets are meant for the student to complete assignments after watching the video lesson, many of them contain enough instruction that Ben could just use the worksheets to practice a portion, without having to watch first. There was enough instruction on the worksheet. Here's an example:
I loved the way the composition part is taught in this program. The lessons begin with teaching the writing process, explaining that this process will make writing successful even in college. This lesson was a nice introduction to pre-writing, use of graphic organizers, revising, editing and publishing. He also hits on point of view and transitions for chronological order. Ben loves using graphic organizers (me, too), so he immediately decided that this writing program was going to be fun!
Once the basics were introduced, they were then covered in more detail in separate lessons. These lessons are quick, most less than 5-10 minutes. The teacher in the video lessons is Matthew Stephens, the author of the program. He uses a whiteboard and is seemingly teaching to a class, though you never see or hear any students. He has an easy, friendly way about him -- very pleasant to listen to and watch.
The first type of essay writing Ben completed (and the only one he completed for this review) was narrative. As it happens we had just returned from a vacation to Florida, where we visited several cities and saw many different sites over a 2-week period. This gave much opportunity for Ben to write narratives about his experiences. He couldn't wait to write about Winter the dolphin, from the movie, The Dolphin Tale, since visiting the Clearwater Marine Aquarium was his favorite part of our trip and fresh on his mind. I took this review opportunity to give Ben plenty of practice writing about what he learned at different field trips we took.
The lessons on narrative writing really stepped Ben through the process in a way that made it super simple for him. Beginning with a graphic organizer, he was able to easily formulate his thoughts in order to cover his three favorite events of the day -- taking the behind the scenes tour of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, seeing Winter for the first time, and petting stingrays.
From there he was able to draft his first paragraph, using the tips Mr. Stephens gave throughout the process. Even making revisions and editing was made simple with not only the verbal instruction given by the teacher, but also his own examples of a trip to Silver Dollar City.
In the end, Ben wrote a wonderful narrative of his experience at the marine hospital, which will soon become a post on his new blog. He is continuing to write more narrative essays about several other places we visited on our trip and is excited to turn all of them into blog posts. I can see continued improvement as he continues to write. I've even caught him popping the DVD into the player to watch a lesson or two over again to remind him of what he needs to do next.
Overall, I would say that Essentials in Writing was a big hit with both Ben and me. Ben enjoyed the video lessons and responded well to the easy step-by-step instruction given throughout the process. I enjoyed having someone else do most of the teaching and the fact that Ben is enjoying writing and getting excited about blogging.
Should you use the Grade 6 program as written, you will find a total of 68 video lessons, with worksheets for each lesson, that also cover expository essays, persuasive writing, summaries, compare/contrast, a research project, and elements of poetry. We are excited to continue with Essential of Writing in our homeschool!
Click here to view the complete scope and sequence. You can also view a sample of the student worksheets. Take a peek at the video below for a sample of the DVD lessons.
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