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Choosing a Homeschool Writing Curriculum for a Child Who Needs Structure But Loves Creative Writing

Leah Courtney
My oldest daughter was always a natural writer. From the time she learned how to write, she was writing plays, short stories, and research papers on her own. By the time she hit her middle school years, she could easily pump out a five paragraph essay about a given topic. Best of all, I had never had to directly teach her anything.

And then there was my second child- my son. When asked to write, he would stare at a blank page in frustration. Sometimes there were tears, sometimes defiance, occasionally both. I knew something had to change in his middle and high school years year. I had to help him become capable of writing. And I met IEW.

At first, the very structured writing curriculum seemed an answer to our prayers. Its guided approach to writing helped my son get words on the page for the first time. I was so excited that I set him up with the complete year-long curriculum for his 9th grade homeschooling year. I continued to be excited for his progress through a month or so. And then I noticed that his progress seemed to be plateauing. And, worst of all, he started absolutely hating writing.

He decided in the second half of the year that he wanted to attend my creative writing class that I was teaching in a local high school co-op. I agreed...on the condition that he would actually attempt the creative writing assignments. (I knew he really wanted to come because he had friends there.) I didn't expect much from his writing based on what I was seeing in his work through IEW and because of the fact that he still hated writing with a passion.

And then he turned in his first creative writing assignment to me. I was blown away. This kid was creative. And he loved it!

Homeschool writing curriculum
{I was compensated for writing this post and will receive affiliate benefits if you purchase from links. All opinions are always my own.}

I took a step back to consider our use of the IEW program. My two younger girls were also using it by this time and were also developing a strong hatred of all things writing. They pleaded with me regularly for the freedom to just write something creative, writing not bound by the structure of the IEW program. I liked the structure. I'm a rules and structure person. But I started listening to their plea for creative writing and began to consider how to choose a writing program for a child who really did love creative writing, but needed a little structure to get started.

I recently had the opportunity to review the WriteShop I curriculum for middle school and high school from WriteShop. I'm finding it a good balance of structure and creativity. It's a good fit for my youngest daughter who is more of a struggling writer. And it's definitely meeting my criteria for choosing a writing curriculum that gives structure but allows for creativity. 

We received the WriteShop I student book and the WriteShop I/II Teacher's Guide. I was really excited to see that the student book- which comes as a loose leaf set of pages that can be put into a binder- allows copying of sheets- but not the whole curriculum- for family use. So I explored this curriculum with my two middle schoolers- one a more avid and less tentative writer and one a more reluctant writer. 

WriteShop I and II are both designed for middle and high school. If kids don't have much of a writing foundation, they can start with WriteShop I, and if they're ready for more advanced concepts, they can move on to WriteShop II. The Teacher's Guide covers both, so you don't have to purchase it twice.

Homeschool writing curriculum

Consider exactly how much structure the writing curriculum provides.

Many kids need some structure in order to begin writing. A blank piece of paper and writing prompt can terrify them. The problem usually isn't that they don't have a creative thought, but that they have difficulty formulating what they want to say.

Providing some structure to help kids get started writing is critical. It gives that terrified kid something to begin writing on the blank piece of paper. It helps a child who is having difficulty formulating words and sentences get started by guiding them into organizing their thoughts.

Each WriteShop I lesson follows the same basic structure- a prewriting activity, skill builders that give student's step-by-step activities that get them thinking, brainstorming, a Sloppy Copy (rough draft), revision, and a final draft. This consistent structure allows kids to get used to the process and framework of writing, but it does allow for creativity along the way.

Consider how the writing curriculum guides a struggling writer.

It's been my experience in watching my struggling writers that kids who struggle to begin writing need some guidance to get started, a push in the right direction, some clue as to what to even begin to say. This is one of the reasons I first loved IEW. Its structured approach definitely guides kids into what words to begin to say. In observing my own kids, however, I found that once they had some words to get going, an idea, they could write with some independence.

Because of this I want to consider exactly how much guidance a writing curriculum will give my struggling writers. I want them to have the words to get started, but I also want them to have the freedom to take off when they are ready.

WriteShop I has been a great balance. The skill builders and brainstorming exercises give kids the words they need to get started before they are ever given a writing assignment. By the time kids approach the writing assignment, they're ready to actually write. And they can take off and get as creative as their readiness allows. I also love that the kids are given a detailed editing checklist for every assignment. When they are revising their first draft, they have lots of guidance to help them understand what was good and what they need to change.

Something else that I love that WriteShop incorporates is copywork. I think even older kids can derive many benefits from copywork. And one of these is that by copying good writing, kids are going to learn new vocabulary, structure, and sentence patterns that carry over into their own writing. WriteShop has included copywork and dictation in each lesson.

Homeschool writing curriculum

Consider how much freedom and flexibility is given in writing assignments.

All of my children are independent thinkers. Don't ask me if that's good or bad. It depends on the day. But what it means when it comes to writing is that they want some choice of what to write about. Just as a random prompt is too broad- especially for the struggling writers-, a very narrow assignment isn't good either.

One of our struggles with IEW has been that the writing always starts- at least through the earlier units- with a specific paragraph or story that the kids are rewriting. There's not any room for a creative story. Ever. After only a few of these assignments, all of the kids- even the struggling writers- began to chafe at this. They wanted some freedom to write about something that interested them.

WriteShop I gives the kids some definite structured guidelines for writing assignments but also some freedom of choice. In one lesson, for example, the kids are describing a circus performer. They have the flexibility to choose the performer they want to describe- with some guidelines. They get to choose what the person is doing and what his mood is. But the assignment gives them some specifics, along with a sample paragraph. So they still have the guidance to help writers who have trouble getting started, but they also have freedom to make some choices about their writing.

Homeschool writing curriculum

Consider how much guidance you, as the teacher, have in evaluating student writing.

One of the difficulties in teaching writing is evaluating student writing. Grading writing can be very subjective if you haven't started with some guidelines. One of the things I liked about the IEW program was that there were checklists for each lesson, and the grading was based on whether or not the student completed the checklist.

WriteShop does a very thorough job of making sure that students and teachers know exactly what to look for in each piece of writing. For every lesson, students have a checklist and teachers have a checklist. The students are to use their checklists when they are revising the rough draft, and teachers/parents then use the teacher checklist for grading the final product.

Homeschool writing curriculum

Consider how the writing curriculum affects your child's perception of writing as a whole.

I've always enjoyed both reading and writing. And, optimistically, I thought that all of my children would do the same. I wasn't correct. My kids are different- from me and from each other. They don't all love reading and writing like I do. But, while I've accepted that writing may never become their favorite thing, I don't want a writing curriculum that causes them to hate writing either. So I balance what I'm looking for in a curriculum with what gets the most positive response from them.

Writing is a life skill. Unlike some school subjects- like calculus to this non-math person- it's really easy to see how you use writing in your day to day existence. And people who don't write well are generally perceived as less intelligent whether that's true or not. Since writing is a skill for the long haul, I don't want my kids to be burned out by a writing curriculum that has caused them to dread writing. I want them to have a program that they can find some enjoyment in so that they stick with it and actually learn the writing skills they need.

WriteShop has been a curriculum that my middle school girls both prefer over most anything we've tried before. They like the combination of structure and creativity. They like having enough guidance to know what to start writing, but they also like to be able to choose the specifics that they're going to write about. WriteShop gives them both. I plan to continue using it and probably move on to WriteShop II. Since my girls have had some formal writing before this, I think they're ready for the challenge.

Homeschool writing curriculum

 You can learn more about WriteShop I and II here. WriteShop has other levels, and they also have some awesome subscriber freebies. Right now you can sign up to get daily writing prompts for either elementary students or teens for free. I like that they have lots of samples of all of their products, so you can check them out before you choose what to buy. You can also find WriteShop on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram to learn even more.

Free homeschool writing prompts

Leah Courtney / Author & Editor

Leah Courtney is a homeschooling mom of four. She’s graduated two teens- one who’s a legal adult now! And she’s still homeschooling two middle schoolers. She loves all things book related, and in her- very rare- free time you can find her listening to audiobooks and coloring.


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