I was very excited to get this. Writing is one of those things that I wanted to be a serious focus this year. Write With the Best 1 is intended for students as young as 3rd grade, and can be used all the way through high school. Volume 2 is intended for 6th-12th grade students, after completing the skills in Volume 1. If done as written, the volumes would take a semester each. For younger kids, Volume 1 could easily be stretched out over a year, by a combination of doing assignment less frequently than 5 per week, and/or by stretching the actual writing and editing part over a longer period.
I started my three oldest (3rd grade, 5th grade, and 7th grade) in the program together. I think Connor could move faster, but it is far easier on me if I have them doing this together. Some assignments I do have Connor go and do independently, while I work with the other two. But it is mostly together.
Book 1 consists of eight units, each with 10 assignments. Each of the units is set up similarly, so I'm going to talk about Unit 2 -- Writing a Descriptive Paragraph - Describing a Place.
Basically, it lays out something like this:
- You read an excerpt (included in the text) from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, where he is describing a place. You talk about what makes this excerpt good writing.
- You go through the passage, color coding so you can really see the descriptive language used by Dickens. There are a couple other things to notice, point out, and discuss about the passage and the use of language.
- You go through the passage again, talking about how Dickens appeals to the senses in his writing. More discussion.
- Prewriting starts now. The student thinks about a place that he can describe, and starts listing descriptive words. There are some great little exercises to help you get more vivid words in these lists.
- Find a description of a place in another book, determine whether it is a good example of a description of a place, and why. Make note of the descriptive words used.
- Begin writing a paragraph.
- Finish writing a paragraph.
- Go through the paragraph, coding the descriptive words used. Add more if necessary.
- Proofread using the checklist included.
- Write or type your final draft. Read it to your family.
So, what I like about this process is that you are starting with good writing, and spending a lot of time discussing what makes it good. The student gets to start the writing process fairly early in the process, with a list of great words he can use when he does start the actual writing. And the writing itself is spread out. As is the editing. And the editing is separated... add more description, if necessary. Then the next day figure out the punctuation and spelling.
How does this work with my brood of reluctant writers? Great!
I have had to help my younger two to brainstorm their word lists, but they are getting better at coming up with at least some words on their own. I let them dictate the paragraphs to me initially. We'll probably change that as we go. But with the word list in front of them, they have done a fantastic job of creating interesting paragraphs. Certainly not on par with Dickens, Jules Verne, or Daniel Defoe (the authors we've examined closely so far), but better than I expected.
Book 1 covers descriptions of objects, places and characters. It covers dialogues, then moves to a short story and fable. They write a friendly letter. And finally, there are two units on poetry.
Book 2 expands on what has been covered in Book 1, with units on writing a business letter, various kinds of essays, critiques, articles and speeches. I do plan to write up another review once Connor gets into Book 2.
One thing I really like about this program is that you can reuse it with a student. There are additional suggestions for models in an appendix, so you could analyze different authors and passages a second time through. And certainly, the child could write about different things.
The books are available as an ebook (Book 1 is currently on sale for $14.95), or in a couple of printed forms. If you are looking at purchasing the ebook, please be sure to click through all the links to read about their eBooks. The security software they use is not Mac-compatible, and you are only allowed to print twice. I printed Book 1 in its entirety, and have been making photocopies (which is encouraged) of the pages my kids need to work on.
Unfortunately, you cannot just print the pages you need as you need them. However, it is working out for us. And Book 1 is only 106 pages, so it isn't terribly long.
Overall, I am very happy with this product. If the teacher has a handle on basic writing terminology, and basic grammar, and isn't afraid to discuss things with her children, I think this is a fantastic, and inexpensive, option for teaching writing.