With its compact, clear and straightforward teaching materials, self-study nature, rigorous curricular coverage, incremental and systematic approach to writing and lots of tips and assistance for parents, Writing With Skill can be a highly effective upper elementary and middle school homeschool writing resource.
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What Is Writing With Skill?
Created and published by the Well Trained Mind and part 2 of their Complete Writer series , Writing With Skill is a writing program for students in upper elementary through middle school that builds upon the fundamental skills developed in the company’s program for grades 1-5, Writing With Ease.
The program teaches students everything from paragraph structuring to literary criticism through a combination of direct written instruction, high quality classic texts and step-by-step sequential exercises.
What Ages Or Grades Is Writing With Skill Intended For?
Writing With Skill is intended for students in grades 5-8, representing the intermediate (pre-rhetoric) level of the Well Trained Mind’s series of classically-inspired writing programs, and is ultimately designed to prepare students for the persuasive argumentation and research-oriented writing of high school english.
The program is spread over three levels, each of which builds upon the learning of previous levels, so the program is one that should be approached in its recommended order and pace.
|Level||Examples of topics covered|
|Level 1||Review of grammar and mechanics, narration, summarization, identifying main ideas, two level outlines, topic identification and selection, literary response, poetry structure, citation and documentation basics|
|Level 2||Building on level 1 – narrative summary, the three level outline, explanation by comparison, explanation by exploration, sequencing, essay structure, metaphors, points of view, foreshadowing, poetry comparison|
|Level 3||Building on level 2 – narrative by significance, causality, instructional and experimental sequences, expanded essay forms and types|
As can be seen, Writing With Skill is fairly rigorous and, combined with its use of classical texts and integration of essential literary analysis, can be considered a bit more advanced in our opinion compared to a traditional elementary/middle school writing curriculum.
While aimed at students in grades 5-8, we feel the program can be also suitable for highly advanced ELA students in slightly lower grades, although the program’s student-directed instruction does require students to be able to be comfortable with independent learning.
We also feel that the series’ in-depth and sequential instruction can make it a solid review and practice resource for high schoolers who need to go back over their writing fundamentals.
Writing With Skill has two main components to it – a single student workbook and an accompanying instructor’s text.
As it doesn’t require students to buy various different exercise books, videos or resource sheets and tools, we feel that the program is pretty compact on the whole, which actually helps the program stand out from some of the other writing programs we’ve looked at, such as IEW Structure and Style and others.
Also unusual for a classical writing program, which typically draws on works of classical literature as models for writing, Writing With Skill doesn’t require parents to go out and buy or source a variety of books and texts over the course of the year.
Instead, the program’s various texts, dialogues and excerpts are printed directly into the student text, which can make things a bit more manageable.
This does, however, contribute to the fact that the student workbooks can be a bit hefty, being some 4-500 pages long, which can make them a bit intimidating to students at first glance.
Writing With Skill Student Workbook
The Writing With Skill student workbook is where students will spend most of their time when learning with this curriculum.
Written directly to the student, the workbook contains the instructions, examples and exercises that students will need to learn to write properly.
When we looked at them, we found the student workbooks to be pretty comprehensive and detailed, carefully going over and teaching students essential skills in paragraph construction, planning, outlining, analysis, creating effective conclusions, editing and more.
The workbooks also do a good job at carrying students through their lessons, in our opinion.
They are written in a clear and straightforward manner and its lessons are broken up into several smaller, easy to digest steps and exercises.
Consequently, we feel that most students should be able to read through their lessons and carry out the assigned tasks, if not totally on their own, with a lot less direct, top-down oversight from parents than most other writing programs out there.
With that said, it is important to note that the workbooks’ writing can be a bit dry at times, written as they are in a formal, directive and professional manner, and with little in the way of humor or illustrations, they aren’t always the most exciting or fascinating to read through for extended periods.
Further, the workbooks’ language and writing style can, at times, be a bit sophisticated and advanced for the grade level, at least in our opinion, which should be fine for most students but can be a bit challenging at times for weaker readers.
The instructor’s guide is the main resource for parents in Writing With Skill and where they will spend most of their time while using the program.
Designed to be used alongside the student workbook, the instructor’s guide is written to parents and contains much of the instruction and exercises given to students (minus some of the texts and literature).
The instructor’s guide is, like the student workbook, professionally, formally and clearly written, and reflects the program’s more self-study nature and the role it sets for parents – that of a guide and facilitator there to guide and advise students.
Instead of providing a script for teaching, for instance, the guide mainly focuses on providing key tips and suggestions for helping students complete their tasks, as well as sample responses to give parents a good idea of how things should turn out given the open nature of written work.
Interestingly, the guide also from time to time includes some sample dialogue that can be used for troubleshooting, leading students to the right answer through a Socratic-style back and forth that we feel is a nice nod to the program’s Classical roots.
On the whole, however, parents should be aware that Writing With Skill’s instructor’s guides aren’t the most scripted resource we’ve ever seen, largely owing to the many possibilities of student responses to prompts and excerpts.
While the guides provide a good idea of what’s expected from each exercise, they largely still require parents to use a bit of reading and thinking when it comes time to review, which can be a bit time consuming and can be a little challenging for new homeschooling families.
It is also important to note that Writing With Skill does not consider scoring or grading to be an extremely important part of the course, and the instructor’s guides consequently don’t really include any such resources for parents, which can be an issue for some parents.
Approach to Teaching Writing
Writing With Skill is a classically-inspired writing program, which fits within the Well Trained Mind’s general educational outlook.
Focusing on the pre-rhetoric stage, Writing With Skill places a strong emphasis on proper writing technique and teaches writing as an organized process, placing emphasis on brainstorming, structuring, persuasive and effective writing and, of course, editing.
It is also a strongly literature-oriented program, with numerous excerpts and texts included in the student workbook that are used as prompts and models.
These texts are quite varied as well, and can include classical stories, essays, biographies and even history and science-related work, which is cool and means the curriculum can be more widely engaging and interesting.
Writing With Skill also gives students a fair amount of exposure to literary analysis and criticism using various classical texts, excerpts and poetry, something that most writing programs (or more general ELA programs) don’t really cover at this level and that can make the program a bit more rigorous and interesting than many others.
With all that said, parents should know that Writing With Skill is a pretty traditional writing program and there isn’t too much in the way of audiovisual instruction or Charlotte Mason-style hands-on activities, so it may not be the most appealing to fans of multisensory or alternative learning methods.
As we’ve mentioned, Writing With Skill is also largely student-led, with students working out of their workbook and being able to learn and practice their writing without too much in the way of constant parental oversight.
Instead, parents take on the role of guide and help students along by providing explanation, clarification and troubleshooting where and as needed with the help of their instructional guide.
As a result of this self-study with support, we feel that Writing With Skill can be a good bridge to and preparation for the kind of independent learning found in most high school homeschool English curricula
It also tends to demand a little less in terms of time from parents, which can be quite helpful for busier homeschooling families.
Step-by-step, sequential learning
Finally, Writing With Skill teaches students writing skills in a comprehensive, sequential and step-by-step manner.
Through its three levels, the program covers everything from the proper use of grammar and mechanics, paragraph construction and planning to preparing complete writing assignments of different kinds, such as biographical studies, scientific writing, persuasive arguments and literary criticism.
More than that, the program does so in a sequential manner, breaking each task down into smaller organized steps that allow students to get a handle on fundamental skills without becoming too intimidating.
On the whole, this all makes Writing With Skill a fairly rigorous and methodical program, one that teaches writing in fair depth and that covers a good number of writing techniques and styles.
This rigor and coverage can have a downside for some, however, particularly for students who aren’t quite as strong in reading or language who may ultimately need to take their time and work through things a bit slower.
How It Works
For the most part, Writing With Skill is a straightforward homeschool writing program.
The series is divided into three levels, with each level containing about a year’s worth of lessons, which are each broken up into a 4 day week.
Students learn directly from their workbook, where they find the necessary texts, instruction, writing models and exercises, and tackle each lesson in sequential order.
Writing With Skill encourages students to use a computer for their writing exercises, which makes it a bit more modern and up to speed than some other homeschool writing programs out there, although for obvious reasons it does encourage parents to turn off grammar and assistive functions.
Students are also expected to make a notebook of sorts from a three ring binder for keeping track of things and will generally make ample use of a thesaurus throughout the year.
Should students run into trouble or not understand a task they are expected to turn to their parents, who can make use of various tips, scripted dialogues and examples in their instructor’s guides to clarify, explain or otherwise help get students back on the right track.
Once students have completed a weeks worth and a writing sample, parents can then carefully read them over and make use of the instructor’s guide and its rubrics/sample responses to make sure that students have completed what is required of them.
As we’ve discussed, there are no ready grades or scoring sheets with this program, so those interested in such things will have to use their best judgment and create them themselves.
Pros and Cons
With a year’s learning typically sold for well under $100, Writing With Skills’ resources are fairly affordable and should fit within most homeschool budgets.
Writing With Skill only really involves a workbook and instructor’s guide, which means there’s not a whole lot of materials for parents to buy, store and keep track of over the course of a year.
Thorough and rigorous
Writing With Skill is very comprehensive as a writing program, teaching students everything from basic paragraph writing to research articles and even literary analysis and criticism.
With Writing With Skill, students learn and work on their own using their student workbook, helping them build critical independent learning skills and generally requiring less time and effort from parents compared to some other programs.
Pretty open and go
Writing With Skill doesn’t require a ton of prep, either.
While parents will obviously have to read and assess student writing, the workbooks and instructor’s guides are written pretty clearly, in fair detail and are quite capable of guiding students through lessons without much of an issue in our opinion.
Structured, systematic approach to writing
Writing With Skill teaches writing in a very systematic and organized way, teaching students to approach a writing task in a step by step, careful manner and giving them various skills and tools they can fall back on when confronted by just about any writing prompt.
Not the most multisensory or activity-rich
Writing With Skill is a fairly traditional writing program that tends to have students read through their workbooks and attempt various reading and writing tasks and exercises.
While certainly effective, there aren’t any videos, games or multisensory activities to help spice up learning, which can be an issue for some families.
Who Is Writing With Skill Ideal For?
Those who have completed Writing With Ease and enjoyed it
Writing With Skill is a continuation of Well Trained Mind’s Writing With Ease curriculum, shares a similar approach and should feel familiar and welcome to graduates of that program.
Those looking for a rigorous writing program
Writing With Skill is a comprehensive and rigorous writing program that teaches writing skills, top to bottom, across a wide variety of writing styles and tasks and can be a strong addition to a homeschool ELA study.
Those looking for a writing program that teaches writing as a systematic process
Writing With Skill approaches writing as a process and teaches students to brainstorm, outline, structure, write and edit their work in a methodical and step by step way, all of which can be great for parents looking for a program that can get their students to write in a more organized and repeatable manner.
Parents on a busy schedule
With students working largely on their own and only turning to their parents for clarification and help, Writing With Skill can be great for busier parents who can’t spend as much time intensively teaching and overseeing their students.
Those looking for an affordable homeschool writing program
With workbooks and instructor’s guides costing under $40 each, Writing With Skill can be a good writing program for those on a strict budget.
Who Is It Not Ideal For?
Those looking for a multisensory, activity-rich writing program
While certainly effective, Writing With Skill is a fairly traditional reading and writing based program and doesn’t contain much in the way of audiovideo or activity-based learning.
Elementary & middle school students with weaker writing and reading skills
A fairly thorough and rigorous self-study program, Writing With Skill’s lessons and tasks may be a bit more challenging for students who still struggle with reading and writing.
Note: All prices are correct as of writing, all prices in USD.
As mentioned, Writing With Skill is divided into three levels with each level requiring a workbook and instructor’s text, which are available as a printed book or as a printable PDF.
For printed versions these cost around the following prices (PDF versions are usually cost a few dollars less):
|Student Workbook||Instructor’s Text|
As always, parents should check for the latest prices and for any deals or offers that may be available.
Is It Worth The Price?
Overall, we feel that Writing With Skill can provide a great deal of value for the right homeschooling families.
The program’s classical approach to writing is comprehensive and rigorous, teaching students a wide array of writing skills, from the basics of structuring and paragraph writing to research papers and literary criticism, that will certainly help prepare them for high school courses and beyond.
The program also teaches students to approach writing in a systematic manner, helping them learn to carefully organize and structure their work in order to produce clear, effective and logical written work.
Writing With Skill is also strongly literature-based, exposing students to important and classic stories, writing and poetry that they will read and respond to as part of their written exercises.
Finally, Writing With Skill can help students foster stronger independent learning skills, which not only will help them mature as students but can also be a boon to busy parents who may not have the time to directly teach and monitor student study and practice on their own.
With its compact, clear and straightforward teaching materials, self-study nature, rigorous curricular coverage, incremental and systematic approach to writing and lots of tips and assistance for parents, Writing With Skill can be a highly effective upper elementary and middle school homeschool writing curriculum.
About the Author
Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.