Tuesday, July 8, 2014

REVIEW: WriteShop Junior: Book D Set (digital) by WriteShop

I was really excited to be able to review the Write Shop Junior: Book D Set by WriteShop with my 9-year old daughter, Haylee.



Write Shop offers a variety of writing programs for all ages from kindergarten through high school.  The Write Shop Junior series covers kindergarten through 6th grade.  Each program provides a series of engaging, step-by-step lessons to get your child on the road to successful writing.

Write Shop Junior Level D is recommended for 3rd and 4th graders or reluctant 5th graders.  The components include:

Junior Teacher's Guide, Book D (Digital PDF)

Junior Time-Saver Pack, Book D (Digital PDF)

Junior Activity Pack w/Fold-N-Go Grammar, Book D (Digital PDF)


This level is also available in a print version for a slightly higher cost.  The advantage, though of the digital version is that you can print and re-print whatever you need for all of your students without having to purchase additional student materials.




When I first received the links to download my digital copies of the 3 items I mentioned above, I went ahead and saved all the files and immediately got to work in skimming through the teacher’s manual and familiarizing myself with how the program works and what materials I’d need to prepare ahead of time for the first lesson so I’d be ready to start on Monday.  I spent a couple of hours reading and getting all of materials printed and assembled.  Don’t panic!  It won’t take that long going forward.  But it’s definitely worth spending some time making sure you understand the approach and how to administer the lessons. 

DSCF1832Although I received the digital .pdf version of everything, I’m one of those people who still prefers to hold a physical book.  But rather than printing and binding one large teacher’s manual, I decided to save paper and make half-sized booklets for each individual lesson so I just have one convenient little booklet to work from on a daily basis.  This also allowed me to print 4 pages of the teacher’s manual per sheet of paper and gave me a series of 12 booklets altogether…1 for the introduction, 10 lessons, and 1 for the appendix.

Each element from the student pages and time-saver pack had its own instructions on whether they recommended it be printed on white or colored paper or cardstock, so I had to gather all the necessary materials and make sure I did it right.  I grabbed a file folder and the colored sheets I’d printed for the first Grab-N-Go Grammar Pack and got that all assembled, too.  Right away, I was struck by how visually appealing that first lesson was going to be with all the colors and fun set-up.

The program gives you two potential schedules to follow, and you get to choose the one that works best for you.  The most common schedule has you complete one lesson over the course of 3 weeks.  This completes the program in 30 weeks.  The other schedule option has you complete one lesson over two weeks.  This completes the program in 20 weeks.  Since Haylee is very resistant to writing assignments and wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about reviewing a writing program to begin with, I chose the slower pace, so we spread out one lesson over the course of 3 weeks.  This would allow us to take our time, not spending too much time in one sitting and risk discouraging her or having her develop an even more negative attitude by working too long on a subject she dislikes so much.  It also allows me to use the program for most of the school year.  For the sake of the review, I’m going to detail for you all of the activities we did for the first 2 lessons over a period of 6 weeks to give you a good idea of how things are laid out and what you can expect to accomplish in each lesson.

I also quickly realized that I’d need some way to organize my materials, which would multiply with DSCF1831every lesson, in a way that made sense and would make it easy to gather what we needed each time we sat down for another assignment.  The teacher’s manual suggested that you design some sort of Writing Center, also, so I decided to make ours portable in a large Sterilite Show-Off box with a handle.  I put a sturdy Writing Center label on the front that I picked up in the teaching section at my local Dollar Tree.  I put some hanging Pendaflex folders in it with labels and made sections for the various things we’d be using throughout the program.  I know this will grow as we add more things, and there’s plenty of room in the box for this.  And with the Reading Log, I added a handful of brand new books I just purchased at our Scholastic Book Sale.  Since we just finished up our school year and have a brief break before we start up again, I figured this would give her some special books to read that she won’t otherwise have access to, providing a bit of an extra incentive to read just for pleasure and not only for school.

In the end, I realized the value of preparing everything in advance, so on a day off, I spent an entire morning printing absolutely everything I’d need for the whole program!  It was much easier doing everything like an assembly line…making all of the booklets at once, laminating all of the bookmaDSCF1937rks at once, etc.  And this will save me so much time and interruption during the school year when I really just don’t have time to spare.

I also put together a Said It, Read It, Edit Bag with different colors of highlighters and editing tools, as suggested in the manual.  It also suggested getting a special visor to use as an Editor’s Hat that would be worn during editing assignments, just for fun.  I didn’t have one on hand before we began, but I got one later on. 



DSCF1826On Day 1, I brought out the Fold-N-Go Grammar folder I’d prepared in advance on “Punctuation Marks.”  We read through the rules in each section regarding how to use question marks, exclamation points, periods, quotation marks, apostrophes, and commas correctly.  With each one, it gave the rules, demonstrated how the mark should be used, and then had a “Your Turn” section where Haylee had to add the punctuation marks to the sentences correctly on her own.  Because these folders are used as reference for her down the road, I had to make sure I helped her correct any errors she made.  I felt it was a great idea to have her immediately attempt to apply each rule to demonstrate her understanding or lack thereof so we could talk about what she missed right away.

Then we picked out a reading log of her choice, which I’d printed on colored paper, and we talked about recording her leisure reading on that whenever she felt the urge to read.

DSCF1827On Day 2, we sat down together and went over the “Model and Teach” letter of invitation and discussed all the parts and their purposes.  The teacher’s manual had all the instructions for the lesson nicely laid out, so our lesson flowed very nicely.  It even offered a script for how the conversation should go between teacher and student. 

I brought out a tabletop easel dry erase board for us to write on as we went through the scripted lesson together, and I modeled filling in parts of a letter of invitation based on different scenarios, and she jumped right in and asked to fill some of it in herself.  It was nice to see her wanting to participate instead of staring at me blankly! 

On Day 3, we played a little game called Invitation Mix & Match.  This was a pre-writing activity.  The purpose was to build a complete letter of invitation.  The first one to do it correctly got 3 points, and the other person got 1 point for finishing theirs correctly.  The winner was the first one to get to 10 points after playing repeatedly. 

To play, I had printed 2 sample letters of invitation on colored paper.  We cut the sections apart on the lines, flipped them upside down on the counter, and then mixed them up together.  We started by each of us selecting the body of a letter.  We each read it out loud so we’d know what letter we were trying to build.  Then we took turns drawing random pieces.  If the piece belonged to our own letter, then we had to place it where it belongs on the counter.  If it belonged to the other person, we had to put it back in the pile and mix them up.  As it turned out, we were tied before the last round, and Haylee was all kinds of anxious about whether or not she would win! 


But as luck would have it, she did win in the final round.  She was so excited!



On Day 1, we sat down together and reviewed the parts of the letter of invitation and their purposes while looking at the sample letter from the first week.

Next,DSCF1857 we worked on the skill building activity called “Letter of Invitation: Build It.”  As soon as I told DSCF1858her it had something to do with building a robot, she got all excited and came running over to see what it was about.  I cut apart the pieces of the robot, which represented the parts of the letter of invitation in the order they appear in the letter.  Once she had the robot assembled, there were four little squares that talked about what goes in the body of the letter, and she had to place those in the “body” of the robot in the order they go.  This completed project made a nice reference for the next activity, which was Journal Writing Practice.

For the journal, she got to select a pretty pink folder with 3 prongs inside to house all of her journal writing activities for the remainder of the program.  The one she chose had a pre-printed design on it, so she didn’t need to decorate it herself. 

DSCF1859Then I gave her the Journal Prompt that I’d printed on colored paper.  It was a letter of invitation that only had the beginning of the first sentence filled in, and she had to finish the body of the letter, as well as fill in the blanks for all of the other parts.  I was surprised that she jumped right in on this assignment, because the prompt said that she was the owner of a dinosaur amusement park.  I thought that might be too boyish for her, but she went right for it!  She needed a little big of prompting from me on how to say what she wanted to say, but she mostly did it on her own and did a great job with it! 

The teacher’s manual discussed how important it is to let the student just write to the heart’s content in their journal without any correction as to grammar and punctuation.  The purpose is to practice application of the writing itself and getting the thoughts on paper without fear of correction.  I could see that this activity was building her confidence.  Notice the big smile on her face when she was all done!

On Day 2,  we worked on a Brainstorming activity.  This was a cute ideDSCF1929a.  I drew a picture of a birthday cake on the board, and I explained that each layer of the cake represented an element of a letter of invitation.  The date and salutation went on the candles, the cake layers contained the introduction, the purpose, the details of the event, and the date/time/location of the event, the closing went on the cake plate, and the signature went on the cake stand.  It was such a great idea, and Haylee loved it!  She brainstormed about her upcoming birthday party as I filled in the information for the elements of the invitation on the board, and then she copied it onto her corresponding worksheet. 

On Day 3, it was time for her first Writing Project!  I have to admit that with her past experiences with writing DSCF1930assignments, I really felt like the deciding factor on whether or not this program was going to work for her would be when it came down to the actual writing projects.  Would she hit a total road block or be totally resistant as she had before, or would she actually sail through it after having completed all these wonderful steps that led up to it?  It was time to see for myself.

Using her worksheet from the brainstorming activity, all she had to do was copy over the elements into complete sentences and create the actual letter of invitation from it.  I gave her some lined handwriting paper and instructed her to write it double-spaced to allow herself room for editing.  She moaned a bit at the prospect of having to write this out more than once at some point, but she did it once I explained that we were only doing this one step for the day, so it wasn’t that big of a deal for her then.  This is one of the things I really like about this program…baby steps!  It really keeps her from getting overwhelmed with the overall assignment because it’s broken up into smaller bites.


On Day 1, it was time for Editing and Revising.  We took out the cool editor’s Said It, Read It, Edit Bag we’d put together, and I told her to choose a highlighter and then highlight two difficDSCF1932ult words in her invitation that she spelled correctly.  This was great for building her confidence and making sure the editing process didn’t make her feel like a failure.  Another great idea!  Then I had her read the letter aloud, tracking each word with her finger as she looked for proper indention, capitalization and punctuation, and missing words.  Then I had her circle any words she was unsure about (she didn’t find any).  Any misspelled words were to be corrected in the blank spaces between the lines.  I laid out her Punctuation Marks Fold-N-Go as a reference.  We both gave it one last look for corrections, and then we did a quick activity called Punctuation Pointer.

In this activity, I cut out cards with a series of phrases from the time-saver pack.  On these cards, it gave the same phrases and short sentences using different end punctuation marks.  We talked about how the end punctuation affects the words in the sentence when they are said aloud.  I gave some examples, and then she practiced reading them aloud with the rigDSCF1933ht emphasis and inflection based on the varying end punctuation.  She thought that was fun!

On Day 2, it was finally time for Publishing the Writing Project!  First, she re-wrote the first draft into a final draft, this time not double-spacing it on the handwriting paper.  She made all the corrections we’d indicated on the draft as she went.  Then I had her select her favorite color of oversized construction paper, and we glued her writing project onto the pretty background paper.  She picked out some die-cut embellishments she liked and glued those on as decorations.  She enjoyed this assignment a lot, and she was really proud of her final project!  I made sure to show it to her dad and have him make a big deal out of it, too.  All in all, this first project was a great success!  The teacher’s guide emphasized that even if there were still mistakes or new mistakes on the final project, it was important to overlook them and praise the student for their efforts, simply because writing is an evolving process and will develop over time.  I can see how the praise really helped build her confidence and took away some of the “pain” of writing for her.  So far, so good!

On Day 3, we worked on Evaluating the Student’s Work.  Using the Junior Writing Skills Evaluation Chart forDSCF1936 Lessons 1-5, I simply had to answer whether each skill was done A-All of the Time, M-Most of the Time, S-Some of the Time, or N-Never.  As a teacher, that was so simple!  It really simplified the evaluation process, and the manual explained that the purpose of doing this type of evaluation for each assignment is simply to show whether or not the child is making progress over time.

Next, there was an optional Want to Do More? assignment, which we opted to do.  First of all, let me say that just the fact that Haylee wanted to do this “extra” work showed me that we’d already come a long way in her attitude towards writing since we began this program!  Prior to this, she would have wanted to get the work over with as quickly as possible and certainly wouldn’t have volunteered to do more than she was required to do!  There were two suggested addDSCF1934itional activities…either using math skills to calculate the cost of the party supplies she wanted to buy, or using a computer to design a printed invitation.  She chose the Computer Capers assignment.

The theme of her upcoming birthday party is Great Britain, so we used Google Images to search for graphics and then pasted them into Microsoft Word to create and print out an invitation on cardstock.  This was actually good reinforcement on the elements of an invitation, and it also appealed to her creative, artistic side. 



On Day 1, I DSCF2063took out the Self-Editing Fold-N-Go Grammar folder, and we read through the pages together.  Haylee completed the sample problems on each of the sheets, and she commented to me that some of the proof-reading marks were different from the ones she’d learned in her spelling program.  I told her that was okay, and that we’d go ahead and use these while we’re working on Write Shop assignments.  On the last page, it gave her some self-editing tips, and she got to choose her favorite tip.  She chose the tip where you look for misspelled words  by starting at the bottom and reading backwards, word by word.  She didn’t have anything new to add to her reading log, so we left that alone for now. 

DSCF1967On Day 2, we did a Pre-Writing Activity called the Incredible Shrinking Machine.  I cut various colors of construction paper in graduated sizes.  Then I put labels on each of them with sticky notes and stacked them up.  Meanwhile, Haylee drew her shrinking machine on the largest piece of construction paper.  The manual told me to explain to her how we were going to write about pets, but that pets was too broad of a topic, so we’d be uDSCF1970sing her shrinking machine to narrow the topic.  Haylee closed her eyes and counted down while I switched out the “pets” sheet for a smaller sheet that said “rabbits.”  When she called out “shrink,” she opened her eyes and saw that the paper had shrunk, and the broad topic of pets had been reduced to the smaller topic of rabbits.  We repeated this process, taking the topic down to Foofoo, then taking care of Foofoo, then finally feeding Foofoo a carrot.  The manual gave me other topics and how to narrow them so we could repeat the game.  It also suggested that in future lessons, if Haylee gives me a topic that is too broad, we can use this game to help narrow the topic some more to produce stronger writing.  Neat idea!


On Day 3, we worked on a Model and Teach activity.  The purpose of this was to model writing fiction with humor.  Using the sample ideas from the manual, we talked about different kinds of names and situations that would be funny involving animals.  Then I read aloud a story called “Snack Time for Foofoo.”  Following the sample dialogue, we talked about the meanings of fiction and genre and discussed how different things are funny to different people.  Then we did a fill-in-the-blank type of activity to make up a funny story, which I dictated on the board.  At the end we discussed a possible title and wrote it at the top.  It actually turned out pretty funny, and Haylee was really getting into this activity!  It was nice to see her laughing while working on a writing assignment. 


On Day 1, we worked on the Skill Builder activity called Funny Situations.  For this activity, I cut ouDSCF1972t the Funny Situations Sentence Starters and the Funny Situations Character Cards and mixed them up into piles on the counter.  Haylee had to draw a Sentence Starter, flip it over, and read it aloud.  Then I would draw a Character Card, flip it over, and finish the sentence by reading that aloud.  Then we’d giggle at the silly sentence we’d made.  We repeated this activity until we’d used all the cards.  The purpose of this activity was to help Haylee visualize funny situations involving animals so it would be easier for her to write a made-believe story with humor down the road.


Next, we worked on Journal Writing Practice for Writing Fiction with Humor.  I gave Haylee the journal prompt page from the student worksheet pack.  The prompt said “The snowman laughed and laughed when…” and Haylee had to finish the story.  She had a lot of fun with this!  Her story said the first snowman was laughing because the second snowman was melting, and the first snowman wasn’t melting yet because he was in the shade.  But eventually, he started melting, too, and called to the second snowman for help, but no one helped because he’d been mean and laughed, so he just melted, too!  It was kind of funny, and she built in a moral lesson at the same time, so she was happy with that and called it done.  It was a bit of a run-on story, but the manual reminded me not to critique the journal exercises, but to treat them instead as free-writing activities where she can work without input from me and feel comfortable just getting her thoughts on paper.  It didn’t even matter that her story wasn’t particularly humorous.  My only job was to praise her for her effort.  This is a new concept for me, but it seems to be doing wonders for her, as I can see how it is helping her to want to write without fear of criticism.  And after all, that’s half the battle.  It’s certainly progress over our past experiences.


On Day 2, it was time for Brainstorming.  I re-read the story of “Snack Time for Foofoo” to get her thinking about fictional humor again, and then I gave her the brainstorming worksheet from the student worksheet pack.  I drew a picture of the worksheet format on the board, and I dictated on the board as she came up with story idDSCF2076eas for the beginning, middle, and end of the story.  We threw around a couple of different story lines and filled in some details.  Then she copied it onto her own worksheet and summarized at the bottom what she thought was the funniest part of the story.  Of the two story lines she came up with, she decided she liked the one about a monkey named Charlie the best.

Once she decided which story to pursue, she filled out the Colorful Character Interview form.  This helped her to identify more information and details about the main character in her story, which might help her give more details when writing her story out.


On Day 3, we used the brainstorming and character worksheets to begin the Writing Project for Writing Fiction with Humor.  I gave her some handwriting paper and set her to work on writing out her story in complete sentences with details, reminding her to indent and use proper punctuation.  I laid out the Punctuation Fold-N-Go grammar folder for reference.  I also reminded her to double-space her writing on the paper to allow room for the editing and revising that would take place in the next step of the writing process.



On Day 1, it was time for Editing and Revising!  We took out the Punctuation and Self-Editing Fold-N-Go grammar folders for reference and the Said It, Read It, Edit Bag, and she put on her cute editor’s hat (we found a pretty, sparkly purple visor at the craft store for $1).  I asked her to take a highlighter and highlight a difficult or tricky word that she had spelled correctly.  We also looked for a sentence that was correct in capitalization and punctuation, but thDSCF2081ere wasn’t one that was completely correct!  Woopsie!  Moving on, she read through it aloud several times, tracking each word with her finger.  I helped her spot the problem spots, and together, we used the editing marks to indicate mistakes and then made corrections in the blank spaces between the lines.  Then she went through the self-editing checklist to make sure we’d covered all the bases.

When we were all done with the corrections, she went ahead and re-wrote her sloppy copy into a final draft on a new sheet of handwriting paper.


On Day 2, we were pretty excited!  It was time for Publishing the Project.  The manual suggested hosting a comedy night where she either drew illustrations (either one per page or one per sentence) or chose images from the internet to use in illustrating her story.  Then she got to present it to the family.

She decided to get images off the internet, so I helped her by typing up her story in Word, one sentence per page, and then searching for and selecting appropriate illustrations to go with each part of her story.  We printed it out in booklet form so she’d have a little storybook to share with the family.  Then she let everybody read it.  It was cute!  We had so much fun picking out funny pictures to go with the story, too.DSCF2082

On Day 3, I had to go through Evaluating the Student’s Work.  I took out the checklist and answered the questions honestly.  In some areas, she did better than before, and in some areas, she did almost as well.  I already knew she had issues with language mechanics, and we are focusing more on parts of speech and punctuation in our language arts program this year, so I know that will improve with time.  That’s exactly why she still needs my help for now with the editing process…because she is still learning.  I know that going through this editing and re-writing process together will eventually help her to identify independently when there are errors in her writing.  I think this form will help me see her progress over time.

For the optional Want to Do More? activity, we had a choice between writing alternative lyrics to a funny or silly children’s song, or doing the Computer Capers activity.  We chose the computer activity, so we got to make a Colorful Character Card, which was basically turning the Colorful Character Interview sheet we used earlier into a small, printable greeting card-style aid to use in future writing assignments to develop more details about the main character.  We left a decorative box on the front where Haylee can draw a picture of her main character to go along with the details about them.


Although Haylee’s writing still has lots of room for improvement, I can honestly say that this program has at least gotten her writing!  That’s a huge step in the right direction.  Her level of resistance has dramatically decreased, and with these fun and interactive activities, I actually saw her having fun and enjoying the writing process.  That’s such markedly impressive progress for her!  I have absolutely no doubt that we will continue to use this program for the remainder of the school year and probably beyond that, as well.  In fact, I think I’d like to start my youngest son on this program earlier in elementary school so he warms up to the idea earlier on.

We’ve tried a number of different options with Haylee for writing up until now, but this is by far our favorite of all.  The program is so well thought-out.  There’s so much variety in the assignments so kids are not easily bored with the same old thing, and the activities make it seem more like fun games than boring old steps in the writing process.  Haylee was pretty enthusiastic throughout the review, and I could see her anticipation each day when we sat down to work just to see what kind of activity we’d be working on next.  There’s so much to be said for the variety it offers and the interactive nature of the activities, as well.  I would definitely recommend that you give this program a try!

See what other Crew members had to say about this and over levels of writing programs from WriteShop by clicking the banner below.