Essentials in Writing {a review}

Sarah Thin 2
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I have been on a hunt for the past couple of years for a writing curriculum that is a good fit for our family.  I have been looking for a curriculum that is easy to use for both parent and student, one that promotes independence and builds confidence in the student, one that doesn’t require much prep work on my part, and one that makes the writing process relatable and understandable for my kids.  When given the opportunity to review the fifth grade level curriculum from Essentials in Writing, I jumped at the chance, hoping this was the one!

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Essentials in Writing is a language arts curriculum that teaches grammar and composition with most of its focus being on composition.  The curriculum was written by former public school teacher, Matthew Stephens, whose goal is to help students communicate productively when using the written language.  The curriculum, which retails for $40, consists of a DVD with Mr. Stephens presenting each lesson, and a PDF workbook file that contains the worksheets and answer key.  If you would prefer a pre-printed workbook, they are available on the website for $20.  Essentials in Writing is available for grades 1-11, with grade 12 becoming available later this year.

The fifth grade level of Essentials in Writing consists of 64 lessons, with the first 33 lessons being devoted to grammar, and the rest of the lessons focusing on composition.  Here are some of the things your child will be working on at the fifth grade level:

  • Sentence structure
  • Parts of speech
  • Writing dialouge
  • Prepositions and Prepositional Phrases
  • The writing process (prewrite, draft, revise, edit/publish)
  • Writing a narrative
  • Writing a friendly letter
  • Persuasive writing
  • Descriptive writing 
  • Figurative language
  • Poetry

For a complete list of what is covered at the fifth grade level, a fifth grade syllabus is available on the website.

There is no schedule to follow with this course, however, a “suggested approach” is offered.  Basically you watch the video lesson and then do the corresponding worksheet.  Some lessons have more worksheets than others, but it is suggested that you only do one worksheet a day.  If you followed this approach, you wouldn’t necessarily be watching a video lesson during every class period (unless you replayed it for reinforcement or refreshment), and you would finish the course in 125-135 class periods.  I felt that this approach was a bit too slow for us.  So instead, we would watch a lesson and do 2 worksheets instead of just one.  The nice thing about this program is that you can progress at your child’s rate.  You can speed up or slow down as needed. 

What we liked about this program:

  • It is easy to use – just print out the worksheets and pop in the DVD.  Minimal prep work for mom and the DVD menu is easy for my son to use.
  • The topics are broken down into small segments so it’s easier for my son to grasp and understand the concepts.  I especially liked that the writing process was broken down greatly and eased the student through the process.
  • The creator of the program is very available and eager to answer your questions and provide help as needed.
  • It’s non-consumable.  This is an excellent feature when you have multiple children coming up the ranks.
  • It’s affordable.  At only $40, you get a grammar and composition program that can be used over and over again.
  • Having grammar and composition all in one program.  Using two separate courses can sometimes be confusing and not flow together (even when they are by the same publisher/vendor).  I really like how the grammar is continually reinforced and touched upon during the writing process.
  • I don’t have to teach.  I know that probably sounds awful, but when you have 7 kids, it’s nice to have something taken off your plate.  All I have to do is monitor his pace, check his work, and provide help when needed.
  • He gets to watch TV!  My son’s first reaction when we started this program was, “I get to watch TV?” 

Aspects of the program that didn’t work for us:

  • I felt that the lessons were too short and didn’t provide enough examples of the concepts being taught, at least in the grammar section.  I wish the vendor would have provided additional worksheets for students who need to spend more time on certain concepts.  I will most likely be adding something in to supplement the grammar portion.
  • There were several instances where the teacher would speak a bit too fast.  
  • There are no tests or quizzes.  I’m a test person, so I would have liked to see quizzes or tests for the grammar portion.
  • There is no diagramming.  This isn’t super important to me, but I think it’s a good thing for kids to have exposure to and knowledge of. 
  • The directions on a few of the worksheets were a bit unclear, which confused my son.

Overall I feel that this is a great option for teaching grammar and writing, especially for a family with multiple children.  I can’t say that this is the one, but I’ve learned over the years that no curriculum is perfect; there will most likely be something I would tweak, add, or subtract from any curriculum.  With that said, I think my hunt might be over; I just need to add a bit of grammar reinforcement depending on the needs of each individual child.

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product through the Schoolhouse Review Crew in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC regulations.

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