I can't remember if I've blogged about my search for the Holy Grail or if I've just intended to post about my ongoing quest. Several years ago, I was in a online discussion about various Language Arts programs. I likened my search for the perfect program as a quest for the Holy Grail. Recently, I guess I've given up on finding the one program that encompasses all aspects of Language Arts, and I've been trying to find quality programs to teach each aspect individually.
Recently, my children and I have been using Writing Tales, and I can see how it would fill many of our Language Arts needs. Perhaps I've stumbled across the Holy Grail just as I had given up my search.
Writing Tales is based on the Classical model of having a student learn to write by copying good writing. As they work through the materials, students will study and then rewrite fables, legends, and other stories. Writing Tales adds their own unique twist to the traditional method of simply having the child rewrite the story. After writing a first draft of the story that is a strict retelling of the original, the student can then add embellishments to the story for their final draft.
In addition to teaching composition skills, Writing Tales includes grammar instruction and relates it to the story being analyzed each week. The grammar in these books appears simple at first, but I found that it covered many advanced concepts. The Level One book teaches the basic rules for punctuation and the eight parts of speech. Students also learn how to correct punctuate both direct and indirect quotations. The Level Two materials go a few steps farther by expanding on these concepts. For instance, this level covers reasons to use action verbs rather than state-of-being verbs, reasons to start a new paragraph, and ten different ways to begin a sentence. (You can see a full list of grammar concepts in these books on their Scope and Sequence page.)
Brennan used the Level One materials, which are geared towards a third or fourth grader. Prior to using these materials, most of his writing instruction has been focused on having him narrate a story or history lesson that I read to him. I found out that he's learned quite a bit by doing our narration exercises. He's able to retell the story and even write down a version in his own words. He found the idea of writing a final draft with embellishments to be somewhat difficult, though. I am reminded of a book that I reviewed earlier this year that talked about the academic differences between boys and girls. Boys tend to add action type details, whereas girls can often add richer descriptions and lots of adjective. Brennan's embellished versions of the stories added in so much action that it was hard to identify which fable it was based on. For instance, he originally wrote a good retelling of "The Crow and the Pitcher." In his later version, the crow became a snake who fell into a glass bottle, got trapped, and then used a gun to shoot his way out. I suggested that he leave out a few of those extra details before we called his final draft complete. I'm impressed with how much his writing has grown over the past few months of using the materials. Perhaps more importantly, I'm no longer hearing moans of agony when he's asked to finish a writing assignment.
Writing Tales Level Two is intended for fourth or fifth graders, and I had Addison (seventh grader) try it out for purposes of this review. She was already good at retelling stories, and she prefers to write fiction. She enjoys the way that Writing Tales allows her to adapt the stories and make them her own. When she wrote the first one, she typed up her adaptation and even included clip-art illustrations. Later stories in this book introduce the student to the idea of making a story their own but staying true to the historical facts. For instance, in the story of baby Moses, she could name some of the servants that accompanied the princess, describe how Moses was hidden for three months, etc. Writing Tales Level Two prepares a student to write a story that is roughly two or three pages long. Addison recommends these materials for fifth graders and thinks it would be good for learning to write stories. In some of her other schoolwork this year, she has been working on answering essay type questions, and she pointed out that these material are not intended to teach that style of writing.
With the addition of longer books to read, Writing Tales could be a complete Language Arts curriculum for elementary students. It focuses on both composition and writing instruction, and it also includes some handwriting, vocabulary, and spelling. For an average student, the Writing Tales materials would adequately meet all of those needs. It was fairly easy to add in additional copywork practice and a seperate spelling program for my student that needs additional practice in those areas.
Writing Tales Level 1 costs $19.95 for the student workbook and $24.95 for the teacher's manual. Level 2 costs $24.95 for the workbook and $32.95 for the teacher's manual. I just noticed that they are having a big sale if you order through their website next week -- 20% off plus free shipping from May 2nd to May 9th.
If you'd like to read what other homeschool families thought about their time spent using Writing Tales with their children, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here.