Sunday, October 25, 2015

Institute for Excellence in Writing Resources {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

There are some homeschool curriculum companies that rank at the top of my most-recommended list. Institute for Excellence in Writing is definitely one of my favorites. In the past years, I've used their Primary Arts of Language with Lauren, Fix It! and Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, Student Writing Intensive with Brennan, and several other products with Addison.

Recently I added a new selection of teaching resources to my collection. IEW sent copies of the Teaching with Games DVD/CD Set, the Teaching with Games spiral bound book, Timeline of Classics, and A Word Write Now. All of these products are great additions to our home library.

The Teaching with Games DVD/CD set includes two DVDs that show Lori Verstegen leading a conference session about adding games to various teaching situations and subject matters. Each DVD lasts a little over an hour and shows adults actually playing the games, not just hearing and talking about them. The CD-ROM in the set contains a pdf copy of the Teaching with Games book and bonus materials with games specifically designed to teach concepts often taught in IEW writing classes. IEW also sent me a printed copy of the Teaching with Games book so that I could refer to it while watching the videos.

I'm very thankful that I could see the games played on the DVD and not just look at instructions in the book. I would've skipped straight over some of the no-prep games thinking that I already knew how to play hangman. Lori Verstegen shares her "No-Noose Hangman" and "Wheel of Fortune" variations that make old games more fun and exciting to play with a room of students. All of the games are shown in the book with a specific topic, but blank cards are included so that they can be customized to fit any subject my students are studying.

Many of the ideas I learned will work wonderfully the next time I'm teaching in a group setting -- either a homeschool co-op or a Bible class at church. My biggest disappointment in this resource is that I didn't find very many games that would work well for a single homeschool student working with a teacher. Since Lauren and Brennan are six grade levels apart, there aren't really any subjects that they work on together. I see the value in playing games as part of our school days; I'm just struggling a bit with trying to put it into practice for our family.

Having a copy of Timeline of Classics by Gail Ledbetter is like having an expert children's librarian at my fingertips. I like having my students read literary works that correspond with what we are studying in history, but I don't always know the best books to choose for each particular period in history. Timeline of Classics is 87 pages long and is divided into four major time periods -- Ancients, The Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and The Modern World. For each time period, the author lists books, films, and recordings that correspond. Each work listed is also given a recommendation in terms of the suitable audience, either elementary, middle, high school, or a combination of levels. Brennan is studying World History this year and recently learned about the Trojan War. I looked in Timeline of Classics and found several children's books, including a children's version of Homer's epic poems. Since it was suitable for elementary and middle school students, I chose to read it aloud to all three of my kids during our daily read-aloud time. For Lauren, I've been looking in the Renaissance and Reformation section to find books corresponding to the early 1800s in American History. I've found several books that look like they'll either be good readers for her or good books for me to read-aloud and discuss with her. Of particular interest are the biographies listed in each section. Even though I recently reread a book about George Mueller, I hadn't pieced together the fact that he was working in England and the same time the Civil War was taking place in America. I know I will refer back to this book often as I look for great books to add to our school days.

A Word Write Now by Loran Schwacofer is subtitled, "A Thematic Thesaurus for Stylized Writing." While it's true that it can be used as a thesaurus, it's so much more than the old-fashioned thesaurus that we have tucked on the bookshelf somewhere. The first half of the book is devoted to character traits, with both positive traits (exuberance, courage, honor) and negative (gossip, pride, stubbornness). Each of the twenty-three has its own entry including a definition, a famous quotation, excerpts from classical literature, and similar words (such as what would be found in a traditional thesaurus). The synonyms are arranged by part of speech to allow the student more flexibility in using them while writing. Addison and I had fun looking through the character traits while she was filling out an application for a volunteer position. It didn't take us long at all to come up with more than a dozen words that she could use to describe herself. The second section of the book contains lists of descriptive words for appearance, color, size, temperature, shape, etc. Although many of the words are fairly common, they are not necessarily words that would immediately come to my mind. For instance, I found that a small amount can be described as meager, skimpy, sparse, or insufficient. Words for movement and the senses are found in the third section. Perhaps my favorite section is the lists of nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, and phrases for thinking (speculating, hypothesizing, meditating, etc). All three of the first sections would be useful for a student that is stuck needing something to liven up their writing assignment and would be particularly helpful for a student needing to find one more quality adjective or -ly word to make sure they have all of their IEW dress-ups in a particular assignment. The final section of is a helpful section with lists of transition words, prepositions, genres, and literary devices.

The first two resources, Teaching with Games and Timeline of Classics, were most helpful for me as a teacher, but A Word Write Now is directly towards students and would be a helpful addition to any student's library of resources. I suspect that I'll keep our copy close at hand when I'm doing my own writing and may need to get the kids one of their own.

The Teaching with Games DVD/CD set costs $29 and a spiral bound copy of the Teaching with Games book costs $19. (Note: the printed book is included in pdf format in the DVD/CD set. The separate book is available for people who would rather not print the book themselves.) Timeline of Classics costs $19 for a pdf download copy or $29 for a printed, spiral bound copy. A Word Write Now costs $35 for a printed, spiral bound copy.

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