Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Writing Fiction - Bringing Stories to Life (A Homeschool Coffee Break Review)

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Now that we have a reasonable amount of confidence that we will be starting classes on time for our co-op, I will soon be making and updating lesson plans for the classes I'll be teaching. One of those is a course I taught a couple of years and will be doing again this year, so I have a teaching plan mostly worked out. For the purpose of refreshing my memory and for summarizing the course for my students or their parents, here is a full review of Writing Fiction [In High School from Writing with Sharon Watson.

Writing Fiction in High School (Blogging Through the Alphabet) on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Curriculum from Writing with Sharon Watson has a lot of appeal for homeschoolers. Sharon Watson is a veteran homeschool mom and is also a co-op teacher of literature and composition. She has a relaxed and conversational teaching style, with textbooks written directly to the student. Her website is loaded with free writing prompts, teaching tips, and resources; and the textbooks are user friendly and reasonably priced.

Writing Fiction [In High School is a two-semester, full credit high school English course. The textbook is written directly to the student in a conversational tone, and breaks down all the elements of fiction writing into about one hundred assignments in thirteen chapters. That sounds like a lot of assignments, but most are relatively short exercises. When students are assigned a fiction scene or story to write, the expected word count is seldom more than 500-750. Grammar lessons and humor are sprinkled throughout, so the text is not dry.

Concepts covered include:

Point of View
Fairy Tales
Characters and Characterization
Empathetic Lead
Character Motivation
The Antagonist
Character Arc
Narrative Summary
Beginnings and Endings
and a lot more!

The text includes information about getting published, and there is an optional track for students who have already written a manuscript for a short story or novel, or are working on one, and are working towards publication.

During the course, students will be reading small excerpts from works of fiction and discussing them, and watching a couple of movies and discussing them. There is one novel that is required reading so students will need to have a copy of The Last Book In The Universe by Rodman Philbrick. This book is assigned reading and is referred to throughout the course.

The Teacher's Guide has a lot of information and teaching suggestions, and it contains the answers to discussion questions and some additional directions. However, it does not include grading rubrics for the writing assignments, or much in the way of telling you how to assign grades in the course.

The Power in Your Hands (Blogging Through the Alphabet) on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com


How did we use it?  I originally purchased this course because my high school daughter had been writing short stories on her own and wanted a composition course for her senior year that focused on writing fiction. We'd already had experience with Sharon Watson's non-fiction writing course, and since I'd been asked to teach high school writing again at our co-op, we decided this would be a good fit. Writing Fiction [In High School works best when students can share their writing with peers and participate in discussion rather than working alone, so a co-op setting is perfect for that. 

I taught the course for about a half dozen high school students that year. We had a 90-minute class time once a week. A typical class time started with students sharing and critiquing each other's writing or discussing the assignments and homework from the previous week. We then worked through lessons in the book with plenty of discussion encouraged. I tried to do the short assignments - or Practices, as they are called in the text - during class and as a group whenever possible. That way students could have immediate feedback on the concept we were working on. There was homework assigned each week, but it wasn't always a full writing assignment. 

In some classes, we watched short movie clips, and we watched five full-length movies together and discussed them as well. Because we only had 90 minutes of class time, four of those movies were watched in two installments. On movie days, I encouraged the students to bring comfortable seating and movie snacks, and allowed other the other high school students who did not have a class during that time to join us if they wished. Movie days were probably the most popular feature of the class! It sounds like just a time-filler, but it's a perfect way to help students understand motifs and patterns of three (The Princess Bride), themes (WALL*E), the Hero's Journey (Up and Tangled), and character arc (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). 

Although I was teaching the course, my goal was to have us all learning together and use discussion as much as possible. I used the Teacher's Guide during my lesson prep time, and rarely used it in class. Instead I penciled any notes I thought I'd need from the Teacher's Guide into my copy of the text to help me direct discussion or give "hints" during our classes. Since the Teacher's Guide did not provide grading rubrics or guidelines, I made my own so that I could grade student work as consistently as possible. My goal was to base their grade mostly on how well they followed the directions for the assignment and demonstrated that they understood the concept or writing device we were focusing on. I graded generously with grammar and mechanics. 

What we liked best: This is a fun class, especially in a co-op setting! There are tools and tricks of the trade to learn, but it's creative and there's a lot of room for individual style and interpretation. Everyone enjoyed watching and talking about movies and shows. There were some reluctant readers (and writers) in the class, but I think everyone had at least a couple of books they'd read and liked in the past, and they found that they could think of examples of story and plot elements and character types from what they'd read and watched. The assigned novel turned out to be pretty popular! It's written for middle grade reading level, so it was relatively easy for even those who didn't like to read, and I think everyone wound up liking it overall. I sure did! 

What I need to mention: I've already mentioned that grading will be pretty much up to the parent or co-op teacher for the course, and I think it would be perfectly acceptable to just base a grade on participation and completion if that works for the setting you're teaching in. If you're teaching in a co-op setting as I was, you will need to spend some time figuring out how to break up the lessons to fit into your class time and frequency. That takes a bit of creativity. Even if you're using this in your own homeschool and not in a co-op, your student is likely to get so much more out of it if they can discuss it with others and especially be able to share their writing with at least one other student. If you can arrange any kind of writer's circle - even one online - it will be helpful.

Our bottom line: I am planning to teach this course again in our 2020-2021 homeschool co-op, and I'm looking forward to it. It's a fun and easy-to-teach course, as long as students participate and stay engaged.

Would you like to give story-writing a try in your homeschool? Here's what you need to know:

Visit the website:  www.WritingWithSharonWatson.com

Pricing: The student textbook is currently listed at $35, and the Teacher's Guide for $10. The required novel, The Last Book in the Universe, is currently listed at about $7.50.


Age recommendations: This course is intended for high school students.

Other curriculum from Sharon Watson includes: The Power In Your Hands Jump In!, and Illuminating Literature: When Worlds CollideYou can also find Writing With Sharon Watson on Facebook.

Read our full review of the non-fiction writing course here: The Power in Your Hands (A Schoolhouse Crew Review) and an update in the Blogging Through the Alphabet series here: The Power in Your Hands (Blogging Through the Alphabet).

The Power in Your Hands (Writing Non-Fiction in High School) from Writing with Sharon Watson - A Homeschool Coffee Break review for the Schoolhouse Review Crew on kympossibleblog.blogspot.com  The Power in Your Hands (Blogging Through the Alphabet) on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Disclaimer: I am voluntarily providing this review and information about a product I have chosen to use. I received no compensation, nor was I required to write about or mention this product. All opinions expressed are my own or those of my family.

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Annette said...

good to know that it's not the best product for a singleton, the groups work better. Would make it hard to do with my lad then.

Kym said...

I think it certainly could be done with just one student, but that "writing circle" aspect would be missed. Although if you like to write, you could critique each other's work! I intended to do a lot of the writing assignments myself when I taught this the first time and just couldn't keep it up.

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