Category Archives: writing fiction

Writers in Residence: a T. O. S. Review

For several weeks now, we have been checking out another resource from Apologia Educational Ministries. This product is called Writers in Residence, and it is a very good, full language arts program, designed to be used over one year.

I must tell you, first and foremost, how overwhelmed I was when I opened the box! Even after reading about this program, I truly did not expect such a BIG Student Text and Workbook! It is an all-in-one book, and this program, Volume 1 Apprentice was written by Debra Bell. And when I say it is big, I am NOT kidding, because it comes in at 575 pages!

There is also a thinner (thank goodness!) answer key for the parent or teacher.

At first, when I saw that the first 30 or so pages were just for me to read, in order to learn how the Student Text and Workbook is to be used, I got a little panicky. I REALLY like for things to be kind of “open and go”, much like the “plug and play” games my kids used to have for the TV. However, once past those 30 pages, depending upon your student, it did end up to be sort of a “let him go to it on his own” sort of thing. There are suggested daily schedules in which he can check off his own boxes as he goes, for example.

Throughout the Student Text and Workbook, there are spotlights on Christian writers. These are very complete interviews with a variety of authors. I had never heard of any of them until now, but have become interested in looking for and reading their works.

This review did hit home with me in that we have never done “formal” grammar lessons, however, to be honest, it does not change my feeling that the way we have taught them, by example and with verbal correction has worked for our family.

I do think that this is a very good writing curriculum however. “The Artist” really enjoys writing stories, and so he was definitely interested in this review. He is always (like every day, in fact!) asking if he can go on the computer to write on one of his stories. He generally has more than one going at a time, sort of like me when it comes to reading books, lol!

I do like that you are encouraged not to force perfection on your child, but rather to reward their effort instead of marking it “wrong.” In my opinion, this helps the child to keep going, and wanting to succeed. I believe though, that we will take more than one year on this one; simply so that one, we can be thorough, and two, we can work at “The Artist’s” own pace.


To read what other crew reviewers think about Writers in Residence from Apologia Educational Ministries, please go here.

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Filed under Apologia, Sharon Watson, writing fiction

Fix It! Grammar . . . A T.O.S. Review

In all of the years of working on the education of my kids here at home, we have never, ever actually used a formal grammar program. Or, for that matter, ANY written grammar program, to be honest! I have basically practiced an informal method of correcting their spoken grammar as a part of our daily life, something I will continue doing, as I believe it works quite well for SPOKEN grammar. However, “The Artist”, who was the student reviewing a fiction writing course last year, really wants to go back to it, and to learn to be better at writing stories, so I thought that the opportunity to review Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Teacher Manual] (Book 1), along with Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree [Student Book](Book 1), would perhaps be a good thing for him. I took a look at how it worked and decided to give it a chance.

This grammar program is from the very well known Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW).

IEW is a company I personally have never really taken the opportunity to really check out, because I was afraid it would be too difficult for my special needs guys. However, I am extremely glad we were blessed with the opportunity to review Fix It! Grammar, because it really works, in just minutes a day!

Here is the basic concept . . .
Method: modeling proper grammar within stories. Instead of being taught a grammar rule, and then being forced to practice it with a bunch of exercises, followed by the next grammar rule, over and over (Lather, rinse, repeat, so to speak) in Fix It! Grammar, the grammar rules are taught as they are needed, within the context of a story that builds upon itself until, at the end of the lesson book, the student has written correctly, the entire fairy tale used at that level.

The Process: 15 minutes per day. The level we received is giving us 33 weeks of grammar instruction and practice, in only 15 minutes per day, and 4 days per week.

This program is incredibly easy to set up and to work through! If you have the student book, then your student will need a note book divided into two sections, which are Rewrite and Vocabulary.

On day one of each week, your student will read and correct ONE sentence. Yes, one. He or she will read the sentence, look up the bolded word in a dictionary and write the best definition which fits within the context of the sentence, and write that into the vocabulary section of their note book. This will be built on each day until at the end, they have their own vocabulary dictionary to refer to. Then, he or she will copy the sentence for that day into the rewrite section of their note book, using double spacing.

On days two through four, the student will use the abbreviations at the top of the page, as well as the provided grammar flash cards to help them remember how to mark the section. As with day one, the student does their “rewrite” in the notebook, writing with double spacing. They are to use their best handwriting, so this is also a nice addition to the day in giving them that particular practice!

While we received both the Teacher book and the Student book (both are very nice, spiral bound books), If you prefer, you CAN just purchase the teacher book at the cost of $19.00. The teacher book comes with a license allowing you to download the student book and print as many copies as needed for use within your own homeschool family. The Student book, available for $15.00, is well worth it though, depending on how much it costs for you to print, and whether or not you have more than one child. I happen to have four boys, so knowing that I can print it as needed when each of them is ready for this, makes this a bargain for me.

A placement test is provided if you are unsure where to begin your student, however, like many people, I chose to begin with book one, so as to create a good foundation upon which we can build with the levels which follow. There is also a webinar available to introduce you to Fix It! Grammar, along with how this program differs from traditional methods of teaching grammar.

Fix It! Grammar is intended for 3rd grade and up, but as I said, I personally think that if you, like us, have not done a formal grammar program, it’s best to begin at the beginning.

What did we think of it? Well, I find it incredibly easy to use! “The Artist” really does not enjoy being MADE to write, although he enjoys writing on his own time, so this was the perfect choice for him. I mean, really? One sentence per day? Even my lazy writer who constantly complains about his hand cramping from too much writing, is fine with this! He really doesn’t mind giving up 15 minutes out of his day, and when he is finished, he will have completely written the entire fairy tale himself, with correct grammar! The only real problem we have is keeping him from reading ahead to see the rest of the story, lol!

You will find IEW on the following social media:

You Tube

Bottom Line? Not only do I very highly recommend Fix It! Grammar from IEW, I think we will be continuing with it level by level. It is a very painless way to learn written grammar, and frankly, I like that. There is no reason education HAS to be dreary, if there is a better way, and this is definitely a better way, in my opinion.

Other Review Crew members have been reviewing this and other levels of Fix It! Grammar, so please click on the banner below to find out what they thought!
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Filed under education, Fix It! Grammar, Grammar The Easy Way, home education, homeschool products, homeschooling, Institue For Excellence In Writing, Language Arts, Schoolhouse Review Crew Post, special needs education, TOS Review, writing fiction

Writing Fiction (In High School) by Sharon Watson . . . TOS Review

I have had the opportunity to review the Writing Fiction (In High School) curriculum from Writing With Sharon Watson over the past few weeks with “The Artist”.


Because “The Artist” really likes to write stories, I thought Writing Fiction in High School would be a good fit for him, and when I told him I had the possibility of receiving it as a review product, he said he wanted me to go for it.

Of course, this all changed once the curriculum arrived, and “The Artist” actually had to begin DOING the work involved . . . lol! He started back tracking and trying to get out of it, saying he only liked to write for enjoyment, not as an assignment. Once his dad and I reminded him though, that had he not told me he WANTED me to ask for this curriculum to review, I would not have done so, he settled down and got going with it.

We have gotten almost through chapter 3 in the Writing Fiction (In High School). To complete this chapter, we needed to wait until we received the DVD “The Princess Bride” from amazon, as it is used in learning about motifs and patterns of three in writing fairy tales.

I think that “The Artist” is MAYBE beginning to see that he is learning ways to improve his writing, although we still have issues over the fact that both the curriculum (and I) have repeatedly said he must have his work typed and double spaced, with his name and the page number at the top. After having to go back and re-do things a couple of times though, I think maybe he’s getting the message. 🙂

The curriculum is laid out in fairly short lessons, with both the student and instructor being easily able to see where they end, because there are lttle boxes throughout the book with the words “End of today’s lesson” written in them.

The first three chapters (with lesson titles), which we have (almost!) completed at this time, are as follows:

1 Facts About Fiction
The Power of Fiction
A Teeny-Tiny Grammar Lesson
About This Course
Good Writers Are Good Readers
Character Verses Person
Where Do Ideas Come From
I Have an Idea, Now What?
Make Believe and Truths
Hook Your Reader
2 Point Of View
The Nitty-Gritty of Point of View, Part 1 (1st and 2nd Person)
The Nitty-Gritty of Point of View, Part 2 (3rd Person)
Decisions, Decisions
A Common Point-of-View Mistake
A Word About Filters
For the Reader
For the Writer
Proofreading Marks
Optional Writing for POV
3 Fairy Tales
Another Tale, Another Prince Charming (Motifs)
The Power of Three

Some of the books, short stories and other media which are needed in the different chapters:

The 1987 movie “The Princess Bride”
“The Last Book in the Universe” by Rodman Philbrick
The book of Jonah, from the Holy Bible
“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Conner (the first few paragraphs, and a website is given where it can be read)
The “Iron Man” movie (2008)
“The Tell Tale Heart” bny Edgar Allen Poe (a website is given where it can be read)
The Disney/Pixar movie “WALL*E
The movie “The Island”(with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson, rated PG-13)
The movie “Cast Away” (with Tom Hanks, rated PG-13)
The Disney/Pixar movie “Up” and/or “Tangled”
The “Pat the Dog Scene” from the 1983 movie “The Fugitive” starring Harrison Ford
The two “ladder” mirror scenes in the pilot for USA Networks’s TV series “Monk” (Mr. Monk and the Candidate)
The two “carrying” mirror scenes in the 1995 movie version of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” written by Emma Thompson

The Writing Fiction in High School is a two semester course for English credit, and there are no prerequisites needed. It is written to the student, and can be self-taught with guidance, or used within a co-op or private school.

From the website:

“Students will learn how to …

•Write engaging dialogue
•Build scenes
•Ramp up the conflict
•Create empathetic protagonists
•Select a point of view
•Describe settings and characters
•Hook their readers
•Critique themselves and other writers
•Get published
•And much, much more!”

Beginning with chapter four, the student will be using a novel, “The Last Book in the Universe” by Rodman Philbrick, which you will need to purchase separately. It is to be completely read by the time the student reaches chapter four, as tasks will begin to be assigned based on the novel. It’s actually a pretty good book, written below the student’s expected reading level, because the idea is that he or she will not have to struggle with the reading in order to dissect the writing.

As I said earlier, “The Artist” took a look at the curriculum and tried to change his mind about doing it, especially when it came to his first creative writing assignment, which was to write a story. It was to have only 26 sentences, one for each letter of the alphabet. He was told to “hook” the reader early. “The Artist” was not happy, and thought it was dumb. He also didn’t think his story was very good, but once each person he showed it to said they really liked it, he felt a lot better about what he was doing, and became more willing to do this, agreeing that he might learn things to improve his writing after all. 🙂 He has given me permission to share his A-B-C story with you, so it is copied and pasted below:

“The Artist”
Page 1

An Inter-Dimensional Portal Opener was a hassle to build.

But the love of science flowed through my veins like water over a waterfall, and nothing could dampen that love.

Curiosity always kept me working through the night and through mealtimes.

Daniel is my name and I was working on an invention that would change the world.

Elisabeth, my sister, was always bugging me and never gave me any peace.

“Fun is never in your schedule!” She would always tell me, “You’ll be building that thing in your grave!”

“Go kiss a frog.” I would tell her back, “and maybe he’ll turn you into a beautiful princess that’s unlike you.”

Happiness filled me as I put the last part in place and yelled, “IT’S DONE!!!”

I turned the machine on and looked on as I saw a window to another world like my own open, “SUCCESS!!!” I yell as I take a step closer to the portal and

suddenly look on in horror.

Jolts of energy flew out from the machine and began to pull my whole lab into it.

“Kangaroo feet.” I said as I’m pulled into the portal as well.

Light shines into my eyes as I wake up and look around a while after I hit the ground.

Much of my lab equipment was scattered around on the ground and some of it was broken into lots of little pieces.

“Nuts.” I say as I get off the ground, “Stuck on an uncharted dimension and I don’t have a way back home!”

“The Artist”
Page 2

Orange trees were on my left.

Peach trees were behind me.

Quails were running around and pecking at the grass.

Running over to the nearest orange tree; I plucked one of the fresh fruits from its branches and eat it.

Sunlight was dimming and I needed to build shelter fast.

Two hours later I had built a tree house and was sleeping soundly.

Until…I heard a rustling in the trees nearby, I looked out the window to see what it was.

Vultures wearing violet vests and playing the violin.

Wonder why they were wearing vests and playing the violin?

Xavier, my friend, would most likely say, “No idea.”

Years later I returned to my own dimension when I was near one-hundred and two, only to see…

Zebras eating my mom’s front lawn!


Now, *I* think he did a pretty good job, especially since this was one of his first assignments, and he really didn’t agonize over it, spending a huge amount of time writing! 🙂

The textbook, “Writing Fiction [In High School] is available here for $25.05, and contains “practical lessons, approximately 100 interesting assignments, and hundreds of age appropriate fiction examples from classics to recent novels”.

The student book is non-consumable, so it can be used again with subsequent children as they reach the grade level and ability for this curriculum.

The teacher’s guide is quite useful, and if you’re going to use this curriculum I do recommend that you also purchase the guide, available for $9.95.

From the website:

Writing Fiction [in High School]: Teacher’s Guide

•Crammed with teaching ideas and discussion starters
•Contains answer key for questions and assignments such as identifying the hero’s journey phases in the Disney movie Tangled
•Equips you to be as involved as you care to be

Really, for the combined cost of $35.00, plus the cost of the paperback novel “The Last Book in the Universe, by Rodman Philbrick”, which I purchased for $6.99 (minus my educator discount) at Barnes and Noble, I believe you’re getting a very good deal on a two semester credit course for English, if you need to keep those kind of records in your home-school.

I plan to continue using this with “The Artist”, and perhaps catch up to where he is, and do it along with him, as I enjoy writing, too.

Other crew members reviewed either this or Writing Non Fiction in high school. To see what their opinions are, please click below.



Filed under home education, homeschool products, homeschooling, Schoolhouse Review Crew Post, Sharon Watson, writing fiction