What is most important writing to teach in HS

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  • CrystalN

    I have struggled with teaching writing for the entire 11 years of my homeschooling journey. I have dabbled in every curriculum out there, never finishing anything. They all have aspects I like, but so much was busywork and took time away from written narrations. I just cannot see teaching composition for 30-40 minutes a day and then expecting narrations on top of that. So now here we are about to be in 7,10,12 grade and we have not progressed past a paragraph of “tell me what you read.”  I registered my to-be senior in a lower level IEW class at our co-op. I don’t love IEW, but for him I think the accountability and basic skills will be a good fit. He is not college bound so it should be enough to get him by. But for my younger two I want to do better.  I just don’t know how.  I am thinking maybe if I knew what really needed teaching before college that would help.  Essays and research papers? I thought maybe I could educate myself and then try to teach what they need. I have the IEW teacher dvds, Writing with Skill, The Power in Your Hands, Writers Inc, Lost Tools of Writing, and a zillion books on writing well. If I could develop my own scope and sequence I could maybe pull from all of these resources and teach each child what they need.  So for any of you who have college kids, what skills are they glad they had when entering college?  Or what did they wish they knew how to do better? I need help with a scope and sequence for the next three years.

    Thank you,



    I desperately wish ULW 4 would be ready by fall….


    I am not a lot of help as I feel the struggle too, but what I ended up doing this year was to set aside written narrations for my older kids and focus on writing program, and as much as it felt “wrong” at first, it has worked really well for us. I really like the CM methods a lot, and we use many of them, but I am finding as my kids get older sometimes the kids and I both need a different method to “push” us a little more.

    We are actually using IEW Structure and Style and the kids really like the DVD instruction. I am also learning so much alongside them, the basic key word outline is something I never learned and it is so helpful and makes writing so much easier and the “dressups” have helped their writing really come along. They just needed some guidance on how to make their writing more interesting and fun. With IEW since they are reading the source text and then telling back (writing) in their own words it is almost like written narrations as well so they are continuing that practice of reading information, deciding what is important, and telling it back. I know it is not a fit for every student, and I resisted a writing program for years, but has really helped us sort of “jump start” our writing with new expectations and guidance. We will not use it every year, but it has helped give us that boost that we needed 🙂

    My understanding is that a basic 5 paragraph essay with the opening, 3 paragraph topics, and conclusion are the most commonly used in college and then how to write a longer research paper.

    Karen Smith

    I think you may have a bit of a misunderstanding of what narration is. Narration is composition, the composing of one’s thoughts in an organized fashion, so your children have been doing composition all along. What they haven’t been doing is editing and polishing those narrations into the standard 5-point essay. For a full understanding of what narration is in a Charlotte Mason education,  I highly recommend Karen Glass’ book Know and Tell: The Art of Narration. Karen Glass explains narration from beginning oral narrations to written narrations at the high school level, including how to turn those narrations into the standard 5-point essay.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that narration should not always be, “Tell all you know” type questions. By the time a student is high school age, there are four different types of narration that can be asked of the student: narrative (tell all you know about . . . ), expository (explain how something works), descriptive (describe something), and persuasive (state your opinion and give supporting points). Raising the Bar from our Narration Q & A series of blog posts gives more information on the different types of narration.


    Thanks Karen, I have read all of the books you mentioned more than once. Including Charlottes’s volumes. I do understand what narration is and I realize its all in there. I just don’t know how to implement the ideas. I need a lot more hand-holding in this area. The idea of guiding my children to college level writing without lesson plans and clear “teach this now – like this” is just terrifying. I just don’t know how to do it. I know each child is different and should have personalized instruction, but I haven’t been able to make it happen. Using a pre-planned curriculum I hate seems better than failing them completely. I wanted to design my own plan, but I am really not sure what colleges expect. I was hoping for the writing forms that would be most useful so I could focus on that.


    My older two, 11 and 13, are doing IEW Style and Structure this year and I love it. I’m so pleased with their writing.

    I think IEW does fit with CM because they start with reading something and then they narrate it after organizing their thoughts with key words. For those kids who struggle with getting a written naration organized, this gives them tools.


    Crystal, I’m with you.  My oldest graduates this year.  I have spent all of her middle school and high school years struggling in the exact same way you describe.  And I know that you and I have even chatted here about it before.  I really believe that it is closely related to specific personalities, and I suspect that you and I are similar.  That’s the reason others don’t always understand what we are asking.  I too have read Know and Tell over and over.  I completely understand the process, but implementing it at the high school level is another thing entirely for my personality.  I feel I need something more systematic at that point. Even Karen Glass mentions using a writing curriculum by 10th or 11th grade.  She just encourages us to try it without one.

    Strangely enough, the Know and Tell method is working somewhat for my 2nd born, but she’s in 10th and I don’t know if I’ll feel like it’s working as well in the next 2 years.  I bought yet another curriculum.  It’s sitting on my dresser waiting for me to decide if it will finally be the one. 🙂

    I think writing is just so subjective, and some of us really struggle with that because we are detailed people.  Writing curriculum ends up stressing me out with all the wordiness and complicated instructions.  In my head, there is a perfect one that gives just enough structure without making it so complicated.

    So…as far as essays go, I’m trying to follow the Karen Glass method.  Generally turning written narrations into essays.  I made a little schedule that we used for awhile.  I’ll try to find it.

    But in 11th grade, we started research papers.  Hands down, the most uncomplicated, straight forward guide I found was Christian Light Education’s 8th grade Research Paper guide. It’s one of the Light Units dedicated entirely to the Research Paper.  Here’s the link for it: https://christianlight.org/se-language-arts-807-lightunit

    There is probably some merit in the IEW method.  I understand it enough that we used a theme book here and there briefly, but my brain can’t get past all the details.

    Don’t even get me started on the wordiness of Sharon Watson’s programs, lol.

    You’re not alone!!!


    And one last curriculum suggestion that works fairly well here is Essentials in Writing.  Short video lesson.  Assignments broken into doable chunks.  When we use it, we do it twice a week, alternating with written narrations.  Honestly, it’s probably what I should stick with.  It’s doable. If you are willing to shell out the money, they will even grade the assignments for you.  It’s repetitive if used every year, so it works well for a year of getting started with something more structured.

    And I agree, I was really hoping ULW 4 would be ready sooner!!


    <i>We</i>’ve tried a lot of writing curricula too. Some of my kids like Writing Strands or the Wordsmith series.

    We tried Understanding Writing this year which is out of print, but my middle school daughter didn’t enjoy writing letters, so we went back to narrations for awhile.

    My older children did research papers either from an online article by a college student about how to write a research paper in one day or slowly with Queen’s Language Lessons for Highschool vol. 3(I think it’s 3). It was little chunks with breaks in between.

    Two used Wordsmith Craftsman.

    My teens range from struggling learner to gifted, so some of them did more research papers than others, but they are all comfortable with the process and confident writing research papers or reports if needed as adults.


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