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Learning from Real Writers

Last spring I discovered The Writer’s Workshop  by Greg Roper, a little gem of a book meant to teach college students how to write.  Its philosophy was appealing and its teaching fabulous, so I determined to use it with my children, ages 9-16. 

A college level book for such young children?  Yes, with some (major) tweaking. You see, The Writer’s Workshop outlines a writing method that has been successful for millennia, the classical method of imitating the masters.  It works.  And because Roper presents the method so clearly, it is easy to adapt for younger children.

My original plan was to get my teens to work through the entire book.  I would also find suitable classics for the little ones to learn from.  Now, however, this is becoming more of a student-led project, just as it should be in a homeschool.

We have finished eight weeks with The Writer’s Workshop, and here’s how it worked for my crew:

Miss 9, full of enthusiasm and spelling mistakes, took her favorite book and each week we find one paragraph for her to imitate.  That’s it.  One paragraph a week.  She has to understand what the author was doing in the paragraph and then craft a similar one herself.  She finds it very challenging to invent her own character and situation when another example is in front of her.   

Miss 11, who does not particularly love to write, also has to do one paragraph a week.  She chose her favorite Enid Blyton book.  No, it’s not a classic, but it’s a book she loves that will inspire her.  I hope.  Blyton’s paragraphs usually include conversation, but we avoid that for now.  Instead we choose a paragraph that involves action, and Miss 11 needs to put together a paragraph using similar sentence structures, different actions, people, and settings.  Occasionally she seems pleased with the work she’s done, and that’s a positive step.  Later we’ll move to nonfiction writing, and then I expect to see the same spark of joy that sold me on this book and method months ago.

Note that by not using the classics as sample writing, we’re skipping one of the key facets of this method.  We read a lot of classics in our family, though, and for now I’m happy enough to have my little ones focus on imitating their own favorite books.

Miss 13, our fiction writer, has written several novels already.  She’s been enjoying Jane Austen and wanted to imitate only her, but I insisted that she go through this book as well.  So she does one task a week.   The first eight weeks were about “Voices of the Senses: Learning How to Describe,” and she learned a great deal by first studying and then imitating various writers.  I don’t know how much these lessons will influence her next NaNoWriMo novel, but she now understands much more about writing than she did two months ago.  As an added bonus, she’s started reading Dickens.

Mr. 16 does not write fiction.  He does, however, enjoy writing technical and general nonfiction.   He’s not at all interested in descriptions of people and actions, so he only read the first two chapters.  However, the third chapter is essential for a nonfiction writer :  “Voices of Definition:  Making Complex Distinctions,”  and that is what he’s been working on.  The assignments are challenging and require him to clarify his thoughts.  Working through the rest of this book will make a deeper thinker and better writer of him.

Although this book is written for college students, any adult themes are dealt with appropriately.  I’m thankful to be able to give it to my teens to work with. 

While only one of my children is using The Writer’s Workshop as it was meant to be used, the others are exploring writing at their own level and using their own interests.  They are being challenged and are slowly acquiring tools to use in their own writing. 

Note that we use The Writer’s Workshop as a supplement to our other writing programs.  Using it as the only writing program would be counter-productive in the younger grades and too intense for my teens. In that sense it is, indeed, a college-level text, requiring college-level focus.

For most of their writing lessons our Little Misses use Primary Language Lessons and Intermediate Language Lessons; Miss 13 receives specific fiction writing instruction from Writing Strands; and Mr. 16 is studying Flesch’s How to Write, Speak, and Think More Effectively. Each of these curricula has its own focus. However, The Writer’s Workshop breathes life into each of them by actually apprenticing my little ones to their favorite authors and my teens to great writers from the past.

I anticipate using this method for the rest of our homeschooling years.


  1. JoAnn says:

    Sounds interesting. I’ll have to look into it, my daughter loves to write, but needs some teaching with it.

  2. Thanks for sharing. It really does look like a great book. I have it added to my Amazon wish list and put the link to this post on the Missional Mama Facebook page.
    Have a great day,

  3. Erin says:

    Annie Kate,

    What a wonderful way to learn to write, makes complete sense!! I never quite knew what people meant by ‘copying the great writers’ now I understand:)

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