It’s time to panic! One of our older students is taking an outside class and will have to write a 3-5 page paper in just a couple of months! This student knows how to turn out a competent paragraph, but a paper!
I know a lot about writing—I write a lot, as a matter of fact, but when it comes to teaching writing, I experience a lot of the same anxiety I’ve heard from homeschooling friends.
Along came the Five Finger Paragraph Homeschool/Home Study Kit, an e-book in PDF format, to the rescue! I was already looking at this product as an attractive way to teach paragraph writing to one of our younger students, who seems to be allergic to language arts. (Or something. Anyhow, this child groans pitifully when the subjects of reading and writing come up.) The bright and colorful approach, together with the helping “hand” (which I’ll describe in a little more detail soon), appeal to this active and artistic child, help to prompt memory, and soften the blow of having to write in an organized, formal manner.
I’m happy to report that knowing the basics of writing a paragraph is a natural lead-in to essay-writing, and that the Five Finger Essay, included in the Homeschool/Home Study Kit, leads the student into essay writing using the same kinesthetic and mnemonic, memory-jogging approach.
This e-book contains over a hundred pages, including lesson plans, student pages, and ancillary materials (posters, blank forms, grading checklists, Quick Guide cards with brief reminders on the writing method, even bookmarks just for fun). The pages are all full-color and beautifully laid out. (A veteran homeschool mom who looked at the program told me she was very impressed with the layout and organization, so there’s a second opinion for you!)
This program takes such a fun and relaxed approach, leading you step-by-step through the writing process, that you may not even realize you’re working at writing until you’re looking at a finished page! Indeed, our youngest considers the Five Finger Paragraph more a game than a writing lesson, and her writing has changed from a pitiful moaning and groaning session to a workmanlike attitude with an “I can do this!” flavor.
Keys to the program include memory devices and use of color to break down paragraphs and/or essays into their component parts, or maybe instead of “break down” I mean “build up.”
The lesson plans contain all of the student pages, together with comments, suggestions, and hints for expanding on the program even when you’re not practicing writing. Very young students (Kindergarten and Grade 1) will begin with making lists and learning to organize information. I’d suggest reading over this section before trying to teach it. You might choose to come up with pictures and questions of your own to prompt your students in list making and categorizing, especially if you have a reluctant student like mine that does not respond well to the provided pictures and questions. The program is flexible enough that once you, the parent, grasp the concept you can use any pictures of your choice to teach, practice, and reinforce learning.
The real meat of the program comes when you get past the list making, organizing and patterning pages and start writing paragraphs. I really like the way the author describes how to write a paragraph, with the example of a Hawaiian vacation as a springboard. You can use the colorful format to practice building paragraphs and then jump into essay writing, starting with the Hawaiian vacation paragraph just mentioned. The teacher script is aimed at teaching a group of students; if you’re just working with one or two students, all you have to do is go through the process in the student edition which shows how to expand the paragraph on Hawaii into a five-paragraph essay, and then work from there, developing your own topics.
This “topic first” approach allows you to turn any Five Finger Paragraph into an essay.
The author then introduces another essay-writing technique: writing an essay from a list. (Here’s where the earlier list-making exercises once more come in useful.) Color-coding is used to organize information into usable form, making the essay easy to write. I suspect I was taught essay writing by means of the “topic first” approach, as I found the “list first” approach quite different from the way I taught our older students; and I’m finding it easier to teach, especially with our concrete, kinesthetic child.
A word of caution, however. I can see where this approach might not work as well with highly-distractible children, who might find the colors draw their attention away from the words, both reading the text and writing their paragraphs and essays. (I have one of these. That child works best with black-and-white, uncluttered pages, with simple or minimal illustrations, and would be driven to distraction by all the colors involved in using the Five Finger Paragraph and Five Finger Essay templates, much less just reading the student text.)
Also, the program is meant to be used in full color. To use the program as written, you’ll want to print out the poster pages in color, too, and laminate them. If you’re concerned about the costs of color ink in printing out this e-book, you might want to consider instead buying the already printed version.
I can see possibilities for encouraging writing with my own reluctant student; for example, colored gel pens are a big item around here, locked away and used only for special occasions. I envision getting out the gel pens for writing practice—and hordes of children gathering around me, all begging for the opportunity to write (if only to use those sparkly gel pens!). It’s a thought, anyway.
If you need to add a little color and oomph to supplement your writing program, check out The Five Finger Paragraph and The Five Finger Essay.