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Book Hooks: Writing for Life

Young student at a computer taking an online English course.

Writing complete and clear sentences often seems to be a lost art.  In the world of text messages and social media tweets, we often see fragments and phrases, instead of gracious, deliberate communication. However, a writer, who communicates clearly and thoughtfully, attracts readers who gain insight and perspective. My ultimate goal of teaching writing is for students to grow in their ability to become adults who ponder their words, instead of casually tossing half-truths and unsupported opinions across the airwaves.  Therefore, I encourage even my young students to thoughtfully plan and carefully select the words the words they will use. The Book Hooks writing curriculum, which I have developed for elementary and middle school students, is based on four personal beliefs: writing is a skill which can be taught; great writers provide ideal role models; students enjoy writing about interesting topics; and tools for writing make the process easier. I believe that great books open the door to a child’s imagination and open a treasure trove of knowledge.  In my Book Hooks writing classes, I use books as hooks to introduce a topic, skill, and/or purpose of writing.  The books used in class model for the student great writing examples, teach engaging information, reveal the adventures and struggles of a character, and share an author’s humor or passion about a subject.

Book Hooks: Writing Sensational Sentences teaches the youngest students, generally ages 6-8 years old, how to use the 8 parts of speech to write great sentences.  From the very first class, they will hear me stress the importance of using active verbs.  Great writers engage their reader using words on a page, and actions are the loudest speaking words!  Actions help a young girl dive into books about sharks, a yellow-beaked bird perch on a leafy branch, and colors sing to an artist in Moscow.  After learning a sentence requires a subject (noun) and a verb, my youngest writers add adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositional phrases, conjunctions, and interjections to create longer sentences.  Each week, as I add a part of speech to their repertoire, students hunt for interesting ways authors use specific types of words in a book.

Once students master writing a basic sentence, whether they take the first class or not, they can begin Book Hooks: Sentences to a Paragraph.  This is a 16-week class that teaches a variety of skills: note taking, using coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, adding details to sentences, varying sentence structure, writing description, using similes and metaphors, writing how-to paragraphs, and re-telling a story.  Each week focuses on a different animal.  Students print a note page before class begins.  We use part of class to learn specific interesting facts about an animal through stories, poems, videos, and articles.  During that time, they take notes about what they learn by completing the note page.  We use the facts from the note page to launch into a discussion of a writing skill.  In this class, students receive a variety of graphic organizers to give them tools to organize their information into clear, concise, well-written paragraphs. 

Students expand what they learned in Sentences to a Paragraph in the third writing class, Book Hooks: Notes to Paragraphs. Stories about amazing animals, artists, scientists, and places model and teach informative, descriptive, and creative writing. Graphic organizers continue to be used to help students consolidate and brainstorm their material.  Students who have mastered writing a single paragraph will be encouraged to write 2-3 paragraphs about their topic.  I especially focus on generating ideas using their own words, by writing from notes, to avoid the tendency or temptation to copy the exact words from a book into their own writing.  In this class, students learn to give information, as well as share and support their opinion. They listen to stories full of vivid description and practice descriptive writing themselves.  Finally, they learn the six parts of a story and create their own short story. During our last class, students will share their stories with their peers in the class.  

This series of writing classes concludes with Book Hooks: Amazing People and Essays in which students will hear and discuss a well-written passage about an amazing person!  They will brainstorm vocabulary and ideas, refine grammar and punctuation skills, and develop an essay with an introductory paragraph, a body paragraph or paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.  We focus on 4 types of writing:  narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive.  In this class, the writing processes of developing a hook, using description, explaining how to complete a task, analyzing information, and persuading the reader are taught. I focus on developing ideas, rather than the mechanics of developing a paragraph. Students in this class are familiar with varying their sentence structure, using details, and writing with active verbs.  Students focus on informing, giving description, explaining ideas, or persuading their reader. 

In all of my classes, we collaborate as a group to create sentences, paragraphs, or essay outlines. Students are always encouraged to be kind and caring towards each other and to welcome each other’s ideas.  Students can complete these courses as early as second and third grade, or as late as fifth and sixth grades.  The material is appropriate and engaging for multiple grade levels. Over the course of 2 years, many students will move from writing simple sentences to writing a paragraph; from writing one paragraph to writing several paragraphs and completing an essay.  Younger students may only write a three-paragraph essay, while older students will practice five-paragraph essays. 

As a former teacher of children with special needs, and after homeschooling my own children over the last 21 years, I have learned to adapt and change assignments to meet the needs of advanced learners and struggling learners. I provide optional worksheets to further practice skills during the week, and I give ample opportunity for students to submit writing to me for feedback.  Great writers plan and ponder their thoughts.  Proverbs 12:18 tells us, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”  In a world full of division and angst, I will help your child make a difference in the world by learning to use their written words wisely.  

Lara Aston is a wife, mom, friend, teacher, and Christ follower. She has been married for 30 years to her husband Rick. They have 4 children. Their two boys are adults living productive lives as God-fearing men. Their two daughters are high school students in the final leg of their homeschool journey. When she came home from her first day of first grade, she declared that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. Lara teaches the Book Hooks courses at Luma Learn.

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