Frequently Asked Questions

Components of the Writing Strands Curriculum

Selecting a Level

Previewing the Books

Placing an Order

Using the Books

Components of the Writing Strands Curriculum

Does Writing Strands provide a full language arts curriculum?

Yes. A full language arts program includes writing, reading, and speaking. Our Writing Strands books; including Writing Strands 1 through Writing Strands 7, Creating Fiction, and Writing Exposition; cover the writing component. Our book on analyzing literature, Reading Strands, and our book on oral communication, Communications and Interpersonal Relationships, cover the other two components. The combination of these books provides a full language arts program.

Does Writing Strands teach grammar, punctuation and spelling?

Yes, but only on a need-to-know basis.
Research shows that the skills learned in abstract grammar exercises, such as those found in grammar workbooks, do not carry over into the production of written work. Children can underline nouns and verbs or diagram perfectly without learning to write an effective sentence. Similarly, research shows that spelling tests teach students to learn words only using their short-term memory, and that the spelling skills demonstrated on such a test do not help students after the tests are taken.

Writing Strands believes that students, instead of doing these abstract exercises, should learn a rule of writing at the point when they need to understand it in order to do a composition exercise. The Writing Strands student books and the parents’ manual, Evaluating Writing, show how to improve grammar, punctuation and spelling as students are writing.

Does Writing Strands teach just creative writing?

No, Writing Strands teaches students how to use their language effectively in both creative and expository modes.

What skills does Writing Strands teach?

The lower levels of the Writing Strands series teach four types of foundational skills—basic, organizational, descriptive, and creative—which must be mastered before a student can learn the more advanced skills taught in the upper levels. The upper levels build on the foundational skills and teach students how to compose the four main types of writing: creative, research and report, argumentative, and explanatory. If students complete the Writing Strandsseries with competence, they will be prepared to write all types of papers assigned at a university level.

How will Writing Strands help my children be better at communication?

In order to successfully communicate concrete and abstract information, one must master many smaller skills, such as description and organization. Each exercise focuses on one or more of these skills. At the upper levels of Writing Strands, students learn to combine these skills in more complex exercises.

Does Writing Strands teach book reports?

No. Book reports, at least the way most people do them, are reading assignments disguised as writing assignments. Schools use them to prove that a child has spent time reading and understanding a story. The Writing Strands books focus on how to write effectively, and Reading Strands focuses on how to teach literature analysis. Since a book report is a comprehension exercise, our program does not use book reports.

Does Writing Strands teach research reports?

Yes, Writing Strands begins teaching formal research papers in Writing Strands 6. Writing Strands waits to introduce research papers until this level because students need to learn foundational skills before they can write a successful research paper. For example, they need to learn to write paragraphs, to create flow from one paragraph to the next, and to organize information effectively.

When students are asked to write research papers at very young ages, the experience often comes at a high cost. Students often skip over the mastery of more basic skills and are unable to complete the assignment without relying on their parents to do much of the work for them. Also, many research papers by young students feature unintentional plagiarism since young students have a hard time understanding the gravity of such an abstract concept.

When Writing Strands begins teaching research papers, it asks students to do primary research instead of secondary research. This means they observe phenomena and write a report. Since students analyze their own observations, the focus is on the composition of the report rather than on the interpretation of the observations made by others (secondary research).

The end goal is to prepare students for writing traditional research papers, of which they finally do a full-blown version in Writing Exposition. When you want your child to be ready for college level work, it’s easy to think doing college level work as early as possible seems logical, but teaching foundational skills before assigning a research paper will make your student’s eventual research paper much more successful.

Does Writing Strands teach outlining?

Yes, Writing Strands teaches outlining throughout the series, but not in a traditional, abstract format. Rather than making students memorize a strict numbering pattern (I., A., 1., a., etc.), Writing Strands focuses on teaching students how to organize information and ideas, often in the form of a basic outline. Almost all exercises include some form of prewriting like this, and most have examples of outlines that students can use as models.

Selecting a Level

My child has not worked with Writing Strands before. Which level should we use?

If your child is new to Writing Strands and is not significantly struggling with writing, you can use the chart below to decide which level to use.

Age For students who... Writing Strands book
3-7 have not learned to write yet Writing Strands 1
7-8 can write simple sentences on their own Writing Strands 2
8-12 can write a series of paragraphs on their own Writing Strands 3
13-14 have at least a basic understanding of how to organize ideas, structure and transition between paragraphs, and use complex sentences Writing Strands 4
15-16 understand the fundamentals of writing and are ready to begin working with abstract ideas Writing Strands 5
17 are ready for more advanced work, including research reports Writing Strands 6
18 are ready for advanced assignments, including argumentatvie essays, research reports, and short stories Writing Strands 7

My child has had little formal instruction or struggles in writing. Where should we begin?

Many students who have had little instruction or who struggle in writing need to consider going to a lower level than their age would normally suggest. If a teenager has always had trouble in writing, we recommend that he review Writing Strands 3. Then, he can progress through the following books at a pace that suits his needs.

Our goal is to have all students complete Writing Strands 7 by the end of high school. Ideally, students would complete Writing Exposition as well, especially if they plan to attend college. While keeping these end goals in mind, know that it's more important for students to master foundational skills than to rush ahead to assignments that they lack the skills to complete.

My child has completed a Writing Strands book and is ready to continue, but she is younger than the recommended age. What do we do?

The recommended ages apply to new students only. Each Writing Strands book prepares students for the next level.

In most cases, if you feel that your student has successfully completed a Writing Strands book and has mastered the book’s objectives, she can move on to the next level with confidence.

However, if your student began Writing Strands at a very young age, her composition skills may have developed faster than her abstract-thinking skills, and some of the upper levels may be too abstract for her. If that is the case, we would recommend that she take a little longer to work through the books before progressing to the upper levels. You could have her do each exercise a couple of times--once as directed, and then one or two times more on a different topic while practicing the same skills. For example, if the exercise wants her to work on description, she could focus on describing three different subjects.

Allow your child to move at whatever pace suits her development best. If that means she's ready for Writing Strands 7 by age 12, that's great! If it takes a few more years, that's great, too.

My gifted child writes well and reads above his grade-level. Which level should we use?

Although your gifted student might be ready for a higher level of Writing Strands, we suggest that your student review the book recommended for his age, especially the exercises at the end of the book. It is important for him to master foundational skills before moving on to more advanced material. That said, it is also important for the material to challenge and engage your student. If the book recommended for his age is too easy, your student should move on to the next level. To help you decide which level to use, you can view our sample exercises, which are linked on each book’s individual web page.

Does Writing Strands work for children with learning disabilities?

Although the books were not designed specifically for children with learning disabilities, Dave Marks, the author, was dyslexic and wrote the books with his writing experiences in mind. We cannot guarantee that Writing Strands is the right curriculum for your child, but we have heard many success stories from parents who adapted the Writing Strands series for their children with learning disabilities.

Previewing the Books

Where can I see your books? Can you send me free copies to look at before I order?

There are a number of ways to see our books before you order them. Many homeschool stores carry our products. In addition to these options, you can download a sample exercise for each book. Although we cannot send you books unless you purchase them, we accept returns within 30 days of purchase as long as the books are in salable condition.

Why are the samples of the books and the forms in an Adobe (.pdf) format, and how do I open them?

The samples and forms are in the Adobe Portable Document Format (.pdf) because it allows the presentation quality of the original document to be maintained with all of the original formatting. The Adobe format is also operating system independent—whether you are running a Macintosh or PC, it will open up and look the same. For more information, visit Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.

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When I try to open some of the sample files, I get an error. What's wrong?

It is likely that you have an older version of Adobe Acrobat Reader installed; please visit the Adobe website and download the most recent version of their software. These sample files have been confirmed to work with Adobe Acrobat Reader versions 7.0.3 and higher.

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Placing an Order

How do I place an order?

There are many ways to place an order.

If you are paying with a credit or debit card:

  • Order online (add books to your shopping cart and then check out)
  • Order over the phone (include your credit/debit card number)
  • Send us an e-mail (include your credit/debit card number)
  • Send us a fax (include your credit/debit card number)
  • Mail in your order (include your credit/debit card number)
If you are paying with a check or money order:

  • Submit an “offline order” on our website and mail your payment separately
  • Call, fax, or e-mail your order and mail your payment separately
  • Mail your order and payment together

Is it safe to order from your website?

It is absolutely safe. Our online ordering page is protected by a secure server which makes use of the SSL (secure sockets layer) functionality built into your browser. Any information that you enter and send on such a page is encrypted, and only we have the correct key to decipher or unlock it. This means that anytime you see the lock on the bottom of your browser, and/or the web address begins with https:// (instead of just http://), you can feel confident that any information you enter will remain secure and protected. Our site is approved by Verisign as a secure site.

How much does shipping cost, and which methods do you use?

For US orders, we now offer free shipping using USPS Media Mail. Please allow 10-15 business days for orders shipping via media mail.

If you need your books sooner, you may select another shipping method, such as USPS Priority Mail, FedEx Ground, and UPS Ground. The shipping charges for these services will be calculated at checkout based on your location and the weight of your order.

For international orders, you may select USPS Priority Mail, FedEx Ground, or UPS Ground. we ship using USPS priority mail. The shipping charges for these services will be calculated at checkout based on your location and the weight of your order and will include a $5 fee assessed by our distribution company. Additionally, you may buy digital copies of our books from CurrClick, or you can order books from one of our international vendors.

Will I receive shipping confirmation?

If you included our e-mail address with your order or if you placed your order online, we will email you shipping confirmation. If your order shipped via USPS Priority Mail, FedEx, or UPS, the shipping confirmation will include your tracking number.

Using the Books

Are the books consumable?

No. Although some exercises have lines that indicate when a student should respond, the books are designed so that students write on their own paper. If students do not write on these lines, the books can be passed on to younger children. If you wish, you can have your student write in her book, but additional paper will be necessary.

Am I allowed to copy exercises for my children?

Yes, we allow photocopying for intermediate family use only. This is so that families with more than one child working from the same book don’t have to purchase multiple copies. If you need proof of this permission, download and print this letter and fill in your name.

Am I allowed to copy exercises to distribute in a classroom or a home school group?

We unfortunately can't allow people to photocopy and distribute our exercises. We are a small, family business, and a large part of our income depends on selling these books to schools and home school groups. To allow teachers to distribute our material would completely destroy our income.

However, we do offer discounts for groups, and we would be happy to work with you to find a solution.

Are the books directed to the parents or to the students?

Writing Strands 1, and Writing Strands 2, Reading Strands and Evaluating Writing are directed to the parents. Writing Strands 3 and up speak to the students on their levels of understanding. The books tell the students everything they need to know to write the exercises. Parents only have to read the students’ drafts and offer supportive feedback (for more on this process, see Evaluating Writing).

I have an older version of a Writing Strands book. Can I still use it?

You can use older versions, but keep in mind that, while content does not change much from edition to edition, our newest editions will always be our best. Each time we reprint our books (once every year or two), we make improvements. Over several years, these improvements add up to a significantly better book.

This chart lists the most recent copyright date ("Newest") for each book as well as the oldest version ("Oldest") we would recommend. Versions older than than the oldest recommended version are likely to have significantly different content in some places.

Title Newest Oldest
Writing Strands 1 2012 2005
Writing Strands 2 2012 2005
Writing Strands 3 2012 2005
Writing Strands 4 2012 2007
Writing Strands 5 2013 2010
Writing Strands 6 2010 2010
Writing Strands 7 2011 2011
Writing Exposition 2012 any
Creating Fiction 2012 any
Evaluating Writing 2010 2010
Reading Strands 2013 2010
Communications and Interpersonal Relationships 2010 any