Sharon Watson’s wonderful writing and literature programs are not new to us. Last summer, we reviewed Illuminating Literature: When Worlds Collide and continued using it throughout the year as our primary literature program. We also purchased and used the first edition of The The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School. When we received the second edition of this high school writing program last month, Emily just moved to the corresponding unit in the second edition.
The Power in Your Hands includes two components: a student book and teacher’s guide. The student book is very self-explanatory, allowing the student to work through the exercises independently. (Of course, discussion of the completed exercises with the parent/teacher is always beneficial!)
Each of the 23 chapters focuses on a different type of non-fiction writing assignment. The topics include several types of persuasive essays (compare-contrast, logical, emotional appeal), letters, process writing, position paper, newspaper articles, biographies, descriptive essays, and more. Within each chapter are several lessons that teach the type of writing by analyzing others’ writing, creating outlines and introductory paragraphs, and learning more powerful writing techniques such as active voice, choosing precise words, writing to a specific audience, and figurative language. The book is really packed with powerful content!
Each chapter concludes by requiring the student to write a complete essay or other non-fiction piece, using the techniques and principles taught in that chapter. A checklist is always provided to make sure that the student includes the key elements and strategies from the chapter. This is a wonderful feature, because if the student follows the checklist, she will not only write a quality piece, but knows she has included elements necessary to earning a good grade for that essay.
A couple of the chapters focus on proofreading and common grammar mistakes and don’t require the essay.
The teacher’s guide gives instructions on how to grade the essays and provides answers for the student exercises. The current edition offers grading rubrics for every single writing assignment. I love these because they give concrete ways to assess students’ writing and allow students to see areas in which they excelled and areas in which they need to improve. Also included in the teacher’s guide are a year’s worth of writing prompts or “14-minute power surges.” We haven’t used these yet, but look forward to doing so after Emily finishes the student book.
Improvements in the Second Edition of The Power in Your Hands:
The student book is virtually the same between the two editions. The main difference is that each daily lesson is clearly labeled. The chapter includes many exercises, labeled 16.1, 16.2, etc. Since these exercises take varying amounts of time, the student might need to complete 1-3 exercises on a particular day. In the first edition, a suggested stopping point was marked by a horizontal line on the page. This was easy to miss. I often had a problem with Emily not finishing a full lesson because she didn’t know where to stop. The second edition labels each lesson, making the daily work much more clear.
first edition second edition
Another change is that the SAT essay chapter from edition 1 was removed (because the SAT essay itself has changed), and a chapter on common grammar mistakes has been added.
The teacher’s guide now has grading guides for each assignment instead of a generic one to use for all of them. That is a great improvement!
Emily has really enjoyed The Power in Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School. It is one of her favorite subjects. She has completed 16 of the 23 chapters over the past year and we plan to continue into next year. As a parent, I find it difficult to teach “how” to write, but The Power in Your Hands breaks down the process, explaining techniques that are effective for many different types of non-fiction writing. It is a very thorough course that challenges the student, but allows for a great deal of creativity in writing topics and style. I think that being able to choose any topic that interests her is one reason Emily has enjoyed the course so much. Completion of the book would equate to a very intensive writing course for one year or a more relaxed two-year course.
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