Review: Cover Story Writing for Middle School

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Cover Story is a new writing curriculum for middle school (6th-9th grade) students from the creator of The One Year Adventure Novel high school writing curriculum. I have heard rave reviews about The One Year Adventure Novel in the past, so I was excited to get the opportunity to review the company’s new product for middle-schoolers with my eldest daughter, who is in 7th grade.

CoverStoryCurriculumReview

The Cover Story writing program provides an engaging journey for students to follow step by step through the process of creating the content for their own magazine. The curriculum is designed for completion in a single school year, broken down by 72 video lessons with accompanying assignments that encourage creativity and exploration of themes and writing styles — including a daily journal writing component.

The video lessons are taught by professional writer Daniel Schwabauer, award-winning author of Runt the Brave and creator of The One Year Adventure Novel. Throughout the course of the school year, your student will have the chance to examine and practice many writing styles and formats, such as short stories, letters, interviews, creative non-fiction, poetry and blogging. There’s even some grammar included (12 optional lessons). However from the start, Schwabauer stresses that although proper grammar is important to support good writing, a student’s creativity is the springboard for great writing — and that’s the focus of this course.

If you’re wondering about the specifics of what is and isn’t covered by the Cover Story writing program (such as spelling, literature, etc.), the company’s Frequently Asked Questions explains all of this and more very clearly.

Although the curriculum is designed to be used three times a week for 24 to 28 weeks (if you include the optional grammar lessons), it is also flexible. Some lessons belong together and will flow better if completed in the same week, however other projects can stand alone. At the end of the program, your student will assemble a “magazine” (which can be as simple or complex as you’d like) using some of the writing that was produced throughout the year. The focus of the magazine assembly is content, not design. However, basic design tips and considerations are provided, as well as a link to an online resource page for further design tips.

In Practice…

My daughter was really excited to start this program. She is an avid reader and loves to write, however she has only scratched the surface of her own creative writing abilities. As a professional writer myself, I was also looking forward to seeing what type of approach the curriculum would take to help my daughter strengthen and stretch her writing muscles.

From the start, we both enjoyed the video lessons and accompanying written assignments. Schwabauer is an engaging speaker and gives vivid examples that your middle-schooler will be able to understand and relate to their own writing. What’s Steampunk? Who’s Professor Von Steuben? And what’s up with the costume? You’ll find out soon enough!

CoverStoryVideo

The daily journal writing (which is encouraged five days a week) takes only a few minutes, following a structure provided by The Remarkable Journal of Professor Gunther Von Steuben book that includes a story starter and writing prompts. The daily lessons can take 20 minutes or more, depending on how thoughtful and contemplative your student gets. For example, the activity of finding three magazines in our home that she liked and analyzing them took my daughter more than an hour, because she wanted to be certain she picked the three BEST magazines (in her opinion) and her analysis was quite thorough. Other lessons were completed fairly quickly. Brainstorming, analysis and invention takes time, so you should consider the lesson’s content when planning how it fits in with the rest of your homeschooling plans.

CoverStoryWorkbook

Although we weren’t able to get too far into the year-long program, I spent some time reviewing the majority of the lessons and the instructions for the final magazine project. Every lesson is well written and executed. My daughter had no problem working through them on her own after watching the video lesson with me, and when I reviewed her work, I could tell that she understood the material and put it into practice effectively. I’m very confident that she will grow as a writer through the completion of this course.

In Summary…

What I appreciated most about the Cover Story writing curriculum is that the lessons are not only thorough and well-organized, but also very engaging — even in the grammar section! Even though as a former magazine copy editor, grammar was my life for a few years, I still find it hard to navigate through a lot of the grammar-intensive curriculum out there. Let’s be honest: Grammar as a topic is dry, so why not make the content used when learning about grammar more fun? That’s exactly what Schwabauer does throughout the writing curriculum and additional grammar lessons.

CoverStoryGrammar

The only thing that would make me hesitate (for a second) to purchase the Cover Story writing package is the price: The complete set (which includes the DVD lessons, student book, journal, and teacher guide) retails for $149, which may be a stretch if you’re like me and have multiple ages in the home to purchase curriculum for. Also, many curriculum packages out there (including one we use) provide a writing component within other subjects covered, so it might not be readily apparent how this program would fit in.

That said, I think that when it comes to quality, content and execution, Cover Story delivers an exceptional writing curriculum for this age group (grades 6-9, ages 11-15) in my opinion, and I believe it’s a great value for the instruction it provides. As a professional writer, I really appreciate the process and approach to writing used in this program. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any homeschooling parent who’s looking to strengthen your middle-schooler’s writing skills or inject fun and enjoyment into the process of writing for students who might struggle with it.

If you love grammar, you can still use this curriculum set as a one-year, stand-alone English course and follow it up with a more grammar-intensive program the following year. Either way, I think Cover Story provides a fruitful writing journey that every middle-schooler can benefit from.

I also think Cover Story might be a great option for a summer intensive, when your student may have more time to focus and work outside the box — and you aren’t also buying curriculum for five other subjects. It would take about 14 weeks to complete the writing curriculum if your student worked on it five days a week. My daughter can’t wait to work through it, so that’s our plan this summer.

CoverStorySet

REVIEW UPDATE: Since publishing this review, a few readers have expressed concern about the excerpts and stories used as example content for some of the Cover Story lessons. When my daughter and I used Cover Story for the purposes of this review, we had only worked through about the first eight lessons and some of the grammar lessons at the end. Although I did browse through the rest of the curriculum, I was looking primarily at the lesson content to see what strategies were used to teach certain writing styles – not the example selections — and I did not come across any reading material that concerned me.

Now that I’ve had time to read more of the material we hadn’t covered yet, particularly the examples that readers pointed out, I do agree that some of the literature selections are not my favorites. As a Christian, I don’t believe that all good literature must be overtly faith-based, and I think there are many examples in literature where science fiction, fantasy, or a “dark” allegory can be very effective to tell an important moral story. However, I would have liked to see a better variety of content used as examples for this curriculum than what the publisher chose to feature.

I still really like the approach of the curriculum: The lessons, the exercises and the idea of creating a magazine at the end of the process as a common thread. As we continue to use the lessons, I am using other fictional sources that I’ve selected to provide examples of the writing styles and techniques being discussed in Cover Story.

Review Disclosure: I was compensated for this review post by Educents; however, my opinions are entirely my own and based on a personal review of the entire curriculum set. Although we receive a small commission for any other affiliate links that are used on our site to make a purchase, we are not compensated in any way for the purchase of this product.

What are you looking for in a homeschool writing curriculum? Do you use curriculum that includes writing components, or do you use a specific writing and language arts program? What aspects of writing do your students struggle with, and what do they enjoy most about writing? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Renée Gotcher is a wife, writer, editorial consultant, and home-educating mother of three daughters. She has been married for 26 years to her best friend Kenny, whom she met while attending Oral Roberts University in the early 90s. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. A former journalist, she is currently editor of NextGen Homeschool and blogs on personal topics at A New Chapter. Her family lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.

12 thoughts on “Review: Cover Story Writing for Middle School

  1. I enjoyed your review and have heard only good things about Cover Story. I am checking this out for my kids this year, but was disappointed when I looked into the assigned short stories and poems that he uses. Most seemed to be dark, depressing and violent. Can you comment on how much these readings are dwelled upon in the course? I am really interested in the course, but this is making me think twice. Thank you!

    1. Hi Terrie! Sorry for the delay in replying, I didn’t see your comment right away. I had the same concern, and while I do wish they had made some different selections for this writing study, the stories chosen do make moral points and he does address the contrasts in the discussion questions. If I could write this curriculum myself, I would choose a few different selections because that’s just me, but the process and the method are spot on for what I want my daughter to learn about the writing process and great story-telling. I hope that helps!

  2. I agree with Terrie’s concern ~ I purchased the program anyway and then sent it back. There is so much good literature out there; but there were additional observations that were negatives for us well: The journal is typed in a script-type format that is difficult for some students to decipher. The overall topic/story starters of the journal is a science-fiction plot of a being from outer space coming to earth. In addition, some of the entries dealt with topics such as teen suicide and a mugging that included implied expletives.

    That said, the videos and structure of this program are amazing and would be a wonderful way to teach writing – what was negative for us may not be for another family, but I wish I had known these specifcs before I had purchased 🙂

    1. Sorry for the delay in reply, ladies – been off the blog for about a week! I think you both bring up valid concerns. When we did the review, we had only worked through about the first eight lessons and some of the grammar lessons at the end, and although I did browse through the rest of the book, I did not come across any reading material that concerned me.

      That said, now that I’ve had time to read more of the material we haven’t covered yet, I do agree that some of the literature selections are not my favorites. As we proceed, I may make other selections for my daughter to read that still provide good examples of what the curriculum is trying to demonstrate.

      My daughter happens to love the science fiction angle (Jules Verne is one of her favorites), she loves fantasy as well (such as Tolkien), and although we don’t believe in aliens or fantasy beings as Christians, I do think that there are great examples in literature where science fiction and fantasy are used to tell great moral stories.

      I still really like the approach of the curriculum: The lessons, the exercises and the idea of creating a magazine at the end of the process as a common thread.

  3. Parents should be aware that this curriculum contains quite a bit of violent references and stories. For instance, there is an account of a massacre in Sudan, a barbaric story in which a princess must choose whether her love is violently killed or given to be married to another woman whom she despises, a story of a sniper picking people off only to end up killing his own brother, a hanging, and more. While I enjoy the teacher’s DVDs when he is doing creative or funny skits, and I do think he covers a good range of story writing elements, I am really disappointed at the amount of violence shared. I’m sure there are many wonderful stories that could’ve demonstrated the necessary writing elements without so much disturbing reading.

    1. Hello J!
      I apologize for the delay in replying to your post, I wanted to do some more research before responding. When we did the review, we had only completed a few lessons in the main writing section and grammar, which did not refer to any of the stories you mentioned. I did browse the rest of the text but was looking primarily at the lesson content to see what strategies were used to teach certain writing styles – not the example selections. Having read more of the content now, I agree with you that I don’t like the fact that there are so many dark stories when better selections could have been made. Although I think the middle school student will be encountering some violence and dark themes at their reading level, I would have liked to see a better mix of content examples than what is provided. We appreciate your feedback as a part of our reader community!
      Renée Gotcher

  4. We are planning on using the Cover Story this upcoming school year with my daughter. I was wondering if you could share some of the literature substitutions you have made? This might give us a starting point if we come upon a selections we don’t deem appropriate for my daughters emotional/spiritual maturity level. Thank you!

  5. Thanks for review and the update concerning the literature content. I’m curious as to how easy it would be to substitute. Are the (potentially objectionable) literature selections discussed in the videos? Or is it fairly easy to just choose a different selection when deemed necessary? How much of the student workbook is tied to these literature selections?

    1. Hi Erin!
      I think you can easily skip the short stories that you don’t want your child to read and still utilize the rest of the writing curriculum. In most cases, the things the student is asked to notice (things like metaphors & similes or building tension) can be found in lots of other examples, probably even in something they are currently reading, and some of the stories provided did’t seem to have any direct relation to the lessons at all – they were just there to read after the lesson.

      I have found that most of the short stories included are publicly available (such as “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell and “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce) and are each highly regarded for different literary reasons, but the concern that the content is very dark is valid. Here are just a few more examples if you want to Google them: “The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty, “The Lady, or the Tiger” by Frank R. Stockton, and “The Interlopers” by Saki.

      1. Thanks so much for the reply, Renee! I recognize several of the titles you mentioned (and remember reading them in school, but later than 6th grade for sure), so this is extremely helpful!

  6. Hi! I’m also interested in what substitutions you made. Do you have a doc you might share? I’m about to use CS in a Christian Co-op so I’m facing many Momma Opinions. I’d love to get ahead of complaints by offering substitutions.
    Thanks!

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