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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.