Wordsmith: a Creative Writing Course for Young People


Target Age: 11-14 (Grades 5-8)

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Have you ever heard this from your students (or have you ever said it yourself)?

  • I don’t know what to write about.
  • I don’t know how to start.
  • I always get bogged down in the middle.
  • I hate writing!

The Wordsmith series is designed to overcome all those objections in a way that’s friendly, non-threatening, and sometimes even fun.  First of all, everyone has tons of material to write about.  You have what I have: ordinary experience, and sometimes extraordinary experience.  That’s what all authors begin with.

The challenge is

a. learning how to use the tools,

b. learning how to organize your thoughts, and

c. learning how to mine interesting narratives, descriptions, stories and reports from personal experience.


Wordsmith addresses these challenges in three sections, namely

Part One: Word Games.  Building appreciation and dexterity in the fulsome fields of vocabulary.    English-speakers are lucky to have an incredible store of words–more than any other western language. Part One is a refresher course on how these words function, but also  how the writer can use them to greatest effect.   Here’s the basic rule: nouns (pronouns) and verbs are the building blocks.  All other parts of speech (adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions) serve as modifiers for nouns and verbs.  Once you get that, the next step is combing through your vocabulary–and extending your vocabulary–to use the clearest, brightest, and sparkliest words for your purpose.

Sample lesson from Part One:

This Looks Like a Job for an Adjective


Part Two: Building Stronger Sentences.  Even though we spent the first part on words, the basic unit of language is not the word.  It is the sentence.  Though I speak with the eloquent nouns and vivid verbs, without a sense of how they fit together, then make not sense they would.  Part Two shows students how to be little manipulators–of sentences, that is.  Rather than sticking with the same tired constructions and formulas, they’ll learn to break old habits, as well as how (and when) to combine the too short and chop up the too long.

Sample lesson from Part Two:

Active Beats Passive–Except When It Doesn’t


Part Three: NOW We’re Writing!  Everybody has plenty to write about, and here’s is where we pull it all together.  We begin with sensory experience: what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch.  After a brief foray into poetry, we apply that experience to writing descriptions of well-known places–as well as imaginary places.  Focus is a challenge for beginners: ditching generalized statements in favor of precise and targeted statements.  From a spotlight on particular people we move to a spotlight on a particular incident.  Dialogue and point of view take their turn, and then we’re ready to write an actual story.  But step by step, not all at once.  By the time we’re done, the student may have accomplished something she never thought she could.

Sample lesson from Part Three:

Narrative, Part 1: Focus


And then there’s the appendix: Invaluable tips on How to Proofread and How to Revise, plus many examples of student writing, a verb list, and review quizzes for each section.


But we’re not done yet!  The Teacher’s Guide to Wordsmith offers countless variations on the basic assignments and across-the-curriculum tie-ins, as well as a specific lesson plan, teaching details, and suggestions for group writing or writers clubs.  Wordsmith can be expanded almost indefinitely, and the timeless principles are good for a lifetime.


And did you know Wordsmith is actually a series?  For younger writers, there’s


Imagine you’re going to work for your home town newspaper.  The editor is short-staffed, and he’ll eventually assign you to every job in the newsroom, from “For Sale” ads to Household Hints to reviews of the latest movies opening down at the Bijou.  This fun and friendly approach is designed to introduce beginning writers to the amazing variety of language and its many uses.  Click here to check out the Scope and Sequence.

Sample Lesson from Wordsmith Apprentice


And for high school–even college-level composition–take a look at


It’s time to get serious about writing, and the many sophisticated thinking skills that go along with it.  Does your high-school know how to take notes?  Or write a summary?  Or think through the steps of a business plan?  Or write a coherent essay on any subject?   A surprising number of kids don’t.  Starting with notes and memos, moving on to letters and emails, Craftsman then tackles the step-by-step process of writing five kinds of essay: descriptive, personal experience, expository, review, and persuasive.  Careful attention to the instruction in this book will equip any student for college-level writing–and beyond.  Here’s the Scope and Sequence.

Sample Lesson from Wordsmith Craftsman: Intro to the Essay

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