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Hands-On Essays: Lesson-by-Lesson DVD Review by Amy M. O’Quinn

Bonita Lillie
Teach 4 Mastery
1542 Norstar Lane
Fallbrook, CA 92028

As both a homeschool mom and a freelance writer, I’m always interested in checking out new resources and instructional programs for teaching writing. I can honestly say that I found a prize with Bonita Lillie’s Hands-On Essays course! In fact, I wish I’d had this excellent resource when I taught a homeschool writing class a few years ago--it’s that good!
The program is designed for middle and high school students and includes both a DVD with sixteen lessons and a comb-bound handbook. The course covers the four different types of essays as well as other helpful tips, suggestions, and writing exercises. It uses the hand as an “outline” and symbolic memory tool--and this little “device” helps the student recall the key points in essay format.
Lessons include:
Lesson 1: Hands-On Essays Demonstration
Lesson 2: Know Your Audience
Lesson 3: Choosing a Topic
Lesson 4: Outlining the Essay
Lesson 5: Hooking the Reader
Lesson 6: Creating a Thesis Statement
Lesson 7: Developing the Body of the Essay
Lesson 8: Writing the Conclusion
Lesson 9: Descriptive Essays
Lesson 10: Comparing/Contrasting Essays
Lesson 11: Persuasive Essays
Lesson 12: Revising the Essay
Lesson 13: Developing Your Writing Style
Lesson 14: Understanding Prompts
Lesson 15: Timed Writing
Lesson 16: The Wrap Up
There are also other helpful sections with writing resources for both the student and the parent/evaluator.
My seventeen-year-old twin daughters have already taken the SAT once and will be taking it again soon, so they were more than willing to try out Mrs. Lillie’s essay course. Although they are both very strong writers and scored extremely well on the essay part of the SAT the first time they took it, we all knew that more practice could only help on future tests. I’m happy to say that after using Hands-On Essays, their SAT essay practice scores have continued to go up! Thus, we are anticipating much higher essay scores the next time around.
I asked my daughters for their insights about this course, and both agree that it is an excellent educational resource. It is helpful, informative, well organized, easy to follow . . . and, yes, even amusing! They both liked the instructor, Bonita Lillie, very much and found her to be knowledgeable, friendly, fun, and adventurous in her role-playing as she introduces the different points of the lessons and styles of writing. One daughter said that Mrs. Lillie certainly had the ability to draw the student into the lesson and hold his/her interest! For example, in the lesson on outlines, Mrs. Lillie is dressed in medical attire and uses a gelatin “jellyfish” and a skeleton to emphasize the importance of having a “backbone” for an essay. Otherwise, there is no substance and the essay flops. Such visual reminders tend to stay with the learner even after the lesson is over.
Both daughters felt that younger students (ages 10-12) would especially like the role-playing and humor in the lessons perhaps more than older students. But they still enjoyed and appreciated the creative teaching style because it addresses the needs of all types of learners--visual, auditory, and tactile. Both agreed that this course was a great review to prepare for the SAT, plus it’s a wonderful resource for improving overall general writing skills. And they liked the way the course is geared toward and presented directly to the student.
You can visit the Teach4Mastery website at to view a video clip about the program as well as sample pages from the manual. The cost for the program is $50 and includes the DVD and manual. In my opinion, it is well worth the money. In essence, your child will have his/her very own personal writing teacher/coach. And Mrs. Lillie’s experience as a homeschool mom, freelance writer, and writing instructor make her well qualified to teach this excellent and engaging course. And if you think about it, good writing skills are priceless! I’d consider this resource to be a great investment in any child’s education.

So if you’re in the market for a program to help your student get ready for the SAT essay section, prepare for other college entrance or achievement tests, learn the basic steps for writing the four different types of essays, or just improve general overall writing skills, then this course is for you and yours!

Product review by Amy M. O’Quinn, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, August 2008