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The Power In Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School Review by April Elstrom

Sharon Watson
Writing with Sharon Watson
P. O. Box 6441
Kokomo, IN 46904-6441

Writing was always an easy subject for me; the process came naturally. However, I have discovered that teaching the skill of writing to my children hasn’t been as simple as I expected. I’ve tried several different writing programs over the years, but as a busy mom of a large family, I need something simple.

The Power In Your Hands: Writing Nonfiction in High School by Sharon Watson is perfect for me. It’s written to my teens directly, with appropriate practice exercises and assignments for them to build their skills gradually. The Teacher’s Guide includes a list of the assignments for each chapter, copies of the resources in the student book, answers to questions, and grading grids for the essays. That’s it. No other lessons for me to teach to the child, and no complicated planning on my part, either.

Sharon’s tone to the students is relaxed, humorous, but respectful. She doesn’t talk down to them, but encourages them. She begins the book by teaching the steps of the writing process: brainstorming, organizing your points, and putting it all together in an essay. From there, the lessons focus on writing different types of essays, as well as improving your writing skills. Information on including quotes in your writing, citations, and different formats are covered as your student progresses through the lessons. She thought of all the little details and pulled them together so well.

The Power In Your Hands is divided into 23 chapters. Each chapter is divided into individual lessons. There are 117 lessons total. Some of the chapters only have two or three lessons, but other chapters have eight to ten lessons. The simplest way to work through the course is to pick the book up each school day and do the next lesson. Using this method, you’d need to leave two or three days to write the essay before moving on to the next chapter. If you prefer to plan ahead, you can schedule out the lessons at the start of the year.

The student book is paperback, as is the teacher’s guide. Although most of the student book can be used without actually writing in it, there are some assignments that direct the student to underline or edit a writing sample. In these cases, it is probably best to consider the book as a consumable workbook, not a textbook. Some students will be able to use a notebook and not write in the student book but other students will need the simplicity of just working in the book.

One of the features I appreciate about Sharon’s books are the examples of “How to Earn an A”, “How to Earn a B”, etc. It helps to see not only the list of expectations for an A paper, but to read examples of an unsupported paper or a paper that doesn’t follow the rules. This is included in the teacher’s guide, but should be shared with students at the start of the course, as well.

Another feature I love are the 14-minute power surges. These are ungraded, stress-free, versatile writing prompts in the teacher’s guide. I have fond memories of starting my 9th grade English classes with 5-minute writing prompts. Rather than doing these before daily lessons, you could also spread The Power In Your Hands over two years, mixing it with a literature program for two credits of English over two years. If you did that, the Power Surges could be used on days that you plan to tackle literature instead of writing. They could also be saved for review purposes the next year, once the skills are already learned and you are pursuing other forms of English study.

Although the grading grids are included in the Teacher’s Guide, you can also purchase Sharon’s e-book 21 Grading Grids for Popular High School Essays and a Position Paper. Owning the e-book allows you to print each grading grid without having to photocopy from your book. This saves the spine of the Teacher’s Guide from being cracked open on the photocopier repeatedly.

I am thrilled with The Power In Your Hands. It makes teaching writing to my high school students simple. I need simple, because there is enough drama involved in getting them to do their schoolwork - not to mention their chores. Now I won’t need to fix my hit-and-miss approach by paying tuition to the community college for my teens to take Composition 1 their senior year. Even if I do buy a new The Power In Your Hands student book for each student, I’ll still be saving money.

-Product review by April Elstrom, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September, 2016