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WriteShop vs Structure and Style (IEW) - (2020 Curriculum Review)

WriteShop vs Structure and Style (IEW) – (2020 Curriculum Review)

Writing Curriculum Review

Finding a good writing curriculum for your middle school kid can be tricky.

(Okay … middle school age can be tricky with everything … but that’s a conversation for a different time!)

A good middle school writing curriculum needs to cover basics like constructing a paragraph and then teach how to write an essay, as well as other non-fiction styles.

Hopefully it will push a student to expand their vocabulary, vary their sentence structure, and learn to express their own thoughts.

And of course, you still want your kid to work on punctuation, grammar and other writing mechanics.

Finally, a writing curriculum will also push them creatively and help them LOVE writing.

So where do you find something that does all of this??

Writing Curriculum

I’ve been looking at writing curriculum since my 4 kids were little. And since 2013, I’ve taught writing and English at our local co-op to the kids who are 12 to 17. So I’ve seen and used A LOT of different curriculum -- some okay and some great. 

Today, I’m going to compare two curriculums that I find very compelling -- WriteShop I & II and IEW’s new Structure and Style (available May 2020).

NOTE: Be sure to check out my video where I give you a detailed look into the student and teacher manuals for WriteShop and Structure and Style.

*****Also I need to state the following:*******

  1. I received the product for free.
  2. I was compensated for my time.
  3. All opinions are honest, and I was not required to post a positive review.

Both curriculum are designed for middle-school/early high school (grades 6 through 9). And they both assume that your child knows how to construct a basic sentence (start with a capital letter, end with a period, have a subject and verb, etc.)

Both curriculum require that you have a decent level of writing, although you DO NOT need to be an expert with either. (Both provide teacher support -- but in very different ways.)

Each has a video teaching element that you can use if you don’t want to do the teaching yourself. WriteShop’s is like watching a moving slideshow with narration (the voice is easy to listen to). Structure and Style has filmed Andrew Padua teaching a full class of middle-school students.

And both are fairly mom “intensive” -- which is to be expected of a writing curriculum. (Writing is subjective so there’s no easy way to just send your kids off to do it on their own. Someone must review and respond to the writing for your kids to improve.)

WriteShop I & II

WriteShop focuses on teaching your kid how to write by starting with brainstorming and then gently leading them through all the stages of writing -- rough draft (they call it “sloppy copy”) through a final composition.

Each lesson follows the same basic structure:

  • Pre-writing activity (often something hands on - like handling and talking about objects)
  • Practice writing activity
  • Brainstorming
  • “Sloppy Copy” (rough draft)
  • Revision 1 (student led with checklist)
  • Revision 2 (after you make comments
  • Final Copy

Each lesson is designed to take two weeks -- with additional writing skill activities and narration/dictation skills built in as well.

I love that WriteShop I starts with just constructing paragraphs, and let’s the student work on their writing one paragraph at a time until they feel confident. Only then in WriteShop II, do they move on to longer non-fiction compositions -- like essays.

My experience teaching many kids is that once they’ve mastered good paragraph structure, it’s much easier for them to apply that knowledge when they start writing essays.

I also love the quantity and quality of writing skill practice that WriteShop I & II includes. There are three included in each lesson, and each builds on the last. These are a FABULOUS way for kids to practice skills that they can use over and over in their writing.

The brainstorming element of each lesson is also well done. Instead of just saying “brainstorm … here are a few ideas,” there is a detailed brainstorming outline that walks the kid through all the different ways to approach the topic. (These are AMAZING and I’ll be folding them into my co-op classes starting next week.)

The downside of this approach could be that it leaves your kid on their own to know how to write a good paragraph, but WriteShop compensates for this by providing TONS of examples of well-written student paragraphs. 

This is great for both the student to see examples AND as a mom (so you know what level of writing is appropriate to expect at this age).

Additionally, the resources in the appendix of the WriteShop appendix blew me away -- TONS of additional writing topics and creative writing ideas. This alone is a fantastic writing resource, and helps provide additional ideas for creative writing beyond the non-fiction writing that is the focus of WriteShop.

There are a few things I don’t love about the curriculum.

The formatting of the pages could be difficult to read -- especially for kids who have dyslexia or other reading issues. I think this is an excellent curriculum to consider for kids who struggle with organizing their ideas, so this is unfortunate. (Be sure to see my video if you want to see the pages for yourself.)

Also, while the amount of help provided to the teacher/mom is extensive, the tone is insistent that you not skip anything and follow the instructions very carefully. While I can see why there are some moms who probably would appreciate that level of hand-holding, I found the way it was written felt restrictive. (I’m a big fan of modifying based on what’s happening in your home and with your kids!) 

Structure and Style (Institute for Excellence in Writing)

Structure and Style focuses on teaching how to write by giving the student well-written paragraphs, teaching them to deconstruct the paragraph (using keywords), and then asking them to rewrite the paragraph in their own words using only the keyword outline.

(Note: Structure and Style is the newly revised version of Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, that has been the flagship curriculum for the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) since the 1990s. The bulk of my experience has been with their previous version, so some of this review is based on sample pages. The new version will be available May 2020.)

I like this because your kid sees great writing from the very beginning. However, this format of writing can get tedious at times and doesn’t encourage a student to write from their own ideas. 

Each lesson is structured as follows:

  • Pre-writing activity (some lessons)
  • Read a paragraph (or several paragraphs in later lessons)
  • Create a keyword outline
  • Retell (speak) the keyword outline in your own words
  • Rewrite the paragraph (or combine paragraphs) using the keyword outline
  • Review and revise (using provided checklist)

Of course, the parent is involved in reviewing and revising, but it isn’t scripted in the teacher edition. 

(IEW has a completely separate program teaching parents how to teach their programs that they consistently reference if you want more help reviewing your child’s work.)

Each lesson is designed to take a week. Additional “fix-it” (for grammar and mechanics practice) and literature activities can be included to flesh out the program, but must be purchased separately. There are some writing skill activities included in each lesson, but not as many or as thorough as in WriteShop.

I love that Structure and Style also starts by having students work with paragraphs and then slowly graduates them to writing essays and other non-fiction. And I’m impressed by the variety of topics that they encourage students to write about. 

I also love that there are several creative writing assignments -- and lessons on story structure -- sprinkled throughout the curriculum. These are more open-ended and really let the student flex a different kind of writing muscle. My students and kids enjoy these breaks from the “harder” writing assignments.

I’m a big fan of how Structure and Style does their writing checklists that the student uses in each lesson. They understand that a checklist can feel overwhelming, so they only include a few things at the beginning. The checklist grows as the new concepts are introduced. In essence, the student “grows” with the checklist.

While IEW’s Fix-its are not included in the basic Structure and Style curriculum, they are available and can be aligned with the lesson plans. I LOVE this style of learning grammar and writing mechanics, and I have incorporated these into every class I teach.

Finally, I HAVE to talk about the format of the teacher edition. IEW is slowly reformatting all their curriculum to match more traditional publishers, where the teacher edition is “wrapped around” the student edition. (Be sure to watch my video to see what this looks like.) I’m so excited that Structure and Style will now have this format!

This makes it sooooo easy to see how the teacher edition and student edition relate. No more flipping back and forth, trying to reference between the two. This is HUGE deal for me, and if it’s close between two curriculums, this will often tip the scales for me.

Unfortunately, the student edition formatting isn’t much friendlier than WriteShop’s. And the font they’ve chosen to use is particularly difficult for dyslexics to read.

Side-by-Side Comparison

Here are the main features of WriteShop and Structure and Style compared:

Structure & Style (IEW)

Writing process -- brainstorm, “sloppy copy,” 2 revisions

Writing process -- deconstruct paragraph with keyword outline, rewrite in own words, 1 revision

Variety of brainstorming styles encouraged - including outlining and mindmapping

Uses similar writing process through entire curriculum – deconstruct or outline, then write

Lots of student examples of written paragraphs in each lesson

Student samples only in the appendix

Brainstorm and rough draft

Deconstruct pre-written paragraph with keyword outline

Skill builders (3 for each lesson) reinforce writing skill focused on in that lesson

Some skill building – but focus is mostly on writing paragraphs

Thorough and complete checklist from the beginning for each lesson (can be overwhelming)

Checklist only includes skills taught so far and grows as more skills are learned

Uses standard vocabulary to describe conventions and style

Uses IEW proprietary vocabulary to describe different writing elements

Incorporates copywork/dictation for grammar/punctuation help – but requires copywork book (separate)

Incorporates “Fix-it” grammar into lesson plan – BUT requires purchase of upgrade bundle 

Video lessons – powerpoint/pictures w/person talking – focused and specific

Video lessons – live teaching classroom environment

Problem/solution section in teacher edition very helpful if you’re teaching and want to know what to look for

Gives some specific examples in teacher edition on how to structure teaching – but not a lot of help looking for student issues

Teacher edition separate and sometimes difficult to reference with the student edition

Teacher wrap-around edition makes it easy to connect information to student edition

Choosing Which Writing Curriculum Is Best for You

So which writing curriculum is best for your family? As with everything, it depends.

WriteShop is a great choice if you want to focus on student brainstorming and seeing student samples, lots of writing skill practice, and writing two revisions for each assignment. There is also fabulous parent support built into each lesson.

Structure and Style is a great choice if you want students to work with well-written paragraphs and then reconstruct them in their own words, learning how to structure as they practice. Also, if you want creative writing built into your lesson plan and easy referencing between student and teacher editions.

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WriteShop vs Structure and Style (IEW) - (2020 Curriculum Review)
Help reluctant writer motivate to write homeschool

How to help the reluctant writer

It can be soooooo painful!

You sit down and ask your kid to write ONE sentence … one little sentence …

And it turns into begging … “PLEEEEASE … anything … something …”

Help reluctant writer motivate to write homeschool


It can be soooooo painful!

You sit down and ask your kid to write ONE sentence … one little sentence …

And it turns into begging … “PLEEEEASE … anything … something …”

And they look at you like you with a blank stare -- or they start to cry -- OR they throw their pencil across the room.

BUT - it doesn’t have to be that way! You can work on “writing” without having it turn into a battle or a cry fest.

To do it, you have to break writing down into its parts and pieces, figure out what’s working and what isn’t, and then focus your efforts on what’s going to make the most different.

And today -- I’m going to tell you how to do just that!

NOTE: I mention LOTS of different resources in today’s video. If you want to check them out, here are some links:

Spelling Resources

Sequential Spelling Books

Sequential Spelling Online

All About Spelling

Handwriting Resources

Handwriting without Tears

Storytelling Resources

Tell Tale Game

Rory Story Cubes

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Confident Homeschool Secrets

7 Ways to Create a Homeschool That Works (and you LOVE!)


Hello, my name's ToriAnn Perkey, and from my homeschool to your homeschool, today I want to talk about what you can do and think about if you have a reluctant writer.

I'm talking about those kids who are in elementary school particularly who you say, “Okay, just write a sentence. Just write a sentence.” And they're like, “Oh, I don't want to write a sentence.” And it feels like you are extracting blood from a stone if you ask them to write anything.

Or they get started, and they just seem to sit there forever, and you know that they have great ideas because they can tell them to you, but they won't write them.

Well, today I want to talk about how writing is actually divided into four different sub-pieces that all have to come together to make a writer who can write. And sometimes what happens is developmentally a kid will be ready for two of the four but not the other two. 

So even though you know they can write, they're actually not ready to write.  So, we're going to talk about that today. This is a topic I feel really passionate about because I know that if you push writing too soon, and you're too hard on it, you'll have a kid who - when they hit an age when they might have an amazing thing to say - will hate writing, and they'll just say, “I hate it. I don't want to do it.” And you don't want that to happen.

You want your kids to graduate into an age and a mental space where they like writing and they're excited to write because there's so much good that happens with writing.

So, let's talk about this. What are the four different subtopics that go into writing?

They are spelling, handwriting (or typing is kind in there) … but spelling, handwriting - because most kids don't type at this age - sentence and paragraph structure, and then ideas. And as you can see, you need all four of those to be able to write a sentence on a piece of paper.

You say, “Hey, tell me a sentence about what we did yesterday.”  They have to be able to spell - or at least they think they have to be able to spell - but they have to be able to spell to some extent or you won't have any idea what they're writing. They have to be able to write it - physically write it. They have to be able to structure the sentence in such a way that it actually translates from their brain into something coherent on the page, and they have to have an idea of what to write.

That's a lot of different skills for kids to wrap their brain around, and you might have a kid who's fabulous with ideas. I mean, FABULOUS with ideas, right? They will tell you stories and their dreams and this happened and this happened, but when you ask them to write, they can't because handwriting is hard. Or maybe they're worried about their spelling, even though you've told them it does not matter what it's spelled like, you just want them to put it down! You don't know.

And so my recommendation is this. If you have a kid where these four skills are not coming together seamlessly -- and it does happen -- some kids just kind of pull these skills together and they just write. Yay, for happiness and easiness! But for the kids where it's a little bit trickier, my recommendation is to pull the skills apart and work on them one-on-one, because you don't want to have ideas stagnate while handwriting is being worked on.

So you want to be able to work on them separately, have ideas continue to grow, have the handwriting catch up, or get to the point where the kid can type and then that helps, and then you can put all the skills back together.

There are resources that specifically target each one of these. You don't need to do all of these resources if things are working or if you see that the skill is already developing, but if it's not developing, then finding a resource that specifically targets one of these skills is a really great idea.

For example, if you're working on spelling, then you're going to go find a curriculum just for spelling, and there's a couple that I'm really, really fond of.  One is called Sequential Spelling, and you can do that with workbooks, or they now have an online version. Yay, that we're using.

I really like sequential spelling - and this isn't a review about that - but I like it because it just approaches spelling in a different way for holistic learners, and I guess I'll leave a link to that so you can go check it out. Another one that's super popular with spelling is "All About Spelling," which is a very different style of teaching spelling, but it uses a method that works well with dyslexics. So, these are some different resources. 

If you're struggling with handwriting then the bar none hands down best way to work on handwriting for a kid who's struggling is a program called Handwriting without Tears, and I'll leave a link to that as well. In Handwriting with Tears, we have now been using it with just a couple of my kids. The other ones didn't have any trouble, but a couple needed to work on handwriting, and it is definitely the best program I've seen. I don't get any pushback. Super, super simple, and I'm not even using the teacher guides. We're just using the student manuals. Just a little side note.

If you're working on sentence and paragraph structure, then the best way to work on that is to actually practice having them tell you the sentences and then watch you write them or type them. Have them practice speaking the sentences before they have to write the sentences.  Say, “You know what? I need you to say that in a complete sentence.” Help them learn to structure. Correct their grammar. Correct those things as you're talking to them. So, narration and dictation - and there's lots of resources out there for that, and you can even just use the scriptures or a picture book.  Narration and dictation are really, really good for that. I don't have a specific curriculum for that. I just wanted to let you know.

And then ideas - oh my goodness - I don't know of anybody really struggles with kids having ideas and things to write about when you pull these other skills out. But on the off chance that you want to just burnish those skills a little bit, I love using storytelling games for this.

Storytelling games are all verbally done. They're not written, and they allow the kids to definitely, definitely, definitely practice creating stories, being creative, pulling their ideas out of their head and into a space where they can be enjoyed and experienced together without all of the other things. I have reviewed several storytelling resources over the course of doing this - making these videos - and I will link to those so you can go check out my reviews in the review section, and my videos that specifically talk about those resources.

So, there you have it. There you have it. Break down those writing skills into four separate distinct categories, and if you do that, you are definitely going to find that you can augment the ones that are working, take away the ones that aren't - not take them away, but actually focus on them and help supplement them and bring them up so that in good time all of those skills will come together and take a reluctant writer to a writer that's actually writing.

I'm ToriAnn Perkey, and I make these videos every week so that you can be a super successful and confident homeschool mom.

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Help reluctant writer motivate to write homeschool
Help reluctant writer motivate to write homeschool
Help reluctant writer motivate to write homeschool
writing for dysgraphia and dyslexia
The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury Book Review

The secret ingredient to creating great writers … {Review}

Grammar … punctuation … spelling … organization … structure …

All of these are so important when it comes to helping my kids communicate effectively with their writing.

They have to be able to put their ideas down on paper in a way that makes sense.

But there’s something else … and it can be a little elusive at times.

Over the years, I’ve discovered a sneaky, secret way to helping my kids become great writers that takes almost NO time out of our homeschool day.

CLICK HERE to check it out for your homeschool: https://amzn.to/2vopoIs


Are your kids tired of boring writing assignments? This holds the answer! {Review}

I LOVE storytelling and creative writing toys and games.

And today … I’m going to share one of my FAVORITES!

I love this game because it’s open-ended … and I think of all the resources I love, it does the best at helping with writing prompting that create a vast ocean of ideas no matter what age you are.



It’s the first resource I pull out when I teach teenagers creative writing, and we still pull it out at home when we need creative juices to flow.

But it also works so well for kindergarten and preschool ages - although you'll have to modify how you play with the cards if your child can't read yet.

CLICK HERE to check out Storymatic for your homeschool.

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Confident Homeschool Secrets

7 Ways to Create a Homeschool That Works (and you LOVE!)


Hey guys! ToriAnn Perkey here. From my homeschool to your homeschool, are the writing assignments in your home getting a little boring? Or do your kids feel just a little confined because they feel like the writing assignments they have to do are coming out of a book that maybe they're not super interested in? Or maybe you're not using a curriculum at all, but you know that you want your kids to be creative doing creative writing, and you're not quite sure how to get them started?

Well, today I've got something that's going to knock your socks off that I love to help kids get the creative juices flowing. It is called “Storymatic,” and it is a fabulous, fabulous resource for generating creative stories. In fact, they say “6 gazillion stories in one little box,” and I'm not kidding you, it's totally true.

So, let me tell you all about this amazing resource for your homeschool family. When you open it up, it has two kinds of cards -- the yellow cards and the blue cards -- and they do different things. The blue cards are characters or -- yeah, so, “family members are robots” or “flying blanket.”  So, it's a character or it's a situation. “Homesick.” Here's another one, “mysterious stranger comes to town.” So, the cards -- nice quality cards ... I love the fact that they're not flimsy at all ... all have -- the blue cards have that kind of thing written on it.

Now, on this side, we get things like “someone with a secret,” “fortuneteller,” “thumb sucker.” So, what happens is in the most basic way of using these cards -- you get a blue card and you get a yellow card, and you put them together, and you start to generate a story.  In this case, we would have a fortuneteller and a flying blanket. Suddenly, my brain starts to think how could I create a story about a flying blanket and a fortuneteller, and I can promise, you and your kids will start to have lots and lots of fun.

You can make it more interesting if you want to add extra card. So, you could have a “fortuneteller,” a “thumb sucker” (two characters), and a “flying blanket.”  And these are character cards that are super fun. So, you can actually take two character cards, add a situation and create that. So, here we have a gentle giant. So, now new story -- what if you had a thumb sucker, a gentle giant, and family members that are robots? Totally different story.

Now, if you're looking for more than one way to use these cards -- and there's a gazillion ways to use the cards just like there's a gazillion stories -- it comes with this really amazing little booklet full of ideas on how to use the cards. And that's what I really, really like about it, is they understand that you may want to use the cards in different ways, and you may need a little bit of a starter help to figure out different ways to use the cards. And this is full of ideas just over and over and over again from “flash” to “double time” to “write it,” “draw it,” which is where you get to draw and write word by word -- where you do tandem telling, and one person starts the story and then says one word and then the next word goes to the next person, the next person. Things like that. Group games, individual games -- so many ways to use these cards. 

Now, these cards are a little pricier than some of the other storytelling resources that I've recommended before. And I hesitated ... I waited a while to buy these. I was a little worried because I thought “I don't know. I don't know.” But I'm here to tell you, I have never ever ever regretted purchasing Storymatic. Of all my storytelling resources, this one's one of my favorites.

Okay. The other thing I want to tell you is there's a kid's version and an adult version. I only own the kid version, because I was a little nervous about what might be in the adult version because it's definitely designed for adults. But I was also worried that it would be really too kiddish to use with my teenagers. Not at all. I feel like adults can get -- and teenagers -- can get just as much out of the kid version of the game as anybody. And, in fact, I think as an adult you could totally get Storymatic and have a blast. So, I've never bothered with the adult version because well, I really don't think I need it.

So, there you go.  If you are looking for a brand new way to just radically up-level your writing assignments or your storytelling or any of that creative, fun playing that's going on in your house, this is definitely a resource you want to look at. And you can check it out at the link up above or down below or wherever it shows up wherever you're watching this video.

I'm ToriAnn Perkey, and I'm here every week making these videos for you so that you can be a successful, confident homeschool mom.

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Creative writing curriculum alternative storymatic game review
Tell Tale Card Game Review - 3 Essential Writing Skills + Teach 1

3 Essential Writing Skills + Teach 1 with This Tell Tale Game {Review}

Ever feel frustrated because your kid doesn’t want to write?

Or do you wish you could simplify your language arts curriculum, save yourself some time, AND still produce great writers?

It’s totally possible to inspire a love of writing AND do it in less time and effort.

Because writing breaks down into THREE essential elements. And you can practice each element individually and to different degrees depending on what your child needs help with and what they are naturally good at.

What are these three essential elements that must be mastered in order to be a great writer?
Putting words on paper (or on a computer screen)
Getting content out of the brain in a coherent manner

Often, as moms, we try to lump all three of these skills together.

“Write down your ideas.”
“Let’s do a book report.”

But if your kid’s development in these three skills isn’t the same, they will struggle and get frustrated.

(For example, if they are FABULOUS at TELLING you a story, but they struggle to write the story down on paper!)

Being aware of each of these essential skills, and then tackling them individually, can sometimes be an excellent way to still develop great writers without all of the resistance.

Let’s break each of these skills down.

Putting Words on Paper

This is traditionally called “handwriting” and “typing.” The goal is for your kid to be able to legibly produce letters in some way.

For some kids, this comes so naturally. “Look mom! I just wrote the alphabet!”

They go from letters to printing sentences to cursive … and often they practice on their own because they love it. (It’s true … I had one, so I know it’s possible!)

However, there are other kids who putting pen to paper is HARD! Whether they struggle with some form of dysgraphia or they genuinely are just not interested, they have no interest in “practicing” how to write.

For these kids, breaking down the process of handwriting can be very very helpful. And practicing this skill IN ISOLATION makes it easier for them to learn what they need to learn.

My favorite resource for learning handwriting is Handwriting without Tears. We’ve been using this program with great success with my youngest this year!

Typing is also a valuable skill that you can teach young. We’ve used two different programs over the years.
Typing Instructor is a game that you install on your computer.
If your kid is a little older and you like FREE (who doesn’t?) and don’t mind a few ads, we’ve had great success with the online instruction of Typing Club this year.


If your kid can’t spell, they can’t communicate in writing very well.

I’ve learned over the years, it can be valuable to split spelling from content creation and handwriting. If your kid is struggling, isolating spelling allows them to focus on what they need help with without feeling the pressure to also produce something amazing.

My two favorite spelling curricula are:
Sequential Spelling (for my holistic, right-brained learners)
All about Spelling (for my logical, left-brained learners)

Content Creation

The last essential part of becoming a great writer is sharing great content.

Great content can be anything from an interesting story to a factual report to a summary of what your kid learned during the day.

Later in your kid’s schooling, writing will be how they organize and share their thoughts about what they are reading and learning. It’s one of the main ways others will assess how much they’ve understood and synthesized from a class.

I have found one of the ideal ways to prepare my kids to share great content is to encourage them to share their thoughts in an organized way as much as possible.

When kids are younger, one of the best ways to do this is through storytelling. Storytelling requires that a child structure their ideas (beginning, middle, and end) — AND emotionally connect with their ideas.

PLUS storytelling is FUN! So it’s much easier to get kids to practice when they are engaging in a storytelling game.

While there are many resources out there to help with storytelling, two of my favorites (because they are simple and easy) are:
Rory Story Cubes (See my previous review here.)
Tell Tale (see my video review below)
Handwriting, Spelling, Content Sharing — three essential skills.

As your kid works on writing, keeping each of these skills in mind will help you identify where the gaps or struggles are. You can focus on those … while still moving your kid’s ability to write forward.

If you want to check it out Tell Tale for your homeschool, CLICK here

Teach Writing with Rory Story Cubes Review - Let Your Imagination Roll

Teach Writing with Rory Story Cubes {Review}

One of my favorite little writing tools … easy to pull out. Easy to use. Lot’s of fun.

A writing staple for my homeschool.

Click HERE to check it out for your homeschool.