Saturday, January 17, 2009

Write Shop Story Builders, a TOS Homeschool Crew Review

Children with autism often have challenges with comprehension of meaning, both spoken and unspoken, and related to that, challenges with imagination and creation of novel storylines. My child with autism is no exception, and I am always looking for ways to help us practice and grow in those areas. And I am always looking for resources that allow me to build competence and confidence as teacher and guide with my daughter, and Story Builders are products that meet all of those criteria!! (I have really enjoyed these cards!)

I was introduced to Write Shop's Story Builders when I was given a story builder last spring as one of many free gifts that came with a new subscription to TOS magazine. I signed up for their e-newsletter at that time. I got so many free gifts w/ the magazine subscription that I downloaded a bunch of them and forgot about them as summer arrived and we took a break from homeschooling. In downloading them and forgetting about them, I missed some wonderful opportunities to work on story creation, story telling, and imagination throughout the summer and fall.

Write Shop returned to my radar screen again in December, when the company sent a freebie, a holiday mini-story builder, inside their e-newsletter. I promptly downloaded and printed that one onto plain copy paper and my daughter and I plopped ourselves on the floor and created several stories. I was hooked, which sent me looking for the free story builder I'd been given in the spring w/ that subscription. Ironically, Write Shop signed on with the TOS Homeschool Crew, and I was offered story builders to use and review, World of People and World of Animals. There is a sports-themed story builder available as well.

Story Builders are e-books that you print at home. Each page contains eight cards and each card holds a different word or phrase. Words and phrases fall into one of four categories that "provide students with the basic elements of a story—character, character trait, setting, and plot". Each set of cards is offered TWO ways, one in black and white, for printing on colored paper or card stock, and another version where the text is different colors by category (character, character trait, setting, plot) for printing on white paper or card stock. The "animals" and "people" story builders come with some blank cards so that you can add new words and phrases, as well. Because they look like a game, they don't immediately send off "SCHOOLWORK" signals to my daughter.

The full-size story builders contain 192 cards formatted two ways (b&w or color) and cost $7.95 each. (You print just one of the two sets, either the color set or the b&w set.) There are enough words and phrases, story pieces to build many stories, and you could combine the sets if you choose.

Obviously, there are other costs involved, whether you print them at home or take them to an office supply store to have printed. I printed the first set (the holiday mini) on plain paper, and immediately added card stock to my shopping list. Copy paper is too thin in my opinion, and the card stock is sturdier and easier to handle. I found a better deal on card stock at a warehouse club than at a craft store, although the warehouse club offered only white card stock, while the craft store offered a variety of colors. There is also a little bit of "assembly" time involved, as someone must cut out all of those cards! (I've done a lot of cutting this school year between the spelling program and Story Builders! I'm considering the purchase of a cutter at this point.)

I chose to sit on the floor with my daughter to "play" with the cards--it looks less like "school" that way. We've experimented with them a lot, using some of the ideas that Write Shop includes with each Story Builder, and using some of our own. We've spread them out around us by category and built the story that we wanted, carefully choosing the right cards. We've chosen cards blindly and built crazy stories, too.

I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter brought a notebook and marker to our story building time in order to write down some of the story. She typically resists handwriting and copywork, and yet, she enjoyed our story so much that she wanted to write down some of the words! ;)
I applied to beta test one of Write Shop's products after spending some time on their web site. I am impressed with everything I've seen. They prepare their products with both development and guided participation in mind. Spend some time on the "support" section of their web site--there are helpful articles there and links to discussion groups, also. If you look along the side of my blog, you'll see a list of blogs that I follow. Write Shop's blog, "In Our Write Minds", is one of them. Be sure to check out the links on the side of THEIR blog -- they introduced me to some wonderful resources!

Go to the TOS freebie page, where you'll find a link to free samples from Write Shop, including a sample of a Story Builder.

Story Builders have become another of my favorites, because the products are simple to use and they scaffold the teaching process for me so that I can scaffold the learning and discovery process for my daughter. I hope you like them, too!
Check out other TOS Homeschool Crew reviews here.

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