Through 72 video lessons, the Cover Story middle school Language Arts curriculum leads 6th-9th graders through the process of writing the content for their own magazine. By content, this course means written content, not photographs or page design. It is not a course in layout or publishing, though the last few lessons address these briefly.
Students create short stories, poems, nonfiction articles, letters and many other creative pieces over the course of one school year. Along the way, they are asked to think deeply about not just their theme and subject matter, but about writing as a creative act. For each type of writing, they are led through a process of brainstorming, outlining, and analyzing that is meant to carry over and expand into the next section.
At the end of the year, your student should have created enough written content for a magazine. Although it can be fun to typeset the finished work into a format suitable for color printing, it isn’t necessary for the course. However, we do strongly suggest that you print off your student’s finished works and put them in some sort of physical form he or she can hold in the hand. A three-ring binder is sufficient.
Types of Written Content
Poetry: Poem inspired by news story, acrostic, cinquain, haiku, limerick, senryu, found poem, free verse, and ballad.
Short Story (2)
Advice column (letter and response)
See also ‘How to Grade’ section on How to Use Cover Story page.
Grades are based on a point system. Points are awarded for four things:
Student Book lessons
Completed works (poems, short stories, etc.)
A few of the exercises have answer keys in the back of the Teacher’s Guide. The answer keys are not meant to provide every possible right answer. They are only there to show you the sort of answer you should be looking for. Creative writing isn’t a matter of right and wrong, but of better and worse. (For a full breakdown on points and grading rubrics, please see the Teacher’s Guide (pgs. 15–17.)
NOTE: The grammar component is not included in the regular grading scale, but can be added by awarding an additional point for every correct answer in each lesson. See the Teacher’s Guide (pg. 17).
Approach to Grading
Grading may be done at your convenience. However, we recommend teachers grade all the work for each unit at the end of the unit. This amounts to spending one or two hours each month when your student has completed all twelve unit lessons.
The main reason for grading at the end of a unit is that it allows your student(s) to be creative without feeling that they are being evaluated on their ideas. Many writing courses teach students to self-edit as they write. By separating the creative process from the analytical process, Cover Story helps students enjoy being creative. They need the freedom to jot down bad ideas as well as good ones, and that’s hard to do when someone is looking over your shoulder. Waiting till the end of the unit also allows students to change or expand answers as they progress, instead of feeling stuck with their previous answers because they have already been graded – which can be an extra obstacle to creativity.
Applying This to Groups
Our general suggestion to grade at the end of each unit is probably unrealistic for a group setting, considering how many students’ work you may have to evaluate. It is fine to grade more often, as long as you grade piece-by-piece rather than lesson-by-lesson. We recommend allowing students a gap of time between handing in a creative piece and receiving feedback on it—we suggest at least one week. It is much easier for students to be objective about their creative writing pieces after they have some emotional distance.
Cover Story students read poems, classic short stories, and articles (printed in the Student Book), but the program does not involve reading any novel-length books. The assigned readings/poems are:
“The Ransom of Red Chief” – O. Henry
“The Interlopers” – Saki
“The Lady, or the Tiger” – Frank R. Stockton
“The Information Conspiracy” – Daniel Schwabauer
“The Most Dangerous Game” – Richard Connell
“The Necklace” – Guy de Maupassant
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” – A. Bierce
“The Sniper” – Liam O’Flaherty
“Waltzing Matilda” – by Banjo Paterson
“The Streets of Laredo”
“November Night” and “Triad,” poems by Adelaide Crapsey
A few haiku by Soseki and Kato Shuso
If you would like to supplement with a reading list, one suggestion would be to look for books along a theme similar to the theme students pick for their magazine. For instance, if your student decides to write magazine content about gardening, assign books that involve a garden or farming in some way, or if the theme they choose is wilderness camping, assign books about outdoor adventures.
Throughout the school year, we run five contests based on writing assignments in Cover Story. For further details and dates, please see Contests.
About the Instructor
Daniel Schwabauer, M.A., is editor of Crosswind Comics and creator of The One Year Adventure Novel, Byline, and Cover Story writing programs. His professional work includes stage plays, radio scripts, short stories, newspaper columns, comic books and scripting for the PBS animated series Auto-B-Good. Daniel’s young adult novels, Runt the Brave and Runt the Hunted, have received numerous awards, including the 2005 Ben Franklin Award for Best New Voice in Children’s Literature and the 2008 Eric Hoffer Award. The series culminates with The Curse of the Seer. He graduated from the University of Kansas Master’s program in Creative Writing in 1995. He lives in Olathe, Kansas, with his wife.
The Lesson Table is only available in PDF format. It shows lesson topics and creative pieces the students write. It breaks the lessons down to show you natural breaking points in the course. If you don’t plan to cover 3 video lessons per week or if you have to plan around trips or holidays, these natural breaking points should help you choose good places to pause.