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Review of “Cover Story” Middle School Writing Curriculum

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CoverStory review

I am so excited to share about my new favorite curriculum: Cover Story!  Have you ever heard of the One Year Adventure Novel curriculum for high schoolers?  I have been waiting for years to use that, but my kids still aren’t old enough.  So, when I found out that the same writer wrote a curriculum for middle school students I just had to check it out!  (You might even find it cheaper on Amazon: “Cover Story”)

Cover Story is written by Daniel Schwabauer.


What you get when you order it is:

1.  A Set of 7 DVDs (72 writing lessons and 12 optional grammar lessons)

2. Student Book (272 pages)

3.  Teacher Guide (147 pages)

4. Hardback Journal (219 pages)



How to use the curriculum:

Cover Story is for middle school, grades 6th-9th, ages 11-15. It is meant to be a full-year curriculum and is DVD-Teacher led.  Parents will only be needed to check the student’s work once a month (for about 1-2 hours at a time, using all the helps in the Teacher’s Guide).  Kids will watch 3 DVD lessons per week, do the corresponding workbook assignments, and write in the journal 5 days a week for 24 weeks.

What will be accomplished:

Students will be guided through learning to write a wide variety of genres–short stories, different types of poems, reviews, letters, blog posts, non-fiction articles, etc.  The units are constantly changing, and this along with short lessons and daily writing helps kids stay motivated and see progress!  All of these different types of writing will be related to a theme of the student’s own choosing and will be combined together at the end of the school-year into their very own magazine!


Why I liked it:

Daniel Schwabauer knows how to get and keep kids of middle school age engaged.  He’s funny, as well as smart, and the DVD lessons contain a variety of scene changes, including clips from movies!  Daniel also often wears different costumes, especially related to the theme of steampunk.  If you don’t know what that is, you’ll have to watch it!

I also like that he teaches it instead of me.  Teaching writing is not a skill I have, so it’s important to have a good writing teacher teach my kids.

I’m really excited about using Cover Story because I’m pretty confident both of my boys will like it.  They did not do well with another well-known curriculum we tried using this year.


How we will be using it:

We will be using this curriculum next year (starting in September) with my two oldest boys in 7th and 8th grade.  We are also considering doing it with our homeschool co-op.

More Details:

The optional Grammar DVD is also taught by Daniel in a fun manner.  There are 12 lessons on one DVD which cover topics such as subjects and predicates, run ons and fragments, commas, and apostrophes.  This is extremely helpful for those who haven’t mastered important grammar concepts before.  However, they are optional if you don’t need them.

The Journal is entitled The Remarkable Journal of Professor Gunther von Steuben.  It’s not just a blank journal where the kids have to come up with their own ideas of what to write each day, but it has a running storyline through it to help the kids write.

Cover Story 001


Cover Story 002


Watch 3 sample DVD lessons and download the written student pages here!


It is now April 2015.  We have not been as consistent as I would have hoped we would be with this curriculum.  It still love it, though.  My 7th grade son and 5th grade daughter are doing it.  They won’t finish this year, so we’ll start up with it again next fall.  It ended up not working for my oldest son, so he’s been writing other types of papers I assign to him.  The other two kids think Cover Story is great.  🙂  See if you can find it on Amazon: “Cover Story” Student Book.


A reader wrote to tell me that she had found some troubling aspects of the curriculum that I haven’t gotten to yet. See below for her review.

“The massacre in Sudan is covered in Lessons 19 and 20. The video on 19 begins with a horrible story about a boy whose family was massacred and the story of how he got away is quite disturbing. I know another 7th grader who quit using the curriculum after that lesson because he was so upset by it. Lesson 20 video I completely summarized for my son – also in 7th grade. I was sorry even I had to listen to it. Though quite a wonderful story of God working in a terrible situation, it was also quite disturbing – with tribal type people and their barbaric customs, how they carry and use machine guns, etc.

Unfortunately, I missed something on the videos and my son ended up hearing part of something I didn’t want him to hear. I’m not sure exactly where that was, but It’s somewhere between lesson 21 and 23. You may want to preview that part. That was more reference to the tribe in Sudan and some violence there.

The other disturbing things I mentioned have all been found in the stories that are included in the workbook. The story about the princess choosing the fate of her lover is The Lady, or the Tiger – found after Lesson 36. Be aware an excerpt from this story is also shown in Lesson 39 of the workbook.

The story about the guy hanging is called An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge – after Lesson 56.

The story of the Sniper is simply called The Sniper. This is filled with a guy shooting people and eventually killing his own brother, another sniper. This is after Lesson 58.

There’s another story, which I didn’t mention but recently read after Lesson 51 – called The Most Dangerous Game. This is about a sick guy who became a master hunter and since he no longer had a challenge with animals, he began to hunt people in a sort of sick trap he set up on an island.

Excerpts from many of the stories are also found in Lesson 60 of the workbook.

I’m still going through the videos myself. I don’t remember exactly why, but I also made myself a note that Lesson 38 video is only okay up to the time 8:26 of the video. There may have been a reference to one of the stories. Lesson 39 will be omitted in our household as well – not due to violence but because it talks about King David’s sin with Bathsheba in the Bible.

Also, on Lesson 40, right in the middle of the video, there is just a short segment of a few seconds between 4:16-4:30 where the teacher tells the horrific story of someone he knew as a child who was forced to dig his own grave before his brother gunned him down.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of violence in this curriculum. I was very disappointed, especially since the curriculum contains plenty of great material and would have been a stellar program if different literature was chosen.”

Back to me:

We stopped using it last year, but we are continuing with Cover Story with my 8th grade son and 6th grade daughter. As we go further through the curriculum, I’ll be back to post more updates.


(Disclosure: I received a complimentary set of Cover Story, as well as monetary compensation in order to write this honest review. This post contains affiliate links.)

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  2. This sounds really great! I’m glad you have found something you think will suit your family well. Thanks for sharing! (I’ll keep it in mind for when my kids are a few years older =)

  3. This does look good! My kids aren’t there yet, but it looks like an interesting idea.

  4. Parents should be aware that this curriculum contains quite a bit of violent references and stories. For instance, there is an account of a massacre in Sudan, a barbaric story in which a princess must choose whether her love is violently killed or given to be married to another woman whom she despises, a story of a sniper picking people off only to end up killing his own brother, a hanging, and more. While I enjoy the teacher’s DVDs when he is doing creative or funny skits, and I do think he covers a good range of story writing elements, I am really disappointed at the amount of violence shared. I’m sure there are many wonderful stories that could’ve demonstrated the necessary writing elements without so much disturbing reading.

  5. Our homeschool co-op group is thinking abou t doing Cover Story for this fall. In regards to the violence and “darkness” involved in this curriculum, do think it is severe enough to switch? How often does the violence really occur and how explicit is it? Thank you.

    1. I haven’t gone through the entire curriculum yet. I haven’t even listened to the lessons where he discusses those stories. But I did look at them in the student book. I really do think it will be fine for junior high aged kids. My boy certainly did read those types of issues in their literature class this year. I just don’t want my fifth-grade daughter. I do still plan to use it in a couple more years.

  6. Honestly, while I appreciate the heads up for the tough topics mentioned in some of the stories, it seems to me that middle school aged children *should* be learning about such things. When I was in middle school I learned all about the horrors that slaves endured on their trip to America. I also learned about the Waco, Texas event, the Holocaust, American lynch mobs, and other true life horrors. Not to mention learning all about the Egyptians and their pagan beliefs. And I see absolutely nothing wrong with any of that as part of a middle school education.

    Additionally, while I emphasize the difference between fact and fiction in our Christian home, I do not wish to raise my children in a cultural bubble. It seems to me that learning about the atrocities of our world can only engender awareness and compassion in our children when any fears are properly addressed by the parents. Children raised to be unaware of the horrors wrought by sin cannot be prepared to face them as adults, nor fully understand the struggles of those strangers they may meet in life. How can we raise children with a desire to change the world if they do not see that anything is wrong in it? Consider the maturity levels of your students, by all means, but do not shield them from life. And honestly, if a typical middle school student doesn’t understand the story behind David and Bathsheba… something is missing in their education.

    In short, I see absolutely nothing wrong or disappointing in the stories chosen by the Cover Story curriculum.

    1. Thank you for your wise words!
      We did do more of the book, though we ran out of time and didn’t complete it. I wasn’t worried about the content.

  7. “Cover Story” has tremendous potential (Gunther, stodor, curiosity, visual DVD’s…) — it immediately engages the student and initially motivates. However, as both a homeschool mom and a middle/high school English teacher, I feel it lacks sufficient writing instruction (how to… needed to ensure success) , fails to provide excellent written ideas and samples as a framework to guide students and give them a stable framework for creativity (to keep them motivated), and requires much “teacher” supplements and time to make it truly usable and effective…. and thus, causes students to possibly lose motivation and give up We began using it with our very creative 6th grader… but, he is frustrated because of insufficient guidance to get him started. Like handing a student a blank piece of paper and telling them to write… With added ideas to get a writer started and resources to clarify to give them a framework for success, this could be a great curriculum… but as it is now, it fails to give sufficient direction to unleash creativity and ensure motivating success.

    1. Thank you for sharing that helpful perspective, Kelly.

  8. Did you ever finish the curriculum? I’m thinking about using it, but was hoping you’d post a follow-up. If not, what did you switch to?

    1. We did do a lot of it, but like other curricula, I didn’t feel stressed to complete it and we didn’t. This year, my new middle schooler is using IEW ( at our homeschool co-op.

  9. I would LOVE to hear a comparison of Cover Story and IEW, since we are considering these for my 6th grader.

    1. I never did finish Cover Story. I have done more with IEW, though. It’s really hard to compare them because they are different approaches. Cover Story is really fun with the way the teacher presents the material in the videos. IEW is very sequential, and you keep doing the same types of work year after year with different source material. Both are good!

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