With its engaging instructions, clear materials and highly systematic method of writing, IEW can give students a ready framework that can produce high quality and often quite impressive writing.
While not everyone agrees with its by the numbers method of teaching writing, for many parents, particularly those of reluctant or disorganized writers, IEW can be a real boon and a strong asset in their child’s academic toolbox.
What We Like
But watch out for…
What Is The Institute For Excellence in Writing (IEW)?
Founded in 1995 by former teacher Andrew Pudewa, the Institute for Excellence in Writing (or IEW) is a company that produces a variety of material for K-12 English language arts instruction.
IEW is perhaps best known for its flagship writing program, Structure and Style, the subject of this review.
Using a combination of video, workbooks, charts, graphic organizers and more, Structure and Style provides parents with a systematic, multistep approach that can be used to help students learn to write more effectively and confidently.
What Ages or Grades Are IEW Programs Intended For?Age range
IEW’s writing series, Structure and Style, is officially designed for students in grades 3-12.
Unlike many other writing programs out there, however, Structure and Style is structured a bit differently.
Rather than creating books targeting a specific grade level or age, its series of books are designed to fit a range of grades and are simply entitled A, B and C.
Broadly speaking, level A covers grades 3-5, level B covers 6–8 and Level C covers 9-12.
Each of these levels is then further divided into a couple different years, i.e. level A Year 1 & 2, level B Year 1 & 2 and level C 1 & 2, with each level and year building upon the previous and slowly increasing in complexity.
That said, the age ranges provided for Structure and Style are mainly recommendations based on reading skill and presumed experience.
The program and its books can, of course, be used by students outside the company’s recommended range, such as by precocious readers and writers or struggling students who need to brush up on the basics.
In fact, by organizing its curriculum in this manner, with levels covering ranges of grades, we feel IEW can be a pretty good fit for homeschooling students learning outside a typical age progression.
In particular, with no obvious reference to grade on the cover of the student packets, those who are a bit behind grade level are less likely to feel embarrassed, something we always appreciate in a curriculum.
One thing that can be an issue for some parents, particularly those switching into the program from another, is the fact that IEW does not have a placement test for Structure and Style (the program does have one for its spelling program, the Phonetic Zoo, however).
As a result it can be a bit tricky for parents to know where to start with the program and they will have to examine each potentially relevant level and make a judgment call based on their student’s skill and ability.
What’s Required To Teach IEW Structure and Style
Formerly known as Student Writing Intensive (SWI), the Institute for Excellence in Writing has updated its course in recent years and now refers to it a little more simply as Structure and Style for Students (SSS).
This is the main program that students and parents follow in order to use and learn the IEW writing process.
In addition, there are seminar-style videos and materials for parents, known as Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, and some optional items that parents can buy to fill out the program or that IEW may include with more premium subscriptions, such as:
- Fix it Grammar
- Portable Walls
- and A Word Write Now
Structure and Style for Students
The core of Structure and Style for Students is a bundle of learning material that includes:
- 24 video lessons
- A student packet with relevant charts, checklists and handouts for each lesson
- A sturdy binder
- And a teachers manual for parents
Available as streaming video or DVD, SSS includes twenty-four lessons of about a half hour to an hour each at each level that are designed to cover about 24 weeks or so of lessons.
These video lessons are aimed at the student and are taught by the founder of the company, Andrew Pudewa.
They take the format of a small classroom with Mr. Pudwea standing at the front of a class and using whiteboards and props, alternately lecturing to and interacting with the students as he goes.
By and large, we feel that Mr. Pudwea does an excellent job at teaching, managing to convey writing concepts in an entertaining and engaging manner, which is no mean feat.
He summarizes information and presents the methodology very clearly and in a step by step way, minimizing the use of confusing jargon and breaking complex concepts so that students can easily understand them but without dumbing down the material to reach students, which is nice.
Along the way he also uses a good deal of humor, filling his lectures with jokes.
A short example of his engaging teaching style can be seen below.
Parents should keep in mind that, although interesting and informative, the Student Structure and Style videos are full lectures.
At 30-60 minutes, they can be a bit long for some students.
While they are typically broken up over a couple lessons a week, depending on their child’s attention span, parents may have to institute breaks or otherwise monitor students to prevent them from zoning out and missing key information.
Streaming or DVD?
While IEW was traditionally taught to students via a set of DVDs, they’ve recently updated their service to provide access to streaming video.
This brings IEW into the streaming era and disentangles parents from the need for discs and other scratchable, displaceable or otherwise destructible media.
This can, of course, be a great option for parents with access to high speed internet as students can take their learning wherever they go without the need for a DVD player, i.e. they will be able to IEW lectures on tablets and other mobile devices.
Streaming isn’t an ideal option for every homeschool family, however.
Some homeschooling families may be located in areas with spottier or slower internet, while others may be uncomfortable leaving their students with an internet connected device.
Helpfully, IEW still offers Student Structure and Style lectures on DVD as an alternative, something that is a bit rare with modern curricula but that can be quite welcome.
Student Packet And Binder
In Structure and Style for Students, students receive their very own packet of material that includes various texts, hands outs, charts, checklists and other printed items that they use each week as part of their learning.
Students also receive weekly lesson plans to help them follow along and keep them on track, which we like as it can help them become more independent, active participants in their learning.
To help keep them organized, IEW also offers students a system they can use to keep things neat and tidy.
In addition to the packet of educational material, students receive a binder to store them in, overview pages to place at the front of each unit and instructions on where and how to organize each section of the binder as they go along.
Students even get little tabs that they can place on each overview page, which stick out for easy access later.
By and large, the student packets are pretty straightforward and laid out for students, guiding them through both the video and parent-led components of the program.
These consumable pages lay out weekly goals, offer suggested daily lesson plans, provide writing source texts for modeling and even have color coded organizers, frameworks and other resources to make things easy to find and use.
That said, they are mostly black and white and contain only a few illustrations here and there in the source text, so they aren’t the most intrinsically interesting material for students to look at for long periods of time.
Also, as looseleaf papers rather than a booklet, they do require parents and students to stay a little neater and more organized throughout the year, although the Structure and Style teacher’s manual does have pretty precise instructions on how to set up and maintain the student binder.
Teacher’s Manual and Binders
Much like other homeschool programs, the Structure and Style program provides parents with a teacher’s manual.
This is a spiral bound book that includes pretty much everything a parent needs to guide a student through the course.
They include copies of student packets, the various charts and handouts that students will be using in each lesson, information about what they need to prepare as teachers, literature suggestions, differentiation ideas and even board notes, which are diagrams of whatever was written on the whiteboard during that particular lesson’s video.
Parents also receive notes and tips for teaching certain concepts and things to look out for as well as references to relevant sections of the supplementary seminars and Fix it Grammar, which can be quite helpful.
Finally, parents also receive various checklists and rubrics to use when correcting student work.
For the most part, the teacher’s manuals are pretty straightforward and easy to follow.
They are quite well scripted, although they don’t offer a complete word-for-word dialogue to follow, they do provide clear and understandable directions that we feel can guide even new homeschooling parents through lessons, the writing process and assessment without much of an issue.
That said, there isn’t a huge amount of background information, troubleshooting or direct concept instruction in the manuals, however, as the program largely relies on its use of seminar videos to get parents up to speed with the program’s methodology and teaching.
Teaching Writing: Structure and Style
In addition to its teacher’s manual, IEW also offers a set of seminar style videos to help parents learn to more effectively teach their students to write using the IEW system, which it calls Teaching Writing: Structure and Style.
These videos go through the IEW framework in its entirety and give parents ample opportunity to try the program out themselves with source texts and exercises.
Along the way, in addition to learning IEW’s structural approach to writing and how it’s applied, the seminars also offer parents an explanation of each step and component’s purpose, including its approaches and strategies for teaching and getting students to follow through properly as well as common problems students have and ways to address them.
Like the student videos,Teaching Writing is taught by Andrew Pudewa.
Throughout the seminar lectures, Mr. Pudewa retains a humorous and energetic style that keeps things from getting too boring and he explains teaching concepts in a straightforward, common sense manner that we appreciate.
The seminars also take place in a studio in front of an audience of parents, which gives it a different feeling than other similar programs that often have a lecturer talking to a camera.
The seminars themselves touch on a variety of topics, from the IEW methodology itself to specific ways of implementing the program and teaching proper writing such as paragraph construction, editing and referencing.
There are even recorded demonstrations of parents using IEW techniques to teach concepts to students, which can actually be very informative and helpful for new homeschooling parents.
Teaching Writing also comes with a notebook for parents to follow along with that includes notes, texts and samples, teaching suggestions and tips and various resources that parents can look into or use, which is kind of cool.
On the downside, while comprehensive and informative, Teaching Writing is a pretty long program.
Altogether parents have about 20 or so hours of video to go through, about 14 hours of teacher training and about 5.5 hours of writing demonstration and analysis that cover a variety of levels.
While parents won’t necessarily have to go through these videos all at once – they will also be directed to specific videos each week from the teacher’s manuals to prepare for those lessons- it can mean that parents will have to budget up to an hour or more or prep time per week to stay on top of things, something that’s not always so easy for busier homeschools.
In addition, Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is an extra cost that parents will have to purchase on top of Student Structure and Style, which can be an issue for those with an already stretched budget.
Do Parents Really Need The Teaching Structure And Style Seminars?
Strictly speaking, parent’s don’t need the seminar series to use IEW, as the SSS videos do an excellent job at explaining writing concepts pretty clearly to students (and their parents).
On the whole, however, we feel that many parents should take the seminars.
As they explain IEW’s methodology and writing concepts, offer a wide variety of teaching tips and tricks and actually model and demonstrate best practices with real parent/student interactions, they can be an excellent resource for parents who are new to homeschooling, particularly those new to language arts.
They can also be a particularly good resource for parents who are a little less certain of their ability to teach a student to write clearly and understandably in an academic setting.
That said, parents who do have significant experience teaching language arts can probably get along without it, but may want to try it anyway as it will help them stay on the same page curriculum-wise as their student.
Complementary IEW Products for Teaching Structure and Style
While Structure and Style for Students is an excellent way to teach students a systematic way of approaching writing, its main focus is just that.
While it does touch on things like vocabulary, spelling and grammar to some degree, the program doesn’t really dive into the topics that are required of a more comprehensive language arts program.
To help fill in some of these gaps, IEW offers a variety of other programs that can be purchased and used to provide supplemental learning in a variety of language arts subjects.
Fix it! Grammar
Fix it! Grammar is the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s own grammar supplement that is designed to work with their Structure and Style program.
In fact, within Structure and Style’s parents manual are periodic references to relevant sections of Fix it! Grammar that parents can use to quickly build a more integrated language arts lesson.
Unlike traditional grammar programs that are more passively taught, with students filling in blanks or answering questions, Fix it! Grammar takes a more active learning approach, that is actually quite interesting.
Students are presented with a short text and then, working with the text, they learn to identify grammatical elements, defining vocabulary words, finding punctuation, and identifying stylistic elements.
They then proceed to correct the presented text, picking out errors, making stylistic changes or even rewriting it completely.
Much like Structure and Style, Fix it! Grammar builds upon itself and becomes more challenging as students progress, tackling more complex grammatical concepts and written works.
It also provides ample material with clear and highly instructive student and parent guides, as well as a variety of grammar cards to work with that act as reviews.
Although students can use Fix it! Grammar on its own, when combined with Structure and Style, really reinforces many of the techniques they learn in that program and gives students a greater opportunity to practice their techniques by improving texts with dress ups, openers and decorations.
Overall, there are about six different Fix it! Grammar books available, each of which is designed to cover 33 weeks of grammar instruction with short, 15 minute or so lessons.
Each book lets students work with a different classic story (The Nose Tree, Robin Hood, the Frog Prince, the Little Mermaid, Chanticleer and Sir Gaewin and the Green Knight), which not only keeps the work fresh and progressively challenging, but exposes students to classic literature as well, which we loved.
Phonetic Zoo (aka Excellence in Spelling)
Aimed at students 9+, the Phonetic Zoo supplement adds a spelling component to IEW’s writing solutions.
Unlike Fix it! Grammar, however, the Phonetic Zoo is more of a stand alone program and so there are no references or notes for it in Structure and Style.
A phonics-based spelling program, with Phonetic Zoo students students listen to words that are first pronounced and then used in a sentence and then write them down, doing their best to spell them correctly,
To help out, the program offers a variety of memorable rhyming riddles they call “jingles” to help students remember key spelling and/or letter combinations, reminding us somewhat of Shurley English and its method of grammar instruction.
For example concerning the use of AI vs. AY, the program states “AI as in claim or chain it comes in the middle as in train and pain.”
While they are pretty cute, these jingles are really designed to be memorable so that students will recall them when necessary, or at least think about them before attempting to spell something confusing.
Phonetic Zoo also includes a variety of cards upon which students find spelling pictures, rules and hints.
These act as sort of like crib notes, designed to be a way to review concepts before or after lessons and can be quite helpful for students who have trouble remembering the program’s various spelling rules.
Overall, Phonetic Zoo is a spelling program that is quite well-suited to independent learning. It is quite easy to use and doesn’t require much in the way of parental oversight most of the time, and is particularly well suited to auditory learners.
That said, its methodology does require a good degree of concentration from the student (as well as a quiet place to study in), and it’s important to keep in mind that not every student learns best by simply listening, so the method may not be the best idea for every student.
Primary Arts of Language
In general, most of the material IEW provides is aimed at students in grade 3 and up as this is when writing really becomes more central to a child’s learning.
However, IEW does offer a solution for helping parents with early reading and writing in the form of their Primary Arts of Language program (PAL).
Aimed at grades K-2, the program splits up its reading and writing components into two distinct modules, Primary Arts of Language: Reading and Primary Arts of Language: Writing.
Primary Arts of Language: Reading
Primary Arts of Language: Reading is a phonics based reading program designed to help students learn to read.
Like other IEW programs, it provides video instructions for parents on how to use and teach with the program, as well as a variety of lesson plans that can help structure learning.
Primary Arts of Language: Reading uses a combination of poetry text and phonics games to teach students essential reading skills.
The basis of the texts are selected poetry and this is where students get things like letters, letter combinations and letter sounds to work with.
The use of poetry has two effects – it is easier for young students to remember and it is far more entertaining for them to listen to.
Where this program really differs from other phonics programs is in the extent of its hands-on learning activities that are included.
The program is filled with activities that involve drawing, cutting, pasting and coloring and it uses them to teach various aspects of reading, so it is quite multisensory in nature and can appeal to students with different learning styles.
For example, students might build letters out of sticks or paper or make and place letter sound stickers in a “phonics farm.”
As they grow more confident in their phonics skills, students can then begin to tackle printable leveled readers and reading cards, which they use to begin to decode words, before moving on to simple books.
Primary Arts of Language: Writing
An early writing skills course, Primary arts of Language: Writing can either be used with Primary Arts of Language: Reading or as a stand alone program.
As you might expect from IEW, Primary Arts of Language: Writing teaches fundamental writing skills to young students in a very structured manner.
It is made up of a three stage process: printing, copywork and composition.
Stage One: Printing
To start off with, students work on the very basics of writing, printing out letters, numbers and basic words by hand, as well as learning to spell and write down words from phonics.
This stage actually bit beyond simple printing and has parents begin to develop key IEW outlining skills such as helping students identify key points of a story and helping them come up with story summaries.
Stage Two: Copywork
While this stage is called copywork, really the second stage of Primary Arts of Writing involves developing spelling, punctuation and very basic style techniques. It also begins to get students started narrating and retelling stories themselves.
Stage 3: Composition
In the final stage of the program, students begin to write short sentences and work on their spelling, outlining and style in order to create their own works.
Taken as a whole, the different stages that make up Primary Arts of Language: Writing tend to map the IEW methodology of Structure and Style, albeit in a more simplified way.
As such, we feel it can act as a pretty good lead into the main IEW program. getting students to write in a more structured and purposeful way from the get go.
In addition to their courses, IEW traditionally offered the ability to buy classroom wall posters containing items that can help students with their writing at a glance.
These included word lists, dress ups and decorations and more, and encompassed the general idea that if students got stuck they can get inspired while they are staring off into the distance and thinking.
As not every parent is a fan of posters, and not every student is a fan of covering their walls with writing related posters, IEW created small, three-panel folding printouts that contain the material covered by the poster but in a more convenient and portable form for home use.
These act as a resource and almost a little cheat sheet for students to use while they are writing, which is kind of cool.
IEW’s Approach To Teaching Writing
Rather than use a textbook or rely on a parent’s ability to convey a lesson, IEW’s Structure and Style largely begins each lesson with instructional videos that directly teach students important concepts and examples in writing.
As we’ve mentioned previously, these videos are hosted by the company founder, Mr. Pudewa, and generally serve to introduce, discuss and teach students various structural models and ideas, such as sentence and paragraph structure, essays, events, stylistic flourishes, and so on, as well as essential grammar, vocabulary and even spelling.
Other than making learning writing a little more engaging and enjoyable for students, as with programs like Essentials in Writing, Structure and Style can reduce the burden on parents of teaching writing techniques and strategies to their students, allowing them to step back into more of a guidance, oversight and administrative role.
This approach can be quite effective and a good option for busier and time-poor parents who may simply not have the time to directly teach full lessons to their children, as well as new homeschoolers and those uncertain about their own writing skill and knowledge.
That said, as with other video-based approaches, Student Structure and Style videos can increase the amount of screen time a student is exposed to per week by quite a bit (30 minutes or more).
Similarly, as we’ve mentioned previously, although Mr. Pudewa uses a lot of humor and has a high-energy approach, the videos can be a bit long for some students even if they are split in half over the course of a week.
Systematic approach to writing
Structure and Style, as the name might imply, teaches students to write in a very systematic and organized manner.
In other words, Structure and Style teaches explicitly students particular structures and methods for writing, taking them through the process of brainstorming, planning, putting their ideas to paper and editing in a very organized and repeatable manner.
From how many words to put in a title to what the topics of each individual paragraph in a particular written work should be, there are a lot of detailed formulas and charts that really guide students through their writing.
This method of teaching writing can be very beneficial.
One of the biggest problems students can have when writing, especially reluctant writers, is that while they may have exceptional comprehension skills, when they are tasked with writing something they may not know where to start and may freeze or panic.
Perhaps worse, they may begin jotting down their thoughts and ideas in a disorganized, dissembling manner.
By giving students a very structured way of approaching writing, Structure and Style can prevent and/or help with a lot of these problems.
For students who tend to verbosity or run on writing, IEW gives them an almost reflexive way of structuring their thoughts and can help reign in the chaos.
For students who are more reluctant to write or who lock up, the approach will get them writing (which is often the hardest part) by slowly drawing it out of them.
They start by recreating texts in their own words from basic notes, exposing them to a variety of writing styles as they go, until they reach the point where they are comfortable enough and experienced enough at writing to use this same methodology to create their own work from scratch when faced with a blank page.
On a more conceptual level, IEW’s more methodical approach strengthens the idea of writing as a structured and systematic process, making sure that students always follow a step by step process and are not just diving right into writing even as they get more comfortable writing.
On the downside, of course, structured methods can feel overly formulaic or constraining to some parents, with the use of charts, organizers and models being a bit much for parents who favor more freewriting or creative approaches to the writing process.
Structure and Style is also a pretty incremental writing program.
As they go through each course, students are slowly taught to formulate their ideas, discuss them, create a summary and so on until they are ready to create and submit a piece of writing.
In writing assignments, too, IEW uses what it calls “EZ+1” (Easy plus one).
The idea is to avoid overloading a student with new information and challenges by only giving them one new stylistic technique or skill at time.
In this way, parents are encouraged to assign challenges to students that are largely made up of techniques or skills that the student is already familiar with and adding a single element on their checklist (decorations, markups, openers and so on) that is new or that they struggle with.
In this way, student’s don’t feel quite as overloaded or intimidated by their assignments and challenges in IEW as they might otherwise.
Similarly, and more broadly speaking, each unit and lesson in the program actually builds upon the previous until students have developed a strong foundation and framework that they can comfortably use in their writing.
Interestingly the process restarts for each level, such that regardless of grade level students will review the main concepts and then add to them.
This process has several benefits.
As each level covers the same overall structure and writing styles, it lets students continually refresh their memories and improve their skills at certain types of writing.
If students end the year a little weaker in one type of writing they will encounter it again later and be able to work on it again.
Finally, with each level covering a lot of the same material but adjusted for grade difficulty, it makes it a little easier for parents and students switching into the program at any grade point to orient themselves since each level starts from zero knowledge.
How It Works
IEW’s Structure and Style for Students is designed to be covered in 24 weeks.
Given the amount of material and the slower pace of drafting, writing and editing, many homeschoolers may find the 24 week week pace ambitious or even strenuous for their students.
To their credit, IEW does offer suggestions to help parents create a longer schedule of about 30 weeks, which we feel is a bit more achievable.
The lessons themselves are generally based around a full week (4 or 5 days) of learning and tend to follow a particular format.
Parents usually start the week by watching or reviewing materials from Teaching Writing: Structure and Style and reviewing any key notes from the teacher’s manual.
Students, on the other hand, begin by watching a video and then are introduced to the text that they’ll work with that week before turning to their student packet under the guidance of their parent, who works out of their teacher’s manual.
These packets outline the specific goals for that week and generally follow a particular pattern where students read and discuss a particular model text before working on the writing process, whether that is creating an outline, summary, draft or editing an assignment, over the next few days.
Usually at the end of each lesson, Structure and Style lesson plans will direct students to relevant units in Fix It! Grammar to supplement the video learning with more focused grammar exercises and review.
The Structure and Style Writing Process
As mentioned in the section above, Structure and Style takes a very distinct, systematic and structured approach to teaching students to write.
In essence, IEW gives students a writing framework and methodology that they can use to tackle their writing assignments and activities in a more organized, step by step way.
Students slowly develop this framework as they go sequentially through nine units that form the core of this approach.
The nine structural units make up the IEW writing method are as follows:
|Unit 1: Note Making and Outlines|
|Unit 2: Writing from Notes|
|Unit 3: Retelling Narrative Stories|
|Unit 4: Summarizing a Reference|
|Unit 5: Writing from Pictures|
|Unit 6: Summarizing Multiple References|
|Unit 7: Inventive Writing|
|Unit 8: Formal Essay Models|
|Unit 9: Formal Critique|
The first thing that students learn in IEW, and what can be argued is the most fundamental part of the IEW process, is developing Key Word Outlines (KWOs).
Essentially, this involves teaching students to read or otherwise parse information and then jot down its key points as notes, building an outline of what they have read.
Following this, students learn how to turn these notes into written work, building sentences and paragraphs.
Once they’ve learned how to do this, students move sequentially through different types of writing.
Each of these units contains source texts that represent a particular type of writing that students will learn to recreate.
These include narrative building, summarizing and referencing information, creative writing, essay writing and more. Taken together really represent most of the writing styles that students will encounter at the K-12 level.
This process, known as modeling, is designed to get students comfortable with writing and more confident in their skills by first having them imitate and recreate certain written texts and styles.
In doing so, students learn to break down texts into main ideas and develop a good understanding of how each type of written work is put together.
Along the way, of course, they’ll learn a variety of different stylistic flourishes and writing techniques that they can use to customize their writing.
Unlike other writing programs it is only much later (in unit 7) that the program introduces creative writing.
The idea being that once students are comfortable organizing ideas and recreating various text types, they can take the training wheels off (so to speak) and begin to use the skills, knowledge and techniques they’ve acquired through modeling to express their own thoughts and ideas in their own way.
Overall, then, IEW’s method can be said to create something of a crawl-walk-run process for writing.
First students learn how to identify and jot down their main ideas in an organized way (crawl), they then learn how to use their note to recreate/imitate a variety of writing styles in their own words and use various stylistic techniques to improve their writing (walk), before going on to use their skills to create their very own original works (run).
Building A Framework For Writing
As we mentioned earlier, over the course of these nine units IEW teaches students to use a particular framework when approaching writing.
In each of these units, students are presented with lessons based around certain types of texts.
With each text, students will learn to apply a particular process in order to create their own writing sample based upon it.
The Framework In Brief
|Step 1: Create KWO (key word outline)|
|Step 2: Verbally retell the source text from KWO|
|Step 3: Create rough draft from KWO, checklist|
|Step 4: Add dress ups|
|Step 5: Revise rough draft using checklists and edit|
Developing Key Word Outlines
The first skill that students learn with IEW is to take effective notes and build an outline of the text they’ve just read using a minimum of words.
In essence, students go through a text, paragraph by paragraph, and learn to extract only the most important words (three words only) that make up the main idea of each sentence.
The end goal is for students to be able to create a brief outline of the text, highlighting the most important ideas in a way that will then allow them to recreate each sentence themselves in their own words without the text available to them.
In subsequent steps, students will then turn this recreated text into something of their own.
Now, we think teaching note taking and outlining in this way is interesting for a few reasons.
For one thing, effective note taking is an important general skill that students can use throughout their academic careers (and in life, really).
Being able to extract the key elements from a text or lecture in just a few words is probably one of the more effective ways of mastering large amounts of information, and teaching this skill to students early on can really give them a leg up in school.
For another thing, this process can really help with sharpening reading comprehension, teaching students to zero in on and extract the key elements and ideas of a text and prevent them from getting lost or confused in long texts.
Finally, by getting students to rewrite the text sentence by sentence in their own words from a basic outline, the process gets students writing in a more structured and approachable way.
Instead of thinking about the text as an overwhelming whole, students focus on smaller chunks in the form of sentences and their main ideas, building the text back up slowly and sequentially.
Eventually, when it comes time to transition to writing their own materials, the idea is for students to use this approach to outline their own thoughts and build their texts up in a similar manner, rather than panicking upon seeing a blank page.
Unusually for a writing program, the Institute for Excellence in Writing also includes public speaking and verbal expression as part of its outlining process.
Generally speaking, after creating an outline (but before expanding on it), students are supposed to test their outline by being able to verbally recreate the source text from only their notes.
The idea here is if a student can retell what they’ve read with a high degree of accuracy from online their notes, then they’ve probably covered its most important points.
Interestingly, not only does this help make sure that students have adequately identified and noted key points of information, but by verbally restating their thoughts it also helps keep information fresher in the student mind and it makes learning multisensory, engaging different learning pathways (auditory/verbal).
Create a Rough Draft
Outline in hand, the next step for students is to recreate a rough draft of the text from their notes without worrying too much about things like neatness, formatting or spelling.
At this stage, students expand their outline in their own words in order to recreate what they’ve read, ultimately creating a work of their own that models the text that they’ve read.
Adding Dress ups and Decorations
With a rough draft in hand, students now begin the process of adding personal touches and flourishes to their recreated text.
IEW calls these “dress ups” and they are really designed to teach students how to produce higher quality writing that is more interesting to read. These can include things like:
- Interesting or catchy sentence openers and closers
- Strong verbs
- And more
As they progress through different levels and advance in grade level, IEW introduces decorations and advanced stylistic techniques that are appropriate to grade and age expectations.
These work to gradually increase the sophistication of a students writing and can include things like:
- Developing stronger sentence openers
- Adverbial clauses
- Adding drama and tension
- triple extensions
- And so on
At the end of each lesson and unit IEW offers students and parent checklists, which are sheets that ask students to go over:
- Mechanics (capitalization, spelling, complex or run on sentences, etc)
- As well as various dress ups for that unit level
Points are awarded for things like double spacing, capitalization, title format, spelling and certain “dress ups” as required by that unit or level.
These checklists are given to both parents and students and can be used to help in both planning and in reviewing a student’s writing afterwards.
In the planning stages they can give students more direction in terms of what they should be adding to their writing as part of their assignment.
In terms of review, they add a little more structure and systemization to the process, preventing students from touching up their writing at random and helping reduce overly flowery, purple prose.
The inclusion of checklists in the profession is something we actually like a lot.
Not only do we feel that checklists help focus and keep writing on track, but we feel that they help get students into the mindset and process of editing and proofing their own work before submitting it, making sure their own work is up to standard and helping get them looking for specific errors in a more organized way.
This is something that older students and even adults struggle with, and by getting students used to it at a young age you can often see a dramatic improvement in their final products.
Overall, we feel that Structure and Style can be a pretty straightforward way of teaching that can make the process of writing a lot more understandable, replicable and less intimidating for students.
The video lessons that form the basis of instruction in the course are quite engaging and, at times, quite fun to watch.
Mr. Pudewa introduces and explains each step of the IEW process for writing very effectively, showing students examples and working through them to make them as clear and understandable as possible.
Further, Mr. Pudewa uses a lot of humor and explains things fairly simply and with a minimum of jargon.
Being filmed in front of an audience, the videos have a distinct classroom or seminar feel and despite being up to an hour long they are packed with useful information and we didn’t feel as if they dragged on at any point.
The lessons, in the meantime, are very gradual and their incremental nature, where students tackle one aspect of the writing process at a time, can make writing very approachable and really lets students take their time to work on each skill properly.
This incremental and sequential approach can make the whole process of writing seem very “doable” in the mind of students, something that can be very beneficial to the reluctant writer.
More than that, through its systematic teaching method, checklists, tools and systematic, focused lessons, Structure and Style does succeed at helping students learn writing as an organized and structured process, which in turn can help keep their writing clear and efficient.
Additionally, while not exactly a self-study program, with its video instruction and checklist/rubric-based system of assessment, Structure and Style does reduce the burden of teaching writing for parents significantly, both in terms of time and knowledge/skill required to teach concepts.
On the downside, parents should keep in mind that Structure and Style is not a complete ELA program and, while it does teach vocabulary and some grammar, it does need considerable supplementation in grammar, handwriting and spelling.
Additionally, as we’ve mentioned, not every homeschool will be a fan of IEW’s formal and step-by-step approach to writing, as (rightly or wrongly) some parents may feel that its by the numbers approach can stifle student creativity and personal style to some degree.
Finally, parents should also be aware that Structure and Style is not exactly a fast, open and go program.
Its lessons can take some time to go through (around 30 min to an hour), at times requiring students to watch part of a video, read and discuss sample texts, review concepts and topics, verbalize their ideas, and/or eventually work on different parts of a writing assignment.
In addition, they may also need to work on a page or two from Fix It! Grammar.
In a similar vein, parents will have to do some prep work with this course, reviewing notes in the teacher’s manual and either watching the videos themselves or those of Teaching Writing.
How Easy is IEW Structure and Style to Teach
Although it may require parents to do a little prep work before each lesson, by and large Structure and Style is actually quite easy to teach in our opinion.
Teaching writing concepts to students is largely handled by Mr. Pudewa in the videos, while the methodology of the program and suggestions for teaching laid out pretty clearly in the Teaching Writing videos.
Further, the teacher’s manual is very straightforward and quite well scripted, guiding parents easily and sequentially through each portion of a week’s lessons.
In terms of evaluating student work, IEW provides parents with clear, understandable and detailed checklists to use that makes the whole SSS process fairly simple to follow and clearly highlights things that parents should look out for.
Given that the students are provided with packets rather than a prebound book, the teacher’s manual even provides periodic tips to help make sure things stay organized, which we found quite helpful.
Pros and Cons of Structure and Style
Very effective, systematic writing approach
By explicitly and systematically teaching students how to outline, plan, structure and edit their writing, Structure and Style can help make writing far less intimidating for students while giving them a process that they can use throughout their academic careers (and life) to write in a more organized and clear manner.
Highly engaging video lectures (for parents and students)
Rather than relying on dry textbooks or written lessons, IEW’s Structure and Style uses video lectures to teach critical writing concepts to students.
Hosted by the company’s founder, the videos are highly engaging, informative and fun to watch, which in turn means that students are more likely to pay attention and retain the information they’re presented with.
Parents, too, have their own video seminars.
Also taught by Mr. Pudewa, these fun-to-watch videos outline the program’s methodologies and instructional content, and present a variety of suggestions, demonstrations and tips that parents can put to good use.
Videos offered as both DVDs and streaming
IEW continues to offer Structure and Style video lessons in both streaming and DVD formats, making things a little easier for homeschoolers in areas with poor internet service or who are uncomfortable leaving their student with an active internet connection.
Additionally, and unlike many homeschool programs out there, the streaming videos are “forever,” meaning that parents aren’t limited in access by a subscription – they can come back and watch them again and again for as long as they need.
Gentle and incremental writing program
Structure and Style teaches students to write in a very gentle and step-by-step manner, starting out with the fundamentals of key word outlining and slowly progressing through the drafting and editing process.
Similarly, there is a strong emphasis on modeling in this program, where students examine and analyze sample compositions, learning how they are put together and putting their own touches on them until they are comfortable at creating their own written work.
In a similar vein, the program approaches assignments with an “EZ+1” process, where students are gradually challenged by being introduced to one new skill at a time until they can complete more complex writing tasks in order to limit frustration.
Models a wide variety of writing styles
Throughout Structure and Style students are exposed to a wide variety of written works, from stories and poems to arguments and formal essays, that demonstrate different structural models and stylistic techniques that students will examine and eventually adapt for their own writing.
IEW’s Structure and Style is a very multisensory writing program that can suit a wide variety of learning styles.
Throughout its lessons, students watch and listen to videos, verbalize and discuss writing examples and their own ideas and, of course, read and write extensively, all of which can make the learning more interesting than a simple workbook- or prompt-based program.
Easily integrates with its supplemental grammar program
In each Structure and Style lesson plan, students and parents are directed to specific pages in the accompanying Fix It! Grammar book, which provides students with additional learning and practice with relevant grammar concepts and their mechanics.
Fairly easy for parents to use
Structure and Style, although perhaps not quite as open and go as some other programs out there, is fairly easy to use .
IEW has provided parents with a full video-based seminar outlining how to use the program and the teacher’s manuals are scripted well enough that even parents with no experience in teaching should have no problem following along and implementing its lessons.
Encourages self-editing and revision
A key component of Structure and Style is teaching students to examine their own work with a critical eye and through the use of an organized and systematic checklist.
This can help students develop the skills necessary to critically assess and ultimately improve their own work, a key skill that far too few people learn.
The program can even help them learn to be more confident writers by teaching them that nobody’s writing is perfect and that all mistakes and errors can be corrected.
Not the cheapest program out there
Although effective and interesting, at over $150 per year, Structure and Style isn’t the cheapest writing program out there and can be a bit much for homeschools on a budget.
Grammar and spelling are separate programs
Structure and Style is not a comprehensive ELA program.
While Structure and Style integrates well with Fix It! Grammar, ultimately it is a separate program.
Similarly, while IEW does offer a phonetic spelling curriculum, it too is separate from Structure and Style.
Can involve some prep time
Structure and Style often requires parents to do a little preparation before each weeks lessons, usually in the form of videos from Teaching Writing, which can be an issue for those with busier schedules.
Who is IEW Structure and Style Ideal For?
Students who struggle or have struggled with writing in the past
Structure and Style’s gentle, incremental approach to writing, engaging videos and its use of specific writing frameworks and structures can make it ideal for reluctant writers and those who have struggled with writing in the past, providing them with specific tools and understandable, step-by-step methods they can fall back on and use to create written work when required.
Parents looking for a method of teaching writing that’s structured, organized and methodical
Some parents view writing as a purely creative endeavor and feel that attempts to systematize the writing process can be limiting.
Others, in contrast, may prefer that their students spend time learning to organize their work, i.e. spending time outlining and planning before approaching writing using specific, clear and understandable structures and frameworks to produce more coherent writing.
Structure and Style, with its systematic teaching style, can be ideal for these latter parents.
Parents who aren’t really sure about their ability to teach students to write
Structure and Style uses in-depth and comprehensive video instruction to teach students important concepts, skills and structures in writing, taking much of the burden of teaching students to write off of parents.
Students who enjoy learning by video
Not every student is a fan of parent-led instruction or written instruction and may learn better with Structure and Style’s dynamic and highly engaging video series.
Who is it not ideal for?
Parents looking for an all in one ELA curriculum
Although IEW does produce grammar, phonics, handwriting and spelling programs, these are distinct programs and (with the exception of grammar) need to be purchased and used separately from Structure and Style.
Parents who don’t want to do any prepwork
Structure and Style is not a self-study program for students and parents will have to guide lessons, discuss and help analyze written work, and direct students to assignments, which in turn means that parents will often need to prepare before lessons.
Parents who prefer a more free-spirited or creative approach to writing
Structure and Style has students learn to write properly using a combination of modeling writing and a variety of specific structural models and stylistic techniques that, along with its extensive use of editing checklists, can make the program seem a bit formulaic to parents who prefer to let students express their creativity through more freewriting or by using less structured teaching approaches.
Note: All prices are in USD and are correct at time of writing.
The Institute for Excellence in Writing offers a number of programs and supplements to help students learn to write, and these tend to come in a number of packaged forms at several price points.
These different packages typically are built around a core product and differ in the amount of extra material they throw in.
Obviously, this can get a little confusing so we tried to lay out some of the most relevant IEW packages to provide a general idea of their pricing.
Structure and Style for Student Packages (Levels A, B, C) – Per Year of Study
|Student Packet and Binder||Student Packet and Binder||Student Packet and Binder|
|Teacher’s Manual||Teacher’s Manual||Teacher’s Manual|
|Portable walls||Portable walls|
|Fix it! Grammar||Fix it! Grammar|
|A Word Write Now|
|Teaching Writing: Structure and Style Seminars|
|Price: $169||Price: $189||Price: $289|
Teaching Writing: Structure and Style
|Teacher’s Guide Only||Premium|
|Teaching Writing workbook||Video seminar|
|Streaming access to Student Workshops|
|Online checklist generator|
|Audio conference talks|
|Price: $39||Price: $189|
As always, however, parents should check for the latest prices, as well as any deals or specials that are on offer.
Is IEW worth the price?
Overall, although it’s not a particularly inexpensive writing program, we believe parents get a lot of value for their money with Structure and Style.
With this program, students and parents receive hours of professionally produced and engaging instructional content, a wide variety of texts, worksheets, checklists and charts to work with, as well as a way to keep it all quite well organized and easy to access.
Beyond the money, however, the IEW approach to writing does what few other homeschool writing programs do.
Namely it gives students from a young age a structure and toolset that they can use and fall back on again and again, and exposes them to pretty much all the different types of writing that they will encounter in their academic careers, to one degree or another.
While it might be true that those who prefer a more free and creative approach to writing may not be as appreciative of the methodology, most parents, particular those of students who struggle with organizing their thoughts and reluctant writers, may find IEW’s programs to be highly effective.
Its very methodical, step by step yet gentle approach to writing can give their students a much needed boost in self-confidence and can go a long way in helping them easily and repeatedly produce higher-quality, organized writing.
It is very easy to tailor IEW’s programs to one’s needs, for example buying only Style and Structure and using other grammar and spelling books and programs as needed.
With its engaging instructions, clear materials and highly systematic method of writing, IEW can give students a ready framework that can produce high quality and often quite impressive writing.
While not everyone agrees with its by the numbers method of teaching writing, for many parents, particularly those of reluctant or disorganized writers, IEW can be a real boon and a strong asset in their child’s academic toolbox.
About the Author
Anne Miller is the editor of The Smarter Learning Guide and is a passionate advocate for education and educational technology. A mom of two, she majored in English Language and Literature and worked as a substitute teacher and tutor for several years. When not writing she continues to root for the Yankees and the Giants.
Jennifer Keenes is a writer and a new mom living in Florida. She studied education and, prior to becoming a freelance writer, worked as a substitute teacher at the elementary and middle school level. She is a big fan of the beach, working out and homeschooling her two daughters.