Institute for Excellence in Writing Review

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With its engaging instructions, clear materials and highly systematic method of writing, IEW can give kids 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

Competitively priced, comprehensive ELA offerings
IEW approach is very effective at getting kids to write more coherently and in a more structured, organized manner
Taken together, IEW offers solutions that cover the breadth of ELA including early childhood reading, writing skills, grammar, spelling and more
SSS program will get struggling and reluctant writers writing
Interesting and unique approaches to teaching spelling and grammar
Instructional videos for writing program are offered as streaming and DVD, with lifetime access to streaming content
Engaging and often humorous instructional method
Writing programs expose kids to a variety of writing styles, other offerings expose them to classic literature and poetry
Teaches kids skills that like effective outlining that they can use to great effect in other classes and throughout life
Lots of multisensory learning options

But watch out for

Elements like grammar and spelling are sometimes only available as separate supplements; not a total, all in one ELA solution
Highly systematic approach to writing not always the best fit for all homeschools or students
Process and the course can take time; IEW is not a crash course – it takes a minimum of 24 weeks per course…often longer.

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 method of teaching writing. Its approach provides students, teachers and parents with a systematic, multistep approach that they can use to help their kids write more effectively and confidently. 

In addition to teaching writing, the Institute for Excellence in Writing also produces material to help teach phonics, grammar, spelling and more. 

Age range

IEW produces products that are intended to help teach students across grades K-12. 

Its flagship writing series, Structure and Style, is officially designed for students in grades 3-12. 

That said, the exact age range for Structure and Style is mainly a recommendation and it can be used by students outside the recommended range, as well. 

The program itself largely focuses on teaching a structure and method for writing. It builds upon itself slowly, increasing in complexity, as the student progresses in their schooling. 

Consequently, while it does assume a certain level of reading and writing skill, as long as a student is able to understand the instructions and guidance provided they should be able to begin the program, even if they are in a lower grade.

Similarly, despite the fact that the program is divided into different grade-corresponding levels, there really is no issue if a struggling student needs to work from a lower level.

And the same is broadly true of the other products that IEW produces, such as grammar and spelling programs. While they are all divided and grade-levelled, they are all quite accommodating to exceptional students outside their recommended age ranges. 

How it Works: The IEW Writing Method

The Institute for Excellence in Writing takes a very distinct, systematic and structured approach to teaching kids to write.

In essence, IEW gives kids a writing framework and methodology that they can use to tackle their writing assignments and activities in a more organized, step by step way. 

Kids 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 kids 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 kids 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, kids learn how to turn these notes into written work, building sentences and paragraphs. 

Once they’ve learned how to do this, kids 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 kids comfortable with writing and more confident in their skills by first having them imitate and recreate certain written texts and styles. 

In doing so, kids 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 kids to use a particular framework when approaching writing. 

In each of these units, kids 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 kids 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, kids 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 kids 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 kids early on can really give them a leg up in school.   

For another thing, this process can really help with sharpening reading comprehension, teaching kids 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 kids to rewrite the text sentence by sentence in their own words from a basic outline, the process gets kids 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. 

Public Speaking/Verbalizing

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), kids 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 kids 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, kids 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 kids how to produce higher quality writing that is more interesting to read. These can include things like:

  • Adverbs
  • Interesting or catchy sentence openers and closers
  • Adjectives
  • 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
  • Alliteration
  • Similes
  • Adverbial clauses
  • Metaphors
  • Adding drama and tension
  • triple extensions
  • And so on

Checklists

At the end of each lesson and unit IEW offers students and parent checklists, which are sheets that ask students to go over: 

  • Style
  • Structure
  • 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 kids 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 kids 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 kids 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 kids used to it at a young age you can often see a dramatic improvement in their final products.

Imitation To Innovation: Can This Framework Get Kids Writing On Their Own?

The IEW framework seems to be an excellent way to break down, parse and recreate an established text when it’s given to them. 

The question that parents tend to have is whether this process can work when kids are given a prompt and blank page to fill with their own work. 

We believe it does, and does so pretty well. 

While it’s true that kids start out in IEW recreating and customizing texts of various sorts, once kids get used to writing and are more confident the same process can be used when they have to create something out of whole cloth. 

The process of deriving key words, for example, becomes an organized outline of a student’s ideas or story.

At this stage, students are then experienced at expanding these notes into a more full rough draft of their work, which they can then go back embellish to their taste with the myriad of dress ups and decorations they’ve learned thus far. 

Having gone through dozens of checklists, they also have a better idea of how to more efficiently edit their work and what to look out for. 

Of course, in IEW, before even getting to this stage, students will have developed a strong familiarity with a wide variety of writing styles that they can choose from and by this point will have had a good deal of experience at putting words to paper. 

How IEW Teaches its Approach: Structure and Style 

Structure and Style for Students

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 the 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. 

What’s included

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

There are also some optional items that IEW includes with more premium subscriptions: 

  • Optional: Fix it Grammar
  • Optional: Portable Walls 
  • Optional: Teaching Writing: Structure and Style Seminar Access
  • Optional: A Word Write Now
  • Optional: Portable walls

Grade Structure

Structure and Style has three levels.

Level A covers grades 3-5, level B covers 6–8 and Level C covers 9-12. 

In other words, roughly speaking, elementary, middle school and high school level.

Each grade level tends to build upon the previous level, meaning that the topics are reviewed in depth and then increasingly sophisticated writing topics and techniques are added into the mix. 

Lesson Structure

Structure and Style for Students lessons are generally based around a full week (4 or 5 days) of learning. 

Each lesson generally follows a particular format. 

Students begin by watching a video and then are introduced to the text that they’ll work with that week. 

The next few days are spent using the IEW methodology to create a piece of writing in a step by step process that is eventually honed to a final draft. 

Video Lessons

Available as streaming video or DVD, there are twenty-four lessons of about a half hour to an hour each at each level, designed to cover about 24 weeks or so of lessons. 

Video lessons are aimed at kids and 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 kids as he goes. 

Overall, Mr. Pudwea does an excellent job teaching in a way that can engage kids. 

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 kids can easily understand them but without dumbing down the material to reach kids, which is nice.

Along the way he also uses a good deal of humor, filling his lectures with jokes. 

Given the length and nature of these videos, we think this can be really helpful in focusing kids’ attention and interest.  

A short example of his engaging teaching style (from the older SWI course) can be seen below. 

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 Netflix era and disentangles parents from the need for discs and other scratchable, displaceable or otherwise destructible media.

If you have consistent high speed internet, then this is a great option since kids can take their learning wherever they want without the need for a DVD player, meaning they can access IEW on tablets and other mobile devices. 

If your internet is a bit spotty or slower, however, you might want to go with the DVDs as it will be a more reliable option with a lot less buffering and fewer load times. 

Student and Parent Binders

IEW does a very good job at including everything parents and students need to conduct their writing lessons and helping keep everything organized (something that can be critical in a busy homeschool).

Student packet and binder

In Structure and Style for Students, kids receive their very own packet of material that includes various texts, hands outs, color coded charts and other printed items that they use each week as part of their learning. 

Kids also receive weekly lesson plans to help them follow along and keep them on track, which we like as it makes them more independent, active participants in their learning. 

To help keep them organized, IEW also offers kids 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. 

Kids even get little tabs that they can place on each overview page, which stick out for easy access later. 

Parent binders

Parents also receive their own manual. 

This is a spiral bound book that includes copies of all the charts and handouts that kids have in their binders plus 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 we’ll talk about later. 

Portable…walls?

In addition to their courses, IEW traditionally offered the ability to buy classroom wall posters containing items that can help kids with their writing at a glance. 

These included word lists, dress ups and decorations and more, and encompassed the general idea that if kids 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. 

Built in Lesson Plans

In addition to the videos and learning material, each week comes with its own lesson plan that contains goals and a suggested breakdown of learning. 

These lesson plans are pretty comprehensive and include things like what parts of the video to watch (including start and end times, which is quite helpful), what to write or work on for each day, and even optional assignments.

These lesson plans can be very helpful for homeschoolers, simplifying the process of integrating IEW into your schedule and are overall a very easy way to keep things on track and keep learning organized.

Pace and Schedule

IEW’s Structure and Style for Students is designed to be covered in 24 weeks. 

That said,  the course does have a lot of content and is a lot of work. 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 kids.

To their credit, IEW does offer suggestions to help parents create a longer schedule of about 30 weeks. 

However, as the curriculum builds on itself, if your student is really struggling with a particular concept there’s no real way to move on – you can’t really just skip to another section and come back later. 

Consequently, parents really need to pay attention to their child’s progress and be ready to adjust the pace and schedule themselves. 

Fortunately, as long as you go in order and follow the recommended sequence, with a little creativity, preparation and schedule shuffling it isn’t too hard to stretch out the curriculum as needed. 

And being a very popular program, there is an ample amount of support and even custom lesson plans available for use online if you run into trouble.

Teaching Writing: Structure and Style

Not every parent is comfortable or confident teaching their kids an important skill like writing. 

After all, writing is a technical skill that, at the K-12 level at least, can and will be subjected to fairly stringent evaluation and critique by others.

Even those with a penchant for writing themselves may find that they prefer to follow a more formal program or methodology when it comes to their kids, especially if they find their own writing style and ability to be more intuitive. 

Recognizing this, and perhaps recognizing that their program follows a particular methodology, the Institute for Excellence in Writing offers a seminar style program to help parents learn to more effectively teach their kids to write using the IEW system.

What does Teaching Writing: Structure and Style cover?

Teaching Writing is really teacher training with a focus on properly implementing IEW’s approach to writing.

Like the student course, the seminars cover the various units that make up the IEW process, they 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 approaches and strategies for teaching and getting kids to follow through properly as well as common problems students have and ways to address them. 

What are these videos like?

Like the student version, Teaching Writing is a long program. 

There are about 20 or so hours of video, about 14 hours of teacher training and about 5.5 hours of writing demonstration and analysis covering a variety of levels. 

As mentioned above, the course covers both the IEW methodology itself and more technical and specific ways of teaching proper writing, such as paragraph construction and referencing, as well as recorded demonstrations of proper teaching methods using kids. 

The seminars come 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. 

While long and fairly comprehensive, the seminar series isn’t boring at all. 

Like a mirror version of the student videos, the seminars take place in a studio in front of an audience of parents, which gives it a different feeling than other similar programs with a lecturer talking to a camera.

The seminars are also taught by Andrew Pudewa, who has been hosting similar seminars live for years. 

Like the student videos, he retains a humorous and energetic style that keeps things from getting too boring and he explains teaching concepts in a straightforward, common sense manner. 

Pace and Schedule

The seminars are about 20 hours long in total, roughly coinciding with the length of the student program. 

This allows parents to either take the seminars ahead of time or integrate it as part of the teaching process, building seminar lessons into weekly prep. 

If parents do choose to take the seminar lessons as they go along, IEW helpfully provides a lot of cross references to it in the student and teacher manuals in Structure and Style for Students, referring to specific and relevant videos and times at the top of weekly lesson plans in a way that makes it quite easy to sync everything up.

Do I Really Need The Teaching Structure And Style Seminars?

Strictly speaking, parent’s don’t need the seminar series to use IEW.

On the whole, however, we feel that many parents should take the seminars. 

They are an excellent resource for parents who are new to homeschooling, particularly those new to language arts, and are 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, if you are a parent who does have significant experience teaching language arts you can probably get along without it, but you may want to try it anyway since the seminars covers the way in which the program will teach the student to write, as well as going over its practical techniques so that you and your student are on the same page. 

Structure and Style: Look, Style and Feel

Courseware Look And Feel

In general, Structure and Style student and teacher manuals are printed in black and white. 

Parent manuals are spiral bound and all things considered are pretty well made and durable.

IEW is a very orderly, clear and structured approach to writing and it is no surprise that the program itself maintains that feeling of orderliness throughout.

Goals, expectations and procedures are always clearly outlined, with  important concepts highlighted and often bullet pointed . 

In particular, when it comes to the student handouts, information is to the point with a minimum of extraneous text.

If you do purchase access to the seminars and key supplements (Fix it Grammar, for example), there is a good deal of cross referencing, which is helpful in letting parents and students know how and when to use the material in conjunction with each other.

Teaching Style

IEW’s video instructions are taught by the company founder in an engaging and enthusiastic way. 

In both Structure and Style and Teaching Writing, 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 don’t feel like they drag on at any point.

Complimenting the videos, the teachers manuals and guides are written in a more formal and in-depth way, almost like a textbook. 

They are fairly text heavy and do go more in-depth into the hows and whys of the program, as well as offering a variety of helpful FAQs interspersed throughout. 

Content

A lot of content is included in each course. In addition to the many hours of guided video instruction (for both parents and students), in both seminars and Structure and Style IEW offers students and parents a variety of texts to work with, weekly lesson plans, charts and checklists.

All of this gives IEW a feeling of being a very full and comprehensive curriculum for writing.

Use of technology

While comprehensive, IEW is not the most technologically advanced writing program out there. 

There are no AI-powered or adaptive writing programs built into the system, unlike some other writing options out there. 

In fact, the program itself often recommends students begin writing by hand before moving to typing and there is still a lot of physical paper and printables to work with and keep track of, such as checklists, posters, guides and so on. 

That said, there has been a move recently to integrate some technological advances into the program, providing a limited selection of digital books and access to streaming video rather than just DVDs, for example. 

IEW Theme-Based Writing Packages

In addition to the more general and video-based Structure and Style for Students course, IEW also offers a variety of theme-based programs. 

Students in the Structure and Style and theme-based programs learn the same IEW methodology and structure for approaching writing. 

However, the theme-based writing packages tend to tie this learning together around a single theme such that the included texts and subsequent work are connected by a topic or idea, such as ancient history, fables, the bible, people and places and so on. 

Another difference between Structure and Style and the theme-based units is that with the theme-based packages there is no video component or lectures for the student. 

Instead parents instruct their students using either the included written manual alone or with the help of the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style seminars. 

Overall, the theme-based packages can be a better fit for parents who:

  1.  Prefer to structure their learning around a particular theme, such as those following a thematic curriculum or those following a student led, unschooling approach
  2. Are wary of video-based learning and screen time associated with Structure and Style for Students, or
  3. Want to take a more intensive, hands on approach to teaching with their kids

Overall, what are the benefits of IEW’s system?

Gives kids a clear and understandable framework they can use

One of the biggest problems kids 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. 

Giving kids a very structured way of approaching writing can 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. 

The process IEW uses is incremental

As they go along in Structure and Style, each unit and lesson 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 kids will review the main concepts and then add to them.

This process has several benefits. 

It strengthens the idea of writing (and the IEW method) as a structured and systematic process, making sure that kids always follow the step by step process and are not just diving right into writing even as they get more comfortable writing. 

As each level covers the same overall structure and writing styles, it lets kids continually refresh their memories and improve their skills at certain types of writing.

If kids 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.

Encourages editing and continual improvement 

As part of the IEW writing program, kids will be taught to outline, create drafts and then go back to check and improve their work.

This instills a habit in kids to edit and actually work on their writing (as well as finding someone to help them edit at the younger age range), looking for things to improve in a more systematic and meaningful way rather than encouraging them to get to the final draft as fast as possible.

While perhaps a bit tedious at first, in the long run getting used to looking at their own work with a critical eye can be very beneficial to students and, really, all writers in general. 

What are some drawbacks to this system?

Some parents may consider it overly formulaic

IEW is very structured and organized when it comes to teaching kids writing. 

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 kids through their writing. 

Now, considering we are talking about K-12 students, most parents probably won’t have too much of a problem with this. 

Having a methodology to writing, as we mentioned above, can be very helpful and is something schools teach (or should be teaching) to a degree or another anyway. 

That said some homeschooling parents, particularly those who got into homeschooling in order to provide a less formalized and strict framework for education, may feel that the IEW approach can be almost micromanaging in some ways. 

They may feel that IEW treats writing as a series of steps and frameworks, and by starting kids off modeling other writing styles it doesn’t let their kids develop their own “voice” or style sufficiently. 

Many such parents may prefer their student to write intuitively, in more of a creative manner and subsequently may prefer a curriculum that has more flexibility and encourages more free-style writing.

It can be a slow process for kids

During the process of writing in Structure and Style, kids will outline, verbally restate their outline, create a rough draft (or drafts), edit them, check them and then create a final draft to submit. 

While this can ultimately improve the overall quality of writing, in terms of structure and mechanics at least, the process can be a lot slower than what students might otherwise be used to. 

This may be especially true if they have been taught to follow a simple rough draft-final draft method.

Similarly, students who intuitively parse information and can edit their own work on the fly (we’ll refer to them as talented writers) may actually become pretty frustrated by this methodology

It’s not an all-in-one ELA solution

While Structure and Style for Students does a great job at providing the framework and techniques that can help kids produce pretty impressive compositions, alone it doesn’t really cover everything that kids will need in the depth required to be considered a complete ELA writing program.

In particular, it doesn’t really go into sufficient depth in grammar and spelling, for example.  

Recognizing this, the company has a variety of supplements that students can use some of which, like Fix it! Grammar, come free with more premium versions of the program. 

Others, like the Advanced Communication Series, which teaches AP/college level paper writing, advanced note taking and more persuasive writing styles, cost extra. 

Supplementing Structure and Style: More Resources from IEW

While Structure and Style for Students is an excellent way to teach kids 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

Probably the most immediate supplement that parents will look for is something that offers more formal grammar learning than is offered in the Structure and Style program. 

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 the parents manual are periodic references to relevant sections of Fix it! Grammar that parents can use to quickly build a more integrated and complete 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. 

Each book lets kids 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 kids to classic literature as well, which we loved. 

Phonetic Zoo (aka Excellence in Spelling)

Aimed at kids 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. 

It also works a little differently than other mainstream spelling programs out there, using a phonics based approach to spelling drill. 

Essentially, kids 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 from listening, 

To help, the program offers a variety of memorable rhyming riddles they call “jingles” to help kids remember key spelling and/or letter combinations. 

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 kids 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 kids 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.

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 kids 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 kids 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. 

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, kids 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. 

As you might expect from IEW, Primary Arts of Language: Writing teaches fundamental writing skills to young kids 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, kids 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 kids 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 kids started narrating and retelling stories themselves. 

Stage 3: Composition 

In the final stage of the program, kids begin to write short sentences and work on their spelling, outlining and style in order to create their own works. 

When you look at the different stages that make up Primary Arts of Language: Writing, it’s clear that somewhat maps the IEW methodology of Structure and Style in a more simplified way. 

As such, we feel it can act as a pretty good lead into the main IEW program. getting kids to write in a more structured and purposeful way from the get go. 

But even if parents choose to move into a different writing program, Primary Arts of Language: Writing develops skills like outlining, narrating and summarizing text that can be really helpful pretty much in any program and at any age.

Pricing

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)

BasicBasic PlusPremier
Includes: Includes: Includes: 
VideosVideosVideos
Student Packet and BinderStudent Packet and BinderStudent Packet and Binder
Teacher’s ManualTeacher’s ManualTeacher’s Manual
Portable wallsPortable walls
Fix it! GrammarFix it! Grammar
A Word Write Now
Teaching Writing: Structure and Style Seminars
Price: $149Price: $169Price: $269

Teaching Writing: Structure and Style

Workbook OnlyPremium 
Includes: Includes: 
Teaching Writing workbookVideo seminar
Streaming access to Student Workshops
Master Classes
Online checklist generator
Audio conference talks 
Workbook
Assorted printables
Price: $35Price: $189

Primary Arts of Language: Reading and Writing

Primary Arts of Language: ReadingPrimary Arts of Language: Writing
IncludesIncludes
Teacher’s manualTeacher’s manual
VideosVideos
Phonetic games packageAll about Spelling 1
Phonetics Farm w/ stickersAll About Spelling Interactive Kit
Price: $69Price: $89
Primary Arts of Language: Complete PackagePrimary Arts of Language: Premier Package
IncludesIncludes
Teacher’s manual for reading/writing (PDF)Teacher’s manual Teacher’s manual for reading/writing (PDF and printed)
Videos for reading/writingVideos for reading/writing
Phonetic games packagePhonetic games package
Phonetics Farm w/ stickersPhonetics Farm w/ stickers
All about Spelling 1All about Spelling 1
All About Spelling Interactive KitAll About Spelling Interactive Kit
Price: $149Price: $179

Fix it! Grammar

Teachers Manuals: $19

Student Manuals:$15

Teacher/Student combo: $29

The Phonetic Zoo

Levels A, B or C: $99.00

Complete Package (All levels): $149 

How do IEW prices compare to competitors?

In general, ELA courses tend to be somewhat expensive and this can be even more true for those that involve a lot of video and content. 

That said, compared to many other writing products out there IEW’s products are competitively priced. 

Notably, its flagship product and the product most parents will be interested in, Structure and Style for Students, starts at just $149. 

As this includes both unlimited lifetime access to video and instructional material, it is generally more comprehensive, flexible and affordable than many competitors, such as Writeshop or Essentials in Writing. 

This value in pricing only becomes more apparent when you take into account IEW’s premier or premium bundles, which throw in several of its more expensive products at significant ($100+) discounts.

Check out IEW’s current pricing and selection

Is IEW worth the price?

We believe so. From a pure value perspective, we believe parents get a lot of content for money with IEW. 

With Structure and Style, 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. 

It’s true that those who prefer a more free and creative approach to writing may not be as appreciative of the methodology. 

However parents of kids who struggle with organizing their thoughts, who become anxious when writing or who are reluctant writers may not only find IEW’s programs to be highly effective, but may find that its very methodical, step by step and replicable approach to writing can give their kids a much needed boost in self-confidence when it comes to writing.

On the downside, in order to create a complete ELA writing program at home with IEW’s material parents often have to purchase separate supplements, such as in spelling and (depending on the exact program they buy) grammar.

That said, separating style and structure from things like grammar, spelling does give parents some flexibility. 

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. 

Bottom Line: 

With its engaging instructions, clear materials and highly systematic method of writing, IEW can give kids 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. 

FAQ

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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.

Photo of Jennifer Keenes, a writer for the smarter learning guide

Jennifer

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.