IEW writing programs - the truth about IEW

The Truth About IEW Writing Programs : SSS, TWSS, TBW (II)

Are you feeling confused or overwhelmed about all the options you have with IEW writing?

Then you’re in the right place! We’ve talked about IEW’s holistic approach to writing and why that’s important when teaching writing, now let’s dive into the way IEW teaches writing, and the 3 different options that you have with IEW writing (Structure and Style for Students, Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, and Theme-Based Writing).

In this series we’ll look inside the most loved (and misunderstood) homeschool writing curriculum, hopefully offering you the most comprehensive overview of the program and helping you take an informed decision about what IEW program is best for you.

This article is part of a full review series on IEW’s writing programs:

  1. IEW as a holistic writing curriculum
  3. Structure and Style for Students Components
  4. 10+ IEW tools you wish you knew about
  5. Is it too repetitive? Comparison between Level A Year 1 and 2
  6. From Doubt to Confidence – our honest review of IEW’s SSS

IEW Writing Curriculum Review – How IEW Teaches Writing

IEW’s structure and style program is very versatile and easy to adapt to every homeschool family’s needs. They offer three options for teaching writing: Structure and Style for Students, Teaching Writing : Structure and Style, and Theme-Based Writing.

These are all based on the same writing principles but differ when it comes to the target audience (TWSS is aimed at parents), instruction deliverability (TBW is textbook-based), and source texts or intended age groups.

Using the classical method of progymnasmata, and several other techniques, IEW helps students become confident and powerful writers who can handle any writing assignment at any level. Starting with imitation as a foundation for creativity, IEW teaches the rules of writing and develops students’ confidence and writing toolbox before asking them to generate original works.

By mastering the basics of writing and practicing on given templates and making use of checklists students can become proficient writers who can effectively communicate, analyze, summarize, and think critically.

IEW writing programs - the truth about IEW- Is it too formulaic? What is the difference between the various programs?

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If you prefer watching a video to reading, here’s my YouTube video outlining the main points in this article:

What is the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)?

We’ve talked about IEW as one of the best holistic homeschool writing curricula, but I didn’t present the publisher to you yet. (oops!)

IEW stands for Institute for Excellence in Writing, an award-winner publisher that has been teaching language arts successfully for over 25 years to thousands of children across the globe!

Although they are mostly known for their writing curriculum, their offer also includes other excellent curricula like grammar, spelling, reading, poetry, literary analysis, college prep, speech and debate courses, and more!

IEW has been teaching writing to students since 1997, and the work of educators like Mrs. Anna Ingham and Dr. James B. Webster inspired their program.

Their most popular homeschool writing curriculum, Structure and Style for Students, has a unique approach to teaching writing. The program is based on the classical method of progymnasmata, which is a step-by-step approach to writing that has been proven to be effective in developing students’ writing skills and boosting their confidence.

The founder of IEW- who is Andrew Pudewa?

Mr. Andrew Pudewa is the founder and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). He has been a teacher, speaker, and writer in the homeschooling community for over 30 years.

Mr. Pudewa is known for his passion for teaching, his engaging speaking style, and his dedication to helping students become successful writers.

See what Mr. Pudewa has to say about writing, thinking, and how IEW brings kids closer to these skills:

Introduction to IEW’s Structure and Style approach

IEW emphasizes the importance of teaching children how to write well-structured pieces of writing while nurturing their writing confidence. IEW writing is using the step-by-step, classical approach of progymnasmata that guides students incrementally through the writing process.

Here are some points that the IEW writing curriculum takes from the classical method:

  • imitates ancient rhetoric exercises of starting with simple tasks and gradually increasing the difficulty (progymnasmata)
  • sets the basics for good grammar usage
  • emphasizes the schemes and tropes of classical writing
  • it’s based on modeling, imitation, and mastery
  • places special importance on speaking, addressing the 5 canons of classical rhetoric.

Unlike other classical programs that might feel overwhelming to teach and learn, IEW has a different approach to incremental learning and mastery through exposure (I see it as a mastery-spiral approach but I know these terms are mutually exclusive, that’s just the way I think about it 🤷🏻‍♀️).

Basically, the whole program is based on clear instruction, clear expectations, and a focus on developing writer confidence while at the same time developing a kid’s writer toolbox. Its approach to learning how to write good pieces of text is based on repetition through exposure (not rote memorization), which leads to mastery.

IEW is catering to all kinds of students, from reluctant writers all the way to naturally gifted writers. Everyone will leave with something valuable from this writing curriculum whether it’s their confidence in writing and organizing their pieces of writing, or getting one step ahead with finding original ways to express themselves with sophistication and clarity.

“[…] dedicated to all the students who, having been given a creative writing assignment, were lost in space staring at the blank piece of paper entitled “My Summer Vacation” or some such thing.
It is dedicated to all the students who, unbeknownst to themselves, may arrive at a university class having never been taught how to structure a paragraph, organize an essay, or even compose sentences that make sense.
Most significantly, however, it is dedicated to all the parents and teachers of today’s students who know the importance of written and oral communication and have determined to give thei students these vital skills.”

Teaching Writing: Structure and Style

The seven basic traits of Structure and Style from IEW

IEW has a unique way of looking at writing as a skill that can be taught to anyone with the right tools. That’s why this writing curriculum is so versatile and works for children of different writing abilities.

The idea behind IEW writing is that just like any artistic skill (playing an instrument, dancing, painting, playing sports) kids need to be shown (through imitation and example) how to use the tools correctly before they can create something truly original. They also need to know the rules and master their tools before being able to create something uniquely theirs.

Their writing might not look great at first, but with consistent work and by internalizing the processes of good writing, kids will be able to produce impressive pieces of writing, no matter where they were when they entered the program.

I know it must be hard to imagine how this will all turn out in the end, that’s why I am leaving you with some testimonials of students who’ve used it successfully throughout their academic careers:

“Many times in my three years of college (basically any time I had to write a paper), I have been thankful that I was taught the IEW method of writing. I would write an outline first and then write a rough draft that could almost be a final one. When I talked with my classmates about their papers, I discovered that they would write two or three, maybe even four, drafts of their paper before they were satisfied with it. I was obviously saving hours by planning a good outline and implementing style into my paper as I wrote, reducing the number of drafts I needed. Even though the process of adopting the IEW style was sometimes difficult in the beginning, it was worth eery hour I put into it as it has saved me so much time, energy, and stress in college.”

“Thank you for IEW because now I can write rough drafts for five-page analysis papers in two hours!”

Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, Appendix 7, IEW: The Key to Success. p216-217

I will be expanding on some of the points in my upcoming article so stay with me throughout this series.

The IEW writing programs lay the foundation for good writing by following a few principles from classical education.

① The classical method of progymnasmata

The progymnasmata approach to writing is a method of teaching writing that originated in ancient Greece and was later used in medieval times.

Progymnasmata is a series of rhetorical exercises that were designed to help students develop their writing skills progressively, starting with basic skills and gradually building up to more complex and challenging writing tasks.

The progymnasmata approach to writing typically starts with simple exercises, such as narration and description, which help students learn to organize their thoughts and express them clearly and coherently. As they progress, students move on to more complex exercises, which teach them to think critically and analytically about different subjects and to develop their own ideas and arguments.

Is IEW writing a classical writing curriculum 1

Similarly, IEW encourages kids to take small steps into writing, starting with the most basic, summarizing and note taking, and reaching all the way to complex literary analysis. Kids know exactly what’s expected of them at each step and they are encouraged to develop the confidence in tehri writing ability.

Ultimately, the goal of classical writing instruction is to help students become effective communicators and critical thinkers who can analyze and interpret complex texts, express themselves clearly and persuasively, and communicate their ideas effectively in a variety of different contexts.

② From formula to creativity: a step-by-step approach (or why imitation and the formulaic approaches are helpful)

Many parents turn away at the mention of structured writing, writing imitation, or checklists, but if we think about it, there’s an art in learning to chisel a text to perfection. There are some rules that help elevate a text from mediocrity to excellence, and these rules aren’t innate. They need to be taught and internalized.

“[…] I would argue that valuable imitative approaches should be used widely and unapologetically in the composition classroom. Using the writing of others to teach writing can yield effective and long-lasting benefits that give students confidence to write convincingly on their own. […]
Perhaps most important, using models in the teaching of writing can free students to concentrate on ideas, enabling them to concentrate on the content of what they are writing without being unduly restricted by concerns of form.”

Paul Butler, National Writing Project, Imitation as Freedom: (Re)Forming Student Writing
{Unfortunately this text isn’t available anymore, but I recommend reading The Art of Imitation by J. Scott Shields instead}

Despite fears about IEW being too structured, formulaic, and based on imitation, the program’s aim isn’t to hinder creativity, but to challenge students to explore writing concepts in innovative ways that they may not have previously considered.

One example is the use of banned words. Being forbidden from using them forces students to consider alternative options, which can ultimately make them better writers.

The formulas given to them are just teaching them organized writing. There’s a gradual transformation over the years that goes beyond formulas.

For example, when first using “who/which clauses”, kids’ sentences might sound forced and unnatural, but as they grow and get accustomed to the style, they will come up with more creative ways of incorporating the requirements on the checklists that don’t sound formulaic, but original and creative instead.

Forced sentences like “The book, which was green, sat on my desk.” will gradually become “The green book, which was a gift from my grandma, held my childhood memories between its pages.

IEW formulaic approach is helpful

Part of IEW’s writing curriculum is based on taking a good piece of preexisting text and deconstructing it in order to discover the mechanisms behind creating it in the first place. This provides children with an ampler perspective on what they can accomplish with writing. Breaking writing down to its basics, into smaller tasks and steps, gives them the confidence they need to become creative and innovative, and, finally, playful with the language because they now master the tools of clarity and intent in writing, they internalized the formulas.

Just like with any art (be it painting or music) writing needs practice and guidance until it becomes second nature.

IEW uses the classical methodology of imitation as a starting point to get to innovation because, through imitation, kids aren’t forced to think about all the complex processes of writing all at once, but they can focus on learning them one at a time.

As students become more comfortable with the basic structure and style of writing, they can then begin to innovate and experiment with their own ideas and approaches. This allows them to develop their own unique voice and style while still adhering to the principles of effective writing.

If you still have doubts about this aspect, Mr. Pudewa did a great job at addressing the problem of creativity and imitation in a podcast, number 314 “Imitation as the Foundation for Innovation, Creativity, and Development“.

“Creativity is the combination and permutation of previously existing elements in what appears to be a unique way.”

-Andrew Pudewa, podcast number 314 “Imitation as the Foundation for Innovation, Creativity, and Development

③ Mastery-based writing curriculum through exposure

Being mastery-based, IEW will make sure the kids are familiarized with the techniques and structure of writing until these become second nature to them.

It might look as if all IEW’s programs are repetitive because they cover the same types of units, but at a closer look, you’ll see that the difference between them is in the amount of work we ask from students.

Moreover, unlike many classical programs that put emphasis on rote memorization, IEW’s method is memorization through exposure. If kids fulfill the same requirements with every writing assignment, a lot of the items on their checklist will just internalize with little effort, leading to growth and sophistication in their writing.

“Only some students will master everything taught, but all students will master some of what is taught.”

Teaching Writing: Structure and Style

It’s amazing hearing my reluctant writer point out to me -ly adverbs in random texts, or casually point out in conversation that I’ve just used a because clause. The strategic repetition to mastery pays off.

At each level, students encounter more challenging texts and writing requirements. These challenges push them to apply the skills they have learned in new and more sophisticated ways. As a result, students develop higher-order thinking skills and critical analysis abilities, which are essential for success in academic and professional settings.

④ Structure and style for concrete expectations

One of the main goals of IEW is to teach children how to communicate their thoughts and ideas in a clear, concise, and engaging manner, whether in writing or speaking. And they achieve this by setting very clear and gradually increasing expectations.

By respecting the clear requirements, children will produce organized pieces of writing (even if they aren’t the best at first), and the mere fact that they checked everything off the list and were capable of producing what’s expected of them, will boost their confidence and encourage them to explore more.

IEW teaches writing compositions from two directions: the style and the structure, which we will talk about more in the next article that covers the components of SSS.

Structure refers to the format of the text, the right questions to ask, and organizing your ideas. It takes kids from outlining and note-taking to inventive writing and formal critiques through the nine units.

Style refers to stylistic techniques used when writing to make reading the text more enjoyable. These are interspersed in each unit, following the rule of EZ+1 which means they will be introduced one at a time until children master them.

Once internalized, these tools of writing will help students produce effective writing pieces that are on the subject, clearly organized, and delivered.

⑤ Key word outlines (KWO) are the first steps to writing and speaking with intent and clarity

IEW’s building block is the key word outline (KWO) that will be present throughout the program. This means basically taking out the essential outline of a text, and it’s something taught in popular study skills programs as well.

Key word outlines (KWO) teach kids to always plan and scaffold their writing, and organize their ideas so that their writing will flow logically and follow a structure. This will not only organize their writing logically and keep them on the subject, but it will also save a lot of time.

IEW key word outline examples

Knowing how to take out the essential bits from a text and organize your thoughts in a logical, coherent manner is important in multiple areas, including studying, public speaking, and analyzing information.

Many parents fear or skip this step because it looks like it’s stifling creativity, but it is, in fact, a mere step to organize your thoughts. You can use KWOs to organize your own ideas before you put them on paper and this will give you an edge over people who start writing without a plan.

Additionally, even though IEW writing programs are focused mainly on writing, the KWO in IEW is usually accompanied by a requirement of children to present their outline, orally. Mr. Pudewa encourages some simple techniques used in public speaking, like forming sentences in your head, looking at the audience while speaking, and making use of your KWO to sort your ideas.

⑥ Vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, and correct usage

While not a complete language arts curriculum (they have programs for writing and grammar), IEW treats writing in a holistic manner. That means putting importance on all aspects of writing, including vocabulary, punctuation, and grammar. While these elements of language are present throughout the lessons, some of the offered IEW writing options put emphasis on different aspects of vocabulary or grammar.

Throughout the writing process, the grammar aspect can be complemented with their separate grammar curriculum Fix It! Grammar, which teaches grammar in context, incrementally, much on the style of structure and style. Fix It! Grammar is included in the schedules offered with SSS, but it can be used as a standalone product as well.

fix it grammar with IEW writing

In Structure and Style for Students, vocabulary is encouraged through lists of banned words and alternatives to these, as well as the use of a thesaurus. While the program focuses mostly on writing, there are some vocabulary words that Mr. Pudewa explains to students on the whiteboard.

In Theme-Based Writing, vocabulary plays a greater role in writing because each level will have printed vocabulary cards at the end of the book that you can use to reinforce and encourage new words to be used in your children’s writing. This emphasis on vocabulary is also reflected in the checklists provided with TBW.

⑦ Checklists for planning, editing and grading writing

IEW’s writing programs feature well-crafted checklists that serve as guides for students to plan their writing and for teachers to grade it. You’ll find these checklists are present in all three programs.

The checklists cover structure, style, mechanics, and vocabulary, ensuring that students pay attention to all aspects of their writing while editing their work.

The student checklist is not point-based but serves as a guide and reminder to edit and proofread their work before submitting it.

IEW writing checklist

Teacher checklists come in two forms, one with points (downloadable from your account) and one without, making grading written work much less intimidating. These checklists, combined with the student writing samples provided for each lesson (again, downloadable from your account), make the grading process stress-free for homeschooling parents and teachers.

If you opt for the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style you’ll even have the option of generating new checklists to suit any text you might choose.

Theme-Based Writing vs. Structure and Style for Students vs. Teaching Writing: Structure and Style

Many homeschool parents don’t realize IEW’s writing program doesn’t stop with Structure and Style for Students, but we have multiple options to teach writing.

Their best-known curriculum, Structure and Style for Students (the video-based lessons) came out in its final form, in 2020 and was designed to replace the previous, IEW writing program, Student Writing Intensive.

IEW also offers an alternative path to writing that uses the same principles presented in Structure and Style for Students but offers parents the option to teach these themselves through their cross-curricular Theme-Based Writing series.

And finally, IEW empowers teachers to implement the structure and style however they want (at any age and on any text), through their core program Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, a lecture-style program aimed at teachers (or parents). TWSS is the base of Structure and Style for Students.

IEW writing options- structure and style for students, teaching writing structure and style, theme based writing

Although these three writing options are all based on the same structure and style principles, here’s how they compare.

Let’s look at the similarities first:

  • they all cover the nine units of structure and style.
  • they are based on the revolutionary key word outline approach (the building block of the whole program) that teaches kids how to clearly organize their compositions and ideas.
  • they cover 24-30 weeks of instruction (while the SSS has an included 24-weeks schedule, you can find a free printable for 30 weeks in your downloads).
  • they all come with free printables that you can download by using the special codes on the blue paper in front of any book for teachers.
  • they are all versatile and reusable; you can use them with multiple kids or adapt them to any text and age once you are familiar with the way of teaching this program.

The most notable difference between the three is the fact that TWSS is aimed at the parents while SSS and TBW are aimed at the students. So TWSS will have no “student workbook” like the other two options.

Another major difference is that TWSS and SSS are both video-based (albeit they are targeting different audiences) and TBW isn’t.

Here’s a comparison chart of the three writing programs offered by the Institute for Excellence in Writing:

213 1

Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (TWSS)

  • video-based.
  • aimed at teachers and parents, not students.
  • lessons are taught by Andrew Pudewa.
  • secular.
  • enables parents to maximum flexibility, allowing them to adapt the program to any grade and any source text.
  • one time purchase for all grades.
214 1

Structure and Style for Students (SSS)

  • video-based.
  • aimed at students.
  • less teacher-intensive.
  • lessons are taught by Andrew Pudewa.
  • Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (the teacher training) is optional.
  • includes literature suggestions.
  • has a plan to incorporate Fix It! Grammar.
  • secular.
  • starts from 4th grade.
  • for more students, you can buy only the student packet.
212 1

Theme-Based Writing (TBW)

  • textbook-based.
  • teacher-intensive because the teacher does the writing.
  • Teaching Writing: Structure and Style is a must-buy with this option.
  • includes literature suggestions.
  • includes vocabulary.
  • Bible-based for some of the units (see the ones marked with a cross); the rest are secular.
  • starts from 2nd grade.
  • for more students, you can buy only the student packet.

The Structure and Style for Students, the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style, and the Theme-Based Writing series are based on the same principles and style of teaching. SSS and TWSS are video-based, while Theme-Based Writing isn’t. Out of the three, TWSS is aimed at the parents, not at students, but it serves as a great tool if you want to customize your writing lessons.

Theme-Based Writing is designed to be used with Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (if the teacher has no prior experience with IEW writing), where the parent will provide the writing instruction after having watched the videos. It is focused on exploring specific themes or topics, such as fables, myths, and historical fiction. Students are provided with a variety of source texts related to the theme, which they analyze and use as models for their own writing.

On the other hand, Structure and Style for Students is a comprehensive video-based writing curriculum where Mr. Andrew Pudewa is teaching writing to children through video lessons in a classroom setting. The parent’s role with SSS is to edit the compositions and support their children.

I love that all three IEW writing programs can be intertwined to create a complete and engaging writing curriculum even for the most advanced writers out there.

Here’s the suggested pathway from IEW. You can access it by clicking on the image.

IEW writing program

What to choose for your child: SSS or Theme-Based Writing?

Choosing between Structure and Style for Students and Theme-Based Writing depends on your child’s learning style, your teaching style, and your personal preferences.

If you prefer a video-based approach and want to be less involved in the teaching process, then SSS might be a better fit for you. However, if you enjoy teaching and want to use a more teacher-intensive curriculum, Theme-Based Writing might be the better choice (paired with the TWSS).
If you have younger children Theme-Based Writing is the perfect option for you because it starts from 2nd grade, while SSS is recommended from 4th grade.

If you wish to teach your children using your own choices of texts and start writing instruction earlier, or you want to have full control and understanding of the program, you should invest on the Teaching Writing: Structure and Style.

Ultimately, all three programs use the same principles and approach to teaching writing, so you can’t go wrong with either option or combination. It’s best to consider your child’s needs, your preferences, and your teaching style to make the best choice for your family.

Frequently Asked Questions about IEW writing

Is IEW writing too formulaic

What is the IEW method of writing?

The Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) is a writing curriculum designed to help students of all ages improve their writing skills. The IEW method of writing emphasizes the use of structure and style, which includes specific techniques and strategies for organizing ideas, using a variety of sentence types, and incorporating strong vocabulary and grammar skills.

The IEW approach involves several key components, including:

1. Structure and Models: IEW emphasizes the use of structure and models to help students learn to organize their ideas. Students are taught to use various structures, such as the basic paragraph and the five-paragraph essay, and to use models to learn how to apply these structures to their own writing.

2. Key Word Outlines: IEW uses key word outlines as a tool for organizing ideas. Key word outlines are lists of important words or phrases that help students organize their thoughts and create a framework for their writing.

3. Style: IEW teaches students to use a variety of sentence types, including dress-ups and sentence openers, to make their writing more interesting and engaging. Dress-ups are specific ways to add descriptive words and phrases to a sentence, while sentence openers help to vary the beginning of a sentence.

4. Vocabulary and Grammar: IEW places a strong emphasis on building vocabulary and grammar skills (they have a paired grammar curriculum called Fix It! Grammar to help cement the grammar skills). Students are also encouraged to step out of their comfort zone by being asked NOT to use certain wortds, but make use of a thesaurus instead.

The IEW method of writing provides a structured and systematic approach to teaching writing skills, with an emphasis on organization, style, vocabulary, and grammar.

Is IEW a good writing program?

IEW writing is a widely respected writing program that has been used by many homeschooling families, private schools, and public schools for several years. The program is designed to teach students to write well using a structured approach that emphasizes clear thinking, organization, and proper mechanics.
Many students and educators have found the IEW method to be effective in helping students improve their writing skills, especially in the areas of structure and organization.

However, as with any educational program, the effectiveness of IEW may vary depending on the student’s learning style and other factors.

Does IEW teach creative writing?

While IEW’s writing curriculum does focus on developing strong writing skills, including organization, structure, and clarity, it is not specifically designed to teach creative writing.

IEW’s approach is more focused on teaching students how to write effectively within a variety of genres, including narrative, expository, descriptive, and persuasive writing. It does have sections where kids are free to write about whatever they want, but this is not the main focus of the program.

However, by building a strong foundation in the mechanics of writing, students may be better equipped to explore their own creativity and produce more imaginative pieces of writing.

Is IEW secular?

IEW’s Structure and Style for Students is a secular writing program that does not promote or endorse any particular religious belief or ideology.

Theme Based Writing has both secular and Christian-themed books. which are clearly marked with a cross,

Overall, IEW is designed to be a flexible and adaptable program that can be used by families and educators from various backgrounds and worldviews.

Conclusion and final thoughts

IEW writing is a comprehensive and effective homeschool writing curriculum that emphasizes structure, organization, and clear communication.

The various formats and program combinations available make IEW a versatile and customizable writing curriculum option for every homeschool family. Whether you want to leave the instruction to Mr. Pudewa, or you want to be the one choosing the source texts and the writing challenges for your children, IEW has you covered.

But best of all, this is a comprehensive writing curriculum that provides students with the clear tools to become strong writers, through its focus on outlining and editing.

Want to find out more about Institute for Excellence in Writing’s most acclaimed writing curriculum? Join me for the next articles to take a closer look at the components and enriching materials of Structure and Style for Students.

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